‘Preacher’ Star Dominic Cooper on the Absurd New AMC Series and Becoming a Comic Book Fan
Dominic Cooper is following up his role as the younger Howard Stark in Marvel’s Agent Carter with two more franchise adaptations this summer. In addition to appearing on the big screen in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, Cooper stars in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Preacher, the new AMC series based on Garth Ennis’ beloved graphic novels. Debuting on May 22, the first episode impressively captures the darkly comedic and devious tone of the comics, leaving us eager to see more. We had a chance to speak with Cooper following the premiere of Preacher at SXSW, where he discussed his part in the risky adaptation and teased some of the crazy stuff we'll see in the episodes and (hopefully) seasons ahead.
In Preacher, Cooper plays Jesse Custer, a man with a troubled past who returns to his small southern town to take his father’s place at the head of a local church. His Warcraft co-star Ruth Negga plays Jesse’s charming criminal ex-girlfriend Tulip, with Joseph Gilgun as the equally alluring Cassidy (who also happens to be a vampire). We began our interview talking about Cooper’s role as a southerner:
Given how often we see you speaking with an American accent, I find it very hard to believe that you’re actually British.
I do speak with an American accent a lot these days. You’re right. I still think I’m hopeless at it as well.
No, you don’t agree with that. You better say, “No.”
No! No, you’re not hopeless at it. I think you’re great at it, and southern accents are a bit tricky.
[Seth Rogen is participating in interviews nearby]
It’s always difficult doing interviews next to Seth because he’s louder than everyone.
We actually played beer pong with him a couple of years ago during an interview for Neighbors.
Really?! Is that where you just try to get the ball in the cup?
Yes, and it turns out I’m pretty bad at it.
Oh, so you were drunk by the end?
It was 11 in the morning.
Quite the bum! Remorse at about 12:30 after an hour of absolute fun, and then just complete self-hatred.
It was terrible. But Preacher isn’t terrible! Let’s talk about that. This is another comic book role for you, and I’m sure you’re often asked if you had read the books before…
No, I didn’t. I read them before we started working, but I read the script before I read the comics, and then I went back to the comics and read them again just recently. I think it’s good just to refresh.
Are you a fan of the comics now?
I was never into comics! I can understand now. They were for the nerdy kids just obsessed with comics, and I’m like “What are you doing? Go outside, go out on your bike!” That was me. And now I understand. Now I understand why their minds were more advanced. They were reading. I was chucking turds at peoples’ heads from a bicycle…
And they were reading this amazing dialogue that’s so advanced. If I was reading that sort of stuff as a kid, I don’t know, I’d be different. I look at that stuff now and I think, what a little world that you have. It’s like great film and great TV that you can have just reading that stuff. I think they’re awesome. I’ve really enjoyed going back into them and reading them so quickly as well. I do massive chunks at a time.
I don’t read many comics, but that’s one that I have read.
You did read it!
I did! And at the time I was listening to a lot of Bill Hicks’ comedy albums, so that little bit from the comics was so exciting. And he was more popular in England…
He was, he was. So I just don’t know why I didn’t know about it. When I mention it now to people who were into them, they go crazy about it. And you can get caught up in feeling a responsibility to those people who have read it, and you can get into some states of panic when you consider that if you did read them at a certain time, you experienced so much because those characters were a part of your life and got you through. So you know there’s quite a bit of pressure when you start out a job like this.
There are a few changes between the books and the TV series, but I think they’re good differences. Jesse, for instance, is a little softer.
Yeah, I think so. I’m still finding out so much about him and how to play him, and he’s surrounded by such big, elaborate characters. I think I’m struggling — well, not really struggling, but I’m just having to try to remain, I suppose, strong and still. Still and strong, and not getting caught up in other peoples’ speed. I think it’s something to do with the landscape, where he’s from, the world in which he existed, his background in the middle of nowhere. And when you say softer, it’s almost like we’re seeing him [in the pilot] before the comics, so he’s quite damaged at the beginning. Looking back at this now and seeing what else we’ve done and what else we’ve worked on, I see a damaged man. He’s almost given up. He tries and tries, but only to a point. He doesn’t really try. He has a bit of a go at it and realizes he’s just a bit of a drunk idiot. We are who we are, and he just kind of gives up. And that changes dramatically.
I think you’re right. It is sort of almost a prequel-Jesse. He’s not quite at his breaking point.
Right, and when he gets the power — it’s funny, we’ve just done the one in which he gets comfortable in his…strength. And he loves it. Not for very long! Because it makes him worried and he doesn’t want to fudge with it, but for a brief moment he loves it and thinks it’s all for good. But it’s not. I hope there’s color throughout, as I’m trying to find with him. There’s also a lot of different ways to play him.
There will be people watching the premiere who haven’t read the comics yet — as someone who also wasn’t familiar with the story, what was it about the script that hooked you?
That character. Well, all the characters, really. Well, you read it. It was unlike anything. It was unusual. I felt like I just got it. For me there’s all this, of course, about ludicrous vampires and munching each other’s necks, but at the heart of it they’re really well-written, great, brilliant, developed characters and scenes that you care about. It’s also so funny and at the same time there’s real heart and reality, like the scene of us two [Jesse and Tulip] in the car, just a girlfriend trying to persuade someone into the life they once had before. There’s something completely and utterly genuine at the center of it. And that’s what I enjoy doing. I’ve done loads of comic book stuff where it’s just been about superhero kind of stuff, which is great fun, and the fight sequences look great, but actually filming them, as actors, I don’t think that’s the stuff that feeds our passion. That’s sitting down and working the art of a scene out and where it begins and where it ends, and what happens to us in the middle of it.
