Pip Torrens talks Herr Starr’s motivations, and Allfather in Preacher Season 3

by W. Andrew Powell
Pip Torrens as Herr Starr in Preacher Season 3

Preacher returns for the third season on AMC tonight, and based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a wild ride. Preacher has always been bold, dramatic, hilarious, and wonderfully weird, and this season takes it even further for some truly awesome confrontations, and consequences. And, of course, there’s the great Pip Torrens returning as Herr Starr once again.

The second season ended with our heavenly-powered preacher, Jesse, played by Dominic Cooper, being championed as the new Messiah by Starr. But Jesse has been searching for God, who has come down to Earth in the midst of the epic battle between Heaven and Hell, and part of that saga has gotten Jesse’s ex-girlfriend, Tulip (Ruth Negga), killed. That leaves Jesse and his traveling companion, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), forced to go back to the preacher’s home, where a dark force–namely his gran’ma (Betty Buckley)–could bring Tulip back again.

Torrens returns in season three as our favorite off-the-walls villain and force behind The Grail, Herr Starr. His trajectory in season two brought him circling around Jesse, and resulted in the plan to turn Jesse into The Messiah, and season three brings the two together again, and reveals a force behind Starr that is deeply sinister and will spell trouble for Jesse.

Watch Preacher on AMC Sundays at 10:00 PM (ET/PT), and stay tuned next for an interview with series executive producers and co-creators Evan Goldberg, and Seth Rogen.

Spoiler warning: Pip Torrens lays out some hints and surprises for things coming up in season three of Preacher.

Andrew Powell: There are so many questions. I would say that Starr is one of the most fascinating characters on TV recently.

Pip Torrens: “Yeah, I agree.”

Powell: When you first approached the character, before you are now getting to season three, did you have any ideas about what made him tick? Because, I understand that you read the first six parts of the graphic novel before you started filming.

Torrens: “I did read the graphic novels, but only after I’d arrived in New Orleans to start shooting. I’d looked at the first one, I think it’s Volume 2, in which Starr appeared. So, I had an idea. And then, I met Garth Ennis [who created the graphic novels], I was lucky enough to meet him in New Orleans, and had dinner with him and his wife. He then sent me all the other editions in hardbacks. So, I read them in one swoop.”

“So, yeah. You’re just getting in fresh, never ending rage and disappointment, but coming from a place of complete denial and deprivation.”

“What I’d liked originally, and we did this more in season two, was the idea that Starr was asking questions of himself, and what he personally wanted from life. And, I think by season three, that’s being slightly overwhelmed by his obsession with clearing the debts. But, to undermine the boss, Allfather, and work against it. His essential remit of the Grail.”

Powell: That’s a great explanation. It was interesting how his fascination with Jesse developed in the second season. Where are we going to see that going now in the third season, now that things have kind of gone awry?

Torrens: “Yeah, they do. But, it takes a while. The fuse sort of stop/starts in his relationship with Jesse, and at the end of Season Two, as you know, he appeared to have made some sort of accommodation. But that was then potentially undermined by [Lara] Featherstone shooting Tulip, and apparently killing her. So, I have to work my way back from that. But, I’m able to do that, obviously, because I have a bargaining chip. And then I feel that we get to a kind of uneasy truce situation a couple of times.”

“But of course, Starr being Starr, he doesn’t reveal to Jesse his, Starr’s, place in the hierarchy. That there is a higher up power that he is accountable to. Namely, the Allfather. For psychological reasons best known to himself, Starr needs Jesse. It’s almost like Heart of Darkness. Starr needs Jesse to assassinate Allfather, as the final clearing of the debt. And then, also, assassinate Humperdoo in order to make it absolutely clear that he, Jesse, will become the new messiah. Because, Jesse’s never really completely happy with all of this. He’s happy to follow Starr’s agenda because his agenda is that he’s still looking for God. That’s Jesse’s motivation. They’re running in parallel for a while, casting suspicious glances at each other like that.”

Powell: Maybe it doesn’t matter, really, but does Starr like Jesse? And what does he think of him, does he admire him? Or, what’s that like?

