Julie Ann Emery talks PREACHER and Lara Featherstone

Julie Ann Emery photographed by Ryan West

PREACHER’s second season has gotten off to a wild start, as Jesse and the gang continue their mission to find God, running across the Saint of Killers along the way.  The show is slowly introducing more characters from the comic book series, Herr Starr (leader of the Grail, played by Pip Torrens) and Lara Featherstone (one of the Grail’s best operatives) chief among them. 

Featherstone is brought to life this season by MToT fave Julie Ann Emery, who previously recurred on FARGO and BETTER CALL SAUL. When we spoke earlier this month about what this season brings, Julie Ann told me she was “wildly thrilled to be part of the show, for sure,” and that, in a word, her “character is amazing.”

We dove into her involvement in Season 2 (“Season 1 on crack”), building on the source material (“They’re like reading Game of Thrones with pictures. They’re crazy.”), and the cast of the show (“You never walk into a scene on Preacher where everyone isn’t exploring their character’s internal life”).  Read on for more!

Knowing you as a woman who loves this kind of genre, were you a fan of Preacher? Were you a fan of the books, the show?
I was a total fan of season one. I was just a fan. It’s up my alley, I watch most of the AMC shows and I’m way into sci-fi, supernatural, so PREACHER was an automatic fit for me as a viewer. 

Featherstone just seems like such a cool character.
She’s amazing and in a completely non-spoilery way, I feel the show has made her even more amazing. I’m beyond thrilled to be playing her. She’s my favorite character I’ve even auditioned for since Betsy Kettleman, for sure. 

Obviously there’s a character that fans of PREACHER know exists in a way. What can fans expect from her? Obviously in a non-spoiler way, but what can we expect from her?
The base of her is from the comics. She’s a zealot, she’s Grail, she will do anything to achieve the Grail’s goal, and that means anything. There are no lengths to which she will not go, but the show has taken her a step further than the comic, I guess, in her tactics. Yes. In a way that thrills me as an actor. 

It has to be exciting. There’s probably so many things … You only get to do so many things as playing a character like Betsy, where she’s a wife, a mother, and a criminal, but here you’re in the supernatural world playing something a little bit different. What’s that like to get involved in this different whole ether?
Your parameters are different, right? The tone of PREACHER is really what drew me into it. Into the first season and then I started reading the comic books and Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s artwork is off the hook. Garth has done such an amazing job with the comics. I thought I would skim through them and I am knee-deep into them [laughs]. They’re like reading GAME OF THRONES with pictures. They’re crazy. 

I think that the tone of the show is such a crazy mash-up of PULP FICTION and KILL BILL and then there’s this complete dramatic side that’s obviously influenced by Sam Catlin who was on the BREAKING BAD writing team. It’s such a thrill to really push those edges as an actor. Usually when you go on a show like BETTER CALL SAUL, you’re really trying to fit into the tone of that show and you’re trying to fit into the parameters of where your character fits within the tone of that show. The tone of PREACHER is dramatic and violent and grounded and wacky sometimes and the humor is so prevalent. It really stretches all of you. It stretches all of me, personally, as an actor. It’s great. It’s such a great challenge.

Season 2 looks insane! In the trailer alone, action and there’s explosions and there’s little moments where these characters are all laughing at each other and with each other but really dealing with it. 
Also, what I think was great about that [last] trailer there’s almost a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY feel to it at times. The show just is able to encompass so many genres and styles and tones and still make it cohesively work. If anything, that’s the show’s greatest accomplishment. 

It’s so interesting that you pointed out the Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill world of it because a lot of people have said, “How do you describe PREACHER? What is PREACHER? What is it like?” I’m like, “Well, it’s so many things.” It makes it stand out on its own because it doesn’t fit in a box.
It’s like Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction meet a really great drama. That’s where it lives in my mind. 

