Mark Harelik, who plays God on Preacher, talks about playing an omniscient being, why God’s favorite music is jazz and what’s going on in that trailer.
Q: Let’s go back to when you first took on the role. What were your thoughts about playing God? What’s it been like watching the role expand as the seasons went on?
A: God makes his first entrance in the final scene of Season 1. It turns out that the person that shows up as God in [that] first episode is not really God; he appears to be somebody that looks like God. At the end of that episode, the guy is zapped by Jesse‘s word of God saying, “You’re not God. Who are you?” I have to answer truthfully, in a panic, “God’s run away. We don’t know where he is. He’s gone. He’s missing.” And that is the conclusion of Season 1.
Season 2 begins with the knowledge that God is missing and Jesse now is on a mission to find him and hold him accountable. So, I knew that I was going to be playing a God double, as it were, which was cool. It was like, where’s this mystery going to lead? Then, in Season 2, the producers asked me if I wouldn’t mind continuing that role and playing the role of an actor named Mark Harelik, who is me, that auditions for this role in which he plays God. And he doesn’t know what he’s auditioning for. It was so cool. That was another bit of delight, just sort of entering into this mystery. And also the character of the actor is a New Orleans local actor that does commercials and public service announcements, and so I thought, well, that’s me to a T. So, with great authority, I go in and my character has this audition in which he gets offered the job on the spot and, in the middle of rejoicing, he’s shot through the heart because that’s the only way that the angels can get him to Heaven in order to play God. It turns out — and I only discovered this as we went along — that that has been God all along, so God was pulling a double blind, pretending to be somebody else so that he can continue to hide out.
The impact of what it’s like to play God was a slowly unfolding rose that was just one delight after another. But it was a great mystery to set up that God is pretending to be an actor named Mark Harelik. And so, rather than me pretending to be God, it was God pretending to be me, which how cool is that?
Q: This season we spend more time than ever with God. What do you think will surprise people about him?
A: At the end of Season 1, Jesse uses a severed angel hand to dial an angelic heaven-connected telephone, so that he can ask God the question, “What the hell are you up to? What is your purpose? Why are we here?” Once he realized he could make contact with Heaven, that launched Jesse’s quest that has gone on for three years now. As viewers, we’ve always known or felt that he’s going to get to ask that question at some point. The journey is to find God…But what’s fun is that, in the last season, we get to encounter God anticipating finding Jesse because God is planning for that meeting with Jesse.
There is a wildcard in all of this, which is that Genesis is residing inside Jesse. God knows that Jesse has Genesis lodged inside him and, for some reason, he didn’t explode like the pastor, the Satanist and Tom Cruise. God and Jesse are a very loaded combo, and God is just as wary of Jesse as Jesse is wary of God. In this season, in the long view, we see them walking toward each other. God, at least, is doing it very carefully. He’s doing it step by step by step, and he has to arrange this meeting in such a way that Genesis doesn’t get used in some strange way. It’s like Jesse is a country with a nuclear weapon, and you have to be very careful how you approach that country.
So God is taking many indirect paths. As the season unfolds, we see the many different paths that God is taking to set up this meeting with Jesse. It doesn’t look like God is setting it up. God is playing multi-dimensional chess because he is using all of the major characters to make this one meeting happen the way he, God, wants it to happen. So we see God directly encounter every major character. The reason for all of these encounters is to meet Jesse on God’s own terms, not on Jesse’s terms, and it’s really, really complicated.
Q: God is, obviously, all-knowing. So, what does he think when he can’t get a straight answer out of Starr about Humperdoo’s whereabouts? What does he think of Starr and the Grail in general as supposed soldiers doing God’s bidding?
A: I know that Starr is lying to me. I know! I’m just giving him a chance. I will get my way in the end and, to a certain degree, I think that God is pretty disappointed in humanity and, if it comes to it, God’s got another plan. He is perfectly prepared to let humanity wipe itself out or to wipe out humanity, and he’ll replace it with something, no problem. Herr Starr is a prime example of the kind of human being that he absolutely detests, but he’s serving a purpose right now. If Herr Starr wants to f— up and f— up and f— up, God is perfectly prepared to watch him lose his eye, lose his ear, get a penis gashed into the top of his skull. God is perfectly fine with that. God is both repulsed by Herr Starr and is totally using him.
