A sex-filled, gore-spattered, God-hating road trip story of fabulous filth and depravity, Preacher introduced me to comics with style. I’ve never looked back.
One of the greatest series of the 90s, various adaptations of Preacher have been undeservedly rotting in development hell for years. HBO bailed on a television series, Sam Mendes jumped ship for James Bond, and even Darren Aronofsky expressed an interest that turned into a dead end.
Now D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) has been announced as director, teasing somewhat bizarre casting choices, and the splatterpunk western odyssey may finally get the screentime it deserves. But long known as the Unadaptable Series, what is it about this fantastic comic that made it too controversial to handle? Um, have you read the comics?
Preacher is the violently profane 75 issue story of an ex-preacher, Jesse Custer, attempting to track down a recreant God and make him pay for his incompetence. The eclectic cast includes an alcoholic vampire, a grotesquely disfigured suicide survivor named Arseface, a sickening hedonist named Jesus (no relation) who indulges in bestiality and child pornography, a Nazi whiplash fetishist, a mentally unsound and inbred descendent of Jesus (actual relation), some swearing angels, and the Ku Klux Klan. If a 2 hour film were to keep all the fucks within, we’d get 15 fucks per minute.
It’s perhaps no wonder then that Garth Ennis has said of his blasphemous creation: “There’ll probably never be a Preacher movie… probably for the best, when you consider what a balls they’d almost certainly make of it.”
Balls or not, if this one stays on track then we’ll hopefully be seeing some interesting casting choices in the near future. Ennis gave his picks for Jesse way back at the beginning: “Ben Affleck’s a good choice. Also Johnny Depp, Billy Crudup, maybe Jim Cavaziel”. Later on, both James Marsden and John Cusack were in the running. But with the main trio appearing to be in their 20s, many of the best picks have been aged out of contention.
Caruso is keeping his cards close to his chest for the time being, but did reveal that he’d “had a conversation” with Chris Pine about playing Jesse, that Shia LaBeouf “wants to play Arseface”, and that Alex Pettyfer is thinking that the Saint of Killers is “a really good role”. It’s all pure speculation at this point, with Caruso wanting to make sure the script is right, but he did add that he’d never had “more phone calls or texts from actors” interested in a movie he’s been attached to.
Given the convoluted nature of the story arcs in Preacher, it’s perhaps easier to take a look at the characters that will be up for grabs, and to wonder who on earth could take on these fantastically horrendous roles. Casting suggestions are provided by the wisdom of the internets.
Jesse Custer: The ex-preacher of the title, Jesse was born to be a cowboy from the movies. A big believer in talking straight, shooting straighter and standing by your friends, Jesse is also hopelessly old-fashioned and the clash of his cowboy ethics with modern feminism is a source of much frustration and upset for Tulip, the love of his life. A horrific childhood at the hands of his grotesque grandmother is perhaps to blame, but having John Wayne as his imaginary friend doesn’t help much.
Possessed by the entity known as Genesis, Jesse is subjected to the secrets of the heavens and is on a mission to find God and squeeze him by the balls. His union with Genesis has also given him the power of the Word of God, a command from him cannot be disobeyed and although he tries to temper his gift with responsibility, there are still some shocking consequences.
Jesse changes little throughout the saga, from the moment his entire congregation is incinerated to his confrontation with God. He’s a man’s man, a brawler and a criminal, the best friend you could ever have, and a hypocritical relic.
Best quote: “I eat little fucks like you for breakfast on my days off from kickin’ ass.”
Suggested actors: Lucas Black, Timothy Olyphant, James Franco, Guy Pearce, James Marsden, Rufus Sewell
Cassidy: An Irish vampire who left his homeland after the Easter Rising and his grisly initiation into the undead, Cassidy provides both the view of the outsider and the glue that binds the story together. With Jesse’s eventual acceptance of his best friend (formerly an “abomination”), the presence of a vampire makes it far easier for the audience to accept the combination of western and horror, of the secular and supernatural. Bluntly, a vampire presence stops us doubting Jesse’s sanity and bridges the gap between the world of men and God. But Ennis avoids contrivance with a rich back story and complicated characterisation.
