SPOILER ARNING: The following interview contains slight spoilers for AMC’s “Preacher.”
Ruth Negga is poised to have a major year. Leaving behind the spiked prosthetics of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” inhuman Raina, this Irish ingenue will hit theaters later this year in the much-anticipated fantasy-adventure “Warcraft,” but not before she returns to television for a new comic-inspired adventure with AMC‘s “Preacher.”
Based on Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon‘s groundbreaking comic series, “Preacher” follows the crisis of faith of the titular anti-hero Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper). In his quest to literally find God, Jesse finds unlikely allies in Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), a cheeky Irish vampire, and Tulip (Negga), a stylish criminal who also happens to be this preacher’s ex-girlfriend.
While revamping comic book’s characters is often a recipe for disaster, the show’s producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made intriguing changes to Tulip, casting Negga as a character who was a white blonde woman in the source material. The character and her criminal tendencies are also introduced through something other than a bungled assassination attempt, as Tulip tears onto the scene with an explosive action sequence that has her battling two men while driving through a cornfield, and then teaching some farm kids a couple of lessons about empowerment, love and DIY weaponry.
When CBR sat down with Negga at SXSW, we dove into these differences, specifically looking at how race-bending comes into play in both “Preacher” and Hollywood in general, Tulip’s unique brand of feminism, and what the gleefully violent anti-heroine’s Youtube channel would look like.
CBR News: Tulip gets a very different introduction in the show than in the comic. Can you talk a bit about how this elaborate fight sequence came together?
Ruth Negga: It didn’t take long, actually. We were working with pros, pro fight directors and stunt coordinators — she’s much more an active participant in her own story in our version. Is that fair to say?
I think so. I think Tulip, in the comics, feels very wounded. Here, that’s more a layer than the forefront characteristic.
It absolutely is. I think that if she was going to be one of this trio of misfits, she needed to meet them in terms of their strength, really. She needs to be a match for both of these men. I think that it was super important for Seth (Rogen) and Evan (Goldberg) to have a woman who wasn’t — I’m not saying she was like this in the comic, but — sort of like a projection for things. She has a very strong story in her own right. She’s not a quite point of reference for Jesse’s story. The way she’s introduced in this is basically a calling card, going, “She’s nobody’s girlfriend.” Or, “She’s not just somebody’s girlfriend.”
There’s even a speech about female empowerment, without being super on the nose about it.
Yeah, exactly. The brilliant thing about that speech is that she’s basically saying, it’s okay to beat someone up or be violent if it’s going to help you. She has a very twisted moral viewpoint, but it’s so necessary, because so often women aren’t allowed that, are they? That opportunity, to be a fully rounded, flawed human being with a twisted viewpoint. It’s always the man. The woman is always kind of sober, motherly energy.
Anti-heroes in fiction are typically men.
Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of women like me, who — I was like, “Oh, I don’t really identify with that all the time, because I can be as explosive as the next person.” I want the portrayal of women on screen and television to allow me to feel like it’s okay to be the anti-hero. It’s not determined by sex, or it shouldn’t be, but we’ve been sort of trained to think that, that this is road for women, and this is the road for men. I think that’s boring, and I think it’s just wrong. It needs to kind of [waves hand as if brushing the concept away]. I mean, it is happening, very much so on TV, especially.
It’s one of the ways this adaptation of “Preacher” feels contemporary. Reading the comic, it does feel like a story of its time.
Definitely. I think that’s a very fair point. I think you can’t make that comic frame-by-frame, now. I don’t think it would do the comic justice, you know?
Another change in Tulip is that she’s race-bent in the show. Was that something that especially appealed to you in taking the role?
I was reading this article in the last year saying, “These brown people are taking all these white people’s roles!” And I was like, really? Are you serious? And people are saying, “Oh, God, I hope this doesn’t change Tulip too much!” And I’m like, well, you know, she’s just not blonde, but brown and has smaller boobs. It doesn’t change the essential nature of this person.
It’s an interesting element, isn’t it? I mean, it’s set in the South, and it doesn’t ignore the fact that it’s a mixed place. I think it was a brilliant change, obviously, because I got the part. But it’s the conversation that our TV and film has to reflect the reality. It just has to, because it’s a duty. It’s a duty.
