Pip Torrens, who plays Herr Starr on AMC’s Preacher, discusses how his character changes in the presence of Allfather, what he really thinks of Hoover and Featherstone, and why he’ll always find something for Jesse to do.
A: It’s a hiccup that Featherstone shot Tulip and apparently killed her, but Starr’s very pragmatic and I think he knows that that’s not insuperable, so he later on apologizes. Jesse is still very much his ideal candidate [to be the Messiah]. It’s just a question of finessing the deal, and we see him doing that progressively over the first few episodes of Season 3.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between Starr and Allfather?
A: It’s like a very stern, Victorian father. Allfather can have anyone killed with a snap of a finger, but Allfather’s very eccentric because what we see is not just this terrifying authority figure, but someone who’s a complete glutton and overeater and vomiter — someone who’s absolutely disgusting and not a holy figure at all. Just a powerful figure, although he uses holy language and believes in the creed of the grail. You see that Starr – for reasons that perhaps he doesn’t understand himself or perhaps because he never had a family – he’s absolutely terrified of this guy. This guy treats him like an underling and Allfather never lets him forget that. There’s something disgusting about him and I think we understand how that might create a distaste and a fear because if we dislike something and it’s intense enough, we fear it as well. I think that’s what’s happening with Starr. He’s such a control freak himself and sees this man who has the power of life and death over him and who, in many ways, is very uncontrolled – at least in his personal habits. He unsettles Starr.
Q: What was it like to play Starr as a supplicant this season?
A: It was a joy because I got to play some different notes and show that Starr has this blind panic. He’s terrified of not just having failed to deliver on his official brief, which is to prepare Humperdoo, but also that he’s going to be discovered to be plotting against the Grail’s raison d’être. It was great fun to do. Jonny Coyne is a very funny and clever actor. I really enjoyed our stuff together.
Q: What does Starr make of the fact that Allfather is so taken by Humperdoo?
A: [Laughs] I think he’s just so amazed that he’s survived the revelation that the one thing Humperdoo can do – because Hoover has trained him so well – is to do this immaculate soft-shoe shuffle. Starr’s so far out of his comfort zone, and then to find that this has struck the right note with Allfather just confirms in his mind that this whole organization is completely deranged. If you can see that and still think the guy is the descendant of Jesus, it shows that Allfather is as nuts as anyone else.
Q: In Episode 6, Starr learns that Allfather’s plans for the apocalypse is nuclear. How does that change Starr’s plans?
A: He thought he was plotting for good reasons, but he didn’t realize just how insane Allfather has become. It also shows how [the Grail’s] upper level, personified by Allfather, has its own culture and beliefs, which is absolutely batsh—t crazy even by the standards of this show.
Q: What was it like filming the horse-eating scene?
A: In the great assembly of disgusting things I’ve done on this show, that wasn’t too disgusting. The horse was pretty amazing. Jonny had the bulk to do there. Despite the cutaways, I can tell you that Jonny was eating quite a lot during those takes. He had this incredible trick of eating and managing to keep food in his mouth during his long speeches and eject bits of it from time to time even long after you thought he might have swallowed it. It was incredible. Bear in mind, he was wearing a really horrendous fat suit and a huge prosthetic down over his face, so he was having a very tough time. He had to go sit in a special chilled tent, which is what they sometimes use for people who are going deep under ground in hot areas. He was fantastic.
Q: What does Starr make of Gran’ma during their negotiation?
A: She unsettles him because the thing that’s never really been made clear is what Starr’s connections are. It was hinted last season that he had some kind of connection to Hell or that you could link him up with the satanic administration, but he certainly doesn’t have the relationship with the underworld that Gran’ma has. Whether he knows that she’s got that capacity or not, he recognizes that she’s a different kind of animal to the people he’s been dealing with. He’s quite respectful of her, which he isn’t of many people.
Q: The end of Episode 7 looks like a trap for Jesse. Can Starr ever be trusted? Is this a long game?
A: He can never be fully trusted by Jesse and I think Jesse knows that – not that Jesse really ever trusts anyone. Starr is finding out things about his own psychology the whole time. To discover that there’s someone that unsettles Starr as much as Allfather does makes you realize that there’s more fragility in Starr. We’ve seen his rage occasionally, but he’s a very damaged man and, occasionally, it bursts out. He’s also very voyeuristic. He gets a lot of pleasure out of seeing Jesse use his power. He will always want to make use of Jesse and because of that, he will always have one more thing for Jesse to do. Starr is about control and it almost doesn’t matter what he gets Jesse to do, as long as he gets Jesse to do something.
Q: Starr remains surrounded by morons. Why does he indulge Hoover and Featherstone?
A: I think he keeps them around to feel better about himself. It’s almost conceit that he would keep them going just as a way of always having somebody to be angry with or exasperated with. They actually do have their areas of expertise. Featherstone did a pretty good job surveilling Tulip. She took Tulip in, which is a source of great embarrassment to Tulip. Similarly, Hoover is loyal and faithful. But Starr doesn’t really notice them. He thinks most people are useless and incompetent. He has very little time for people even if he doesn’t let that be known. Starr has very little patience. So, he doesn’t even think about keeping them around. They’re there and they’re a nuisance, but Starr’s always on the move. If he had time to stop and think about their performance, he’d have them replaced.
Q: Starr literally wears many hats this season. Did you have a personal favorite?
A: [Laughs] They were all great. I loved the Stetson, but it was only on for about five seconds before Jesse uses the word of God on me. A lot of people liked that crocheted beanie cap that was based on the Edge, the U2 guitarist. Everyone had their favorites. The point about them was they were all meant to be profoundly unsuitable and unflattering and meant to exasperate Starr and remind him that underneath it was a scar he could never get rid of. It’s interesting that the thing that tips him over the edge is vanity.
Read a Q&A with Ian Colletti, who Eugene (“Arseface”) Root.
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