Ian Colletti, who plays Eugene Root on Preacher, talks about his character’s purpose in life, interacting with the Saint of Killers and his favorite scenes from the series.
Q: How has Eugene changed coming into Season 4?
A: A lot of the show over the past four seasons is about these characters evolving and questioning their own nature and that battle between who we think we are and who we’re meant to be. For Eugene, I think that’s really been it. It’s really been this linear story for him from Seasons 1 to 4 — in terms of his self-hatred in Season 1 and feeling like he was responsible for all the terrible things that happened to him. Then, he was sent to Hell and he had to get out of Hell and now he’s out of Hell. He’s learned a lot about himself and he’s wondering, “OK, now I’m out, now I’m more aware of who might be responsible for this.” He thinks it might be Jesse, and now the question is to find him and get that final answer and get that closure. Really this whole season to me has been answering the question that he posed to Jesse in the pilot — Why can’t I hear God? Am I responsible for the bad things that happen to me?
Q: Eugene is out of Hell, his hometown is gone. What is his purpose now?
A: It’s about closure for him. I think he’s always been a character whose defining trait is his desire to do the right thing. I think he’s still trying to follow his heart, but I think a lot of it is just about him finding that closure. He needs to find out, is he responsible for this? Does he deserve to be punished? I think it’s about that realization of maybe he doesn’t deserve the horrible things that happen to him and maybe there are other things at play and other people responsible.
Q: Eugene struggles with the Saint’s violence, but he still continues to follow him. Why?
A: I think Eugene’s desire to do the right thing and his belief that God has a plan has led him to subconsciously have this “ends justify the means” mentality, to some degree, where he believes that God has a plan, he believes that where he’s at is part of that plan and he’s willing to do what he needs to do to make sure he’s playing his role in that plan. I think he genuinely believes at this moment that the plan is to find Jesse, and the Saint, again, is a means to justify the ends — he is a way for him to do that because he couldn’t find him on his own. The Saint obviously knows where he is or can hear him, and so he stays with him.
I think it’s similar to his relationship with Hitler, when he’s in Hell. It’s this idea of OK, are we going to escape Hell? You’re a terrible person, but you can help me get out of here. And that nature of his to see the best in the most horrifying of people, that’s just a theme for him and he often gets taken advantage of because of that. It’s his belief in God and that he’s part of a plan that makes him decide that — whether he’s going to be taken advantage of or not, whether he has to work with someone terrible or not — it’s all part of him finding the truth and trying to be a good person and trying to find the right answer.
Q: What’s it been like acting alongside the Saint of Killers, who is such a contrast to Eugene?
A: Graham McTavish is just incredible. It’s been such a joy to get to come to work and share scenes with him. He brings such an intensity and honesty to that character, and an energy that is so different than Eugene. I think Eugene, the themes for me are always love and compassion, forgiveness — themes that often end up being his own Achilles heel. And, with Graham’s character, it’s a lot of anger and revenge and sometimes those themes can be the Achilles heel of his character. So I think to have two characters like that balance each other out, it makes for really interesting scene material. And also I think it’s just hilarious. He’s so tall and just this hulking man and he’s wearing these big clothes with guns and a saber, and I’m wearing, for most of this season, boots and women’s clothes, and my character is always hunched over, with this body language that says he’s about to be killed at any moment. The two of us walking together down the street is such a hilarious sight. And the fact that he puts me in chains throughout the first few episodes — we just were dying. I thought that was so funny.
Q: When Eugene finally sees Preacher, he tells him to run! Why does he help him in that moment?
A: Eugene fits into the story of Preacher in that I think one of the main overarching themes is people fighting and denying their own nature to get to the end. We see it with Jesse. We see it with Tulip. We see it with Cassidy. It can be more negative with them. They have these darker secrets lurking and they try to fight that, fight who they are, to be better. With Eugene it’s often almost the opposite in terms of he wants to hate Preacher in some ways, but it’s his nature to be forgiving and to find the best in people. And I think, no matter how angry he is, it’s in these situations where there’s high pressure and a decision has to be made that you see people’s true nature and I think, in that moment, it’s just his honest reaction, which is to show compassion, let him go — which is a testament to his character.
Q: Not too long after, Eugene shoots Jesse. Why the change of heart?
A: The show is still just about human beings. There’s only so far one can be pushed and, as emotions are running high, people make decisions that, again, can either go against their nature or maybe represent an evolution in that nature. What it is for Eugene, we’re just going to have to wait and see. But, in that moment, he’s still a person and he spends so much of the show being treated like he’s not a person, but he is. So I think in that moment, he’s just overwhelmed by the anger and frustration of the situation and he’s tired of being pushed around — he’s been pushed around the past few seasons — and he takes matters into his own hands.
Q: What was it like bringing this series to a close?
A: It was really emotional, honestly. From doing the pilot to the last episode, it was almost five years, and, for an actor, it’s a pretty long time to be working one job and playing one character. We really became a family on the show. It was a tricky thing to say goodbye. But, honestly, I think a lot of us felt we finished this where it needs to be finished and we’ve told the stories we want to tell and we’ve explored these characters in all the ways that we want to. We had the sense of “OK, we’ve done justice to these characters and hopefully we’ve done justice to the story.” I think we all left with this sense of the sun is setting on this job, but I think we did an OK job and I think a lot of us were proud of what we did when we left and there definitely was a sense of completion.
Q: What’s the wildest scene from this series, in your opinion?
A: Some of my favorite stuff was not me. I’d say my two favorite scenes are when Cassidy and Fiore did the drugs together in that room [in Season 2, Episode 2, “Mumbai Sky Tower“]. And then I love the scene from Season 1 [Episode 5, “Sundowner“] with DeBlanc and Fiore when they are in the hotel room and keep killing the angels and keep regenerating and coming back to life and the room is slowly filling with bodies. I just remember my makeup trailer — every morning I’d come in and it was stacked with these fake bodies for that scene and I was stepping over them so I could get into my chair to put on my arseface.
For my character, probably one of the weirdest crazy scenes was also from Season 1 [Episode 7, “El Valero“] when Jesse’s having that vision of me coming out of Hell, crawling up through the dirt in the floorboards. That was just the craziest thing to film because it was built up on a stage. It was like six feet high and it was like this weird little pool filled with dirt, but there was a little hole in the bottom so I’d crawl under it and come up through the dirt. It was all practical effects. It was really crazy and cool. A lot of my favorite scenes were with Dominic [Cooper] throughout the series. For my character, that’s the most emotionally charged character that I have scenes with, so I always just enjoyed it and he’s great so it just makes it easy.
Read an interview with Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy.
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