God has given humanity free will, and there’s a real reason that God has given humanity free will — because God can just go in and play out the unfolding of time, just as a board game…The danger in that is that it’s a wild card, and Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy are three facets of free will that represent the three different ways that free will can totally go awry. And Herr Starr also — he’s a human being and God has given him free will. So just like God says to Tulip, “You’re going to screw up and you’re going to keep screwing up because you have free will. It’s your choice. If you’re going to f— up, go right ahead. I’m going to let that happen,” and the risk for God is that it’s a little bit of dice throwing. God knows what people are going to do, but he is not going to stop it because you must keep free will going at all times. Now there’s a reason that God wants man to have free will, that he will never take away man’s free will, and that reason we find out, but I can’t tell you what it is.
The Grail has a function for God because the Grail is protecting Humperdoo. As long as the Grail is in charge of protecting Humperdoo, the Grail is serving a purpose for God. The Grail also has an organizing purpose in terms of arranging humanity’s expectations for the Messiah because I did say in the New Testament that the Messiah is coming back. The Bible is this promise I’ve made to mankind at large, and God just wants mankind to keep with the Bible. And the Grail is making sure that the Bible is going to fulfill all those expectations. God is definitely all-knowing, all-powerful, all-controlling, but he is giving Herr Starr a lot of slack in his rope. He’s letting Herr Starr organize the Grail in any way he wants because Herr Starr is so ruthless. I really trust him more than any other human being to protect Humperdoo.
Q: God’s rewatching the video of Abraham saying he loves God so so much. Does God love himself so so much?
A: Abraham is on God’s list of major successes. It’s like God’s watching his highlight reel of his best moments with humanity. Abraham is a guy that was prepared to kill his son with a knife because God told him to. God comes in and stops his hand, and Abraham turns around and, instead of saying, “You motherf—-er. You die right now,” he turns around and he says, “I love you so much. I was going to do it because I love you so much. You stopped my hand. I love you so much.” And we can tell by the look on God’s face that God really grooves on that. What we’re looking at is not God adoring himself. We’re looking at Abraham adoring God and God’s reaction to that. So God gets off on that. The question is not how much does God love himself. How much does God love to be loved?
If you were a psychologist and you were to say that somebody’s most important priority is how much he’s loved by other people, the psychologist would say, “Well, this guy has a self-esteem problem.” God has created man in his own image, which I think is one of his big arguments to Jesse in Episode 6. He tells Jesse, “I made you in my own image and everything that implies, which means you and I are alike.” And so you can sort of infer that means God not only has Godly qualities but he also has human frailties. One of those human frailties, which apparently if we take it literally that man is made in God’s own image, is insecurity. And so God watches and rewatches this video of Abraham adoring him.
Q: God is living in a trailer, has cages, is fixated on his mini figurines. What can you say about what God is up to?
A: As much as God is happy with the video, he’s not satisfied in this episode. There’s something that gives him an empty feeling. He’s fed up with that. It’s not working for him. And so he’s got his little craft trailer, where he’s not only working out the paths that our major characters are taking — he’s plotting out the paths, he’s arranging for things to happen — but he also has a little project he’s working on in those cages behind him. God is covering his a– on all sides. He’s trying to make humanity work out to his satisfaction, but the returns are diminishing and so God has to have a plan B. God is thinking, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to be stuck without a plan B.” The figurines are still plan A. The figurines are manipulating the fates of our major characters. Plan B is covered up in cages behind him. But they’re all in the trailer.
God’s favorite music is jazz because it’s all improvisation on a theme, which is God’s mode of working. So improvisation is filled with free will. If we can look at what does God consider to be mankind’s greatest achievement? Jazz. Because it’s free will that is just creating all these amazing melodies and God is kind of surprised and delighted by it, so he listens to jazz all the time. Because jazz is God’s favorite music, what is God’s favorite city? New Orleans, the home of jazz. So, in the trailer, God is playing jazz with his major characters. He always has his goal in mind, which is what’s going to unfold in [Episodes] 7, 8, 9 and 10 — but it’s jazz.