Comic books can be pretty tricky to adapt, but Preacher is one of the trickier ones because it gets so absurd and grotesque. But the tone of this is so perfect.
They’ve got it right, haven’t they?
Impressed is the word I keep going back to.
Oh, did you like it? As a fan of the comics?
You’ll really like it because it gets even better. It’s even more…the more you see them discovering…They really have got it.
When you say “more,” can we expect it to get even more graphic? I was a bit surprised by how much they got away with in that pilot, and the books have some pretty wild moments.
It’s shocking what happens. I’ve just read one where I was like, “Oh my god.” I’ve been playing this guy thinking everything he does is good, that it’s all from a good place. But something just happened in one I just read where it’s like, oh no, you are nasty. You are, you are, you are…that is a nasty move. And the lack of remorse after is just like, oh my god, you’re capable of that? So it’s going to go as far as you can imagine it. Those guys aren’t going to not let it go as far as it can possibly go. They’re going to just change everything by the end of the first season. It’ll be as absurd, and it’ll go to places if not further than you can possibly imagine. Which is great! It’s exactly as it should be.
You guys are staying in the fictional town of Annville for the entirety of the first season, correct?
Yes. It’s a really good point actually, and we’d love to go elsewhere but we just can’t. We can’t. We have to stay.
It’s good to have more time to establish these people in one place…
It’s really important.
Build some character…
Get to really know them, and then you can chuck them anywhere. It’s such a good concept, if you think about it. Think about any of your favorite characters from anything, and you’re able to throw them into the most ludicrous environment, it would be so entertaining. Think about those chaps from Breaking Bad. Put them in something different. And that, I imagine, is what’s going to end up happening. We’re going to go in search, and that can be anywhere from Heaven to Hell to…Paris. Because that’s what happens in the book. I think if people like it and they get it, and the more confidence they have in the show, then we’ll be able to be as absurd as you can ever possibly imagine.
It also depends on which characters they choose to study next, ‘cause they’re all from different places, aren’t they? There’s so much to choose from.
Is there something in particular that you’re looking forward to filming?
Their time in New York is absurd. There’s that whole bit in New York, and there’s loss. Stuff I haven’t done yet, with the Saint of Killers.
I was just talking to someone about that cool easter egg in the pilot — the liquor bottle that features the Saint of Killers’ logo…
We were wondering if we’ll actually get to see him.
We are. We’re gonna get to see him at work. Another interesting character from the comics that I just realized I’m excited for people to see is Quincannon [played by Jackie Earle Haley]. We’re both very powerful and there’s this scene where we’re coming head to head with one another, and how the dynamic within the scene works — ‘cause he’s desperate for my father’s land for his miserable meat business. And there’s a real power shift and a power play, so that’ll be fun. Each and every time you meet one of these characters it’s really exciting. Who else is there from the comic? I’m trying to think of some really big ones…
There’s Herr Starr, that sociopath with one eye…
Oh that’s going to be really great. It’s going to be madness. When do I lose my eye?
I feel like that takes a few books. You still have some time.
I hope so. I’m sure that will happen. How does he lose it again?
I think we’ve already spoiled enough here.
Would you be interested in returning for Agent Carter Season 3?
What are they saying? I don’t know, I haven’t seen anything.
Well, you’ve been pretty busy, but there’s talk of a possible third season.
I love playing that character. I have a lot of fun with it, and Hayley [Atwell] and James [D'Arcy] and myself just don’t stop laughing. It’s another one of those jobs where you go into work and just love it. So yeah, I’d love to!
And now you have a franchise of your very own.
Let’s see, I’ve done this, and Warcraft is coming up. Just loads of comic book stuff.
It has that quality to it, sure.
Funny, isn’t it? For someone who’s never read a comic.
You’re living the dream. Lots of fans would love to become their comic book heroes. But since you didn’t really read comics, do you have a personal hero you’ve always wanted to play?
I always wanted to play — ‘cause I liked their music and I thought the story of his life was quite interesting…There were loads of musicians, I suppose my generation of musicians, not the others. There’s INXS. I always wanted to play Michael Hutchence. I thought that would be a good film to make. I wanted to do that just to sing the songs. I love all their earlier albums.
That would be a pretty dark film, though, considering how his life ended.
Yeah. And Freddie Mercury. I would love to play Freddie Mercury. But again, very dark film and people are too scared to do that. I met about the INXS one and I wanted to do it dark, and they said no, but you have to see where the darkness was. That life corrupts, that world is a nightmare. You’re the most famous whatever for that moment in time. It goes dark, and that’s what we want to do.
That’s the same problem they’re having with the Freddie Mercury biopic.
They’re too scared to do it. The band won’t allow them to do it. They’re like, “No, just make it about how wonderful it was, yada yada.” Well, why?! What happened when you broke up? What was his dark route into the wrong place with that new manager who affected him and was part of the split-up? That’s interesting, and I think that’s why they’ve been struggling with it.
What’s the latest? Are they not doing it anymore?
Sacha Baron Cohen was going to do it, but they pushed him off because he wanted to get into that heavier stuff.
Who’s directing it now?
I have no idea. Stephen Frears was going to do it a few years ago, but I think they’re still looking.
Yeah, that’s definitely not happening. He went off. There were a whole bunch of them [directors], I can’t remember, but I know because I met with them about it early on.
Well maybe something will change. Maybe we’ll see you as Freddie Mercury someday.