The name “Arseface” holds a special place in the hearts of comic book fans.
Although he’s hardly the main character of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s irreverent, ultra-violent cult comic book Preacher, Eugene “Arseface” Root is – for better or worse – the horribly disfigured face of the series. Transformed by a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the face, the character has similarly been brought to the fore by AMC, the cable network whose highly anticipated adaptation of Preacher, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, arrives on May 22.
We recently spoke with Ian Colletti (Rake, Blue Bloods), the young actor portraying Arseface on the new AMC series. We discussed the challenges of bringing this iconic character to the screen, the difficulties of acting in prosthetics, who his favourite Preacher character is, and what’s on his “Dork Shelf”.
So how familiar with the Preacher comic books were you going into this project?
Ian: I was not crazy familiar with it, but obviously when I got the part I binged as many of the comics as I could before shooting the pilot. We had about a six month gap between shooting the pilot and getting ordered to series, so it was during that time that I was really able to delve into the world of the comics and really digest all the material so that when we came back to shoot it I was super prepared – and had obviously become a genuine fan of it!
And what was your first reaction to reading the series?
Ian: I thought “Wow. There’s a character named Arseface!” [laughs]
As anyone who’s read it knows, it’s an absolutely crazy, insane, wild ride. The more and more I read the books the better I became at playing the part and being able to bring this thing to the screen.
So let’s talk a little bit about the makeup process. How long does it take? And what was your reaction to first seeing yourself in the mirror?
Ian: Yeah, it took about two and a half hours to get into every day. It’s really amazing. There’s some very talented artists that all play a part in making this come to life. Mike Smithson is the guy who hashes it out with me every day on set, and then there’s the guys at KNB EFX who originally designed it – they do a lot of stuff with The Walking Dead. They’re extremely talented and I really think they’ve brought a very cool version of Arseface to life.
What kind of challenges does performing with this prosthesis on your face pose?
Ian: It’s definitely difficult. It really forces me to use the upper half of my face, especially my eyes – a lot of the communication is in my eyes. I take every opportunity I have to work in the mirror and flex the mask, learn different ways to distort my face to get a specific emotion to read through the foam of the prosthetic piece. Sometimes I have to exaggerate some of my own facial expressions to get it so that people can read the emotions through the mask.
I’d also love to know about what you did with your vocal performance. It’s an amazing nod to the comics – just spot on – is your dialogue written like that or do you have to convert it into Arseface speak?
Ian: Thank you! Yeah, some of it they write out phonetically for certain nods to the comics, but it’s also done for my sake so I can understand what I’m trying to say. So it’s kind of a mix, but a lot of it was just the voice I came up with for the character. It was sort of a yin and yang thing. Originally they would write some stuff phonetically and some stuff normally, and as I continued to grow with the character there would be little specific things I would do to add to the character or specific quirks of my voice that I would notice later on getting written into the scripts. It’s been a great team effort to make this thing come to life. It’s been fun to come up with this crazy voice. [laughs]
What would you say are some of the differences between Eugene in the comics and Eugene on the show? I would imagine the origin of his injury is a little different.
Ian: Arseface is this big, larger-than-life, iconic comic book character that people love, so I would say the major thing that’s been my goal throughout this first season has been to maintain that essence.This is a little bit of his origin story and I was really trying to make him a really human and empathetic character, which maybe we don’t see as much in the comic. One of my goals eventually as the series continues to progress is for fans to begin to see Eugene very much as a human being – a person they can empathize with – and not just see him for his disfigurement.
Eugene is obviously a big music fan – and you yourself are a musician – are we going to get to see him explore that side of things at all?
Ian: Yeah, there’s time for that! I know fans of the comic are wondering if certain plotlines will come to fruition on our show and I would say there’s time. The characters are coming and the storylines are coming. As a musician I would love that. There’s some really fun and interesting stuff that happens to Arseface later on in the comics. He becomes quite a famous rockstar.
It’s funny because during the whole audition process no one asked me if I was a musician or singer or anything. The guys were quite excited. It wasn’t until we were shooting the pilot, there was a prop guitar setup and I tuned it up and started playing and the guys were like “Oh my gosh!” So there’s some serious possibilities there that could be very fun.
You share most of your scenes in the first batch of episodes with W. Earl Brown – in my opinion one of the best character actors working today – and you play father and son. What was that working relationship like?
Ian: He’s an incredibly talented actor who brings something very unique to our show. People will see that right out of the gate in the pilot episode. It’s been fun. Next to Eugene and Jesse, the relationship between Eugene and his father is one of the most important and dynamic relationships on the show. Obviously we’re going to explore that and see how the tensions in the town will play a role in their relationship.
So aside from Eugene, who would you say is your favourite Preacher character and why?
Ian: I think everybody loves Cassidy and Joseph Gilgun is a ridiculously talented actor. I think he’s going to be a fan favourite for sure. He’s amazing.
The name of our site is DorkShelf.com – a “Dork Shelf” is the place in your house or apartment where you keep some sort of object or collectible that you like to show off, be it a vintage action figure or a comic book or some sort of memento. So what’s on your dork shelf?
Ian: Guitars, man. I love guitars. My Martin is my baby.
Ian: I also collected Pez dispensers, the vintage toy candy dispensers, for a long, long time. I’ve got a couple thousand of those actually. I’ve got some really cool ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s really cool memorabilia. They’re the coolest things.
Thanks so much for your time, Ian. Preacher is fantastic and we can’t wait to see more!
Ian: Thanks so much, man! Appreciate it.
Be sure to watch the 90-minute series premiere of Preacher on Sunday May 22 @ 10 pm ET/PT on AMC