Thursday was a busy week for the television industry in New York City, with The CW holding its upfront presentation at The London in the hall downstairs with its stars while upstairs, AMC hosted a press conference for the premiere of Preacher upstairs with Seth Rogen, here wearing his writer and producer’s hat as he shepherds the show with his regular co-writer Evan Goldberg and former Breaking Bad showrunner Sam Catlin. Rogen flew solo for half an hour with a roomful of journalists, and proved an entertaining storyteller as he answered questions about how he got the show greenlit after all previous attempts to launch it as a movie and as a series at other networks by other directors and writers failed. What Rogen and his team got right was to keep the comedy while many of the previous attempts to develop it cut out or neglected the comedic element that was essential to the tone of the series.
Adapting the comic to television has been a passion project for Rogen , who first read it when he was thirteen years old and had been pursuing it ever since he entered show business, even going as far as campaigning to audition for the role of Arseface back when Sam Mendes was developing it back in 2008.
“As soon as we had any ability to talk to anyone about a comic property, we organized a meeting with the guy who controlled Preacher at the time. That kept happening for the next decade or so. We had no pride or shame, we just kept saying we wanted to make it, and eventually that just paid off. Neal Moritz, who controlled the property, after crapping out with other people, brought it to us. That was less than two years ago. From the time when we got it, it was a pretty quick road until now, but the road to get it took forever. A lot of people said it was impossible to turn into anything and it’s been very gratifying so far.”
“By the time the first season is over, I would say comic fans will be surprised by how much we retained, not how little we retained. By the time the second episode starts, the third episode starts, you’ll be pretty surprised, and that’s going to continue throughout the season. As I read the scripts, I would think, ‘Wow! They got that in there? I did not think that would work!’
On casting the show, he had this to say: “Jesse’s a hard role. He tonally encapsulates everything in the show, which is a lot. He has to be an action star, a romantic lead, a comedic lead, he needs to be in a buddy movie sometimes. He needs to be in a B horror movie. Dominic Cooper has done a lot of those things. I’d been a fan of his. I’d seen him in that Ian Fleming show on a long flight. He was great in The Devil’s Double. I saw him in that Vampire Lincoln movie and I thought he was good. He was in the Captain America movie. He was just one of those guys who made a strong impression. And his look was incredibly analogous to how Jesse looked in the comics. We met him and he just seemed to get it, and he seemed excited about it, and we thought it would work.”
As for Joseph Gilgun’s uncanny match for playing Cassidy the Irish vampire: “That was truly amazing. He was someone Sam had seen in something. Very early on, Sam kept saying ‘Oh, there’s this guy, lives in his mother’s basement and I Skyped with him! But he’s not good with technology, so he’s hard to get a hold of! I want you guys to talk to him!’ That sounded like ten red flags rolled into one. We saw a lot of people and eventually after not finding anyone we were not that excited about, we were like, ‘What about this basement guy?’ So we Skyped with him and it was one of those things that happen a few times throughout your career when you’re making something and ‘Oh! It’s you! You’re the character that was written! By doing nothing you’re achieving so much more than I could have imagined!’ He’s like the guy you meet and instantly you’re best friends with him. You could tell he’s lived a hundred lifetimes and probably done some sh-t you do not want to know about but he’s one of the most fun, loving, caring people you’ll ever be around. That’s exactly what the character was. It was miraculous.”
When asked about casting half-Ethiopian-half-Irish actress Ruth Negga as Jesse’s girlfriend Tulip, Rogen was asked whether race became a topic in the casting process and the show.
“In any show set in the South, Race will come up at some point. We thought it would add a very interesting element to the character, to the dynamic, and it would also make the show more representative of the people who watch the show. There were a lot of reasons. The more we talked about it, the more we thought it was a really interesting and exciting idea to change her to an African-American character.”
As for how far the network would let them tackle the controversial parts of the comic, like portraying God as the bad guy and possibly killing him, Rogen said that was not off the table.
“So far, we’ve been allowed to do everything. You can’t say “f-ck”. That’s an FCC Standards & Practice thing. Aside from that, as far as content goes, there has been nothing that we haven’t got. There haven’t even been fights. There have been rational conversations and the Standards & Practices people were like, ‘Do you guys really have to do this?’ ‘Here’s why we think it’s important.’ ‘Oh, that makes sense. Sure, go ahead.’ They get it. They want the show to be good. They don’t want to ruin it. They don’t want us to dislike them. We could be doing this for years if it goes well. We’ve been able to talk to them in an open way. It’s been a very different process than I’d assumed it would be since I started in network television and that was a much different process. I’m very happy with how it’s evolved over the years.”
“There are some things, some storylines that didn’t age well. Preacher is rooted in pop culture in many ways, and it has a timeless feel. The comic was a little more anti-religion than the show. The show doesn’t even have an opinion on it at this point. It has characters that have different opinions on it, but it in itself does not have any ideas about it. The comic from the get-go has more of an agenda.”
However, creator Garth Ennis had given them his blessing to make changes to the story and even add new characters to make it fit better as a current TV show. “At first it seemed an appalling notion that we were going to try to add to the world of Preacher. It just seemed crazy. Then once Garth said ‘Just change it.’ He just demystified the process of changing it by aggressively saying we should change it. I think the lack of reverence Sam had for It was also very helpful. I mean, he loved it, but he didn’t grow up with it. He’d read it a week before we met him to talk about it. Once we got our heads around that, it became very fun. It was like getting to play in our favourite sandbox. We could ask how could we add to this world? What other characters could exist in this world? It was at first pretty difficult to find characters that were as weird and f-cked up as the characters in the Preacher world, and I think if you hadn’t read the comic, you’d have a hard time guessing who was from the comic and who wasn’t. It’s a testament to how well they wrote those characters. They don’t stick out as not belonging in the world.”
When asked if he was concerned about potential fan outrage on social media over any changes the show makes from the comic, Rogen was quite sanguine, especially in light of what happened with the North Korean government’s outrage over The Interview.
My barometer for controversy has been so drastically readjusted over the past few years that a few angry tweets won’t even register on my Richter Scale anymore. Unless a world leader is condemning me, I don’t consider it any big deal. A few angry nerds don’t bother me. If you have nuclear weapons, then I’m a little worried.”
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