The Effect of Fandom: How AMC’s Preacher Changed My Life

By Mlgagne

Fans crossing the street at SDCC 2015. A great example of the number of people drawn to fandom!

Of all the interests that a person can have, fandom surrounding the entertainment world seems to be one of the most widely misunderstood. I have been a “fan” for my entire life, always immersing myself in different television shows, films, and comics. Most people I’ve encountered never seem to understand the “obsession,” often seeming to wonder why someone would focus so much time and energy thinking about entertainment or even making a hobby out of it (i.e. attending Comic-Con, connecting with other fans, making art or writing stories surrounding a particular series, etc). And, as someone who has also chosen to pursue a career path in the entertainment industry, this type of judgment often flows into my professional life as well. There tends to be a misconception within the industry that in order for something to be of “worth” and to be looked at seriously, it needs to have an “artsy” or “independent” type of vibe, and that anything that can be classified under the term “pop culture” is deemed to be “less than.”

Though series like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have helped to challenge this viewpoint over the years (both are a HUGE part of pop culture, and they both dominated at different awards shows), there still seems to be an air of judgement surrounding creative people who look up to the work being done on these types of shows or films. However, I don’t believe “art” is one singular thing – and I believe that in entertainment, creators have effectively done their job when the work has affected the audience in a positive way. Many films and TV series within pop culture have had such an effect by allowing people to escape from the real world when they are feeling bored or depressed, helping creativity to blossom, and fostering friendships between like-minded people who may have otherwise been lonely. And sometimes, this fandom can affect people in such a profound way that it can completely change their lives for the better. In this article, I want to discuss one show in particular that has affected my own life in such a way: AMC’s Preacher.

Cosplay evolution by fandom: me as GoT’s Cersei Lannister, SDCC 2015…
…and as Preacher’s Tulip O’Hare, SDCC 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first began watching Preacher because of a chain of events surrounding my interest in another series – namely, Game of Thrones – and it is important to know where my mindset was back then in order to fully understand how Preacher has impacted me. GoT was something that I had immersed myself in starting in early 2014, when I had recently returned to school after taking a year off for a mental health break. At least, that’s what I call it now. In reality, no doctor I saw back then could determine exactly what was wrong with me, as I was already on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication at the time. All I knew was that I was struggling to get my work done, having daily panic attacks, and having trouble falling asleep at night – and then was unable wake up once I finally did. It was a nightmare – and even though I was able to get myself to a place where I could go back to class by transferring to a school closer to home, I was still struggling on a daily basis. College really didn’t seem to be worth it to me anymore…but I knew that I had so much student loan debt that I needed something to show for it. Luckily, fandom was something that had always helped me to focus in my quieter moments back in high school, and finding GoT helped return me to that world in college. It gave me something to look forward to exploring whenever I was in for the night and my schoolwork was done, and I truly believe that it helped me to focus enough to finally graduate by the end of that year.

With Graham McTavish, NYCC 2016. He loved my t-shirt!

Then, in 2015, I took it upon myself to begin watching Outlander, a show that was recommended at the time by GoT author George R.R. Martin on his LiveJournal. I watched Outlander consistently through the season two finale in summer 2016, when a lot of the original main characters began to taper off. One such character was played by Graham McTavish, who (spoiler alert) was killed off in the finale; I distinctly remember having a conversation with my father that same evening about how his performance was Emmy-worthy. By some sort of strange coincidence, I think it was that same week that I happened to wander into the living room when my parents were playing Preacher back on the DVR, and I noticed McTavish’s name in the opening credits. I was intrigued, to say the least; after all, he had just given such a powerful performance on Outlander, so maybe this random AMC show that my parents were watching was actually pretty good. I decided to give it a chance.

Ruth Negga (Tulip), Joseph Gilgun (Cassidy), and Dominic Cooper (Jesse Custer) in Season 2 of Preacher. Photo by Marco Grob/AMC.

