The makers of AMC‘s new TV drama series “Preacher” had a daunting task ahead of them in casting Cassidy, an Irish vampire whose bloodlust is only matched only by his lust for life. In order to successfully translate the character from the comics page to the television screen, they needed someone with a wild side who could dive into despicable behavior and still come off as mad charming. Enter Joseph Gilgun.
With a wicked smile and tattooed sleeves, the English character actor has brought a roguish appeal to the super-powered series “The Misfits,” the space prison thriller “Lockout,” and the Vin Diesel fantasy adventure “The Last Witch Hunter.” With “Preacher,” he’s now tasked with bringing the bold character born in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon‘s comics to vivid life. And going by the raucous cheers each of Cassidy’s scenes drew from the audience during SXSW’s world premiere of “Preacher”s pilot, Gilgun’s take on the smirking vampire will be an immediate fan favorite.
CBR sat down with Gilgun in the thick of SXSW to talk “Preacher,” though we admittedly, got caught up in his gift for gab. A simple question about how the festival was treating him pitched the conversation down a rabbit hole about Gilgun’s life, passions, vices, and vulnerabilities, as well as lessons in British slang, and his very unusual plan B should this whole acting thing not pan out.
CBR News: How long have you been at SXSW?
Joseph Gilgun: I’ve been here a few days. I’m like you though, I’m kind of knackered.
You’re hitting festival fatigue too?
Well, I got drunk last night.
You have to at some point.
Yeah. It’d be rude not to. It’s my job to get into character. You know what I mean?
Sure. I’ve been told that drinking at SXSW is part of the experience.
Yeah, you have to have one night where you just wake up just full of shame and regret. Like last night, I fell asleep in the lift. Dominic (Cooper, who stars as “Preacher’s” Jesse Custer) was like, “Come downstairs and have a cigarette.” And I’m like, “Alright.” I got in the lift and I’m so fucking drunk that I just [mimes nodding off]. Obviously, the doors pinged open, and I realize I’m on the same floor. I hadn’t pressed any buttons. The lift’s been going up and down with me in it. And I’m getting bad-tempered like, “This fucking lift’s a nightmare. So old.”
This festival has made me feel my years.
It turns you into a massive lunatic. I’ve turned into a feral man out here.
I literally just used “feral” to describe my eating habits here!
I was terrible last night… Ruth [Negga who plays Tulip] texts me like, “Where are you?” I’m looking at my phone, I’m on the back of a pedicab, and I’m pissed now. The reason being is, this girl was knackered and couldn’t get up the hill, so I figure I’ll give her a push. So I started pushing it —
So you’re pushing a pedicab?
Up a hill, yeah. And she was like, “Get on and I’ll take you around the block, because it’s a bad hill, that.” It’s the one outside the hotel, a proper sharp one. So I jumped on the back, and then there was another bit where I had to push her again.
I think you’re pedicabbing wrong.
[Chuckles] A little bit. It was a little bit like casual pedicab theft. But it was all blocked off, the police had the block blocked off (for foot traffic), so we couldn’t get back to where I was. So it ended up being this fucking half an hour tour through Austin, where I kept jumping out and helping this girl because she’s knackered. And then we passed the “Preacher” church, the upside down thing. We went to there. And I was like, “Dude, fuck it. Let’s do a drive-by! Let’s see if I can blag our way in, and we’ll do like three laps. I’ll give everyone the Vs and all that. And then we’ll just get the fuck out of there.”
What is the Vs?
[Gilgun holds up both hands with forefinger and middle finger extended, palms toward him, like a reversed peace sign] Like, “Yeaaaah!”
What does that mean?
It’s like that [Flips me off], but not as aggressive. It’s like a playful fuck off. That’s an English thing. It’s a history thing, I think. The history of the fingers is, I think we used to cut off the French archers’ fingers… We used to catch French archers, cut their fingers off, so in battle when you face off, we’d be like [Gives the Vs], “Aaaah! We’ve got ours, and you’re fucked.”
I’m including all of this in the write-up, because this is fascinating.
I don’t know if it’s true. I mean, don’t quote me on this, but this is what I’ve been told. I’d like to be right on this. It’d be nice if I was right. Basically, I think that’s where the history of the playful Vs is from.
I’d not heard that before. I like that.
Check it out, see if it is real because it could have just spoken a lot of shit. [Editor: The story Gilgun relates is a popular one, though its accuracy is up for debate.] I do watch a lot of “Time Team” with Tony Robinson in the UK. Nobody knows who that man is or “Time Team” here — it’s one of my favorite shows on TV, because they never find a fucking thing. They find nothing.
What are they trying to find?