Cassidy is a rogue, a savage and sarcastic joker who provides many of the laughs; it’s impossible not to like him. Until you find out that he is a dangerously weak man who controls women through violence and drug abuse, leaving emotional devastation behind him wherever he goes. His love for Tulip and the other women in his past is toxic and predatory, and he shows little to no remorse for his actions when discovered. He has the temerity to suggest that this whole story, rather than being about God’s abandonment of his creation and the existence of Genesis, is in fact all about him and his possible redemption. Maybe it is, but he’s still a dick.
Best quote: “Wanker. Noun. One who wanks.”
Suggested actors: Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Paddy Considine, Sam Rockwell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Michael Fassbender
Tulip O’Hare: Despite it not lasting long, Tulip had perhaps the best childhood of any of our characters. Her daddy taught her to shoot firearms, look after herself, and to make her own way in a man’s world. She’s a dab hand with a gun, but loathes the weapons themselves after the hunting accident that stole her father from her. The relationship she has with Jesse is one of mad love, wild sex, and illegal fun. She’s hopelessly in love with the man, and lays her life on the line for him, but will still walk out on him if he shows her disrespect.
She is wary of Cassidy from the beginning, and when the vampire puts the moves on her behind Jesse’s back, her doubts are proved correct. Tulip keeps his indiscretions secret, worried that Jesse would be destroyed by knowing his best friend was attempting to betray him, but this turns out badly later on when she becomes Cassidy’s latest victim.
Tulip is a truly strong female character, and her friendship with her best friend Amy is very well handled. As Ennis put it: “I think, to be honest, a lot of women respond to Tulip. But that’s the limit of analysis of the female readership that you will get out of me. Because every time I see a bloke – a male writer – start to go on about his female readership, he always comes across to me like a first class Sir John”. Too right bro.
Best quote: “Well, dip me in honey and throw me to the lesbians.”
Suggested actors: Katee Sackhoff, Ali Larter, Blake Lively, Alison Mack, Ashley Judd
Herr Starr: Of the many entwining plot arcs within Preacher, one of the biggies is that of the Grail: a secret society dedicated to preserving the bloodline of Christ so that the new Messiah can be brought forth at Armageddon. Starr has climbed high within the ranks, but also happens to think the Grail’s mission is idiotic, and instead seeks to place Jesse as the new Messiah. From this initial rebellion though, Starr’s story becomes darker and darker as he falls further into fanatical madness while blaming a disobliging Jesse.
Starr loses his ear to a bullet from Tulip, his right leg is eaten by hillbillies, his bald head is made to resemble a penis by Jesse, and his genitalia is chewed off by a Rottweiler. His increasing rage, perverted sex sessions, and fondness for violence make him a memorable villain indeed.
Best quote: “No! Inverted commas are for fucking quotations!”
Suggested actors: Christoph Waltz, Mark Strong, Christian Berkel, John Malkovitch
Arseface: The very cheerful and naïve Arseface is so horribly disfigured that his speech is hard to make out, and subtitles are provided for the reader throughout. Emanating his hero Kurt Cobain, the youngster tried to commit suicide, and after countless operations his face is left resembling, well, an arse. When his repugnant father commits suicide, he announces in his sorrow: “I will have vengeance… and if I have a face like an arse – so be it! I will become Arseface!”
A rather sweet character, Arseface finds fame and fortune as a pop star (owning a mansion called Arseland and meeting his Fairy Arsemother along the way) and perhaps eventually love. The tendency of people to throw up upon seeing his face and/or run screaming in the other direction makes it hard to guess what actor would be willing to take on this role.
Best quote: “Yuh budyuh!!”
Suggested actors: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Peck, Evan Peters
Saint of Killers: Once a man, he was a ruthless bounty hunter who found the love of a good woman. A gang of outlaws delay him on an urgent trip for aid for his family, resulting in their deaths, and the bounty hunter seeking vengeance on the gang. He kills them all (along with an innocent) and upon his death his hatred results in hell freezing over. Given the job of Angel of Death, the Saint kills the devil himself and returns to Earth to obliterate his whole town.
A homage to Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, the Saint is a man of few words and an unstoppable killing machine. His revolvers never miss their mark, never run out of bullets, and never leave his possession. Initially tasked by the angels to hunt down Genesis and kill whoever got in the way, the Saint soon discovers that God has vacated Heaven and subsequently, there is no one to command him. Doggedly pursuing the only man to ever defy him, the Saint hunts Jesse down before turning his guns towards the real enemy.