Q: God’s plan to trap Jesse and kill him works! What’s it feel like to be the one who killed preacher?
A: I can just say that killing is not the end. Killing Jesse is a journey along the path. He is letting Jesse experience the same thing that he’s letting Herr Starr experience, and I would also say Tulip and Cassidy. God is letting them go through these horrifying experiences because…it’s all part of the plan. It’s specifically and deliberately part of God’s plan.
God allows Jesse to die, as he has allowed other people to die in the past, but that’s not the end of it, for any of them…Death is just another thing that’s going to happen to you, and there are more things that are going to happen to you on the other side. To the viewer, killing Jesse is like, “Oh, f—, that’s the end of Jesse.” For God, it’s like, “Ah, here’s one more thing that’s happening to Jesse.” And the next will be dot dot dot.
This is sound theology. Humans always think that death is the end, but God knows that death is not the end. I have a plan. I need you to experience this because I’ve got one more thing for you, at least one more thing for you, after this. The creators of this story are thinking, OK, you Old Testament, New Testament people, if this is what you think, that there is an afterlife, what is God going to do with you? What’s going to happen if there’s an afterlife? It’s like, what was Lazarus’ day like the next day? What was Lazarus’ day like six months down the line? Was he grooving and having a good time or was it more suffering? Preacher kind of answers these questions. For our viewers, the death of Jesse is “Oh no” and for God it’s like “Oh yeah.”
Q: What did it feel like to bring this series to an end?
A: It was fantastic. This is a story that, from the beginning, there was a quest — in the classic sense, in the quest like The Odyssey, the quest like the Holy Grail, the quest like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table or The Ring cycle. It is a quest involving man, the gods and the demons. The quest has to have a conclusion. In Preacher, the quest reaches a conclusion. Life goes on and we don’t know in what way life is going to go on. That’s the great final mystery in Preacher, is how does life go on. But the quest comes to an end, and there’s no way of anticipating what the end of that quest is going to be. I can tell you it’s so satisfying — it definitely was ending a story and the way we ended it and even the place that we ended it, in Melbourne. Not for the Australians but for the international company, for us we went to the other side of the world to finish this story and we were all there together and it really was very emotional. It had an immensely special feeling to it.
But the great thing is that ultimately Preacher, besides being the story of a love triangle which it very much is, is also a story about the great theological questions and, in one degree or another, those questions are addressed and answered. It’s like what is the book after the Book of Revelations? It’s Preacher.
Q: What’s the wildest scene from this series, in your opinion?
A: I have to tell you that I know what the wildest scene is and it’s to come, so I just can’t talk about that.
But I’ll tell you the scene that impressed me most about what Preacher can do in this world was a scene that I was not in. We have the two angels in Season 1 [Episode 5, “Sundowner“] that have come down to look for Genesis because they want it back, and they encountered another angel that was in fact played by our principal stuntwoman. So we have our two angels and this other renegade angel, and she’s trying to get her hands on Genesis, and they have an epic battle in a motel room. And so our two cowboy angels manage to kill her, but, whenever an angel dies, she spontaneously reincarnates. And so this scene has all of these angels killing each other, spontaneously reincarnating, killing each other, spontaneously reincarnating until the room begins to fill up with the bodies of angels that have died. And the three perpetually reincarnating angels are on top of them. And that is my single favorite scene in all of the Preacher anthology. It’s probably like a 90-second scene, but it demonstrates the fantastic storytelling that Preacher can do.
It also demonstrates the fight work of our legendary fight director, John Koyama, who is a legend in the stunt world. The two most impressive things that he’s done are that angel fight and then in this season [Season 4, Episode 3, “Deviant“] Jesse has a fight in Jesus De Sade’s house, and that’s one of the longest fight sequences that you’ll see on television and it’s another triumph of John Koyama.
Read an interview with Ian Colletti, who plays Eugene “Arseface” Root.
For the latest sneak peeks, full episodes and more, sign up for the Preacher Insiders Club.Read More