They found some shit early on in the series, like in the ’90s when everyone had mullets and Tony Robinson still had hair.
Like archaeological finds?
Yeah, archaeological digs and stuff. And they’d be, like, really eccentric hippies. The first episode of “Time Team,” it’s remarkable how chilled out and fucking useless everybody is. Like, they’re just drunk hippies digging holes in farmers’ fields. But now, it’s become about like, “We’ll found this, we found that, and it turns out it’s THIS!” It would have been a part of an entire complex block, and we imagine there’d be two men just there, sat like that, chatting, enjoying a cigarette.
So they talk a bunch of bullshit?
I don’t want to call it bullshit, because I do love “Time Team,” but it’s shit. Yeah, it’s terrible. They don’t find anything. They just dig really neat holes, but it’s dead interesting! Tony Robinson makes it amazing.
I’m not sure how this will come across, but I feel like talking with you, I completely get why you were cast as Cassidy.
Yeah, he’s a gobshite. I’m a gobshite.
Gobshite. Somebody who talks shite.
This is amazing. I’m learning so much.
Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve got ADHD. Very honest. I don’t hold back. I don’t use an editing facility. I don’t see the fucking point. You write whatever the fuck you want; it don’t make any difference to me. I just think I give meself to America like, “Do what you want. Have me as you will.” But I’m not changing.
In the pilot I just saw, Cassidy does some pretty bonkers stuff. None of that was intimidating to you?
What was your favorite part of the first episode?
I love the scenes with my friends, actually, with Dom and Ruth. I love the scene in the car between Tulip and Jesse, where she’s sort of, “We are what we are, Jesse Custer.” I find that really moving. Ruth’s really good at playing this. Everybody’s vulnerable — everybody is, but Tulip is like this super empowered — I just think it’s a really brave thing to do, for Ruth and for the guys to play Tulip out the way they have. That’s a big, big deal in 2016.
And you know there was feedback where people were like, “What the fuck, man? Tulip’s a white girl with blond hair!” Apparently there was [backlash over casting Negga]. I didn’t see any of that, but of course there was, man. There’s always some fucking dickhead somewhere, some narrow-minded bellend who can’t see — I could carry on ranting on that forever, mate. But yeah.
I think for me, personally, my favorite bits [are between Tulip and Jesse]. I mean, I enjoyed watching my bits too, of course. I’m an actor, a fucking really arrogant, fucking inward wank shaft. You just can’t help with that. Of course I love it. I do! I do love it. I’m a narcissistic twat! But, watching my friends do what they’ve done — and especially watching them putting on their accents — they’re incredible actors. I wasn’t a trained actor, per se. That’s not the background I come from. I’ve been very lucky to be in television.
How did you come into it?
By auditioning, you know. By getting off my ass and going and not accepting the cards that I was being dealt, which was plasterer and occasional career criminal. That’s what I had to work with at the time. My mum and dad had given me everything they could, and it was time that I had to do my own thing.
I was going through this thing — especially during my teens, which is turbulent for any young man or woman — but I was going off the fucking rails. If it hadn’t have been for this job, I try to think where I’d be. Drugs. Jail. So, I’m very, very, very lucky. And fucking hell, dude, there’s not a single day that I don’t wake up and know that.
I’ve got friends who have infinite potential, and because of the place we grew up in and the cards we were dealt, they were limited. I’ve been incredibly lucky, man. And it’s not that they have miserable lives. My friends are happy and good people. [Exhales deeply] But fucking life ain’t fair, man. Some people — like sometimes I feel a bit guilty. Not like I’ve left them behind or anything, but I’m so lucky. And I know, I fucking know how lucky I am. Sometimes, there is an element of guilt, I think because of where I’m from. There’s always that feeling of like, “What if they find me out?”
Imposters Syndrome. I think a lot of us suffer from that, where something good happens in your career and you fear “they” will figure out you don’t deserve it.
Yeah. Instead of enjoying it, you just shit yourself. But I think you need that, don’t you? Anxiety and worry is born out of the best intentions. The irony of it is, our brains and the way we work as people is not designed for this culture we’ve given ourselves, is it? Like when you need to be talking to a journo, you need to be really relaxed. I’ve been doing this all day, so — but sometimes, you have to dig. You have to talk, and your head’s going a million miles and hour, you’re not just listening to what they’re saying, you’re thinking about how you’re coming across. It’s like we’ve designed this world for ourselves where there’s a lot to think about. It can be very stressful.
I think it’s just about embracing it. Embrace it, man. Just let yourself go. This is going back to what I was saying about repressing, because I generally thought in the UK, “Just repress it, man. Don’t get in trouble out there. Just keep your head down.” A man said to me once, he said, “An actress” — and I can’t remember her name but — “she said, ‘When it comes to journalists, dare to be bland.'” Because that way, you don’t have to worry afterwards, you know what I mean?
