Recently we had a chance to talk with Pip Torrens about his character Herr Starr on AMC’s hit show Preacher, which is getting ready to begin its third season.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or did that interest develop over time?
Pip: I think both if that’s possible. I always enjoyed it and I was in plays from a very early age. One of my earliest memories was playing the troll in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, it was an early lesson on bad guys having the most fun in lots of ways. Then I went away to an English boarding school when I was eight and it had many peculiarities, one of which was the Headmaster who was a somewhat tyrannical figure, he wrote a succession of sort of drawing room comedies, very much in the Noel Coward style. Certain boys were then required to perform these for the parents, on a stage that was erected in the school gymnasium. I did that twice, playing the leading lady both times, I remember the character Gloria Beaumont, who had this acid tongue and was probably based on a Noel Coward archetype. I did more acting at my senior school, then more at University and it was always something I wanted to do, it was just a question of whether you could make a career out of it, something I hadn’t really addressed. I luckily kind of stumbled into post-grad drama school in London, I did a one-year crash course, and got the luckiest break in my career really, and got started in theater.
You’ve done a tremendous amount of work in both film and television. Do you enjoy moving back and forth between the different mediums or do you simply go where the work takes you?
Pip: I go where the work takes me and it would take a great deal for me to turn something down, even now when things are going better than they have ever before. You know, people imagine very often if they don’t know the life, you can choose where you go and generally you can’t. Theater actors very often do a lot of theater because that’s a sort of closed environment, it involves some long runs and big commitments and theater actors very often like to work with the same company. Television work tends to be more sporadic but you have the advantage of you know you’ll be seen by a very large audience. I always liked doing TV, even if it was only one or two days, I think it’s a good showcase. My only criteria for a job, which someone advised me on very early on in my career, was the ideal job should be the one that gets you the next job. I love traveling too, the different atmospheres and set up that you get in those, which helps when you never know where you could be working next.
Ok, so let’s talk Preacher. How did you come to get the part of Herr Starr?
Pip: Sam Catlin explained it very precisely to me, that they knew from the work they’d been doing and material they’d been using from the original graphic novels that they would have to cast Herr Starr. They had been brainstorming this casting and had been watching The Crown, which I was in season one. Sam said the character had to be mean but kind of smart and while watching The Crown said, who’s that Tommy guy? So the writers looked me up, found what I really looked like and discovered there was quite a strong resemblance, a sort of grumpy flat head, and they thought that was a nice coincidence. Sam and I then had a very agreeable video call about Monty Python and all the things that they liked, the ideas that he had about the humor in the show, because Starr is a very humorous character, and I was lucky that I was in L.A. so I went and met everyone and they said yeah, we’d like you to do the part. It was delightful but I’m under no illusions, if I wasn’t in The Crown I might not have come to their collective attention, although they’re very good on Preacher, they cast their net far and wide. As you know, they do have a number of Brits in the cast, the three leads are all from the U.K. so it’s nice to know we’re noticed.
As an actor, what was it about both the story and the character that peaked your interest?
Pip: Well, what’s not to like? Starr is a miserable megalomaniac and psychopath, it’s a very interesting character and villain and very therapeutic. It’s great to be so politically incorrect, it a great way to escape, I suppose. I’d say he’s intriguing, putting his appalling behavior aside, he’s someone who’s fundamentally disappointed with the human race and he’s disappointed with the organization that he’s given his life to. He’s looking at a way of making a change and when he meets Jesse he thinks he sees a way to makeover his life and career in one fell swoop.
The relationship between Jesse and Starr is quite interesting. How would you describe the dynamic between those two?
Pip: Initially he’s attracted to Jesse in the broader sense. Starr is someone who doesn’t know a great deal about himself, he’s kind of experimenting with this relationship and it hasn’t really worked. In a way, he feels like Jesse is the kind of guy he’d like to be and he finds his power inspiring, as he tells him when Jesse first knocks him off the bar stool in the first meeting they have. I think after that it’s kind of a brotherly relationship, although that seems simplistic, and Starr is fundamentally deceitful because he wants Jesse to work for him without telling Jesse what exactly is involved. In season three the big shock for Jesse, after he’s managed to take Tulip down to Grandma’s and do a deal there, is Starr arrives and has more business and is still prepared to do a deal. So it’s kind of manipulative on both sides, more on Starr’s than Jesse’s, but it’s kind of like a weird odd couple bromance kind of thing.
I love the dialogue that your character has. It’s so odd, straight to the point and hilarious. It must be a lot of fun as an actor knowing you have that kind of writing to look forward to, day in and day out.
Pip: Oh, completely. Garth Ennis originally wrote the book and Steve Dillon illustrated it but Garth is a genius, they both are in terms of their ambition, the subjects they want to address within this medium. Yeah, just on a page by level there is some fantastic stuff and our writers, a lot of them are young females, really incredible writers and really push it all the time. It turns out what can’t be said really can be said and I love it, I love it, it’s wonderful.
The fans know your character very well from the graphic novels. How has it been interacting with them, say at conventions for instance?
Pip: Delightful, really. I’ve found in other things I’ve done, I had a very small part in Star Wars and Dr. Who, you meet fans who are really very respectful. Although they feel very proprietorial about the material they except the concessions, the compromises you have to make when you’re adapting this stuff to the screen. I think they just got a kick out of seeing these characters moving around. This is a very visual medium and fans, well I’ve only met very enthusiastic fans, from what I hear they really love it even with the parts that aren’t the same. There is a lot of extra writing, the whole Eugene Root/Hitler storyline, that’s completely new so I think there’s enough there to satisfy hardcore fans and also excite them about what’s going to happen moving forward.
Ok, so what can we expect from Herr Starr in season three?
Pip: In season three he is desperately trying to get Jesse into a position where he can do his dirty work for him. The key really shifts for Starr in season three when we get to meet his boss, Allfather, who is the one person so far on the planet that Starr fears, however ludicrous that might seem given he seems to be a complete psychopath. Allfather is definitely a father figure and Starr is desperate to please him, even though he’s plotting something that Allfather doesn’t know about because Starr is always plotting. We get to see Starr more on his back foot, in a wheeler-dealer kind of way than he was and Jesse is kind of jousting with him because of that and it comes down to literally bare knuckles at the end. There is a terrific finale, I mean it builds to a truly explosive finale and to that end I’ve done stuff on this show that I’ve never done before and I think Dominic would say the same. It takes a while to build, you other characters that are part of the equation, The Saint of Killers is out there, he has an agenda, Satan appears and we need to know how to deal with him and of course Jesse’s Grandma. There are a lot of very powerful people who want a piece of Jesse in one form or another.
I want to thank Pip for taking the time to talk with us
Season three of Preacher airs Sunday, June 24th at 9 pm on AMC