Shortly after I returned from San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks later, I decided to watch the pilot. I was hooked within less than five minutes; the moment that Genesis entered the African preacher and he blew up, I knew that I was watching something special and that the show was right up my alley (what can I say? I’m partial to things that are a little bit “messed up”). From there, I think I binged the entire series in about six days – and by the end of the season one finale, I knew I had discovered one of my new favorite shows. The writing was extremely intelligent, and it seemed to be consistently asking the questions about society and religion that I had when I was growing up…and that up to that point, nothing I had ever encountered in popular culture had ever dared to do. Even throughout the insanity that often ensued from episode to episode, the characters were interesting and realistic, and the acting was consistently top-notch throughout the entire cast. Dominic Cooper brought confidence to Jesse Custer, coupled with an air of doubt and internal torture that made him extremely relatable; Ruth Negga’s Tulip was a badass while also being a flawed and damaged individual, which made her an extremely positive and realistic character to watch for me as a woman; Ian Colletti’s hopeful and innocent take on Eugene/Arseface made him lovable and empathetic (despite the character’s outward appearance); Graham McTavish’s performance as the Saint of Killers was intimidating yet sympathetic; I could go on and on (seriously…look at Derek Wilson in season one; the additions of Pip Torrens, Julie Ann Emery, and Malcolm Barrett in season two; Betty Buckley in season three; and that doesn’t even begin to cover it. The casting on Preacher is insanely genius).

Ruth Negga on the Preacher panel, SDCC 2017. Photo taken by yours truly!

Something that was even more impressive to me than the show itself was the adaptation of the series from the comics to the screen. Shortly after I finished the season one finale, I flew through the comics for the first time – and while I enjoyed them immensely, something that stood out to me in particular was how the adjustments made from the comics to the show actually seemed to improve the overall content and message that Preacher was sending. One of the main areas where I saw this was in the relationship between Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy. Whereas the comic version of Tulip is often treated like a “delicate flower” (no pun intended) by both Jesse and Cassidy (even though she proves her worth time and time again), there is a clear precedent set with Tulip on the TV series where both men know she is capable and can handle herself. They never question her or her abilities, and it is a huge part of what makes both of them so attracted to her. Such a positive change was empowering to me as a woman, and it gave me a great respect for how Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Sam Catlin, and the rest of the team were handling the material. In other words, it made me love the show even more.

Fast-forward to spring 2017, when I was working on a character study focusing on Tulip, part of which discusses this adaptation from page to screen. As I re-watched the first season, I began to shift my focus to another actor, whose performance on the show and presence in its press events would soon have a life-changing impact on me that was in no way predictable. Yes, I am talking about Joe Gilgun and his performance as Cassidy. I have briefly mentioned this in both my character study on Cassidy and my Preacher season three review, and I have alluded to his impact on my life and career in several conversations with friends, family, and colleagues…but I have never really explained what that impact was (or continues to be). Now, I will.

Joe Gilgun as Cassidy in Season 2, Episode 8. Photo retrieved from Vulture.

I’m not sure exactly what it was that drew me in to Gilgun’s performance at that particular time. Perhaps it was the fact that it was my second time going through season one; perhaps it was a result of this being my first time going back to the series since actually reading the comics; or, perhaps it was because I was focusing pretty hard on Tulip’s relationships with both Jesse and Cassidy so I would be able to compare them to the comics in my writing. In any case, what I began to notice was that Gilgun was not only hitting all of the outrageous, comedic notes that were inherent to Cassidy’s character; he was simultaneously giving an incredible layer of subtlety to Cassidy that, in my opinion, was starkly missing from the comics and that frequently made him a difficult character to sympathize with as a result. A big part of this can be attributed to the fact that Cassidy almost never takes his sunglasses off in the comics, and Gilgun’s eyes are a huge part of his performance; he is extremely talented at conveying emotion with a single look, and covering his eyes up all of the time would have been doing him a huge disservice. And, when observing this combined with his body language and delivery of the lines, I came to realize that Gilgun was creating a character the audience can sympathize with. Though Cassidy is frequently morally gray and has done some terrible things, it made it easier to feel for him and understand his decision-making process on screen than it was on the page (which I think will be an asset down the line if his character arc follows a similar path to that of the comics). In other words, I was very impressed with the extraordinary job he was doing of making the character so realistic.

Something else worth mentioning about my life at that particular time is that while I was considering moving to Los Angeles sometime after the New Year, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do once I got to the city. I wanted to pursue acting…but I kept convincing myself that it was a stupid thing to even attempt, a back-and-forth conversation that I had been having with myself since childhood. Every time I would start to consider going into the field, I would always talk myself out of it, telling myself things like, “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not motivated enough.” “You’ll never be able to support yourself.” It was a constant inner battle, and it wasn’t one that I particularly enjoyed having…but, for whatever reason, I was always having the same argument with myself because I would always be drawn to the craft.

