Ronald Guttmann, who plays Denis on AMC’s Preacher, discusses Cassidy as a deadbeat dad, why Denis wants so badly to be a vampire, and his knack for playing French characters on AMC.
Q: How familiar were you with the Preacher comics or the show before you landed this part?
A: I was only familiar with the script of the pilot, which I had somehow read two years ago. I remember reading the opening monologue and being extremely impressed with it. I wanted to do the role of Dominic Cooper! [Laughs] I was impressed with the intense dialogue and it had this exotic and metaphysical dimension to it. … I was not familiar with the graphic novel until I auditioned for Denis. I didn’t want to be too influenced by that. I did research the history of New Orleans. That’s what excited me: where these people come from, why I’m speaking French, the history of this place…trying to imagine that I’m a real person and not a character.
Q: How much were you told about Denis from the beginning? Did you know going in that you were playing Cassidy‘s son?
A: After the audition, I wanted to know what I was getting into. It was a few weeks in Louisiana and I needed to know what I was going to be able to chew on as an actor. Sam [Catlin] gave me a call and he gave me the arc. I knew the whole arc of the story and that Cassidy is my father. It makes it interesting because it creates a whole relationship between us that’s not obvious at all and comes as a surprise. And of course, it has an emotional content, having been abandoned by his father, that gives me something to play and something that goes beyond just being a bitter old man in a house. It’s usually the father that’s disappointed in the son – and of course, that’s what people could think because I look like his father. It was like a reversal of roles.
Q: How would you describe Denis and Cassidy’s history? Do you think they were ever close?
A: It’s shown how I was born, the love that he had for me through music that he sang and the lullaby. These are the kinds of things that develop on the set. You have a script, you have the graphic novel and you have the actors doing the job. Joseph [Gilgun] is an extraordinary prodigy and an unusual character in life and that really transpires on the screen –his spontaneity, sense of language, rhythm, his heart. … My experience with him on set was a touching experience with him becoming more human and feeling a sense of compassion for me and trying to create a feeling of love. With all the resentment, you still feel deeply connected. You’re still of the same blood. I think we established that as the story progresses.
Q: Denis clearly isn’t warm to Cassidy when he shows up. Is he angry because Cassidy was an absent father or are there other reasons he doesn’t like the guy?
A: I think it’s the lifestyle of the vampire. You imagine that he’s always with another girl or a prostitute. I’m assuming that he has a lifestyle and it’s not something I respect. He didn’t turn out to be a lawyer or a doctor. [Laughs] He’s my father and I think of him as an alcoholic who smokes dope. … I remember working on that and establishing a certain kind of contempt for his ways.
Q: What does Denis make of Jesse and Tulip? Why do you think he goes along with them all crashing at his place?
A: I show my displeasure that I have squatters in my house, but I think Denis is enthralled either way. He doesn’t know what’s going on until the Saint arrives and all of a sudden, he picks me up and almost kills me. He tolerates them and they do keep him company. It’s probably a nice thing for Denis to not be alone. Nobody is doing anything bad. There are no orgies or loud music.
Q: Once Denis gets sick, there is definitely a change in Cassidy. Does Denis recognize that or does he feel it’s too little too late?
A: I see him caring and singing a song to me. My goal as Denis is to reach his heart and ask him to save me and do something for me, which we see in Episode 7 where I beg him to give me life. I think I do see his resistance crumbling.
Q: Given what he’s seen of Cassidy’s life, why do you think Denis asks Cassidy to turn him into a vampire?
A: You can be judgmental of someone because you’re envious. In a way, one could say Denis has been envious of his father’s lifestyle even though he thought he was using it badly. [Denis] wants to have a certain lifestyle. He still has an appetite. This is not the end for him. He wants women and he wants to live and to partake in the fun.
Q: In Episode 8, Denis pleads and pleads with Cassidy to bite him, even calling him Papa. In that moment, is there some fondness for Cassidy, or is Denis just trying to get what he wants?
A: It’s not a manipulation. I’m so desperate and I’m at the end of my rope. Sometimes you have no choice. It’s almost like he’s killing me and letting me die while he knows he has the medicine. It’s like Angels in America. They had the medicine for AIDS at the time and didn’t want to give it to anybody. You’re sitting on the drugs that could save the life of people, but you’re so selfish that you keep them and you don’t want to share it. Cassidy feels like he has those drugs for me, so to speak. He can actually give me health, so why should he turn me down? What are the arguments?
Q: When Cassidy sings the lullaby, does Denis think he has finally convinced him?
A: Maybe he’s putting me to sleep and that’s the end for me. There’s absolutely no way to find out what happens next.
Q: Before Denis, you were on Mad Men as Megan Draper’s father Emile. Do you have a thing for playing French-speaking characters on AMC?
A: [Laughs] You’re right! Yes, let’s keep it going. I should have my own series about a French gallery owner or restaurateur in New York. My first language is French, indeed. I grew up speaking Dutch and French, so I have an easy way with that language and it comes in handy.
Q: What is your favorite memory from being on the Preacher set?
A: Listening to Joseph’s stories in the trailer and trying to understand his Irish accent, which is not always easy for me, and getting the energy he has at nine in the morning. To just be around him is great. He’s a rock climber and sometimes he would find a wall and start climbing like a lizard. [Laughs] I wanted to connect with him and enjoy his presence because he’s the character I’m dealing with the most. Love, hate, resentment, judgment, contempt, need, desire, friendship – all of these things that you have to play with emotion. For that, you want to know the person that is the character that matters the most to you. Of course, also hanging out with Dominic and Ruth [Negga]. It’s a great group of people. Sometimes you go see movies and you don’t see chemistry. You watch them fall in love or kissing and you say to yourself, “Uh oh. I don’t believe it,” but that’s certainly not the case with Preacher. This trio, this ménage à trois, so to speak, is real magic. That’s one of the appeals of the show. They have these long scenes where they just sit at a table and talk, like a French movie full of dialogue. There’s something very experimental and smart about it. You really have to listen.
Read a Q&A with Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy.
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