For Preacher showrunner Sam Catlin, the hardest part of adapting the comic book series was where to begin. “The spirit of it is what we hope is in the show,” he said when he spoke to Bleeding Cool about the series, which debuts tonight on AMC.
The pilot, and seeming the entire first season, is set in Annville, Texas — a location dispensed with within a few pages of the comic book’s first issue. Staying in the Annville is only the first of many changes made in bringing the the book by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon to the screen. But as Catlin explained, adapting the series would not be as easy as filming the comic.
When he first began reading the series, he was at a loss as to how to bring it to the screen. “If we were to shoot the comic book, it would be a 4-or-$500 million shoot.” Beyond the production realities, Catlin added that from a story sense, the pace of the comic “could saturate” the narrative with crazy ideas coming at 100 mph.
He brought his concerns to executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg “I never adapted anything before,” the veteran writer and producer on Breaking Bad said. “I didn’t know what the rules were.” Rogen and Goldberg were quick to tell him to walk away from the framework of the comic — in fact, Ennis himself thought it would be silly to do a straight adaptation. With that freedom, the decision was made to show Jesse Custer attempt to be a good preacher before skipping town as he quickly does in the comic book. The choice to present him as a “spiritual sheriff” in Annville opened up new ways to bring the characters together and “let the trouble come to them in certain ways.”
“We can still have this gonzo world and him still trying to be a preacher,” Catlin added. “[And] we have this sin-soaked town that needs redemption. It was a good place to start.”
With the beginning firmly in place, Catlin said they “have a sense” where the show will end. But with so many interesting stories to tell from the comics, the production does not have an ideal number of seasons in mind. In reference to Breaking Bad‘s relentless road to Walter White’s fate, Catlin said, “Preacher has so many opportunities to f*ck around and take the road wrong road.”
And like Breaking Bad, Preacher allowed Catlin to push the lead characters out of the traditional protagonist mold. As he put it, part of the fun is finding “how far you can push someone and not [turn them] into the bad guy.”
Whether the series gets on the road quicker than the pilot would suggest or stays in Annville for a spell, Catlin hopes “the spirit of that crazy Garth Ennis world” and the characters he created remain an essential part of the series; even as it makes its departures from the source.
Preacher debuts tonight on AMC.