On a beautifully bright April day in New Orleans, I found myself as part of a trio of journalists visiting the set of season two of Preacher. The AMC series, which brings its unique brand of black comedy and religious questioning back on Sunday, June 25—the first of a two-night premiere—found its niche via roughly one-and-a-half million viewers tuning into the series because they either loved the cult classic comic book, were infatuated by the captivating world that Seth Rogen and co. created, or just loved seeing Ruth Negga on-screen every week. Or, someone like me, who was here for all of the above, and wanted to see how the team took a beloved comic and towed the line of staying true to the source while maintaining the freedom to expand (or deflate) elements to suit their new telling. Somehow, all of this ended up with a trip to a nondescript stretch of highway that featured two massive soft drink companies on one side, and a tiny electronics store on the other, aka where a portion of the eighth episode of season two was being filmed.
At the end of season one of Preacher, Jesse (Dominic Cooper) is empowered by Genesis, an entity that gives him the ability to make anyone do what he wants them to do just by saying it (the "voice of God," if you will); because Genesis' power has been unleashed, God has actually left heaven. Armed with this knowledge and his buddy Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and his love interest Tulip (Ruth Negga), the crew decides to hit the road in search of God. This eventually gets them to New Orleans (which happens relatively early in season two), which includes this tiny big box electronic store in an episode directed by Maja Vrvilo (who has directorial credits on everything from the Rush Hour TV series to Hawaii Five-0 and Gotham under her belt).
It was an intriguing set, truly; if we weren't huddled in tents watching series star Dominic Cooper get frustrated by a pair of Geek Squad-esque jokers, we were lounging in a gorgeously done up catering hall. It was here that we got to sit down with Ruth Negga. Surprising no one, the star of 2016's much-talked about Loving was able to breeze through what we were told was a very involved scene between her character Tulip and Cooper's Jesse Custer. That sounds great until you realize that you won't be able to actually see Negga and Cooper's dynamic in action, but truth be told, that just meant that she was able to bless us with her presence for a bit longer. Strolling in with a long parka on and a pair of round shades, Negga did share some insight regarding Tulip and Jesse's relationship in the second season.
"You saw them tentatively coming together in the first season," she began, "and now we explore how they manage their relationship with everything that has happened between them. I think, for Tulip, she wants to sort of go back to the pre-Dallas days and eradicate all the mishaps and sadness, [but] I don’t think that’s really possible." That's fair, considering that (as we saw in season one), their pre-Dallas days were spent making love and thriving in robbery and debauchery, but as Ruth put it, "[Tulip] feels at home with this band of misfits."
Negga also made it clear that Tulip and Cassidy (the third wheel on this trip who's also a drug-addicted, drunken Irish vampire) are "battling with their idea of how relevant they are to Jesse and his mission." And if you were assuming that this was going to be nothing but the Jesse Custer show, trust that you'll get a "strong storyline for Tulip [about] how she deals with her vulnerability. That’s a very strong theme for her in terms of her past mistakes coming back to haunt her."
After bidding farewell to Negga, we headed over to the actual set, where it was a mixture of crew members getting their craft services on and Cooper working on delivering his lines in his Southern accent. The Preacher set ran like a well-oiled machine, making it easy for subtle changes to lines in the script (which made for an improved conversation, in my opinion). After watching the same scene turn into something close to what we'll see on TV in a few weeks, we got word that Joseph Gilgun had arrived, and would be holding court in the dining hall. With word of how off-the-wall he can be fresh in my mind, I'm ready for anything, but I'm pleased to find out that he's just a chill, down-to-earth guy who's trying to get his vape on. Although, truth be told, Gilgun in real life isn't that far from Cassidy on screen (Gilgun admits just as much, saying "What a great way to live your life just rolling into work being yourself every fucking day. I just put on an accent").
