'Preacher' Star Dominic Cooper on Jesse Custer's Hellish "Sundowner" Showdown

"It's given everything more clarity — and now he wants more answers," Cooper tells THR about the game-changing revelations in the latest episode of AMC's comic book adapation.
Courtesy of Matthias Clamer/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from season one, episode six of AMC's Preacher.]

"What's inside of you isn't God. It's a mistake."

After spending weeks believing his voice carried the weight of the word of God, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) just learned the hard truth that his dark power has dark origins. In the latest episode of AMC's Preacher, called "Sundowner," Jesse finally learns the name of the entity inside of him: Genesis, the product of an unholy union between an angel and demon fighting on opposite sides of an ancient war between Heaven and Hell. 

Moments later, Jesse comes face-to-face with forces from Heaven, fighting alongside dim-witted angels Fiore (Tom Brooke) and DeBlanc (Anatol Yusef) against a seraphim, an angel of the highest order, taking the form of a Texan housewife. The four individuals beat each other mercilessly inside Fiore and DeBlanc's room at the Sundowner Motel, with all three angels killing each other and regenerating multiple times — so much so that the room is a blood-soaked, body-filled mess when all is said and done.

Despite all this madness, Jesse chooses to keep Genesis. When Fiore and DeBlanc insist he turn over the entity, Jesse uses the power to tell them to "stay away." But everyone in Jesse's inner circle echoes the angels' words, some more explicitly than others. Finally, along comes Eugene (Ian Colletti), who tells Jesse it's immoral to use this power to change people's minds. The conversation escalates until Jesse reaches his breaking point, shouting a command at Eugene: "Go to Hell!" 

In an instant, the disfigured teenager is missing, his whereabouts unknown…except in a world where angels and demons exist — where Jesse's powerful words are often taken literally — there's really no question at all about Eugene's current location.

For more on the most out-there episode of Preacher yet, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Cooper about the Genesis revelation, the Sundowner showdown, Jesse's tense conversation with Eugene, and news of Preacher's second-season renewal. 

The episode begins as Jesse meets the angels Fiore and DeBlanc, learns the truth about his power, and then gets into a four-way motel brawl with the two angels and the seraphim. What's going through your mind when you're reading this in the script?

Well, it makes no sense. (Laughs) And I mean the whole thing, from start to finish, really. It's so ludicrous, and [the episodes] get more and more far-fetched. You get more excited and exhilarated the more you read. I've never done a job where I was so desperate to read the next script. Playing Jesse, the character transforms in each episode. Something so vast happens to his understanding of himself that it's exhilarating to play. But at the same time, it's very confusing, and I'm as confused as Jesse is in the discovery of this information, of this entity within him. This idea that the entity was nothing but good starts to turn on its head. I hope what's happening in these scenes is that you're seeing this man trying to tolerate the idea of who these two people are, the angels. A part of him is desperate to believe and understand what's taken over his being. He wants it to make sense. But they seem like the most unlikely candidates. There's all of this information that he's constantly having to digest. I hope the audience is in the same vein as him, trying to discover and learn at the same time as him. So when I first read those scenes? I had no idea on Earth what was happening, or how it was going to be shot. 

What do you remember about shooting the brawl at the Sundowner Motel?

That scene was so haphazard and chaotic, and sometimes that makes the best drama. But we had so little time to shoot this. That fight on a huge film set would take days and days, but this was kind of like a jumble of chaos and ideas from everyone. We were trying to piece together how on Earth this would work. I really hope it does. But it was very funny. It read that way. You could understand the imagery of what that scene would be, but how we were going to create that? I don't think anyone really knew at the time. We all put our heads together to try and make it make sense. It was kind of shambolic, really, and I mean that in a good way. (Laughs) But this idea of regeneration…I'm trying to deal with what's going on, and trying to make it believable. But it was madness. It was very exhilarating, very exciting, but also very exhausting. The choreography, the brilliant stunt team…you can't really preempt or write this down or make a coherent decisive blueprint of what this is going to be. I think that magic comes off on the screen with this whole TV series. In the moment, we're wondering if something's actually working. You can understand the idea behind it, but putting it into action is much more difficult. You can have a stunt team try to choreograph what's happening in the Sundowner Motel, but it's almost impossible. And then on the day, it's going to change. So it's about people being prepared to change the concept in the moment, and I think that creates an incredible dynamic amongst the creative team and the actors. It's exhausting, but the end result can be very entertaining.

What does it say about Jesse Custer that he can hold his ground in this fight while angels are constantly killing each other and regenerating all around him?