Joe Gilgun on the Preacher panel, SDCC 2017. I took this one, too!

A few months later, as Preacher’s season two was in nearing the end of its run on air and I was in the middle of watching Misfits (one of Gilgun’s older shows that had been recommended to me for years), I came across the Preacher panel from Comic-Con in 2016 (Part 1 and Part 2 are both available on YouTube). Having recently attended the 2017 panel myself, I decided to watch it. It was then that I discovered that Gilgun has both ADHD and bipolar disorder…and I became even more impressed. As we all know, society tends to construe mental illness as something that is “taboo” and that prevents people from having fully productive lives. While I hadn’t met anyone with ADHD at the time (at least, not to my knowledge), I have suffered from depression and anxiety (both generalized and specific phobias) for my entire life, and I had briefly been acquainted with someone who had bipolar disorder – and that individual was one of the nicest, most genuine, and most empathetic people I have ever met. And to see Gilgun discuss his struggles not only with a sense of humor and charm, but also so openly and candidly, spoke to me on a level that, to this day, I cannot describe…even though I wasn’t even in the room. He advocated that anyone suffering from mental illnesses like ADHD and bipolar disorder “embrace” that side of themselves, and that definitely stuck with me; after all, accepting yourself is often the key to your own happiness.

Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) and Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) in Season 2, Episode 13. Photo by Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony.

That same week, the season two finale of Preacher aired. I remember being completely blown away by Gilgun’s performance in that episode; it was extremely raw and, in the scene where Cassidy and Jesse fight as Tulip dies beside them, it was almost as if I could feel his pain through the screen. I remember being speechless immediately afterwards…and then, I had a thought. Joe is bipolar and has ADHD, but he’s still working as an actor. And he’s fucking incredible. You can be, too.

That night was a turning point for me. That was the night that I committed myself to becoming an actor. And from that moment on, I never looked back. The negative thoughts in my head died down, now replaced by, “I can, and I will.” I dedicated every moment of my free time to making my move from the east coast to LA feasible…and, because of my amazingly supportive and helpful family, friends, and colleagues, that dream became a reality in January of 2018.

Joe Gilgun on the Preacher panel, SDCC 2018. While I was not in the press room, I did manage to capture this from the front row of Hall H!

Something interesting to note about this comes from the 2018 Comic-Con. At the press conference for Preacher, Bleeding Cool asked the cast about any issues that they’ve had in portraying their characters over the course of the series. Gilgun gave a very honest response about the state of his mental health during the filming of season two, describing how much he struggled with his depression and the sheer state of panic that he had regarding his performance, relying on the support of others around him but not really believing his work was any good (you can visit Bleeding Cool’s website here to listen to a full audio recording of this moment from the conference). Hearing this was kind of bittersweet to me; it was absolutely heartbreaking and all too real hearing about Gilgun’s struggles – and yet, it was his performance in season two that really sealed the deal for my move to LA and my own pursuit of a career as an actor. I suppose that it just goes to show that sometimes, we as humans can affect people in a powerful and uplifting manner when we least expect it…and perhaps even in times where we can’t see the good in ourselves.

Of course, that’s not to say that my own journey hasn’t been difficult since the move; on the contrary, I have hit a ton of bumps in the road (and I’m not just talking about the driving out here). The original acting class I was supposed to take was cancelled; the alternate class I chose to take was cancelled soon after that; the list goes on and on. What’s more, I’ve noticed that many of the same issues I had been having in college have been becoming more and more prominent since my move – i.e. struggles with work, time management, sleep, etc. In more stressful moments like those, the negative thoughts do have the tendency to come creeping back up…though I am always somehow able to remind myself that I am already here in LA and that I don’t want to be pursuing anything else. I think about Joe Gilgun and the amazing cast and crew of Preacher, and how much work must go into making the series. Those thoughts inspire me, and the negative ones drift away. I push myself through the day, and I move on.

But the story still gets more interesting from there. Thanks to a wonderful friend, I eventually found an acting class that was the perfect fit for me, and I have since begun to learn more about my strengths as an actor – and, of course, about the areas in which I need to improve. After one of my daily rehearsals working on the assigned material, I went out to lunch with one of my classmates. Observing my behavior at the table in the restaurant, she asked me if I have a tendency to be easily distracted; I can’t remember exactly how she phrased the question, but no one in my life had ever directly asked me about my ability to focus, and it triggered something in my brain that had never come to mind before. That evening, I began to do some extensive research on the internet, and I made an appointment with a psychiatrist the next morning. After my visit at the office, my suspicions were confirmed.