What is it do you think that sets season two apart from what we saw in what I thought was a really good season one?
Season two is season one on crack. Season one really set up the characters. Season one I think was slower than season two. Season two picks up where the comics pick up and if you’re familiar with the comics, they’re such a crazy thrill ride all the time. The action is up from season one. Some of the comedy is up from season one, even though we still get backstory in season two. Still have some very dramatic episodes but it just feels like someone took the volume dial and dialed it all the way up 10. In season one it sat somewhere at a comfortable four or five.

What I think the show does and allows itself to do is that the actors are all really strong and guest star they bring in are really strong and they’re able to have that base and then expand on it which I think a lot of genre shows, we don’t get to really explore that deep, dramatic side and still have the humor.
Every actor on PREACHER, they all bring a very strong take on their character’s internal life to the scene. To whatever scene you’re working on. I think that has a lot to do with it grounding, with grounding everything, and Sam Catlin’s taste comes to that. I think the guys have done a great job of casting the show across the board. They’ve written this wacky thing but they’ve cast these really wonderful dramatic actors, obviously. Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper and Pip Torrens, I was a huge fan of. You never walk into a scene on PREACHER where everyone isn’t exploring their character’s internal life and is very ready to go.  It’s a pleasure but it also affects the tone of the show quite a lot. I think the show was cast very specifically that way on purpose.

I love Graham McTavish and what he’s bringing to that. Do you get to … There’s so much I want to ask but I know you can’t tell me so just on the broad strokes, do you get to interact with Dominic and Ruth and Graham? Who do you get to spend a lot of time with? Is there stuff you can say about that without really giving away much of what we’ll see?
Yeah ok, so, there’s not a lot I can say about that. I will say this, my interaction is not limited to the Grail characters. Featherstone gets around. For sure. [laughs] I’m just going to leave that there. 

It’s hard. Any show these days, you don’t want to give anything away and you never know what enjoyment a fan’s going to get out of anything, even if you say, “Yes, I’m in a scene with Dominic,” it’s like, “Okay, that spoiled it.”
Also with this, we’re working from source material here and we honor the source material but we also vary from it so sometimes if you say something on a show like this, the fans will run with it from their knowledge of the comics and that’s new territory for me. Being on an AMC show, I’m used to the BETTER CALL SAUL/BREAKING BAD fandom world and the FARGO fandom world. Those are very hardcore fandoms. They notice everything. They will notice something that’s sitting on a shelf in the deep background behind you.

They really will. It’s really incredible, the intelligence of that audience. This audience is as intelligent and as hardcore as that but they’re also very dedicated to the source material and I’ve not had that before, where the audience knew the source material as well or better than I did. I’m still deliciously making my way through the comics. I’m about halfway through them right now and the PREACHER comics fans are very dedicated. 

That is a different world and trying to tweet about it and trying to talk about it on social media, trying to talk about it in interviews, that’s all new for me. That’s a totally different ballgame.

Julie Ann Emery photographed by Ryan West

What has that been like then to hear from fans who know what we’ve seen for Featherstone in the comics and who are expecting one thing? It’s obviously a delicate balance you have to strike between how you can interact with them.
There is a delicate balance because I don’t want to spoil anything, but at the same time, I think you know I’m active on social media. I enjoy Twitter. I am a fangirl myself of many things so I like those conversations online and it is hard for me sometimes because I can say something very innocuous, or what I think is innocuous, and a fan will run with it and start making suppositions. Or start making assumptions about even other characters. You do have to be more careful.

I will say this, I think that the television version of Featherstone very much honors the Featherstone from the comics, but blows her up. We definitely take her … There’s definitely a layer to her that is added from the comics that I think is a logical add, but it is unexpected. I think fans of the comics will like the base of Featherstone and who she is but I think there are some pretty big surprises in store for them.

That’s very exciting to hear, too, because you want to make sure that new fans can enjoy it but that old fans are honored in a way, too. 
Look, I did all my … We’ve spoken before about … I have a very nerdy actor process and I used the comics, I build a whole backstory for my characters, and I used the comics for my backstory, to fill out who Featherstone is. I think the writing has tried to honor her but I’ve tried to honor her as well while not limiting her because obviously there’s a limited number of the comics out in the world and the television show wants to go wherever it wants to go for however long it wants to go there. 

