'Preacher' showrunner Sam Catlin says he kept Garth Ennis' tone but infused his voice as he looks back on 4 years of blood, gore and mayhem
'Breaking Bad' creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan taught writer-producer Sam Catlin a lot on his show. But as Caitlin told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) in an exclusive interview, nothing quite prepared him to be the showrunner for 'Preacher'.
"There are hundreds of things I learned from Vince. Some of them I tried my best to incorporate and some were just not comparable — like intestines are not for strangling," said Catlin, referencing that bloody bit of mayhem towards the end of season 3. You know when Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) and Herr Starr (Pip Torrens) fought among the entrails of the All-Father, and Jesse tried to strangle Starr with said entrails?
It was Catlin's first time being a showrunner, with only writer-producer credits to his name till he signed on to 'Preacher' and what has been a four-year-long journey. "There’s very little in being a writer that prepares you for being a showrunner. It’s like asking the shortstop of a baseball team to now be the general manager. I made tons of mistakes and it's as stressful as I was told but it really is the best job in the world, creatively," he shared. He joked that it will be hard to get back to his "old job as a convention greeter and abdominal model".
A big part of bringing 'Preacher' to our screens involved director-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Pooh-poohing his own wise-cracking take on the duo being "very wealthy, stoned children", Catlin praised them as smart effective and efficient producers. "No one needs to keep them in line. They know what they’re doing. More than I do," he revealed.
The show has never been rooted in reality like 'Breaking Bad' was. So, the writing was crucial in order to give the actors enough to work with in terms of quieter character interactions to ground the show. Barring a few changes in the dialogue and small bits of action, the actors stayed true to the original scripts, according to Catlin.
He referred to the pilot episode when asked about his favorite scene to write, reminiscing about the dialogues in which the BDSM-loving Betsy Schenck (Jamie Anne Allman) tells Jesse she likes being abused by her husband. "[The] scene was super dark and made me laugh."
The quieter moments of season 4 also got a mention. "We had some good ones with God this year. Also, fresh in my mind, is the one between Joe [Gilgun who plays Cassidy} and Ruth [Negga as Tulip O'Hare] in the last episode that I like very much."
Looking back on the four years of 'Preacher', Catlin had some words of advice for his younger self: "I used to say that I was paid to worry. But I actually think [now], that’s not true. Worrying made the job more difficult than it had to be. Once you understand that everything will get done you can relax more and the work is better and more fun."
In the beginning, however, the worry was real. "You walk a fine line when adapting pre-existing material. As a writer, you feel obligated to honor the original work, but you also often feel the need to put your own touch. It [is a] tough balancing game of how much you keep the same and how much you distance yourself from the source material," Catlin said.
The writers' room was aware of the difficulties involved in adapting a comic book with a cult following. "The pressure’s on to keep all these fans happy. Fans are vicious. The last thing you want is to p**s them off because you’d better believe they’re going to voice their opinion on the internet and stop watching if you hurt their baby. With 'Preacher', I had to make sure that we were sticking to the same style and tone of the original work while infusing my and my team’s voice into it."
One of the major stylistic changes was shifting the road trip feel of the comic to location-based seasons. "It was a conscious decision. Primarily, it was a decision for production. It made it easier to produce the show if we stuck to one location per season. Story-wise, though, it also helped us string everything together," he said, reasoning that since TV was a different medium from comics, the road trip vibe wouldn't have worked.
"By sticking to one location, we could really dig into the characters we met in each place and build them out as opposed to quickly moving on to someone and someplace new every episode," Catlin explained. We tried to pry some spoilers about the upcoming episodes, but he clammed up. "God would smite me down," he said, signing off.