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Preacher 101: Four things you might not know about AMC’s brutal new series

This weekend, Preacher premieres on AMC, the network that gave the world Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and the new show seems poised to up the ante when it comes to intense — and likely controversial — subject matter.

An adaptation of writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon’s hit comic book series of the same name, Preacher casts Captain America: The First Avenger and The Devil’s Double actor Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, a small-town Texas preacher who gains an extraordinary, supernatural power that sends him on a wild (and occasionally terrifying) adventure. Ennis’ celebrated series tackled some heady themes over the course of its 75-issue run, including organized religion, redemption, and the nature of good and evil, and the series’ path to the screen goes back nearly two decades at this point.

Many comic readers are already well-acquainted with Jesse Custer’s crazy journey, but as with any story making the leap from page to screen, the show is likely to earn Ennis’ reluctant hero and his supporting cast more than a few new fans in the months to come.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of the comic or a newcomer to the world of Preacher, here are a few things you might not know about the series:

The Constantine connection


Most people are aware the television series is based on a comic book, but the origins of the comic itself aren’t as well known.

The idea for Preacher was borne from a question writer Garth Ennis originally posed in his celebrated run on the John Constantine, Hellblazer comic book series (the comic that was later adapted into a 2005 movie and a recent television series): What would happen if an angel and a demon had a child? One possible answer to that question — which Ennis explored in Hellblazer — became the jumping-off point for Preacher, in which the offspring of such a pairing plays a key role in Reverend Jesse Custer’s adventure through Heaven and Hell.

Before AMC and Seth Rogen, there was HBO, Kevin Smith, and an Oscar winner


Well before Seth Rogen and his frequent collaborator, Evan Goldberg, partnered with AMC to produce (and direct the first episode of) Preacher, the celebrated comic book series had passed through quite a few hands in Hollywood. Early on, a movie based on the series was pitched to Miramax by Clerks filmmaker Kevin Smith and his production partner, Scott Mosier. The studio was the first of many to shy away from the project due to concerns over its controversial spin on religion, though.

A subsequent version of the film — but still based on a screenplay penned by Ennis — later came close to going in front of the camera, only to fall apart due to budget problems. That version would’ve been directed by Tank Girl and Doctor Who director Rachel Talalay, but was later scrapped, only to have HBO pick up the rights to the series a short time later. Ghost Rider and Daredevil screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson was commissioned to pen a series bible for the show, only to have the network drop the project in 2008 after concerns were raised about (guess what?) the show’s controversial religious themes.

Later that same year, Columbia Pictures picked up the movie rights to the series and planned to make yet another attempt to bring it to the screen. The adaptation seemed to be on good footing with the attachment of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American BeautySkyfall), but just as with earlier attempts, the project eventually fell into development limbo.

It would be another four years before AMC put plans in motion to do what so many movie studios and networks had failed to do, and bring Preacher to the screen.

… and before Dominic Cooper, there was James Marsden


Although various studios and television networks had worked on adaptations of Preacher over the years, few got as far as actually casting a lead actor for the series. The lone exception was one of the early attempts at a feature-length Preacher movie, during the period when Talalay was still attached to direct the film.

At some point in 2002, X-Men actor James Marsden was cast as Jesse Custer in the film — a role he ended up discussing quite frequently over the next few years as fans got word of the adaptation. It’s uncertain how far Marsden went in the development process with that ill-fated Preacher movie, as we have yet to see any leaked costume-fitting photos or other production elements from that period, but at one point in time Marsden was indeed the man in the preacher’s collar.

It’s a super-powered reunion for the cast


The comic-book and television super-power connections run deep in the cast of Preacher, with many of the series’ actors having appeared in comics-friendly projects in the past — sometimes even in the same shows and cinematic universes.

Actor Joseph Gilgun, for example, will play the Irish rogue Cassidy in Preacher, but he previously appeared in the popular British series Misfits, which chronicled the adventures of a ragtag group of young adults who gain superhuman powers after a freak storm. Ruth Negga, who plays Jesse Custer’s tough-as-nails ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare in Preacher, also starred in Misfits for a season.

Speaking of Negga, the Irish actress also played a featured role in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, making her an official part of Marvel’s cinematic universe. Also a member of that cinematic universe is Jesse Custer himself, Cooper, who played Howard Stark (Tony Stark’s father) in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and recently reprised the role in the Agent Carter series.

Rounding out the cast is Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), who plays the owner of a local slaughterhouse, Odin Quinncannon. Haley also has a pair of comic-book adaptations on his resume already, with featured roles in both the 2009 film Watchmen and the television series Human Target, based on the comic of the same name.

Preacher premieres Sunday, May 22, at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

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