It’s been interesting too that the end of season one, there’s really not many people left, so bringing in new regulars and new characters this season will liven up what was already exciting. There’s been some new cast, there’s been some old cast. Is there a chemistry on set that even the old and new cast coming together, did it feel like it clicked right away?
Yeah. It’s interesting. The new cast gets tricked in throughout the season so every person, it felt like every few episodes there was a new series regular on set. That allowed those relationships to evolve organically instead of suddenly you’re at a table read before you start shooting and everyone’s supposed to love each other already. It was able to slowly roll out which I think has made us a very nice, cohesive unit. It also helps that Dominic Cooper and Ruth and Joe, they’re the main three from the core cast, are very kind and welcoming people. There’s no standoffishness. There’s no pretense on set. Everybody’s there to work and everybody gets along well and is happy. Our crew’s very happy. That’s a true pleasure. 

Is this something you think you’ll get to go out and visit the fans and do the conventions with?
Can I just tell you, as a fan of season one, I totally watched the Comic Con panel OF PREACHER last year and I am dying so badly to go to Comic Con. I am dying to go to Comic Con. I’m dying to just go to Comic Con and walk around because I’m a geek girl about a lot of stuff. I don’t know if we have the answer to that yet. 

What else are you watching now?
I’m re-binging BATTLESTAR GALACTICA [laughs].

That’s a great choice.
It’s like, every now and then I feel like I need to. I know that sounds crazy but I love it so much. I’m dying for GAME OF THRONES to start back up and we’re past the books for GAME OF THRONES and I was a fan of the books before the television show was ever even on the air, but I’m dying for GAME OF THRONES to come along. I haven’t gotten into INTO THE BADLANDS yet but it’s in my queue. I’m trying to think what else TV I’m into right now. I just finished KIMMY SCHMIDT. My taste runs wide. 

I’m trying to figure out what other stuff in the sci-fi world that’s out there right now. I’m about to start TIMELESS because Malcolm Barrett is recurring on our show this season. I binge everything and when you’re shooting you can’t watch anything. I’m behind on BETTER CALL SAUL, even. I’m two episodes behind on BETTER CALL SAUL. Don’t spoil it.

I won’t. I won’t say anything. It’s really good, I’ll say that, but you know that already.
It’s amazing. It’s so good this season and Michael McKean is turning in such a brilliant performance, that it’s so understated. It’s so easy to take it for granted but he is so good at playing the bad guy who really believes he’s good. He is just walking such a great line with it. I’m just enamored with his performance. 

What else have you been doing? PREACHER’s obviously probably taken up a lot of your time but what else? Did you get to shoot any films or other shows or things in your down time?
Yeah I did an episode of THE MICK that just aired with Kaitlin Olson this past season; it was fantastic and very funny. I did a little secret project I can’t talk about yet in my down time. I just did a little Christmas movie with Bonnie Bedelia playing my mom. I wrapped that in my little hiatus. I’ve been shooting PREACHER since the end of February so that’s taking up all my time at the moment.

Oh! Did you see Guardians of the Galaxy?

I haven’t seen the second one yet.
I’ve seen it twice [laughs].

I know. Were you so excited for Wonder Woman? [we talked before opening weekend]
Oh my god. Can I tell you? I’m going this weekend. I’m so excited for Wonder Woman. It looks amazing. I’m thrilled that it’s directed by a woman. I’m thrilled that Wonder Woman is happening, period, but also I don’t know why they didn’t roll it out on Memorial Day weekend. Last weekend, we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy again because all I wanted to see was Wonder Woman and my husband was like, “We could go see Guardians of the Galaxy,” and I was like, “Yeah. Okay.”

I’ll take it.
I know but I’m dying to see Wonder Woman!

I’m so glad that Wonder Woman is getting good reviews, you know what I mean? I was worried that people would try and derail it but they’re just not.
We were worried it was going to be Catwoman, right? I plan to see it more than once in the theater. I will be there with all the women of the United States hopefully.

PREACHER’s second season is airing Monday nights at 9/8c on AMC.
Find Julie Ann on Twitter.