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Prayer Circle with
Preacher
Star Dominic Cooper

by Fred Topel




When most people think of comic books, they think of Batman or Spider-Man, famous characters with very clear super powers. Most of these characters have had their own movies by now, but it takes a very special artist to think of a preacher as a superhero. That artist is Garth Ennis, who’s graphic novel Preacher is now being adapted into a TV series for AMC.
 
When the series begins, Dominic Cooper plays Jesse, a preacher in the town of Anville, TX, who is having a crisis of faith . When an Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and a female assassin named Tulip (Ruth Negga) come to town, Anville is going to need more than faith to handle what’s coming next. Suddenly, Jesse is struck by a power called Genesis that allows his words to command people. Soon, Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy team up to protect Anville from evil and supernatural forces.

Dominic Cooper plays Jesse, a preacher in the town of Anville, TX


“I think he always has it in him,” Cooper said. “I think that’s why
Genesis chooses him. He has this love. He’s desperate to save his town. He’s desperate for forgiveness. He has huge regrets about his father. He has a lot of love but he’s extraordinarily dark. That’s what his constant battle is.”
 
We got a taste for the dark comedy of Preacher when AMC screened the first episode for the Television Critics Association in January. They rented out a movie theater in Pasadena for the critics screening, and Preacher looked as grand as any comic book movie. It was considerably bloodier though, featuring vampire fights, helicopter crashes and exploding heads. Just when you think Preacher is getting serious, some violent twist will shock you out of your chair.
 
an Irish vampire named Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun)Even Jesse doesn’t remain spiritual forever. “Wow, does it change,” Cooper said. “It goes from this guy who thinks he’s found this godly presence within himself, and he can save everyone and everything for good, and then you suddenly see the devil in it. He does some nasty stuff. That has been so enjoyable because that’s what I’ve been waiting for. It’s the real dark side to what he has in him.”
 
The “voice of God” power which Jesse now possesses is dangerous. If people will follow every word you say, you’d better be careful with your choice of words, especially if an entire congregation is listening. However, Cooper says Jesse will learn how to use his power better.
 
“He learns how to harness it,” Cooper said. “He learns what’s needed. I think there’s going to be much more simplicity to it, since it’s him learning how to control it. He mistreats it quite badly, and causes some severe damage with it, but ultimately he thinks he can save the town with it. He starts throwing the power around thinking it’s the best thing in the world, but where it goes in the script I’ve just read, you’re like, ‘No, you can’t, you can’t do that.’ And then he does.”
 
As Spider-Man famously learned, with great power comes great responsibility. Even though Jesse has the most powerful abilities of all, he also has to be the center of the show. Cassidy can be flamboyant and he is, boozing and swearing. Tulip may be the badass warrior, butJesse ultimately has to be a would-be savior.
 
“My worry was always being surrounded by these extraordinary, vibrant, colorful, amazing characters who have these dynamic, wonderful scenes and they’re fun and funny,” Cooper said. “I’m just this morbid, depressing kind of bloke in the middle. but there has to be this stillness, There has to be the center to this whirlwind, and I have to embrace it and take it on and be confident in the stillness and the weight of it. “
 
Preacher AMC

What that means is a lot of the show’s dark comedy happens around Jesse, and he must be the straight man. “He’s not particularly funny, that Jesse,” Cooper said, and “he’s got a really good sense of humor, I think. I don’t know whether he’s got particularly great comic timing. I find him funny, but not compared to those others; they’re maniacs and they’re hilarious all the time! I think he smiles at everything, he finds them very humorous. He does,and he tries to be funny.”
 
The Preacher comic book is a sprawling epic in which Jesse roams the country, going from town to town. In the adaptation, the Preacher TV series stays put in Anville, but Jesse’s got his work cut out for him in one place.
 
“I think we’re going to stay in the town for the majority of [the first season] because there are such great characters in the town,” Cooper said. “I’m still loving doing all the scenes with them. It’s a desperate attempt to save these people who are flawed, and finished and here’s almost no saving them. It’s so clever how Garth created these characters and how he put them up against each other.”
 
