Jonny Coyne, who plays Allfather on AMC’s Preacher, discusses the elaborate makeup and costume work needed to bring the character to life, why the Allfather is a “true believer,” and eating all that food.
Q: How aware were you of the comic or the TV show before joining the cast?
A: I’d heard of it, but I wasn’t in that world of graphic novels. I don’t know any of them. I’ve never followed a single one. I had to speak to Sam Catlin to tell me a little bit about the character. The more he told me about it, the more I realized he was a huge character in terms of status in the graphic novel world. I thought, “Oh, that’s a bit of a burden to carry.” [Laughs] But I thought I could pull it off. Sam gave me a breakdown of who he was and some clues about how to play him.
Q: What elements of Allfather did you respond to?
A: I loved the grotesqueness of it. I was looking forward to doing the eating, though I think I regretted it once I started. I was really looking forward to having giant chicken legs and bowls of rice and everything you can imagine that you shouldn’t be eating while filming a scene. But then [I realized] that you have to do it 10 more times. I found that kind of stuff fascinating. I was intrigued by the size of the guy and the makeup and the fat suit. I was fascinated by it all. You don’t often get a chance to do something like this.
Q: What was the makeup process like for this character? How difficult was it to navigate around set in that gigantic fat suit?
A: Every day, I had to shave my head so it was nice and short. The slightest bit of hair would come off. This giant, latex, foamy goiter is strapped to your face and it’s done brilliantly by the makeup artists. It takes about 40 minutes to stick it on and about an hour of painting and spraying and getting the textures and the skin right. [The fat suit] was really unbearable. Underneath the fat suit was a structure, the kind you might use for a steady cam – metals and leathers and straps to hold the fat suit on. On top of that was a base layer which gave the shape and then on top of that was the foamy, latex skin parts which were incredibly heavy. Underneath that was another layer strapped on where the belly was and on top of that was the costume. That was incredibly hot to wear. It’s difficult to talk and eat because it rested on your chest – to try to give the character some sort of energy was difficult.
Q: Was it challenging to do so much eating in scenes while also performing?
A: I learned my lesson after the first day’s shoot. It was important to establish that he’s absolutely an eater and it had to be done for real. Every take felt like he was consuming copious amounts. That presented some challenges, but once you present the audience with this character, it’s easier to back off a little bit the next time you eat. But the chow mein was delicious!
Q: Did it all help you get into character?
A: It does help. The character’s got to have a lot of weight. He’s the most powerful man in the world. His greed and his lasciviousness feed into him being the most powerful man in the world who can change your life at a flicker of his eyebrow. If you’re going to play a character like that, it’s nice to know you’ve got the literal weight behind you.
Q: For fans of the show, it’s odd to see Herr Starr be so flummoxed. Does Allfather know the power he holds over Starr? Does he toy with him a bit?
A: Yes, absolutely. He does play with him a little bit and he’s aware of his power. There’s that trick that you don’t’ play the king; everybody plays the king for you. Pip Torrens does a fantastic job at sucking up to me, which is very helpful. It’s interesting that as much as Herr Starr is seen as a true evil man who has no kind of redeeming features whatsoever, when it comes to Allfather’s plans for the future, he starts questioning his motives.
Q: Why do you think Allfather is so amused with Humperdoo’s soft shoe routine?
A: It was clear to me that, at this point, Allfather is toying with [Starr]. He finds it charming, but he just wants to get on with his master plan. He does think it’s idiotic, but it’s all part of a master plan anyway.
Q: How did you wrap your head around his approach as a “true believer”?
A: If you’re that kind of true believer, there’s an obsessiveness and a fundamentalist thing about it. What’s interesting about Herr Starr is that he thinks what they mean by armageddon is financial crash, which they can benefit from. He doesn’t realize that it’s actually dropping bombs on everybody and letting the world start from the beginning. I think that any fundamentalist group around the world feels that armageddon is justifiable.
Q: What do you think it says about Allfather’s fanaticism or mental stability that his plan for the apocalypse is to basically wipe out the world?
A: I don’t think you have to be crazy to believe in something fully and fundamentally. You just have to believe. I wouldn’t say that Allfather is unstable. He knows what he wants. He’s obviously used every trick in the book to get where he is because of what he believes. This master plan has been going on for 2,000 years with the bloodline of Jesus Christ. You don’t get involved in that unless you’re a true believer.
A: Nothing seems to hurt the man. He shoots him and he falls back and the next thing you see is that he’s eating chow mein and taking the bullet out with his chopsticks. That’s not a man who’s scared of anything.
Q: So, what does he make of Jesse? Is there any part of him willing to consider, like Starr, that perhaps he should be the Messiah?
A: I think there’s a tad bit of jealousy towards Jesse because he has what Allfather would really like to have – the voice of God to make everything right. He sees him as unworthy, so that’s an element of it. I think as long as his plan is going according to plan, he doesn’t think much of Jesse. If that serum works, he’s absolutely triumphant. The clones have all exploded and the right serum has been proven to work. The thing about Allfather is he doesn’t question his intentions or his expectations. He knows what he’s after and he’ll do everything he can to do it. No preacher’s going to come and stop him.
Q: Any favorite moments you remember from your time on set?
A: It was a really marvelous experience, but there’s one moment that’s crystallized in my mind. While we were doing the big eating scene in the first episode, Pip being a true pro was there to read the lines for me so that we had a sense of the character playing to me. As the evening went on and I’d eaten so much, I glanced and Pip was in the corner eating some french fries. I kind of wanted to vomit. Just watching him eat was too much after what I’d been through.
Read a Q&A with Pip Torrens, who plays Herr Starr.Read More