'Preacher' Interview: Dominic Cooper Talks Comic Books and Religion
- Category: Interviews
- Published: Thursday, 19 May 2016 08:53
- Written by Fred Topel
Dominic Cooper is already part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He played Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER a role which he reprised on the TV series "Agent Carter." Now he’s playing the lead in AMC’s new series "Preacher," based on the Garth Ennis comic book.
"Preacher" comes to AMC via writer/directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Sam Catlin is their show runner and Cooper plays Jesse, a pastor who’s lost his faith until a force called the Genesis enters his body. Genesis gives Jesse the power to command people with his words, a power which he may need to deal with vampires, assassins and other creatures coming to town. We got to sit in a roundtable with Cooper discussing the new show. Preacher premieres Sunday, May 22 on AMC.
Q: Did you know the comics before this show came your way?
DC: I always try and remember exactly what happened. I don’t think I had. During the pilot season, which I hadn’t been exposed to, there’s often two, maybe three scripts that everyone’s talking about. This was one everyone was mentioning so I was just looking for something really good. This was mentioned and I think Ruth [Negga, his costar in Warcraft] had a copy of it so I stole it from her. I did. I whisked it away. “What is this? 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.”
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. 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. The things they were coming out with, because I hadn’t read all of the comic by that point, they were saying some of the episodes will be in this small town, in Annville, then we’ll be in Heaven for a whole potato, or something absurd like that. 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.” I was never a big comic book person, I don’t know why, and they’re great. 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 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.
Q: Was there any adjustment from Marvel to Preacher? Or Hesitation?
DC: Certainly not hesitation. They’re very different worlds. 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 is just a tricky character. This is the hardest character I’ve ever had to play.
Q: Is it a completely different character for you after the pilot?
DC: Yes. In the pilot only at the end does Genesis enter him. So he’s in his worst state really. He’s trying his hardest to be this thing that he’s never capable of being. He’s depressed. He’s a drunk. He’s regretful. He’s trying to change and he’s, by the end, pretty much given up. So there’s a weight to him. 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. I’m just this morbid, depressing kind of bloke in the middle, but I kept reading the comic. I kept going, “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.” Which will change. It goes on a very varied journey but that is what it needed to be to start. Yeah, it does change. It changes hugely. I’m feeling a bit lost at the moment while I’m doing this because throughout that first one, that was the dynamic of him and it changes hugely.
I think he always has it in him. 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 regret about his father. He has a lot of love but he’s extraordinarily dark. That’s what his constant battle is. I think that is what attracts Genesis to him. Wow, does it change. It goes from this guy who thinks he’s found this godly presence within him 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. I have to be this, and it can become preachy and trying my best to be this preacher. He’s getting better at it and he has his congregation and he starts becoming good at his job. And then it all turns. Then it’s the real dark side to what he has in him.
Q: What is your relationship with the voice of God, which he can command people to literally follow his word?
DC: He learns how to harness it. He learns what’s needed. It’s going to change I think from the pilot in the way in which we deal with it cinematically. I think there’s going to be much more simplicity to it. It’s him learning how to control it. He mistreats it, quite badly, and causes some severe damage with it, but ultimately thinks he can save the town with it. One of the writers was saying to me yesterday, “It is a can of worms in what can be achieved or what you can imagine him saying. Why if he says that then does it not affect So and So?” It’s a constant debate and it’s a creative one and it’s exciting to see how it’s going to evolve. We’re all still learning what it is but I think already we’ve decided that it’s not that roaring kind of voice of God. He starts throwing it around thinking it’s the best thing in the world, which is very different from the man we meet in the beginning but where it goes, the one I’ve just read, you’re like, “No, you can’t, you can’t do that.” And then he does.
Q: How long does it take to hit the stride of the comics, which takes off on the road?
DC: I think that’s going to happen later on. 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. I’m still loving doing all the scenes with them. It’s a desperate attempt to save these people who are flawed and finished. There’s almost no saving them. Like they said in that room the first day I met them, it can just go anywhere. Who knows where they’re going to take this? They’re all insane people, rightly so, as they should be. That will be fun because the dynamic between the three of us is extraordinary. It’s really fun. It’s so clever. How Garth created these characters and how he put them up against each other, and we’re learning more and more about the backstory, certainly of Tulip and I’s existence. The more we learn about that, the more it informs all of our scenes and 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.
Q: Did you meet Garth Ennis?
DC: Yeah, of course, but [I was] not as nervous as I was actually working with the guys first of all, because we talked and talked and talked. They’d seen stuff I’d done but they hadn’t seen me be a Texan preacher really properly. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened actually. The responsibilities of that to think if they suddenly turn around now 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. You kind of just send yourself mad. The buildup to that overweighed hugely the idea [of meeting Ennis] because by the time we’d done enough, I was already quite proud of what we were creating of the show. Already I’d seen what the guys were doing and how they wanted it to look and I’d seen the actors they’ve got and I’d seen the performances that they were giving.
Then you meet Garth and he’s the nicest, nicest man you can imagine and very clever. And very giving. The fear of that first day of meeting Garth, not that they’re not but they had given me this thing I felt so responsible for. It was a big ask. It was hard. It’s a man from a world which is a million miles from the world in which I grew up in terms of observation. A lot of my work I’ve done through whatever way, I’ve been very close to the things in which I’ve played, 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 spend 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.
Q: Did you ever discuss having long hair like the comics?
DC: Yeah, you know what? We did a scene, some of the flashback stuff, the other day and I chose the hair. I said, “Let’s make it blonde” and it’s much more suited for him. They just make a joke out of my sh*t hair. We might go back to that but it’s too ‘80s, ‘90s. I kind of wanted the tight white jeans as well. It was all put together so quickly. Creating a wig might not have been the right thing to do but actually having had more time, being able to look at some stuff with flashback, I felt more him actually. It really worked so maybe we’ll go to that. It’s all a work in progress. It’s amazing. It’s a creative environment of coming up with new ideas all the time, everyone pitching in. I wear the same costume, absolutely everything. Then they’ve got Cassidy coming in with black lampshades and pink trousers. Apparently, he’s getting all his clothes from my church lost and found.
Q: Do you get to be funny?
DC: I try to be. He’s not particularly funny, Jesse. 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, 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, he tries to be funny.
Q: How often do you reference the comics?
DC: I contact Sam always, go back to the comics, look at them but they’re so well written. They’ve been so well formulated. They’ve got such a good writing team, that it’s quite clear. 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. You can call them any time and I can refer to the comic, but it’s often within the dialogue anyway.