But that’s fucking boring. Nobody wants to read that shit. I’ve got things I want to fucking say, so.
Yeah, and you have a platform to say them.
Yeah, so, bollocks! I don’t want to dare to be bland. I want to dare to be a lunatic and see what I can get away with. See how far I can push it before someone writes something really nasty and ruins my career. It’s just a waiting game, really. It’s just a numbers game before I run into that bastard who sends completely sends me back to the U.K., plastering and fucking selling dope. You know what I mean? [Laughs] Shit.
[Laughing] Well, at least you have a plan B, I guess?
Yeah, yeah I’ve got a fall back. [Laughs] Yeah, I do have a fall back: an addiction to heroin, then jail. Yeah! Fallback!
This is the weirdest interview I’ve had all week!
I’m glad, man! Thanks for having me. [The PR person asks, “Have things gone off the rails over here?”] Yeah, a little bit. It’s me. It’s my fault. I’m terrible.
There’s been some interesting deviations from the show from the comic. Is there any in particular you’re excited about?
What I love about it, is that it’s stationary. It’s been a funny one, because in the comic, they’re on the move a lot, and we’ve had to stay very stationary. The reason being, for people who aren’t aware of what “Preacher” is, they need to invest into these characters, and you need a bit of stillness for that to happen I think. And I think as well, this will give it a bigger impact when we do fuck off. I hope we kill everyone in that church, dude. I hope we fucking kill them all. Honestly. Like some of them bastards, you’ve seen ’em. Some of them need murdering, you know what I mean? Some of them need murdering.
The pilot definitely sets up some people that you want to see go down.
Yeah. It’s really clever. And some of them like Brian [Huskey] — he’s done so much of Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg]’s stuff as well — he plays the guy whose mother is constantly giving him a hard time. I’m devastated they’re killing him. He’s so funny and one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever spent time with. He lost his entire car in a car park. We went to watch “Mad Max: Fury Road” while we were doing the pilot eight months ago. It was me, Seth, Evan, [showrunner] Sammy [Catlin] and the rest of us. We all went to watch “Mad Max” [in 4D]. It was fucking relentless, wasn’t it?
It was my favorite movie of 2015, by far.
Dude, I fucking loved it. I had some real mixed reactions during, but it was constant entertainment. I was exhausted [when it was over]. I left, I was like, [Sighs heavily] “Fuuuuuuuuck.” My chair was moving and shit. Sam looks at me at one point, and he’s like, “It’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it, man?” Fucking not enjoying that, I was really baked. I was like, “It’s jostling my innards, Sam! I don’t fucking like it.” Fucking wind in your face, like, whuuh. I didn’t know where it was coming from! It was fucking hard work! I got off with sore core muscles and shit! It was hard work, but we had the best time. And as we came out, we lost his car. But that man’s amazing. He’s a fantastic actor.
Was it stolen?
It wasn’t stolen, we just fully lost it because we’re actors. We don’t think about anything else but ourselves. Like magpies, wandering around like, “Oh shit! There’s something shiny over there!” And then, while you’re looking at your shiny thing, you’ve not locked your car, or retained any information as to where it might be, or how to locate it once you’ve finished fucking around with your shiny thing. So before you know it, your car is lost. Your fucking car is lost. I do a lot that.
And then you’re pushing a pedicab up a hill!
Yes! And then you find yourself an enabler, helping a woman up a fucking hill. Honestly. At some stage, it’s very dangerous, I got into that last night. Let’s just say a lot happened. A lot went on. A lot went on. Fucking hell. I was in another dimension at one stage in that lift, like “Aaaaah!” You know where you’ve got to close one eye. It doesn’t matter how happy you are; you still look fucking furious.
This is my first SXSW, and I had thought people were overhyping how intense and exhausting it can be. But no — today I hit a wall, like, “I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I need to be.”
It’s horrible. You feel a bit like crying. That’s when you know you’ve had it large. That’s when you know you’ve gone big before you’ve gone home. When you actually need to have a little cry, like, “Mum! I miss you so.” Just the things you’ve done. The things I’ve seen, can’t be unseen or undone! I feel like Cassidy.
That sounds like Cassidy.
Yeah, if I get quoted on anything, “The things I’ve seen [Throws his hands over his face] and can’t be undone.”
That’s my time. Thanks, Joe. It was really great talking with you.
Thank you, mate. It was a pleasure. Be gentle, will you?
“Preacher” debuts on AMC on May 22nd.
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