In the comics version of "Preacher," brought to gloriously violent life in the '90s by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, leading lady Tulip knows how to fight. But not quite as well as her on-again-off-again boyfriend Jesse Custer, or his hard-drinking vampire best friend Cassidy — and always in some variation of a tight dress and heels, tits out and bobbed blonde hair blowing in the wind.
She was and still is a great character, but when Revelist checked in with her current onscreen portrayer Ruth Negga, "Preacher" star Dominic Cooper (Negga's real-life boyfriend, who plays Jesse), and executive producer Sam Catlin at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, all of them agreed that the largely reactionary-to-Jesse in the comics character needed a major upgrade — and she got one, in the form of the angry-as-hell, leather-jacked clad Black woman who is currently stealing every "Preacher" scene that can handle her.
"Definitely we wanted Tulip to have her own agenda — more than just being a kick-ass girlfriend who knew how to handle a gun," said Catlin. "We wanted to give her more nuance."
Setting the events of the AMC series before Jesse, Cassidy, and Tulip eventually hit the road — and possible spoiler alert, in the books this happens because the supernatural entity inside of Jesse kills his entire congregation — has allowed "Preacher" to add this nuance to Tulip; giving her a backstory and things to do while Jesse builds his flock.
But according to Catlin, finding believable things for a character like Tulip to do on her own was "difficult, because there’s not a lot of female characters like that," he explained to reporters at an ATX roundtable.
"Writing, creatively, you’re always stealing everything," he continued. "Jesse’s like Clint Eastwood in ‘Unforgiven’ in this moment ... and there’s just not a lot of great female characters in the canon of TV. You have to think extra hard; you have to use your imagination even more."
"I don’t really look at it in
terms of gender," Negga added. "I can draw on aspects of male characters, too. I don’t
think anyone has a monopoly on any characteristic. I don’t think they
should ... I just find it really sort of restrictive to think that I can’t have
aspects of a male superhero, or a male protagonist."
One of these aspects typically given to a male protagonist is anger; something that Catlin said "is usually not allowed with female characters," but helps give Tulip and Jesse a "Sid and Nancy" vibe that costar Anatol Yusef claims makes her a "dangerous threat to Jesse."
"Not only is she a threat to people who are out to get her, she’s a threat to the love of her life," Yusef explained. "That’s really good, because it helps me, helps the audience, understand Jesse … I love the fact that she’s genuinely dangerous."
"Genuinely dangerous" is understating things, given that Tulip's first scene in the show finds her killing a car full of "bad men," and in her second she's building a bazooka in front of dazzled children, telling them that “a woman needs to know how to be strong."
Counteract this with her first scene in the comic, in which she royally fucks up a hit job, and you see how admirably willing "Preacher" has been to alter her character.
"[Female characters] have to have a sort of sassy attitude ... anger with an appropriate, cute, acceptable area," Catlin continued. "But Tulip has a real fuckin' problem with anger ... that’s a fun part of her, she’s very passionate, and very impetuous. She’s a good person, but she’s also incredibly vain and selfish sometimes, and wants what she wants. She’s just as complicated and fucked up and contradictory as all the other characters, the male characters."
"I think that that’s why Tulip is so important," Negga agreed. "She defies expectations of badass women and stereotypes ... It’s a relief to see a woman with all those colors and all those nuances and fucked up-ness, because I think for too long we’ve limited that to the male protagonist — being allowed to have ugly parts of themselves, or flaws."
She's also, of course, Black instead of blonde — Negga is Ethiopian-Irish, and naturally speaks in a soft Irish brogue — and either wears her natural hair loose and curly, or tied up in a bandana. This is pretty major in an industry that, yes, just cast Tessa Thompson as a Valkyrie in "Thor," but also still has Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton playing Asians.
A lot of ballyhoo surrounded her casting, though Negga admitted that the fight for representation (See: #OscarsSoWhite) — as well as the pressure to represent a community of people by taking on an iconic character – is something fairly new for her.
"Eventually I won’t feel [representation] pressure, hopefully, or my kids won’t. But I feel very privileged, actually, because you know it never occurred to me until recently ... how complacent you get."
"And then you think, 'God no, we should be much angrier much earlier on,'" she continued. "Because you can get complacent about 'Oh, that’s just the way it is, that’s just the world.' And no, we should agitate. I’m in my mid-30s now, but when I see young women and men agitating and protesting, and all these movements — people weren’t as potent as when I was that age, and I’m just really impressed. I think that finally people are saying, actually, 'That box you put me in? No, not for me, don’t want that.'"
On that note — the box note — Revelist had to ask Negga about the "Preacher" Funko Pop vinyl figures that were recently unveiled. The company released figures for Jesse, Cassidy, and a disfigured B-character called "Arseface" but left out Tulip, a lead, entirely.
The whole thing was shitty no matter which way you look at it — girls like to play with toys, and boys are perfectly capable of playing with figures of female characters — but it's also entirely baffling that they would do this after "Where is Black Widow" and "Where is Rey" dominated geek culture so thoroughly in 2015. (And "Where is Gamora" before that, which "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn is still apologizing for to this very day.)
For this, Negga was more than willing to agitate.
"It’s so narrow-minded ... but also, are they mental?" she said. "Women have money. They’re missing the point; they’re missing the beat. If just being a compassionate human being doesn’t appeal to them, surely a dollar must appeal to them. Use your brains. I can’t believe it.
"Who makes these decisions, in what world do they live in?" she continued. "I surround myself with loads of different people, varied, but ... they’re mostly liberal. So you forget that there are people who do think like that. It’s a good thing to remember. All these battles you think you’ve won, they’re not won. That complacency. It’s very easy to become complacent when you think 'Oh no, I’ve got this part. Black president. Female president, maybe.' But behind that, you have to remember to stay vigilant against that kind of narrow-mindedness.""Preacher" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.