Graham McTavish, who plays the Saint of Killers on Preacher, talks about the odd couple of the Saint and Eugene, the Saint’s nihilism and how the Saint is like a character in a Clint Eastwood movie.
Q: What’s the Saint of Killers’ mission going into this season?
A: Well, I think really it’s always been the same, in that he wants to find the truth behind who really caused the death of his family and caused the tragedy that has haunted him for the four seasons of the show, and he’s been pointed in the direction of God as the solution to that particular problem. And so, yeah, in this season he wants to have a quiet word with God about what exactly went on. [The Saint is] a man who was on the straight and narrow and enjoying life with his family, and all that was taken away from him and it appears that the person who designed that was the man himself, Mr. God.
Q: The Saint of Killers spends most of his time this season with Eugene. How was it acting alongside Ian Colletti and that crazy face prosthetic of his?
A: I always had huge sympathy for Ian because it was no joke having to go through sometimes 12-, 14-hour days and only being able to consume liquefied food. It was very difficult for him, but he had great good humor. And it was lovely working with him. He’s such a talented young man. And he really represents in the show the one purely good person, in a way. The rest of us are all mixtures of good and bad, and Eugene, despite the fact that he’s sent to hell, is a truly good person and such an innocent, and the show needs that character. It really does, and he does it so well. I had great difficulty when I was working with him not laughing. I mean, I did laugh, openly, in several instances, but fortunately I think the camera wasn’t on me at the time — I think it was maybe covering him — so we got away with it. But I found it very difficult to work with Ian without laughing. It was great fun. And they’re such an odd couple, if you can call them a couple. It really is very strange. And it was a lovely thing that Sam [Catlin] did with the writing of that to give those two characters that relationship that they had in Season 3 and 4.
Q: The Saint seems to grow protective of Eugene. Is that because the Saint is changing, or because Eugene is unlike anyone he’s encountered along his journey?
A: That’s a tricky one. I think we’d like to think that the Saint grows protective of him, but I think the Saint’s motives are not entirely pure. I think he uses Eugene. I think he uses him as a means to an end, and he uses him as bait. He uses him as bait for Jesse. The scene where he goes and rescues him from the Child Protective Services — I think it would be nice to ascribe these sort of decent motives to the Saint in doing what he does, but actually he realizes that he needs him. He needs him to accomplish what it is that he wants, and that’s the thing you always have to remember about the Saint is that he has a very, very clear goal. And in all four seasons, what he’s been doing is [he’s] just determined to come to some conclusion and some answer to the questions that he has and he will use whoever he can to achieve that and kill whoever he needs to who happens to get in his way.
Q: We learn that the Saint has made a deal with God to see his family again. Does he trust God to follow through?
A: No, no, he doesn’t trust God at all. No. No, no, no. I mean, he doesn’t trust anybody. Trust went out the window Season 1. That was it. He trusted to those things in Season 1 and look what it got him. It got him the death of his wife and his only child. So, no, he doesn’t trust God. In fact, all he trusts [God] to do is to try and double-cross him. So, the Saint in that way, he’s a great chess player. God likes to think that he’s thinking several moves ahead, but the Saint is several moves ahead of that, as we discover. Also, he doesn’t conform to the way that God has been able to manipulate people. God believes that he can manipulate the Saint, but he doesn’t allow for the fact that the Saint has this very nihilistic view of things and so he just doesn’t play ball. And that’s what I love about it.
Q: What does it say about the Saint that, after all he’s been through, his family is still the major thing guiding his choices?
A: It shows how much he loves them and it shows how deeply he was affected by their loss. No grief counseling for the Saint. He owns that grief, but he owns it through a white-hot need for vengeance. He sees the world in a binary way. That’s the essence of somebody like the Saint. In the same way that he’s based on Clint Eastwood characters, [as] Garth [Ennis] says so himself, what makes those characters attractive to an audience is that their world is a very simple world. It is a world of black and white. It is a binary world. There’s no confusion. There’s no sitting around and pondering, “Well, what should I do?” There’s no Hamlet moment in the Saint. It’s just you hurt me and I will hurt you back. And that’s it, pure and simple, for him. There is a wonderful simplicity to his life and the way he chooses to live it that, in a way, I think a modern audience almost envies because we’re always having to make conditional responses to things. We’re always having to think what are the implications of what I’m about to say or do or should I take those feelings into account? The Saint has none of those things. It’s just very, very linear. His journey’s very linear and that’s very appealing dramatically. I think it resonates with any audience, whether it’s a modern audience or an audience from the past.
Q: Preacher expects the Saint of Killers to take God out, but he quickly learns he’s out of the loop and the Saint is there for him. Does SOK take any pleasure in this?
A: I think he sees Jesse as unfinished business, and he’s not going to let him off the hook. There’s no way. There’s no way in the Saint’s reasoning that that person should be allowed to get off the hook…Up until the point [of the events of Episode 10], there is no question. He very much intends to kill him in the most appalling way he can find.
Q: What was it like bringing this series to an end?
A: Very hard. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it is a bittersweet moment. It was a wonderful journey and a journey that we were able to complete, which was great. To be absolutely honest with you, I still don’t think I’ve actually taken it in that I will not be playing that character again. I don’t think I have because I left [the set] and immediately had other things that I was doing and so I’ve just not really had the time in a way to mourn that loss. Because it is a loss. Because for me it wasn’t just a show. It was an opportunity to portray a character that I loved, from the book. I knew that character really well and when the opportunity was given to me to play him it was absolutely incredible. I can’t imagine it ever happening again. I’ve done parts that I’ve enjoyed very, very much, but not a part where I had loved that character so much before I was even given a chance to play him.
I’ve lived with the Saint ever since I first read about him in the late ’90’s, so that’s 20 years. It’s not four seasons of a show. It’s 20 years of knowing about him and rereading the books and then finding out that they were doing the show and then saying, “Oh my God, I’d love to be in it. I don’t care who I play. I’d love to be in that show.” Then when they said, “We’d like you to talk about playing the Saint,” I was like, “My God!” And the weight of responsibility that I felt when I was playing him, when I first put on that costume and that iconic look and all the rest of it, I carried that with me always when I was playing him because he’s such a fan favorite from the books. And so to say goodbye to him was very hard, very, very hard. I haven’t watched the season yet and I’m waiting ’til the end and then I’m going to watch it so that I can, I guess, say goodbye to him in that way, as a viewer, because otherwise it is very difficult. I mean, these things happen all the time of course as an actor, but this is a unique one.
Q: What is the wildest scene from this series, in your opinion?
A: The wildest scene? It’s almost an impossible question. There’s so many. Obviously Herr Starr having his genitals chewed off by a dingo has gotta be up there [in Season 4, Episode 6, “The Lost Apostle“]. Some of the fight sequences that we’ve had, some of the fights that Jesse’s had — those stunt sequences I think really, really are a great testament to John Koyama and his team. What they did with the show to constantly surprise us with just amazing sequences — there’s too many to even mention in this season. Because I think this particular season has more stunts in it than the previous two seasons combined, so it’s a lot. If I had to pick one, it would be Herr Starr having his genitals just devoured by a wild dingo. I mean, that’s out there. Humperdoo dancing, the multiple Humperdoos — it’s just endlessly inventive. And that’s what I loved. There were always scenes in every script, every season, that I would read them and I would say, “How are they possibly going to film this? How can they do this? This is ridiculous. It’s insane.”
Read an interview with Julie Ann Emery, who plays Lara Featherstone.
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