The Cowboy from Hell
Part good guy, part bad guy, all strong characters.
If you’re ready to visit Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between, let AMC’s hit show Preacher take you on a wild ride with its unique mix of fantasy, horror, drama, and a little humor amidst the darkness.
Season 2 premiered June 25 with Graham McTavish reprising his role as the Saint of Killers, a gun-slinging, murderous cowboy recruited from Hell to kill small-town Texas preacher Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper).
Jesse is inhabited by an angel-demon spawn and develops the ability to make people do his bidding. As he is now the most powerful being in the universe, Jesse is a moving target. With his ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Negga) and his Irish vampire friend Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), Jesse and friends venture into a world like no other.
The show, created by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, is a television adaptation of the DC Comic book series by the same name created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.
“Season 1 was almost a prequel to the book,” McTavish states. “It introduced the characters. Now, in Season 2, fans can expect to see the kind of road trip that was characteristic of the comic series.”
“It’s difficult to describe [the show], says McTavish. “A preacher is a host to an entity with supernatural powers and meets a 19th century cowboy from Hell,” he says, referring to his character, the Saint. “Where do you even begin with something like that?” he asks with a laugh.
McTavish said, “I was a huge fan of the books when they came out, so when I heard they were doing [the TV series] I jumped at the chance, to be frank. I couldn’t believe they could actually film it, it’s such an extraordinary story. The Saint was one of my favorites, very iconic, and I wanted very much to play him.”
The creators of the TV series are also fans of the book. “I felt we were on the same page with the show and the character in particular.”
The comic book series has a loyal fan base, and McTavish finds that playing a character with an established identity comes with “a huge responsibility. Standing there in my duster coat, sword and guns, you feel the weight of their expectations, but I’ve had a really great fan reaction.”
McTavish has faced this challenge before when he played Dwalin in The Hobbit film trilogy and most recently Dougal MacKenzie in the Starz TV series Outlander, filmed in his native Scotland. “I’ve been lucky with all of these projects in that the fans responded very well to my interpretations of the characters,” he said.
With an eclectic cast and a plot that’s not bound by Earth or time, the viewers can expect the unexpected from the series.
“The thing that unites the characters of the show is that there are no straightforward good guys and bad guys,” says McTavish. "All of them are a combination of good and bad, and they wrestle with that conflict all the way through. My relationship with Jesse is colored by an inner battle of good and evil. That makes for interesting story ideas. No one behaves in one way. It’s a psychological journey.”
This is true of the Saint, who is mired in his own version of Hell, reliving the worst period of his life. He’s offered a way out with the opportunity to kill Jesse. “His mission is killing, but his motive is love,” says McTavish.
McTavish loves playing a cowboy. “The most fun was the episode at the saloon, where I’m shooting 25 people. That was a fun day at the office.
"As someone who grew up in Scotland, you don’t expect to be carrying Colt .44 Walker revolvers. I grew up [watching] Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. This is my chance to be one of those guys,” he says, adding that the comic book’s creator was inspired by Eastwood’s Unforgiven character in developing the Saint of Killers.
The Saint of Killers is a violent yet taciturn character, which presents a challenge for an actor. “He’s economical in speech and movement,” says McTavish. “It’s fascinating the gravity and weight you can bring to bear for someone who is violent and still. That stillness captures the eye. If six other people are moving around and you’re not, I guarantee the audience is watching you,” he says.
The Saint is a killing machine. “Pretty much everyone I encounter, I kill,” says McTavish. “Sadly, I walk off set and feel sorry for the poor guy I meet because I know he’s dead. He’s not going to make it through the scene.”
McTavish has played badass characters in his most prominent roles, yet he doesn’t feel he’s typecast.
“It just happens to be. Dwalin (in The Hobbit) has a black and white view of the world, where there are people you can trust and then there’s everyone else. Reminds me of people in Scotland. Dougal (from Outlander) is a warrior, but a complicated individual. There’s a link with the killer cowboy (the Saint). But none of these characters are entirely predictable. You have to find the humanity of the character,” he says.
So what’s next for the Scottish-born actor who cut his teeth on the stage in everything from comedy to romance but has played tougher roles since coming to the US?
He says, “I want to get back into theater; I haven’t done it in 11 years and I want to reconnect with that. I haven’t done comedy in a long time, and I’d like to do a bit more of that as well. I enjoy the variety and want to keep that. I’ve played romantic leads on stage. I’m a great fan of casting a big, tall bearded guy as a romantic lead. People can identify with that.”
“I haven’t worn 20th century clothing in a long time, and I’ve done a lot of horse riding. Who wouldn’t want to be a dwarf and a cowboy? As I tell my children, I play dress-up and get paid for it. At the end of the day, you’re only one step away from the playground. It’s the joy of acting.”