Well, he's a nutter. (Laughs) He's been in situations like this one before, obviously not with the regenerating, but he can handle himself. From what we saw in that first fight [in the pilot], we saw how much he enjoys this kind of thing. He's trying to avoid it, but he's almost a child in a candy store when he's there. He can do as he pleases. And with this angel regenerating, it's like being on a drug. He's exhausted by the end, but it thrills him. It's the life he's trying to avoid. In this particular situation, there's an excuse to do it repeatedly, almost like a punch bag, to let out all of that anger and resentment and rage that's bubbling beneath the surface. There's a part of him that loves being put on the edge. Like, when [the seraphim] puts the gun to his head. He's not for a moment threatened by it. It doesn't strike fear in him. In my view, it enriches him. It's the bad side of him. 

Jesse learns the truth about the entity, called Genesis, the product of an unholy union between soldiers on opposite sides of an ancient battle between Heaven and Hell. What does he think about this revelation, especially when he thought he was a vessel for God? 

It's terrifying. It makes sense, but it's a terrifying revelation, and it doesn't even stop him from continuing to do what he's doing. I think it makes sense to him. He knows why it exists within him. He knows he's a man like that. He's constantly in conflict. It makes complete sense. It's what he's had all of his life. To have someone give you a diagnosis for your problem, it's a relief, but at the same time, it's a huge burden. Now he has a responsibility, and everything he's doing now is not necessarily coming from a good place. So I think it changes everything. It's very revealing of him. He doesn't do anything immediately about it. He's continuing to try to wield it. 

When he hears the story about Genesis, and meets Fiore and DeBlanc and sees them with their coffee can "domicile" and their heavenly smartphones requiring "angel hands," does any of this challenge Jesse's notion of Heaven and Hell? As in, is this a letdown in terms of the concepts he was picturing?

No, I think it's exhilarating, and suddenly everything makes so much more sense. This thing, whatever it is, it's been missing from his soul. It's been missing from his life. Now it's being explained. He buys into it. He's still quite reticent. There's bits of it he finds hard to digest, but ultimately, it all seems to add up to the answers he's been searching for, and the things he's been feeling. "Sure, these guys can be angels. Of course! Why was I so stupid to think they had to be bearded guys in the sky, and people with wings? Of course they're wearing cowboy hats and look ridiculous." I think Jesse takes everything as it comes. It takes quite a lot to shake him. He takes things in stride. All of these ideas have been implanted in him since childhood, hearing stories from his father…and it's actually real. He has this incredible capability, and now everything's making sense. It hasn't disrupted his notion of what he believes. It's given everything more clarity — and now he wants more answers.

You mention that Jesse isn't shaken very easily, but at the end of the episode, he has a tense conversation with Eugene that ends in Jesse telling him to "go to Hell." By the looks of it, Eugene obeyed the word to the letter. What is it about Eugene that gets so firmly under Jesse's skin?

It's everything. Eugene is always saying the thing that Jesse can't cope with hearing. He scratches at the surface, and he's right. He's more truthful. He's more honest. He gets it better than Jesse. He gets why Jesse shouldn't be doing these things. You can't force someone to change their lives. You need to learn these lessons yourself. You learn how to be forgiven, or you get forgiveness in a different way. You can't force it. Jesse is forcing all of these issues, and it's not working. I think Jesse can't bear to have his buttons pushed by Eugene, and eventually he has enough of it. This is Jesse's evil side coming out. It's much easier for him to get rid of this annoying voice on his shoulder that's insisting he do the right thing. Jesse knows Eugene is right, but he can't cope with it. Then the demon side comes out. The lack of remorse right afterward is totally terrifying. In that initial moment, he doesn't regret it at all. When you look back over Eugene, though, he's been constantly addressing Jesse's pitfalls. 

We do know that Heaven and Hell exist in this world, so when Jesse tells Eugene to "go to Hell," is it safe to take that literally? Is Preacher about to go to Hell?

Well, we'll see. I can't say anything. But it definitely exists. That's become very clear. Maybe Jesse's guilt will get the better of him. But it certainly plays more on Jesse's conscience [in the future] than in the episode you just saw. It's definitely part of the dark side of him that changes his personality dramatically.

What are your thoughts about the second season of Preacher, now that the show has officially been renewed?

I'm very, very excited. It was so wonderful to hear that news. It's all credit to AMC. It means a lot to the cast to have that information beforehand. You have so much trepidation about how it's being received, and whether people are enjoying it. It's very hard to tell, with how we watch television now. To have that confidence and strength and belief in it, gives us confidence and strength. I'm very proud of it, and the fact that we're making more? I can't wait. This cast and crew loves working together. We totally believe in the show. I think it's very different from anything else that's on. I hope people pick up on it, and I hope people are enjoying it. 

Preacher airs on AMC on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.