Graham McTavish, who plays the Saint of Killers on AMC’s Preacher, discusses the Saint’s pragmatism, his odd-couple pairing with Eugene and getting revenge on Satan and the Angel of Death.
Q: The Saint of Killers begins the season back in Hell. How is he processing being basically back where he started?
A: He adapts and survives. That’s what he does. When he finds himself in Hell at the beginning of the season, he’s pragmatic about it. He goes in and takes his punishment like a superhuman and makes a deal with Satan. With that deal, he sees a way forward for his own journey – his journey being getting a hold of Jesse Custer. If he has to go get Hitler and this Eugene guy and bring them back, fine. He’s had a massive knock back, but one thing about the Saint is he’s not somebody that’s going to whine about it. [Laughs] There’s not going to be a scene where he’s wringing his hands and saying, “Why is this happening to me?” He just gets on with it and accomplishes that mission. It’s an interesting season for me because I don’t really have any involvement with Dominic [Cooper]. I’m separated from that character. We all get thrown into these different storylines for Season 3 and I think that stirs up some interesting character possibilities. It’s been great working with Noah [Taylor], and Ian [Colletti] was just a delight.
Q: What was it like playing scenes with Satan?
A: It was pretty extraordinary. Satan’s office was my favorite set. It’s full of the lava-like floor and the LED lights. The production design choices were wonderful. In the original script, the roles were reversed where Satan was dressed in short sleeves and looked like a regular guy and the Angel of Death was this horned beast. It was a late decision to reverse those and I think it’s great. Just the sight of him behind that desk when you walk in is great. The way Jason [Douglas] plays it, kind of like this used car salesman, was just lovely. Having that humor in there and avoiding those classic devil tropes – it was great.
Q: When he journeys back to Earth and finds that Eugene is just a kid with a sweet heart, is he surprised?
A: I think what’s really interesting is that the Saint actually develops a relationship with Eugene. The fact that he takes him with him at the end [of the season] and realizes he’s in the wrong place and that Eugene does not belong in Hell shows empathy. I think it was a very interesting choice to place arguably the most tough, murderous killing machine next to the one pure character on the show. What I find so interesting about Preacher is that all of the heroes are damaged people who do pretty terrible things whereas Eugene is a really genuine and lovely person. That’s disarming for the Saint. It’s not anything he’s come across, apart from possibly his own family. It’s not necessarily reflected in what you see on the screen because he doesn’t have those long moments of self-reflection, but I think he’s perhaps reminded of that past that he had with people who were like Eugene. It’s a great choice putting them together.
Q: Eugene has this blind faith that everything is a part of God’s plan, but the Saint disagrees. Do you think they have any impact on each other’s worldview?
A: I think they do affect each other. They both take a little bit from each other. I don’t think the Saint has a great deal of faith in God by the end, but he has more faith in humanity. What Eugene takes, which I think is evidenced when he leaves Hell, is that he’s going to do bad things to Jesse for what he has done to him. The man who left him in Hell all those years. Them leaving together places him on the path and it’s not a path of goodness. Eugene has definitely taken something from the Saint.
Q: What does the Saint make of Hitler? How would you describe their dynamic during this journey?
A: I think the Saint takes people as he finds them. He’s wonderfully old-fashioned. He doesn’t listen to what people say about other people. He judges him on his behavior, and his behavior in that deli is not good. He’s a lying, conniving, manipulative bastard. [Laughs] So, he’s going to leave him in Hell. When [Showrunner/Executive Producer] Sam Catlin first told me that these three characters would be together, I did imagine they’d be having three-way conversations about the world and life, but actually the Saint wouldn’t have those conversations. It’s like that family he sits down with in Season 1 at the campfire. People can talk and talk and talk and the Saint just replies. He’s not going to go deep with Hitler about his worldview. He’s like a missile in some ways. That sequence when I find Hitler in the deli and slowly walk towards him with the manacles and he’s trying to talk me out of it, it’s entirely meaningless. It’s like the bullets bouncing off of him when people try to shoot him. He’s very linear in that way.
Q: Tulip and the Angel of Death really stand their ground against the Saint this season. Are they just dangerously misjudging the Saint?
A: [Laughs] It does feel like a foolish thing to do, doesn’t it? Tulip does it very deliberately to try to achieve a goal, but the Angel of Death clearly didn’t receive the memo about the Saint. She really has no idea what he’s capable of. It’s like being in a room with an animal. That tiger you keep poking in the cage and you think he can’t hurt you and one day the tiger gets out of the cage and it’s really bad news for everyone. That’s how I felt. … The thing that he’s learned is patience. His journey began in the 1870s or 1880s, so he’s had a long time to just mull all of this over, make his plans and take his time in executing them. That’s what he has – time. “I’ll eventually do it,” is his thinking. There’s no way they’re ever going to escape him. If he decides to get a hold of you, he’s going to.
Q: In the Season Finale this year, the Saint takes on a tank and a whole army. How did that sequence compare to other epic moments on the show?
A: It was insane! The bus, the tank, the Nazis, the firing of a genuine WWII German machine gun I got to fire. It’s like being a big kid. I used to play war as a child, so to have it on that kind of a canvas is just wonderful. You never imagine you’d be lying under a tank pretending to be run over – these are not normal things. [Laughs] And Garrett Kruithof, who plays the head Nazi, was so good. I really did struggle this season with him and with Ian and with Noah not to openly laugh on camera. It was tough.
Q: The Saint makes it back to Hell and unleashes his fury on Satan. What does that moment of revenge mean for him?
A: It’s a huge moment. It’s at that moment that he realizes that his enemy is God. It’s God that he needs to talk to. Satan is just somebody who is in the way. The Saint always deals with those situations like cleaning out the trash. He just gets rid of them. I don’t know that he takes satisfaction in killing Satan. It just had to be done. I think he’s very cold about it, but he’s not pumping the air and standing over the body and saying, “You deserved that.” It’s just, “Bang. You had your chance. Goodbye.” That really echoes those great western characters like Eastwood, John Wayne and all those guys. Life was simple in a way. The Saint’s purpose is very simple. His life is balanced between what is representative of good, which is his wife and daughter and horse, and everything else is a potential threat to that. He doesn’t rejoice in Satan’s death. I don’t think he thinks about it for a moment after he leaves.
Q: Why do you think he spares the Angel of Death after everything she’s done to him?
A: It’s interesting that he doesn’t kill her. He really condemns her to purgatory. He’s blinding her in order to make her suffer. He reserved a special degree of suffering for her. The Angel of Death has a sadistic satisfaction in what she’s doing and I have to do something quite extreme with her.
Q: Does he give any second thought to leaving Hitler on the throne to be the ruler of Hell?
A: If he walks out of a room, whatever happens in that room after he leaves is of no concern to him. He only moves forward and I think that’s one of his great strengths. He’s not one for reflection, regret or introspection. That door shuts and as far as I’m concerned, it’s like the guy never existed.
Q: Now, the Saint is after God, but he still wants Jesse, who also wants to go after God. What are the Saint’s priorities?
A: I think Jesse’s become a secondary priority or he becomes a way of getting to his goal. That’s not through killing him necessarily. It might be through cooperating, recruiting him and partnering with him reluctantly to achieve a greater goal. I think he’s very good at compartmentalizing. He can realize what’s more important. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Read a Q&A with executive producer and showrunner Sam Catlin.
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