"He thinks it's gonna be this great rock and roll adventure trip," Gilgun ponders about the road trip the trio takes during this season, but it's hard to live that rock and roll lifestyle on the road when you have "people like Tulip and Cassidy, who do nothing but run away from their problems. They have a fucking backlog of issues to deal with. Going back to New Orleans is a problem for Tulip, [and] it’s a problem for Cassidy, so shit just gets in the way."
Many remember Cassidy for his violent nature; in the first episode of season one, he decimates an entire airplane of people trying to kill him, including stabbing a man with a broken bottle so he can fill up a canteen of fresh blood. In season two, it doesn't look like Cassidy gets to kick much ass until later in the season. "We just read [episode nine] and finally I have some ass kicking going down, man. [In the season so far] I’ve killed a cat. I’ve been walking around set like 'what’s the fucking deal, man, everyone’s kicking ass.'"
While most of the time spent with Gilgun is spent in a cloud of vapor and a flurry of laughter, he does get serious when the iconic comic book artist Steve Dillon is mentioned. Dillon, along with Garth Ennis, were the twisted minds behind the Preacher comic book series, and spent decades trying to get the book turned into a show. After Rogen got AMC to greenlight this series, Ennis and Dillon were on board as executive producers. Sadly, Steve Dillon passed away at 56 in October 2016 after dealing with years of illness.
"Me and Steve really shared a heart to heart; we’re from a very similar place, and alcohol has affected our lives in very different ways. We sat at a bar and at one point I said 'Steve, if you hadn’t drawn Cassidy the way you had I don’t think I’d be here, would I?' He went 'No, probably not.' I loved my time with him."
After Gilgun dipped, we got to squad up to see this one particular scene shot from every angle. At one point, I felt like an understudy—I knew Cooper's lines so well. We'd moved from a tiny tent in the front parking lot to a backroom in the store, watching Cooper deliver one intense line read repeatedly. This was an episode eight scene, so there was truly no context for whatever Jesse Custer was going through but just based on Cooper's delivery, you could tell that this search for God (and whatever else was going on) was getting to him.
With a small window of opportunity to sit down with the series star, we held court with Dominic Cooper, who relaxed from what has to be a taxing look: photoshoot fresh hair, all black everything (except for the collar). He sipped a hot coffee and talked about the necessity of Preacher season one leading into season two. "It feels totally different—in a really good way—but it’s very important for us to establish who they were and what they wanted, what their desires were, and what they were prepared to risk."
Cooper also opened up on Jesse Custer's drive and determination in his plan to find God this season, and how that might affect Tulip and Cassidy. "[Jesse] has a very, very particular focus. If you’re not with him on that journey, then he is not really that interested." There's a feeling that, in season one, Jesse was struggling with who he was trying to be, and now that he's found his calling (or, at least, what he perceives to be his calling), he's going for it gung-ho.
One person who wasn't there was Graham McTavish, who is playing the Saint of Killers. The Saint's story is doled out piecemeal during the first season, and once he's given a job to do, he maintains a similar focus to what Cooper said Jesse has. In our conversation with Negga, she elegantly described the Saint of Killers in season two as being a "ghostly specter who becomes less ghostly but more frightening as the series progresses," and Cooper emphasized how real of a danger that the Saint is towards the trio.
"His true power becomes very apparent," Cooper says. "He has huge impact on everyone and he becomes the main challenge [the three of them have] to survive. They shoot him in such a way that he’s always this very menacing presence and Graham’s playing him so well, the stillness and clarity and terror. I think people are just gonna love this all powerful being who is gonna cause absolute death and mayhem."
I came to New Orleans with a number of questions about Preacher, a show I fell in love with that deals with one of the biggest questions plaguing our existence: what is God? While I got some hints at the answers I was looking for, I realized that it's all about what's learned on the journey, which is what this season of Preacher seems to largely be about. It could end up being one of the most fucked up road trips ever, but how amazing were some of those adventures? One has to imagine that, at some point, Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy will indeed find what they've been looking for, but being a fly on the wall of that journey to enlightenment can be just as fun as finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Preacher returns for a two-night season two premiere on June 25 and 26 on AMC.