Ian Colletti, who plays Eugene “Arseface” Root on AMC’s Preacher, discusses unleashing Hitler on the world, Eugene’s reaction to seeing his old life destroyed and why he’s not necessarily scared of the Saint of Killers.
Q: Looking back at the end of Season 2, how does Eugene feel about unleashing Hitler back into the world?
A: I think it’s definitely heavy on him. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Eugene, it’s that he has this overwhelming sense of right and wrong always hanging over his head. He’s always trying desperately to do the right thing. Having realized he may have made a mistake and let one of the most evil people in humanity out into the real world certainly is not lost on him. I think one of Eugene’s greatest characteristics – which can simultaneously be manipulated into one of his greatest weaknesses – is his ability for empathy. He often sees the best in people – or tries to. In a show like Preacher where there’s often these crazy characters doing these horrible things, it’s a nice breath to have someone try to do the right thing and see the best in people and have the best intentions. But when that exists in a world like Preacher, it’s often taken advantage of. I think he’s aware of the fact that he was taken advantage of and his kindness and willingness to see the best in people was manipulated.
Q: How does Eugene feel when he sees that Annville has been destroyed in Episode 6?
A: He’s devastated. For Eugene, we’re just picking up where Season 1 left off in terms of him understanding what’s happening. A lot of the reasons he was coming to Jesse was because he felt like God wasn’t hearing him and God had abandoned him and he needed to repent for what he had done. He believed he needed to face consequences for what he’d done. He comes back and realizes he’s literally the only one to survive and the only one who escaped this judgement, which I think will leave him frustrated and angry and confused. It’s horrifying. His entire family is dead. Regardless of the relationship they had, Eugene loved his family because of that ability to see the best in people. We even see it at the end of Season 2 in that funny but heartbreaking line when Eugene and Hitler are standing on the sidewalk right after they’ve gotten off the bus after escaping from Hell. Eugene is talking to Hitler and says something along the lines of, “I can’t wait for you to meet my Dad. He’d love to meet you. He loves the History channel.” Even with everything Eugene has gone through with his father, he loves his dad. It’s heartbreaking. The initial reaction I think is shock, but I think as he processes that, there are going to be some deeper and darker feelings.
Q: Yet Eugene is still able to find the positive in the situation. Is there anything that can shake his faith?
A: It’s a testament to his character, but I also think there’s only so much a human being can take. He is still a human being. He’s searching for meaning. That’s really been Eugene’s arc as a character throughout this entire show – searching for purpose and meaning and understanding where he falls into this bigger universal picture. What is the meaning of his existence? The girl he’s been in love with killed herself in front of him, he ended up blowing his own face off, he spent all this time in Hell with Hitler, his entire family is dead. Even Eugene, who tries to be the most positive, is going to have a hard time continuing. Although he’s a kind and empathetic human, he is still a human.
Q: What is going through Eugene’s mind when he sees the Saint of Killers?
A: I think his thoughts are: “Of course this would happen!” [Laughs] After what we saw him go through last season, it’s like, “Great. Another thing to deal with and figure out.” At this point, he’s still trying to be positive. Whether he’s in denial or really is feeling positive is for the audience to decide, but I think he’s still holding onto the idea that there’s a purpose and meaning and that God has a plan. He’s not shocked because of everything he’s seen in Hell and becoming best friends with Hitler. Seeing a murderous cowboy is not out of the realm of possibilities. [Laughs] For him, it represents the next step in the journey…. But there’s going to be conflict between Eugene and the Saint. They have very different views of the world and they certainly have very different views of who God is. I think there’s going to be a conflict and a back and forth between the two of them.
Q: What does Eugene feel about Jesse at this point? Does he hold a grudge that he was sent to Hell and then forgotten about?
A: One thing we’ve seen that makes Eugene angry is hypocrisy. We saw that in the first season when Jesse was trying to use the Word of God over the entire town of Annville and [Eugene] said, “No. That’s wrong. People need to have free will.” He saw that Jesse was this leader, but he was abusing his power and being a hypocrite about it. Eugene really viewed him as someone to be followed and someone who has a power he needs to yield with responsibility. It definitely frustrates him to see someone claim to be a person of God and leave someone as innocent as Eugene to rot in Hell. It’s definitely in the back of Eugene’s mind.
Q: We talked last year about getting to play scenes without the “Arseface” makeup. What was it like to use your singing talents in the show?
A: It was fun, but I remember everyone saying, “Sing worse! Sing worse!” [Laughs] Eugene isn’t a good singer. Trying to not sing like a performer and sing like a kid with a girl was different. It was a fun scene to do, but still to this day, I have “Closing Time” randomly haunt my dreams because I had to do it 50,000 times.
Q: Do you think the breakthroughs Eugene had in Hell will serve him this season? Or has his situation changed so much that he has to find a new answer?
A: It’s definitely helped him answer a lot of the questions he had in Season 1 and Season 2. Through answering those questions, it’s set up a new series of questions. The new ones are: What was the reason for all of it? I went through all of this pain and struggle and I’ve come through the other side and I recognize I’m different because of it, but was there a cosmic reason for it? What is my purpose moving forward? He has a clean slate and it’s something he has to figure out.
Q: What can you tease about Eugene’s journey the rest of the season?
A: I think we will see a different part of Eugene. A Eugene that has a defined mission. Anyone who has read the comics will know what that probably means. He’s happily on the journey of discovering what his purpose is.
Read a Q&A with Colin Cunningham, who plays T.C.
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