Best quote: “Not enough gun.”
Suggested actors: Clint Eastwood (damn right!), Lance Henriksen, Sam Elliot, Nick Nolte
Genesis: As an idea, Genesis was first born in Ennis’ Hellblazer run when he wondered what would happen were the offspring of an angel and a demon to bond with a mortal man. In Preacher then, a male angel and female demon are mysteriously and unnaturally drawn to each other, their passionate union resulting in the birth of Genesis, whose arrival prompts the disappearance of God.
As powerful as God but with no individual will, Genesis breaks out of imprisonment in Heaven and makes a beeline for Jesse.
Hugo Root: The appallingly racist Sheriff on the case of Jesse (who did after all survive the incineration of his church), and also the ashamed father of Arseface. Root is a monster, a representation of small minded fanaticism and bigotry. When Jesse uses the Word on him and tells him to go fuck himself, Root kills himself soon after doing just that with his newly severed genitalia. Wince. This results in Arseface seeking vengeance and ultimately finding freedom from the long shadow of his abusive father.
Best quote: “Could be I’m gonna shit me the keys to Graceland tomorrow, but I kinda doubt that as well.”
Suggested actors: Michael Parks, R Lee Ermey, J. K. Simmons, William Sadler
The Messiah: It transpires that Jesus did in fact have children with Mary Magdelene before dying for a final time thanks to a runaway offal cart. The Grail have protected the bloodline, forcing intermarriage for 2000 years with inevitably inbred results. The Messiah is born to sibling parents of short life span, who appear to live in a cage decorated with their own faeces. He runs around, peeing on the flowerbeds and occasionally faces, quoting biblical passages interspersed with “humperdumperdoo”.
As Starr says: “After 2,000 years of keeping them breeding inside the one bloodline, we’re lucky the bastard doesn’t have antennae.”
Best quote: “I’m the Messiah! Humperdido! Humperdoo!”
Suggested actors: Michael Cera
Allfather D’Aronique: The absurdly obese leader of the Grail, D’Aronique is of such size that he requires four underlings to carry him from place to place. Punishment for failure to support his holy mass results in death by torture. The Allfather is fully devoted to the Messiah and ruthlessly cruel to everyone else. A man of great intellect, he is well aware of Starr’s machinations against him.
He is also bullimic and frequently interrupts his speeches to allow himself to vomit down his front. When Joe Carnahan (A-Team) was intent on directing Preacher, the story of the Grail and D’Aronique was allegedly front and centre.
Best quote: “Ah, cake.”
Suggested actors: Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Suplee, John Pinette, Jorge Garcia, John Goodman
Marie L’Angelle: Jesse’s truly despicable grandmother, whose henchmen have recaptured Jesse at various points over his lifetime. With a face “like dried-up shit”, the evil hag is obsessed with her bloodline carrying on the work of the Lord and Jesse’s rebellions are punished by the boy being locked in a coffin for weeks at a time at the bottom of the swamp, to fester in his own urine and faeces in the confined space. Despite her acts of depravity and malice, God tells her that he is with her and that she should bring Jesse back into the fold. A loving god indeed.
Best quote: “Is that any kind of a way to talk to Gran’ma?”
Suggested actors: Maggie Smith, Diane Ladd, Isabelle Huppert, Sigourney Weaver, Sally Field
And that ain’t the half of it! The above are just some of the characters who are either there at the beginning, or who have a bearing throughout. What a film would have to cut is difficult to call; a television series was perhaps the most sensible approach, with one episode or season devoted to each of the 9 collected editions, but HBO canned the attempt by Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil, Ghost Rider), citing the source material as “too dark, too violent, too controversial”. Perhaps a series of films then?
Caruso has been panned by fans for seemingly reducing the concept of Preacher to being a basic story of good versus evil, but do bear in mind that this was in relation to the commerciality of the film and why he thinks Sony are willing to take a punt on such a crazy story. In earlier conversations, Caruso has stated his love for the “cool and fucking gnarly” Preacher.
Rest assured though that this is a film that the fans either want to see done right, or not at all. A narratively faithful adaptation that skimps on the themes will meet a harsh reception.
Well Caruso, you kin talk the talk, now let’s see ya walk the walk.