I have ADHD.

Yes, you read that correctly. After years of struggling, I was finally led to the discovery that I was misdiagnosed back in college. My doctor and I agreed it’s extremely likely that since I tended to hyperfocus on my schoolwork back in middle school and high school (I’m sure it helped that my group of friends was mostly comprised of kids who were really dedicated to getting their work done), ADHD was never even on anyone’s radar as a possible diagnosis for me; after all, it’s not “typical” for someone with the disorder to consistently be pulling honors every quarter. But if there is one thing that I’ve learned about mental health over the years, it’s that symptoms don’t necessarily manifest in the same way from person to person – and, in my case, while the many of the symptoms of ADHD have been present since childhood, they were really always just a minor inconvenience in the background…until they became a severe problem in college. Suddenly, there was a reason for so much of my behavior throughout the years, and it came as a relief; it means that I have never been lazy or unmotivated, but rather that my brain chemistry works a bit differently from that of many others around me. And now that I am aware of it and beginning treatment, I will hopefully begin to have a little bit more control over my time management skills – something that will definitely be crucial to succeeding in this industry.

My tulip tattoo in honor of Preacher (and yes, fellow actor friends, I have my Dermacol make-up ready to go!).

And, of course, it then hit me that I never would have discovered this about myself if I hadn’t discovered Preacher. After all, I am out here in LA because the performances on the show inspired me to finally pursue an acting career after years of contemplation…most particularly, Joe Gilgun’s performance as Cassidy. And in addition to his other struggles with mental health, Gilgun also suffers from ADHD.

To say it’s ironic would be an understatement. But my entire experience just goes to show that life is truly sometimes stranger than fiction.

To tie things together, Preacher tends to be a series that people don’t seem to understand. Much like the concept of fandom itself, outsiders tend to look in and fail to see it’s “artistic worth.” In my experience as a fan of the show, many people I’ve encountered both online and in person consider it to be outrageous and offensive from the outside looking in, not understanding why viewers would dedicate their time to something so bizarre. But I’m here to tell you that having such a viewpoint is a misconception because I’m living proof that the series is so much more than that. Preacher has the power to reach audiences on an existential level, making viewers think critically about the world and life as we know it. Even moreso, the hard work and talent being displayed on screen is breathtaking, and something that is crafted with such care has the power to be both uplifting and inspiring to audiences nowadays; after all, I know that watching Preacher has certainly changed my life for the better. Isn’t that exactly the type of series that deserves – and needs – to be on our screens, especially in today’s world?

Joseph Gilgun (Cassidy), Ruth Negga (Tulip O’Hare), and Dominic Cooper (Jesse Custer) in Season 3. Photo by Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC/Sony Pictures Television.

As AMC determines whether or not they will be renewing the series for a fourth season (and I sincerely hope they will be!), I encourage everyone out there who hasn’t watched Preacher yet to give it a chance. All of my friends who have started the show absolutely love it, with many binging it just as I did because it is so completely enthralling…yet, it is still one of the most underrated shows on TV today because people seem to be paying less attention to Preacher than to other series of a similar caliber. And to me, it’s a complete shame. Just because Preacher is not stereotypically “artsy” or “independent” does not mean its quality suffers, and the fact that it is often over-the-top and rooted in the comics on which it is based does not mean it’s not “worthy” of our attention. As a human and as an artist, I have learned to look outside of the box for inspiration and for ways to better myself…and watching Preacher has allowed me to do that in more ways than one. I urge my friends, family, colleagues, and peers to reach outside the box and do the same. Because sometimes, what you find on the other side isn’t always what you expected…but it may be far more worthwhile than you had originally anticipated.

Are you a fan of Preacher? Join the conversation on FoCC!

Mlgagne

Melanie (Mlgagne) is an actor/producer and a lover of pop culture and the entertainment industry. She is a passionate fan of various TV shows and films, including (but certainly not limited to) PREACHER, GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, RIVERDALE, and X-MEN. She is a regular attendee of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and she has attended New York Comic Con (NYCC), WonderCon, and Walker Stalker Con in the past. You can follow her on both Twitter and Instagram @mlgagne.