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Interview: Preacher’s Graham McTavish

by Charles Trapunski

Although we had interviewed Graham McTavish before, this phone interview was an experience unto itself, perhaps because it was to chat about the epic conclusion of AMC’s Preacher. Now that we know how the Saint of Killers is portrayed on the series (terrifying), it makes for an interesting experience speaking to the gregarious man embodying the mainly wordless character. In fact, we opened with saying not that we had spoken with him previously, but that we had recently chatted with The Grail operative, Julie Ann Emery, from the Australia set of Preacher.

The following is a condensed and edited version of an extremely rollicking conversation with Graham McTavish, the Saint of Killers on Preacher.

Brief Take: What’s something we should look out for in Preacher this season and what do you think of the legacy of the series?

Graham McTavish: Well certainly, for the Saint of Killers, any fan of the comics will be very satisfied with the conclusion involving the Saint. I myself, being a big fan of these comics and a particular fan of the Saint was very, very particular that my ending, my character ending, had to be very faithful to the book. And it is truly one of the most shocking endings to any story that I’ve ever read or seen. When I read it in the comic, my jaw dropped. I thought: “Good grief, wow, I really didn’t see that coming”. That’s the case with Preacher, and I think that the legacy of the show as a whole is that in a broad sense, actually. There’s a lot in Preacher that you don’t see coming. And I love that, in any TV show. I think that a lot of TV shows really work hard at creating that sort of surprise and this sort of twists, but very few succeed, and I do think that Preacher has succeeded. Every script that I would get, right from season 1, there would always be at least two moments in every script in which I would think: “They cannot possibly shoot that! That is outrageous. There’s no way they can do it”. And yet they did! [laughs] So they continue to do so in season 4. I truly believe it’s the kind of show that if we have this conversation again in two or three years time, there will be more and more people enjoying that show. It’s the classic case of a wonderful slow burn and more and more people have come to the show and enjoyed it. And I think that once you see it, as long as you have a sense of humour, I think that you’ll enjoy it. [laughs]

BT: You’ve talked about finding the goodness within the Saint of Killers. How do you manage to do so with this character?

GM: It’s a very good question. With people who do bad things, they always find justification for doing it and that’s as true today as it is at any time. Nobody who does bad things, in my view, goes to bed really troubled by them. They rationalize them and they compartmentalize their behaviour. Now with a character like the Saint, he is a man who is functioning through grief in my view. The loss of his family, the loss of his only chance of redemption through his wife and his daughter was taken away from him and that has set him on a course of destruction. The destruction of others and you could definitely argue, the destruction of himself. But his motivation, however it is twisted, is to unite him with his family. Now along the way, he practices extraordinary vengeance. I mean with the Saint, his is an Old Testament, Biblical kind of vengeance. It really is laying waste, it is apocalyptic. I think that what makes him so interesting, what Garth and Steve did with the books and Sam, Seth and Evan have done with the show, is that they, too, have realized the complexity of those questions, those moral questions of good and evil. And they’re constantly asking the reader of the comic and the viewer of the TV show to question themselves as well and ask themselves: “What is good? What is justified? At what lengths is it okay to go to in order to achieve x?”, and I think that is what makes it such an intellectually stimulating show and indeed, of the comic itself.

BT: When did you realize that the Preacher cast jelled together so well on screen?

GM: Everybody got it. That’s the only way that I can explain it. Everybody got that complexity. You know, Mark Harelik, who plays God in the show, who’s a lovely, lovely man, immensely talented. Season 4 particularly, showcases his talent to the nth degree, it’s a fantastic performance, all the way through. But there is his character that is doing some pretty bad stuff. There’s no question. He does stuff in season 4 that will make you wince. But again, we talked about this: God, The Saint, Jesse, Tulip, all the rest of them are doing their best, in a weird sort of way.  The only exception to it, you could argue, is Eugene. Eugene is almost the only pure character in the show and believes in a sort of fatalism that is part of God’s plan. He’s always talking about God’s plan. And the writers are in a way saying “Well, if you believe that, this is what’s going to happen to you”. If you really think that life is that simple, that it’s all sort of some kind of plan, well, guess what? You have a face that ends up looking like this, Arseface, you end up getting sent to Hell by accident, there are all sorts of terrible things that end up happening to you. I mean there are moments in season 4, that Ian goes through, Ian Colletti, and it is beyond, oh my God. And he is so good at describing those effects just through his eyes. It was wonderful, yeah, it was great fun.

BT: The Lucifer team is very specific about having a “no asshole” policy. What did you like about starring in this past season and did you plan on exploring similar themes in your chosen projects?

