"There's a preacher, his best friend is an Irish vampire, his girlfriend is an assassin, and he's being stalked by a cowboy from the 19th century…"
Sitting in a cafe in New Orleans watching his kids colouring, actor Graham McTavish is trying to explain "Preacher", the outrageous and iconoclastic TV series in which he plays a major part. Talking to me on the phone in a break from filming the second series of the show, he hints at the insane twists that might even out-shock the boundary-pushing comic on which the show is based.
"There were moments when I read the scripts that I honestly can't believe what we're about to do," he laughs.
"It's a brave show," says McTavish. "We ended the first season by killing an entire town. That makes 'Game of Thrones' seem like 'Downton Abbey'."
Showing on AMC and Amazon, and on streaming service Stan in Australia, the show adapts a much-loved comic by Garth Ennis and the late Steve Dillon. Running from 1995 to 2000, the strip is infamous for its hilariously foul-mouthed combination of vigorous blasphemy and extreme violence.
Heading into the second season, which begins this weekend, producers Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen have expanded upon the comic and even raised the bar on jaw-droppingly shocking moments -- much to the approval of the original writer.
"Garth wrote me an email," says McTavish. "He saw the first two episodes of this season and he was just completely blown away."
The first season was a prequel of sorts to the comic, filling in a slightly skewed backstory while borrowing elements from other storylines and adding various new elements. In season 2, the action moves from Texas to New Orleans, but the show won't exactly follow the route of the storyline in the comics that took Jesse and chums to the Big Easy.
McTavish plays the Saint of the Killers, the aforementioned cowboy. He's no ordinary gunslinger, however: The Saint is an unstoppable undead agent of the afterlife, sent to Earth to track down Preacher Jesse Custer, played by Dominic Cooper, before the turbulent priest can use a demonic superpower to track down a missing God.
"Hitler makes an appearance," reveals McTavish. "It's a pretty wild thing going on. We get to see what hell looks like and it's an art director's dream." Judging by the trailer, Hitler will be played by Noah Taylor, joining the character Arseface in the netherworld. Oh yeah -- there's also a character called Arseface.
It sounds demented -- and it is -- but at the heart of both comic and TV show are complex yet relatable characters in compelling and emotional relationships. Jesse Custer is devoted to the love of his life, Tulip, played by Ruth Negga, even though she's a contract killer with anger issues. And Jesse stands by his best friend, Cassidy, played by Joseph Gilgun, even though he's a hard-drinking drug-addicted troublemaker. And a vampire.
Among the Pip Torrens. In the comics Starr is the ruthless enforcer of an ancient religious conspiracy called the Grail. "There's a wonderful, wonderful flashback sequence of him going through selection process for the Grail," teases McTavish of Starr's arrival in the show. "It's absolutely brilliant -- very, very funny."who'll be familiar to comics fans is Herr Starr, played by
"The key for the story is those relationships that they all have," says McTavish, "and the constant wrestling they all have with their inner morality, that all of them are a mixture of both good and bad -- the Saint as well."
That might be news to fans who witnessed the Saint slaughter an entire town in the first season, an act of prodigious bloodshed that earned him a special place in Hell.
"His motives are good," insists McTavish. "He wants to be reunited with his family. It's the love of his family that forces him to do all the terrible, terrible things that he does. And equally, there's a really quite nasty, cunning side to Jesse, knowing what [the Saint] wants and promising that he will give that, only he turns around and…"
Well, let's not spoil it -- McTavish is so excited by the story's twists and turns he blurts out half the season's arc -- but suffice to say Jesse does something to the Saint that is, McTavish laughs, "pretty bad".
The result is a change in the relationship between Jesse and the Saint. "Previously, this was a job," says McTavish. "Now however, it has become very, very personal. And that throws up all sorts of possibilities for our ongoing relationship."
If you haven't checked out "Preacher" or struggled to get your head around the first episodes, now's your chance to get into it. A mix of lurid southern-fried pulp action and affecting, artfully-shot character drama -- with angels and demons and exploding heads -- shot through with humour blacker than the Saint of Killer's soul, it's one of the most demented, audacious, exhilarating shows you'll ever see.
Amen to that.
Update, 10:57 a.m. PT: This article has been corrected to identify one of the comic's creators as "the late Steve Dillon." We regret the error.
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