Torrens: “You’re right. I guess the short answer would be, ‘It doesn’t matter.'”

“And to Starr, I’d say 99% of the time, people simply don’t matter to him. You know, witness the fact that still, he can’t get Featherstone’s name right. But, he is intrigued by the fact that he is attracted to Jesse. In quite a broad way. When he first meets him in the bar, and Jesse simply knocks him over, he says, ‘Your power is very attractive.’ Words to that affect. So, he’s mesmerized by Jesse, and the way Jesse is exactly what Starr would like to be. Of course, that would spell disaster.”

“But, he admires him, I think. He admires what he sees as Jesse’s pragmatism, when Jesse’s moving in a straight line. That he is using Genesis in a way that Starr would approve of. And then, of course, in the end, Starr finds that Genesis can be used in ways that he doesn’t really want as well. Which is highly insane. But, that comes in toward the end of season three.”

Powell: Is there an underlying motivation that either you’ve thought of for the character, or something unspoken you feel has driven him? Because, sometimes, it feels like there’s something else driving him that maybe it’s not even part of the story, but it’s something that’s there in the back of his mind?

Torrens: “Well, you always want to find something with real monsters, don’t you? When we look at the great monsters of history, we’re intrigued when we find out some tiny fact about them. I was just reading a thing, yet again, the other day about whether or not Hitler really was a vegetarian. And people are still sort of duking this out.”

“I think with Starr, if you wanted to, I think you would go back to that first interview with Saltonstall, where Saltonstall pretty much asks him that question when he’s interviewing him, for the post of Samson Unit and says, ‘You lost both your parents in a car crash when you were six,’ or something [along those lines] and Starr then says, ‘Oh, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.’ So, it may be that he was a monster from the womb, or it may be that something happened to him then and like, sort of sterile, the child who’d had to get on in the world, he just made himself into sort of an impervious monster who just moves forward like a shark the whole time.”

“I think that it’s a bit of both, which is why I love the dating scene. We had one particular dating scene in season two. And it was actually fascinating. It was very bizarre. We broke off in the middle of it, just when it looked like it was going to send him some very strange sex game. But, I got the sense doing that scene… we talked about it a lot, that we didn’t… none of us knew what was going to happen next. And, it might have been that something very tender happened next. I very much doubt it, probably something really appalling and pornographic would have happened.”

“But he had a little curiosity about himself, and I think that being submerged, we might see that come back. I guess, in season four. But, for the time being, he’s just on a quest, and his real emotion, a lot of season three, is terror. Because, when you meet Allfather, you understand that Starr’s been running as far and as long as he has because he’d had to be accountable to Allfather, even though he has complete lack of faith in what the Grail is set to do. He’s fighting it from within, but he’s terrified. He’s been in this situation with Allfather. That’s very interesting to see, you do see Starr in moments of complete terror in season three, which you haven’t done before.”

Powell: The other thing that strikes me about the show in general, is almost the seamless way that it blends together horror–true horror, dramatic horror, all these different elements–with an underlying sheen of zany comedy or something along those lines. For an actor like you, coming into this,it seems like this might be a bit foreign territory from your career. But, what’s it like delving into this from the second and now the third season of the show?

Torrens: “We were talking, because I did a session with Chris Hardwick the day before yesterday with Julie Ann Emery, and knocking about. We were talking about the Grail, and how we play it. And, he was saying, ‘A lot of your stuff is so funny, but it’s so horrific at the same time,’ and we said, ‘Well, you know, we’re rarely cracking up about it. We always play it straight.’ It’s like, a lot of our stuff is very darkly comic, but as you say, there’s this incredible switch between what you think of as different genres. And that’s what attracted me to it.”

“I watched the first episode of season one when I was over here at the beginning of last year, before I met Sam Catlin, and I was shrieking out loud at the transition because, you think… if you’re not used to this kind of thing, then it’s a big shock. Even now, people say, ‘What’s it like?’ And I say, ‘It’s not like anything else.'”

