Uppercut Boxing Gym may be too grimy for the run-of-the-mill Hollywood screening, but the northeast Minneapolis sweatbox was an ideal venue earlier this month for “Preacher,” AMC’s interpretation of a 1990s comic book series in which one character bites off the ear of an assailant and another pulls out his own heart to present to Mom before making a mess on the floor of her retirement home.
“The comics are really gross,” said cast member Lucy Griffiths, applying lipstick in the mirror of a dressing room, as roughly 100 fans gasped and guffawed their way through a sneak preview just outside her door. “They managed to capture that.”
She was referring to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the dynamic duo behind “This Is the End” and “The Interview,” both featuring Rogen.
Despite their success, the pair were unlikely candidates to pump blood into such a gritty, gruesome drama, if only because of their history with stoner comedies and the failure of their last comic book adaptation, “The Green Hornet.”
Rights to the character, created by Garth Ennis with not-so-pretty pictures from Steve Dillon, once belonged to Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, who eventually aligned himself with the more established rogue hero James Bond. Minnesota native Mark Steven Johnson (“Daredevil”), Rachel Talalay (“Tank Girl”) and DJ Caruso (“Disturbia”) also developed versions before dropping out.
After more than 20 years of near-misses, the longtime pals were the last geeks standing.
“Many people far more talented than us tried to turn this into a movie and it didn’t happen. I don’t think it was them. I think it was the format,” Rogen said this past January during a news conference in Los Angeles. “For a story with so many characters and this giant world, I think television is needed.”
So is a strong constitution.
Dominic Cooper, just one Brylcreem sweep away from sporting an Elvis pompadour, plays Jesse Custer, a former criminal who returns to his Texas roots to run the local church, making good on a promise to his late father and trying to put a cap on his volatile temper.
Blockades on redemption road include a crazy ex-girlfriend, Tulip, who isn’t above punctuating a fatal fistfight by jamming a corncob into a corpse’s mouth, and Cassidy, an Irish vampire who prefers whiskey bottles to damsels’ necks.
To make matters more complicated, the minister is blasted by a mysterious spirit that forces everyone to obey his commands — with the possible exception of his hairstylist.
“It’s wonderful to have the comics to draw upon, but it’s not like a novel where there are long, descriptive passages of who a person is,” said Cooper, whose previous credits include the 2009 film “An Education” and sharing a London flat with talk-show host James Corden. “He’s trying very hard to be a good man, but I don’t know if he is one.”
Exploding Tom Cruise
Self-discovery comes at a price, at least in this wild, vile West. One can just imagine “The Hateful Eight” creator Quentin Tarantino cackling at the scene in which a runaway chain saw scoots across the sanctuary floor, a severed arm attached to its blade.
Goldberg and Rogen, who codirected the first episode, inject the series with much of the same warped wit that guaranteed “The Interview” would sweep North Korea’s version of the Razzies.
In one scene, Cassidy debates the merits of “The Big Lebowski,” then pours a drink from the Champagne bottle he’s embedded into his rival’s rib cage. Word that the same supernatural forces that struck Custer caused Tom Cruise to explode is relegated to the crawl on cable news stations. “Preacher” may be the first time in film or TV that a gruesome fight to the death is accompanied by Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”
Something bloody different
The series may have captured the dark humor that’s more common in comic books than basic cable, but that doesn’t mean all dear readers are already in line for a Dominic Cooper action figure.
It’s too early to tell how fans will react to some serious tinkering, which includes the introduction of Griffiths’ Emily, who clearly covets the position of angel on the minister’s shoulder. Social media trolls are already whining that the TV Custer isn’t hiding bloodshot eyes behind sunglasses, which are almost a character of their own in the comics.
The creators and cast insist they’re ready for some backlash — but only, it seems, to a point.
“Everyone always says, ‘We want something different, give me something different,’ ” said Joseph Gilgun, who plays Cassidy. “If this isn’t that thing, I don’t know what the bloody hell is.”