You probably didn’t realize it, but if you sat down to watch a Seth Rogen movie in the past several years, you were making Preacher possible. He and writing/directing partner Evan Goldberg have been trying to bring Garth Ennis’ acclaimed comic to life for nearly a decade. This Sunday, all their persistence finally pays off.
They began their task almost immediately after Rogen and Goldberg started working behind-the-camera as writers on films like Superbad and Pineapple Express. “We were just picking up some momentum as writers and so we were like,” Rogen said at a recent press conference. “We’re writers now, we’re making an action comedy, maybe they’ll let us make Preacher.”
They set up a meeting as soon as the could (before Pineapple Express had even finished filming.) Rogan recalls, “I had a meeting with... he who at the time controlled the property. We actually showed them the fight from Pineapple Express in Danny McBride’s house to show them that we could execute action and comedy in some capacity. And I think they were like, oh okay. And I think they gave it to Mark Steven Johnson or someone around that time.”
Years passed, and Goldberg kept writing, and Rogen kept writing an acting. And when the chance came to co-direct The Interview and apocalyptic horror-comedy This Is the End, they took it. Along the way, they never shut up about this comic they both read and loved growing up: Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s Preacher.
“It creates a world where anything is possible,” said Rogen. “Anything can happen, but it’s all very character driven and character based. And it’s very funny and it’s also very fucked up. In the time that we read it, we were obsessed with Pulp Fiction and Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, Sam Raimi’s movies, and [Preacher is] kind of had all that in one thing.”
As Rogen intimated above, Hollywood was not unaware of Preacher’s potential. Filmmakers like Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall) were tasked with making a live-action adaptation a reality. but it just never worked out. So Rogen and Goldberg kept plugging away.
“There were just a lot of iterations of it and we were always just very vocal, to our agent or whoever was around who would listen to us, that it was something we were big fans of and that we thought we could do a good job of adapting in some way,” Rogen said.
That’s when Rogen and Goldberg met Neal Moritz, mega producer of the Fast and Furious and Jump Street franchises. He was making The Green Hornet with the pair and, while on set, they still wouldn’t shut up about Preacher. Around that time, the rights went up for grabs and Moritz took control.
“Part of me thinks he only ever got the property in the first place because he heard us talk about it a lot,” Rogen joked. “Which I’ve not called him on. Then he still tried to make it with two other people who did not do it, and eventually it found its way back to us.”
The plus side to the long wait is the world changed for the better. Preacher had gone from a near impossible adaptation to something much more feasible.
“We initially thought that it would be like a Band of Brothers 10-part miniseries because that seemed logical,” said Goldberg. “Shows like this didn’t exist then, like, at all. Then, when it was in movie format, it was just too brief. It made no sense. There was no time to jam it all in.”
Cable television, however, offered the solution. The pair credit the success of The Walking Dead for getting Hollywood to trust in a more sprawling telling of such a crazy comic book story. And yet, taking the story from the page the screen still had innumerable challenges.
“[Garth Ennis] was a big advocate of taking a new path to allow a new audience to discover the show and not strictly adhering to the comics,” said Rogen. “We were proposing that we do an extremely similar to the comic version and he told us that was stupid,” added Goldberg. “He was one of the first people to actually say it. Everyone was afraid to say it.”
Ennis has been a part of this process since the beginning. He sat in for Rogen and Goldberg’s initial pitch meetings, reads every script (“He just has two or three notes. Very minimal, always right,” said Goldberg) and watches every cut. He’s a huge creative component on the show.
So, if you’re a fan of the comics and you notice some changes between the two, Ennis signed off on them. Tulip is now African-American (played by Ruth Negga), Cassidy (played by Joe Gilgun) doesn’t wear sunglasses all the time, and the look and back story of Arseface (played by Ian Colletti) is different. The biggest difference, though, is the show starts way before the comic—it’s almost a prequel.
“You never see him being a Preacher in the comics,” Rogen said. “We were like, ‘It’s called Preacher, he’s dressed as a preacher the whole time, maybe you should see him being a preacher.’ When the comic starts he’s kind of done with it, basically. So we thought it would be good to show that that part of his life was like as well.”
“There are a million little things, if you’re a big fan of the comic, that will be devastating,” Rogen joked. “But I think you’ll get over it.”
One potential change the pair refused to talk about was the eventual ending of the series. The comic has a very specific ending and Rogen and Goldberg were very coy about how they’re going to tackle it. “If you’re a fan of the comic, you’re probably not going to be upset at the end of the whole run, and you also won’t be able to predict what is going to happen,” Goldberg said. “It’s a fine balance we’ve got to hit where no matter how familiar with the comics you are, somethings going to happen you’re not expecting.”
Production of season one of Preacher is still ongoing, and Rogen and Goldberg have pretty much passed the main controls to executive producer Sam Catlin and the writers room. They’re still involved when they can be, but really it was their job to get everything set up and ready for shooting. That they did. Next up, they’ll do the same for another Garth Ennis comic, The Boys, which is about a group of superheroes that monitor other superheroes. It’s currently being written to eventually air on Cinemax.
“The idea of doing something in the world of superheroes, in a more traditional sense, was actually something that was very appealing to us,” Rogen said. “I think Preacher is a comic book but there’s something about the visuals of that [superhero] world and the idea of really trying, as firmly as possible, to implant that type of idea in our world. It’s something we’ve talked about doing for years and years, and we’ve kicked around tons of ideas like it and then that was kind of thing where we were like, [The Boys] is probably the way to do all of those ideas.”
At this point, it’s obvious if Rogen and Goldberg are talking about something, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention.