In the lead-up to Preacher premiering on AMC, I had the chance to sit down, for the second time, with lead actor Dominic Cooper. Cooper plays Jesse Custer, the troubled preacher of a small Texan town who has lost his way. He gains the ability to command anyone to do his bidding with the power of the Word of God when he becomes fused with the hybrid offspring of an angel and demon.
When I entered the room, Cooper was desperate for a coffee. The actor had been doing nonstop publicity for Preacher and it was starting to take a toll - not that it appeared that way. Cooper was slim and trim in dark jeans, boots, and jacket that might have been ripped straight off Jesse Custer himself, sans the clerical collar. Settling himself on the couch, Cooper crossed his long legs and leaned toward me as I mentioned seeing him for the first time at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Movie Pilot: You were worried at pulling off a Texan accent at SXSW. Is it easier for you now?
Dominic Cooper: It is! It gets easier all the time. But that was particularly scary because we were surrounded by people from there. And it suddenly dawned on me. I thought, “Oh God, if anyone is going to hate this accent, it’s going to be them.” But they seemed to be alright. They seemed to not mind. I’ve read a couple of things—no, I can’t even think about it anymore. You have to try your hardest, do loads of work on it, and then just hope for the best. There’s someone listening to absolutely everything and then telling me when something is even slightly off and we re-record it. We’ve decided to make it more subtle from the first one to the second. The danger is becoming very Southern and twangy, which it’s not at all. Essentially, you don’t want it to get in the way of the instinctive decision-making you’re using to play the character.
MP: Jesse seems to be the hardest character because he’s so self-contained. The rest you know who they are, but Jesse, not so much. You have to reveal him slowly. Has that been a challenge?
DC: That was the biggest challenge, exactly that. What that comes with is a fear that you might come across as mundane and boring and not particularly interesting. But I kept going back to the comic and I couldn’t see another way. This was the point that he was at. It’s heavy and dark and self-contained, and we learn more about him slowly. And he’s surrounded by these wonderfully elaborate, colorful, fast, dynamic, hilarious characters and maintaining that stillness and that weight without being pulled into that other temp and that desire to be more interesting, essentially. And then having to be like, no, we have to follow this man, this is the way we have to do it. And I hope that you wish more is revealed about him. But that was very, very tough. I don’t think it could be anything else at first.
MP: He’s almost the eye at the center of the storm, collecting lost souls, isn’t he?
DC: It needs to be that, doesn’t it? But it does change, the more he - how many episodes have you seen? – it changes quite dramatically when he thinks he understands this power that he has. Things begin to change.
MP: How collaborative was the process of nailing the character of Jesse Custer?
DC: Very collaborative. I needed help in the beginning. I was desperate for information. So much has come to light now about him and Tulip and their childhood together and their history together. It’s just been so much more informed now than I was at the beginning. It changes things dramatically and you’re piecing it together, who this person is. Of course, there’s a wealth of information from the comics, but it’s different. I found myself going over and over the comics, going, ‘Who is this guy? Who is this person?’ I’m pleased with the place in which he’s begun. And I hope that there’s a real journey, that there’s a real arc of a change of a man. But I don’t know because I haven’t seen more than the pilot yet!
MP: Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] mentioned that you never actually auditioned; you just had a sit down, something they'd never done before. What was that like?
DC: None of us have really ever spoken about it and I don’t know how that happened. It was all very uncomfortable because I’d never done that, either. On the one hand, it’s an amazing blessing and maybe had I actually read at that point, they’d have gone, ‘Mmm, this isn’t really working’ or whatever. A blessing in that I’d been offered it because they’d seen my other work and they thought that the person who’d walked into the room was right, for whatever reason.
DC (con't.): But…it means on your first day of rehearsal [laughing], when you first open your mouth, you are beyond petrified. And they’re trying their hardest not to show anything as well, and you’re trying your hardest not to look too much into what they’re thinking. And at that point, you’re just like, ‘Well, they’re going to fire me at any second. They’re just going to ask me to leave, this hasn’t worked out. That’s me again at another time for something else.’ And I really regretted, at that point, not having sat in a room all day. Because then I’d have been in a more confident place to start. It was terrifying, never having shown anything, to think that this was resting on my shoulders now and I might be completely wrong. It was brave on everyone’s part, really.
MP: Do you remember a moment where you went, ‘That’s it. That’s Jesse Custer’?
DC: Yeah, actually! It was a scene I was doing with, it was a Tulip scene and we were rehearsing. And it just became a bit lighter and a bit more humorous. I went in very heavy and dark, and I think that was right because I needed a place to start, but then I came out of that because of the guys directing me so well. We found much more of an innocence to him.
MP: During the pilot, there's a scene where you fight with a smile on your face. Was that awkward to do?
DC: No, the fights have been wonderful. On that particular day, it was only difficult in that you’re so used to portraying aggression and strength through gritting your teeth, you almost make ridiculous sounds when you do it, when you’re punching. I don’t know who came up with it, but it was a really good idea. For him just to enjoy it. Because he’s an addict. There’s that life, and he’s finally allowed to have the hit and he’s enjoying it, and this moment, and the revenge and the hate toward this man. And so that smile speaks volumes about who Jesse is. In that moment, that’s Jesse Custer, right there.
For the full audio interview, have a listen below.