Why AMC's 'Preacher' Killed Off Tom Cruise

Preacher - Season 1 -Dominic Cooper - H 2016
Courtesy of Matthias Clamer/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the series premiere of AMC's Preacher.]

"Tom Cruise has died."

When these four words were uttered at the Hollywood premiere of AMC's Preacher, there was an uproarious outburst of laughter throughout the auditorium — a mixture of genuine amusement and total shock. No matter the emotion, it produced a reaction, and simultaneously set the tone for the Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon comic book adaptation's twisted sense of humor.

In the opening episode of the new AMC drama, a heavenly entity crashes onto Earth and slams into the body of an African preacher. The man collapses on the ground for a beat, and when he stands up, the members of his flock are in awe of the miraculous moment. Seconds later, the preacher shouts at his disciples: "Be quiet!" Instantly, they obey his orders, and the preacher realizes he now possesses an extraordinary power, calling himself the "chosen one." But to paraphrase the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones, the host chose poorly, and subsequently leaves the preacher's body — causing him to explode into a huge mess of guts and gore all over his congregation. (Watch the scene, below.)

Throughout the premiere, it's implied that the entity tries inhabiting a few other religious individuals before ultimately and successfully landing on Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper), the hero at the heart of the series. One such holy man is Tom Cruise, according to a news report … and like the African preacher, he did not survive the experience.

Although the show is based on a comic book, the Tom Cruise scene was created specifically for the series. It was born from a conversation between showrunner Sam Catlin (Breaking Bad) and executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, as they tried to figure out how the entity would wind up bonding with Custer.

"We wanted to have this entity try out a lot of different hosts," Catlin told The Hollywood Reporter. "We went with a devout preacher in Africa, then we went to a Satanist and then we were like … well, what else do we do?"

Catlin said they discussed having the host travel to a synagogue or a mosque next, before coming up with the idea of exploring Scientology: "And I said, 'What if it's Tom Cruise?' We immediately realized that we had to do that." To Catlin's surprise, no one tried to stop them from committing to the joke.

"We kept waiting for someone to tell us we can't do that," he said. "I think they were getting ready to, but once they realized how funny it was, I think they started to wait for somebody else to tell us no, and by then, it was too late."

"There's no negative connotation to it," Goldberg stressed when speaking with reporters at a press conference. "We're not making a statement." Rogen added that he's a big fan of Cruise's work: "I watch every movie of his that comes out. Edge of Tomorrow is one of the best f—ing movies ever." In fact, he claims that he and Goldberg only try to take shots at people they appreciate in real life.

"Our humor often involves a lot of pop cultural references to actual people that I as a person in Hollywood find myself face-to-face with," Rogen said. "We only make fun of people we are big fans of. It would actually just feel too mean to make fun of people we don't like. I need to be able to go up to them and say, 'It's because I like you!' I'm the biggest Kanye West fan on the planet and I've probably made fun of him more than anybody on a very large scale, and he gets it and thinks it's funny."

Garth Ennis, writer of the Preacher comics, was immediately hooked on the idea: "I thought it was smart. It's the third of three attempts by the entity to find a home. The African preacher, the Russian magister … Tom Cruise. Look, if the Cruiser can't handle it, it's going to need something special."

Indeed, it establishes Jesse Custer as a man who can handle the weight of the word of God, defining the show's central character in a very important way. It also establishes the show's sense of humor, and the fact that Preacher exists in a parallel world to our own.

"This is a world where Tom Cruise exists … and he's dead," said Catlin, laughing. "It buys us all sorts of things."

But just as importantly as defining characters and the universe, according to Rogen and Goldberg, it was just "a hilarious joke that we love." As of yet, they have not heard back from Cruise's camp — at least, not officially. 

"I think he'll find it funny," Rogen said. "I would think it's funny if somebody blew me up!"

What did you think of the Tom Cruise joke? For more on the Preacher series premiere, click here for our postmortem with producers.