GM: No, it was a very happy coincidence. I’m a great believer in the principle of “no assholes” in anything as well. I’m planning to direct my own film at the end of the year (which is called This Guest of Summer), and certainly one of my abiding criteria will be not to employ any assholes. I find it incredible when people are assholes, I mean, that’s what I find extraordinary. But Lucifer, yeah, they were great. Lauren German and Tom Ellis, it always comes from the number one and number two on the call sheet. If they are cool people, if they’re fun, if they’re not assholes, if they have a sense of humour about themselves, if they don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s a very happy set, a very happy crew, everybody enjoys going to work, and that was the case. With the storyline of Lucifer, I mean for an actor to play two parts in the same show is so rare. And to be so different: it was great fun, it was a fantastic time, it was a great gift to go from a conservative, or shall we say radically conservative priest to this depraved, leather-clad campy demon was such fun, my God! I was given pretty much carte blanche in that final episode playing Dromos, and I really took advantage of that. [laughs] Again, I was playing a character that none of the cast had ever encountered before, pretty new, and obviously, I was physically the same as the previous character, Tom and everyone and that I had to encounter had to roll with that, they had to adapt to be ready when we were doing it and for anything that came up. Eagle Egilsson, who directed that final episode, was very encouraging of me pushing the boundaries of behaviour in the scenes. And so there were some genuinely surprising moments for the other cast when I was playing that part. And it’s a testament to them, they were always ready. They hit the ball back and it was great and it was really fun.

BT: Tell me about working on Outlander with that tight-knit group.

GM: I’m on holiday here with my children, with my family, and Duncan Lacroix who’s still in Outlander is here with us. He’s become a very good, close friend, as well as Sam Heughan, who I’m planning on doing a podcast with later in the year. We are very tight-knit, we’re very close, and Outlander is a community of actors that was very much part of that “no asshole” policy. We all had to be with each other – day in, day out and especially in those first two seasons, the Highlanders would be together all the time. If there’d been one of us, for want of a better term, was a bit of a dick, it would have been a very unhappy experience. But yeah, we all enjoyed it.

It’s one of the most important things, I think, when doing a job, especially a job that involves drama, is humour. Humour about yourself, humour about the people who you’re with and the situations. In allowing in that humour, I think it frees you up artistically to do interesting things. I think that as soon as you stiffen people, actors, with a lack of humour or a lack of levity on set, I think it stifles the very thing for which you are looking. And that can be high drama as well, it doesn’t need to be comedy. The most sensitive scenes, the most dramatic scenes rely on the people involved in those scenes feeling incredibly comfortable with each other and vulnerable with each other and very trusting. And I think that humour and honesty allows that to happen and I think that’s a very important component on any set or in any rehearsal room for a play.

BT: With Castlevania, again you are alongside people who you enjoy, such as Richard Armitage, who we spoke to about the series. Does this factor into your decision to work on a particular project?

GM: Yes, absolutely. When I found out that Richard was doing it, I was delighted, and it’s a whole different experience doing those things. I’ve become very close friends with another actor with whom I do a lot of video games, Nolan North, who is a very good friend of mine in America, and we came to know each other through voice work. But it’s exactly the same principle, that it’s about honesty, levity, trust and yes: no assholes. I knew that with Richard on board it was going to be good, and I’ve been really gratified by the response to Castlevania and how fans of the video game upon which it is based have really warmed to this. Its developed quite a following and it’s made another Funko Pop! doll for me which of course, being a massive geek myself, I think is so exciting. I have my Dougal MacKenzie next to my Vlad Dracula Tepes at home, and they talk to each other when I’m not there and it’s very nice.

BT: What about one for the Saint of Killers?

GM: The Saint of Killers? I know! I’m still waiting. I don’t want to make a big thing of it, but currently there is no Saint of Killers Funko Pop! doll. I’m going to have to have a word with them about that because it’s crying out to be made into a Funko Pop! doll. I would be complete if they made one of him as well. [laughs loudly]

BT: You’ve had so many great roles on TV. What are some of the shows that you enjoy yourself?

GM: If I can, I’ll binge-watch, I wouldn’t watch the entire series in one sitting, I couldn’t do that. I’ll maybe watch two or three episodes at a time, but because I have young children, I tend to be able to only watch one episode at a time, because by the time that I’ve gotten them to bed, I want to watch one episode and go to bed myself. I’ve really been enjoying some European stuff on Netflix, a Spanish show called Money Heist, there was one called Undercover, which was a Dutch show that was really well done, Babylon Berlin, the German TV show set in the 1920’s was fantastic. I’ve been watching those, but I binge-watch all sorts of shows, really. I’ve been watching Ray Donovan, I’ve watched Designated Survivor, I love Ozark, I watched The Newsroom, with Jeff Daniels, I really enjoyed that. I sort of jump in and out, I’ve always got something on the go. I’m watching Castle Rock, I’ve been watching that. A lot of them I come to really late. And of course, I’ve watched Game of Thrones. I’m required, really, so I did. I was one of those small handful of people who watched the final season of Game of Thrones. [laughs loudly]

BT: Lastly, you’re something of a scotch connoisseur, what would be your desert island bottle of scotch?

GM: Oh, goodness me! My one bottle of scotch on a desert island? Gosh, well, I did experience a gorgeous bottle of scotch recently in Italy at a convention, which was 1939 Macallan. And that was pretty fantastic, and because that would have been distilled and bottled when my father was joining up in the Second World War that held an enormous power in it. So I would choose 1939 Macallan, please, yes indeed. No ice, I was strictly instructed by a whisky instructor in Edinburgh, in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, that it’s four drops from a pipette of still spring water. A minimum amount of water to open up the flavours, and I try to do that.

BT: Slàinte, to you, Graham, and to the Saint!

 

The final season of Preacher begins tonight at 9/8c on AMC with a two-hour premiere

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