“There will be moments where you’ll stop, and you’ll think you’ve stepped into another show. But, you stick with it, and it just all becomes part of this bizarre, supernatural universe where anything can happen, but something very prosaic and ordinary can happen as well. They kept that balance so well in that, despite the fact there’s been a sort of, almost like an ‘Avengers, assemble’ of really, super bad people in season three.”

“Just seeing Betty Buckley as Gran’ma is an amazing twist on all that. But, she’s deeply believable as this old lady who just wants to spend time with her grandson. And, at the same time, she’s an absolutely satanic, supernatural force. It’s a thrilling combination, and yet she lives in a battered old plantation house out in the swamp. Very, very interesting, and I think that’s how they do so well. When Tulip finally meets God, he’s been on the run. He presents himself in a very mundane way.”

“I think that’s what’s exciting, that model on the supernatural, Marvel Comics-level, as such. It has aspect to that. But, it’s also very streetwise, and very plausible. And, as you say, sometimes genuinely horrific and sometimes very, very moving as well. I think the balance is just amazing. You just play your own elements, the rules are the same. We were talking about this and saying, ‘You just approach it in the way, and you find what you need to do. You find the dynamic.’ I find the dynamic with Malcolm and Julia Ann, and it’s like, a lot of season three is like a sort of insane version of The Office, or something. There’s a lot of office politics going on, literally. There may be entrails hanging from the lightshade, but they’re still trying to settle administrative problems.”

“And literally, literally, you wait, in season three, there’s a scene of quite unbelievable grossness which I’m proud to be part of. And it’s very exciting. You’re very excited to see that.”

Powell: Would you say that right now is an exciting time for TV? Because, it feels to me and a lot of viewers like there’s such a wealth of differentness in TV right now. And, you were part of two of those. Two, to name a few.

Torrens: “Well, I completely agree with that. I say only half jokingly, friends say, ‘We’re seeing you in stuff.’ And I’m saying, ‘Well, you know, the combination of long-form TV and screened TV has saved my career.’ And that’s true of hundreds of actors. Fifteen years ago, everything drama was being turned into reality. And then I think, the penny dropped, and people realized that reality shows were only interesting as long as they were dramatic. It made sense to go back to drama shows, so that you could make it realistic as you like, or not. And then of course, that coincided with the ability to stream ten-hour seasons, thirteen-hour seasons.”

“So, now it means, people commit. People watch The Crown, they watch Preacher, they watch the ten or twenty hours of drama. That, they’re into it. It’s like they’ve read a massive novel. They know all about it. It’s very exciting. And that’s you’re seeing huge actors, some of the world’s top movie actors, moving into TV, because they want those characters, and they want those storylines. Sophisticated, and nuanced, and they give you good work. It’s really exciting. It’s the most exciting time, in my experience.”

Powell: Well, is there one episode coming up this season that you can suggest is the one that people need to hold on to their coattails for?

Torrens: “The awful thing is, now, I can’t remember exactly which… I think, episode eight or nine is the one where there’s a final showdown with Jesse, me, and Allfather. And that has an amazing result. Episode two, I’m looking forward to, which I’m going to see on Thursday night just because that’s Starr’s first appearance for the season, and he announces his appearance with a protracted gun battle that put down a fault in the fire. He’s back on Samson duty, and we said that we had an amazing time with John Koyama. Incredible stunt arrangement, the stunt performers rehearsing that. The choreography for that was absolutely beautiful, and I really hope that they show as much of that, they use as much of that as they can in episode two.”

“So, that’s what I’m personally looking forward to. But, that’s just being completely selfish. I’m so looking forward to everyone else’s parts. Joseph Gilgun, I just adore all the Cassidy stuff. I love Cassidy. I can’t have nearly enough stuff with him. We were talking about this the other night. ‘What would happen if you and Cassidy had a fight?’ And I said, ‘Well, he’d trash me. But, it would be great. I’d block the scene out myself.’ But yeah, I hope there will be more interaction between more of us in season four, but, it’s been great what we have done. I’m really pleased with it. And I hope it’s going to be as great as it felt like it was when we were doing it.”

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