As an actress of color, are you experiencing an opening up in opportunities? I mean, obviously you won this role, but do you see a change, or do you think we still have a long way to go?
I think it’s moving at glacial pace, really. It feels like the conversations quickened up recently with the whole Oscars So White thing. Whatever you believe, or your opinion about it, is sort of beside the point, because the thing is, people are turning around and being like, “Oh, my God, of course! This is ridiculous. It’s actually a ridiculous situation, and it should change.” And I think that’s a good thing.
The status quo is being challenged, and the idea that there should be minimal amount of black people onscreen, that idea will become completely unacceptable. Where at the moment it’s just like, “Oh, well — that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?” Nothing had been achieved in terms of equal opportunities through complacency. It’s always been through agitation, hasn’t it? And saying just because this is how it is doesn’t mean that it has be how it is, or that it’s right, or fair.
My big argument is that even if you want to push the politics aside, it’s an argument in favor of talent. Where, if you open up the field of opportunities, and we don’t just assume that white male is the default for all things, then look at what we get. Like this year, we had “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which had —
And Daisy Ridley as Rey! And they opened up this “Star Wars” franchise — that a lot of people were afraid couldn’t continue to thrive — in a way that made it so much more accessible to so many more people. They didn’t lose their audience; they gained a wider audience that felt newly-embraced by the thing they love.
They also gained a deeper love from fans that already exist, i.e. people of color and women. There is a huge [group of them]. Geeky, comic-book-loving people aren’t just white males. I think there’s a bigger level of respect among black female nerds [for those films], because they’re like, “Finally!” Like, “We read them, too! We’re obsessed with them, too!” I think that’s the exciting thing.
Is that something, in taking on this role, that you take to it?
Yes, definitely. I mean, I’m adamant about it. Like, it’s amazing when you think about it. You get so used to not seeing people who look like you in roles, or having interesting complex characters with depth, it’s frightening how you can become so complacent. You think, “Why wasn’t I more angry about this earlier?” Because you just think, “Oh, that’s the way it is.” And now, I think there’s a whole generation of people — it’s very good — who go, “No. No, I’m not accepting that, actually. Now I can agitate for change.”
Speaking of other nerd projects you’ve got coming up, you’ve also got “Warcraft.” What can you tell us about that?
Dunno what I can say about that. I saw it!
I loved it. It’s really exciting, it’s funny. I’m delighted, because humor is very much a part of this world, isn’t it? I dunno. I really enjoyed it.
What can you tell us about your “Warcraft” character?
She is the wife of King Llane (played by “Preacher” co-star Dominic Cooper). Her name is Lady Taria. I think that she is basically one-half of a power couple. She’s Michelle Obama.
She’s the Michelle Obama of “Warcraft” —
In medieval dress.
So, Tulip’s DIY bazooka. I don’t really have a question — I just think it’s fabulous.
It’s still there. I have requested it as my end of season gift, so I can put it in glass.
And hang it above your mantle?
Yeah. I love it.
It made me want to Google that, but I don’t want to end up on a watch list.
That’s what I said! “Is this readily available?” I think because people just assume it wouldn’t be, they don’t look. But yeah, have a look. Just some moonshine and duct tape. There’s some other things you can use; you can experiment, as well. I have a feeling it wouldn’t do as much damage as the bazooka in ours, which pretty much brought down a Black Hawk. If you’re expecting to do that kind of damage, I don’t think a homemade bazooka with toy soldiers would cut it, to be honest.
I can just imagine Tulip’s Youtube tutorial on build your own bazooka.
Oh! Maybe we could do that for the extras on the DVD! I actually should use your video idea.
Please do that!
We could get the kids back in there to be my helpers.
And the glasses! It’s a whole image.
It’s a whole thing, isn’t it? And next week it, will be homemade grenades. “Weaponry with Tulip!” Oh, my God, it’s brilliant. Spinoff! [Playfully waves to showrunner Sam Catlin at another table] “Sam, I got an idea!”
“Preacher” premieres on AMC Sunday, May 22
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