The central trio of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy gives them a lot to work with. They form a tight bond, but one that makes it more painful when betrayed. “We’re learning more and more about the backstory, certainly of Tulip and Jesse’s existence,” Cooper said. “The more we learn about that, the more it informs all of our scenes, but it’s really sad. It’s tragic, but my God, is it a bond, and a bond that can never be broken ... which holds so much weight with regards to how Cassidy lets him down in the future, but then he saved him on numerous occasions. It’s a really clever and heartfelt love triangle between the three of them. They care for each other hugely and let each other down hugely.”
 
Cooper has appeared in more traditional comic book movies and shows. In Captain America: The First Avenger, he played Howard Stark, a role he’s reprised on the Agent Carter TV series. Howard Stark is the father of Tony Stark, the character Robert Downey, Jr., plays in the Iron Man movies. Those films are much more lighthearted than Preacher, which is published by Vertigo, an imprint of DC.
 
“They’re very different worlds,” Cooper said. “They’re very, very different. The way I approach Marvel, I play a particularly fun character in Marvel. It’s just good, good fun but it’s very, very different. The responsibility of that is you’re Iron Man’s dad. The responsibility of this [playing the role of Jesse] is just a tricky character. This is the hardest character I’ve ever had to play.”
 
The Devil’s Double

That’s saying a lot for Cooper, considering Jesse his most difficult role. He once played a dual role in the same film, The Devil’s Double, as both Saddam Hussein’s son and the look-a-like hired to be his decoy. And if you follow the show, you’ll see Preacher stretch Dominic Cooper even further.
 
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened actually,” Cooper said. “The responsibilities of that, to think if they suddenly turn around and you just see the look on their faces, going, ‘Oh f*ck, we’ve made a huge mistake.’ That could happen. That actually could happen. In a lot of the work I’ve done, I’ve been very close to the things in which I’ve played, and I’ve been able to observe. Even something like Devil’s Double, not that I’ve hung out with killers, but that world I kind of knew more than Texas. I've spent more time in the Middle East than I have in Texas so it was a lot of work, and I have the responsibility of the people of Texas and the lovers of the comic. That I needed to get right.”
 
The stories and art of Garth Ennis were new to Cooper when he was offered the role of Jesse. “I was just looking for something really good,” Cooper said. “This was mentioned and I said, ‘This is absolutely incredible. I have not read anything like this.’ Then read the comics as a result of that and then thought I have to have something to do with this. The audacity to think that I could possibly play that character, I wasn’t sure but I just said, ‘Please, try and get me to go meet the guys.’”
 
It was the idea of movie writer/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to turn Preacher into a TV series. Sam Catlin, a producer on Breaking Bad, became the producer of Preacher. Cooper remembers meeting them in a whirlwind of enthusiasm for the wild art of Preacher.
 
“The three of them, it was Seth, Evan and Sam in a room which was one of the strangest meetings I’ve ever had in my life,” Cooper said. “I can’t even explain what it was like. They were all talking at the same time. They were all so animated and so excited. I wasn’t sure what kind of room I’d entered or what was going on, but I loved it. That made me even more excited about the project. At that point, I think they must’ve seen something in me that they thought could be Jesse, which was exciting. Then I met them again. At that point I really read the comics and I went, ‘Wow, I really missed out.’”
 
It’s only his recent work that made Cooper appreciate the artistry of comic books. He’s glad it has, because now he’s discovering the creative worlds that have existed in pages of ink and paint for decades.
 
“I was never a big comic book person, I don’t know why, and they’re great,” Cooper said. “They’re just great because you’re using your imagination at the same time. You’re turning it into a film and that’s why we have such an important job on our hands, to make this into something for everyone, but [especially] for the people that have read them and created the film in their head already, from reading them. They’re so filmic. They’re so visual and brilliantly written.”
 
The comics are always there for Cooper when he needs them, but so far he hasn’t needed to refer to them. Reading the scripts and performing as Jesse every week has kept him on his toes.
 
“They’ve got such a good writing team—that’s quite clear,” Cooper said. “What I love is that there are a number of ways to play all the scenes, which always suggests that the writing is brilliant. More often than not, I start at a place at the beginning of the day while we’re shooting, and the scene ends up in a completely unexpected place, which is so fulfilling."

You discover so much about the person you’re playing in a short space of time. I love that. I can refer to the comic, but it’s often within the dialogue anyway.”
 
                              Preacher premieres Sunday, May 22 on AMC



www.Dishmag.com / Issue 180 - September 2018
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