Just into its second season, “Preacher” has been no stranger to tragedy. The AMC adaptation of the Garth Ennis comics series has touched on lost pregnancies, revisited parental abandonment and unleashed a citywide explosion that wiped away most of the first season’s recurring characters.
But Monday night’s episode, “Damsels,” may have seen the show at its most heart-wrenching. Watching a frightened Eugene attempt to replace the violently displaced brains of his high school crush Tracy Loach — and have the same shotgun be the source of Eugene’s infamous facial scar — was a twisted answer to one of the show’s biggest looming questions.
It’s a scene that Ian Colletti’s been preparing for, ever since getting the part. “As an actor, so much of your time is spent off camera in your preparation, meditating on your backstory and filling in the puzzle pieces. It’s very rare that to be able to have the opportunity to then act out that backstory. It was very intense and very graphic on the set, blood strewn everywhere. I had this strange out-of-body experience,” Colletti said to IndieWire.
Fans of the comic knew early on in the show’s run that the introduction of the Tracy character meant that the origins of Eugene’s distinctive scars would be deviating from the source material. (In the comics, it’s Eugene’s own failed suicide attempt, not Tracy’s, that’s the original catalyst.) With this foundational change in the character’s origin story, Colletti turned to “Preacher” showrunner Sam Catlin for some extra guidance.
“Halfway through Season 1, Sam had given me a summary of what they were thinking Eugene’s backstory would be in our universe of ‘Preacher,’” Colletti said. “Having been informed of what this story was, it really informed a lot of the decisions I made the first season. So to be able, this season, to have the blood on my hands and looking at her head blown off was a very interesting and rare opportunity.”
The bedroom sequence was filmed during production on the rest of the episode and only took a single shooting day to complete. It’s the first time that audiences have had a chance to see Colletti without anything covering his face. Instead, it was his scene partner Gianna LePera’s turn in the makeup chair, who was fitted with a practical wig contraption that reduced the amount of post-production blood and viscera spurting which had to be added digitally later.
As much as Colletti relished the opportunity to help give viewers the missing piece of this teenager’s sad accident, he took some strange comfort knowing he’d be going back to playing scenes with his character’s distinctive prosthetic face. “I was relieved on a practical end, with not spending hours in makeup and being able to actually eat throughout the day. But when we had to go back to the scene, I was nervous because I felt so naked,” Colletti said.
After building the fundamental emotional building blocks of Eugene, Colletti had to revert to a time before any of what the show had been planning out for an entire season’s worth of episodes. “The voice of the character is all a direct result of this event, even his body language. In the first season, he’s very much hunched in the posture he takes up,” Colletti said. “For me, he’s become this monster of the town. Insults are thrown at him in every direction so he’s inverted into himself, so that becomes kind of relevant in his body language. So when you take those things away, what do you really know about a character?”
While that opening scene touched on the tragic, the episode’s bookending time with Eugene delivered something far more terrifying. The audience sees him walking through Hell, the result of his accidental banishment. As he’s sucked back into the present, Eugene tentatively feels out his new surroundings — and meets an unwelcome neighbor in the process (as shown in the clip above).
That corridor down through the evil abyss might be enhanced, but as a performer on set, Colletti still felt the scale of this horrific world his character had been thrust into.
“It’s a massive setup on this massive stage,” Colletti said. “David Blass and the guys that designed it are incredibly talented and it’s absolutely incredible just walking through it. I’m not sure how much I can say about what we see of it, but the scale is impressive and it’s just the beginning of a very exciting world that we’ll explore throughout the season. It’ll look even better as it airs, the way they’ve shot it and cut it together, even down to the coloring, is unique and interesting.”
For Colletti, the appearance of Adolf Hitler is an example of how the show is able to turn what would be shocking on other shows into something strangely matter-of-fact. “Only in ‘Preacher’ would that be something that’s almost expected,” Colletti said. “At this point, by the time we’ve gotten there, it’s like, ‘OK. Well, this makes sense.’ If you’re gonna be in Hell, you might as well have the worst of the worst.”
So where can fans expect Eugene to go as this season progresses? Colletti explains that this is a season where his isolation isn’t a coincidence.
“Throughout the first season, I think Eugene’s relevance as a character was really directly related to Jesse in the sense that Eugene would come to Jesse with these feelings of anguish and feeling like God has abandoned him,” Colletti said. “This season, Eugene’s focus becomes more on him asking these questions of himself, questions that Jesse had to ask himself the first season: ‘Can people change? Can you move beyond your past to forgiveness, redemption?’ These are the themes that we’ll see Eugene explore and he’s gonna be exploring them in Hell.”
“Preacher” Season 2 airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC