Preacher premiere SXSW
Courtesy of AMC

AMC has already seen plenty of success with one popular comic book adaptation, and “The Walking Dead” looks set to have fine company in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s long-gestating “Preacher,” judging by the rapturous reaction the pilot received at SXSW on Monday.

In its world premiere screening at the Paramount Theater, the TV iteration of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s controversial comic drew raucous laughter, applause and outright cheers from the packed house, even in scenes that Rogen later admitted he wasn’t sure would earn a laugh. “I turned to Evan during the screening and said ‘we’re in a room with the most f—ed up people,'” he quipped during the post-episode Q&A.

The property has been a passion project for Rogen and Goldberg since they were kids, the co-directors and executive producers said, and they’ve been fighting to adapt it for 10 years. “We read the comic book from when it first came out, and as soon as we had any power in Hollywood, we tried to make it,” Rogen said. “It’s always been in the hands of more successful and more talented people than us, and somehow they all f—ed it up and it rolled downhill into our laps somehow, which I’m very grateful for. I think it was just persistence; we always made it clear that we were interested in it, we were vocal about what big fans we were and we were really just in the right place at the right time.”

Sam Mendes, Rachel Talalay, DJ Caruso and Mark Steven Johnson are among the filmmakers who have previously been attached to tackle the property in various mediums since the comic book was first published in 1995.

“There was a degree of interest straight away,” Ennis recalled of the comic’s journey to the screen. “But it’s been a long, long trail to get this far — we went from movie to TV back to movie to this. It seems like this is the right time for it. I think TV has finally caught up with comics.”

Rogen, Goldberg and Ennis were joined on the panel by showrunner Sam Catlin and cast members Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga and Joe Gilgun.

Despite being set in West Texas, the show’s three leads all hail from the United Kingdom. “It hasn’t been easy,” Cooper said of his on-screen accent for titular hero Jesse Custer. “I feel awful sitting here in Texas — it’s a work in progress!”

“You watched a lot of ‘Friday Night Lights,'” Rogen joked of Cooper’s preparation for the role. “‘More like Coach Taylor,’ that was our big direction.”

While Gilgun, who plays Irish vampire Cassidy, was born in Lancashire in Northern England, the actor said that the role felt like a perfect fit. “[Cassidy’s] not too dissimilar to who I am, to be honest with you… I’m a terrible drink and drug addict so I’m not having to dig deep or anything,” he laughed. “It’s been f—ing awesome. It’s one of the better jobs I’ve ever had … it’s being paid to be an a–hole for the whole day. People hold an umbrella over my head so I don’t burn my vampiric scalp.”

Jesse’s ex, the deadly Tulip O’Hare, may have been drawn as blonde-haired and Caucasian by Dillion, but Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga seemed a perfect fit for the capable, charismatic character, providing one of the most crowd-pleasing scenes in the pilot, which involved a brutal fight inside a moving car and a homemade bazooka. “When I read the script, I thought ‘please let me play this character,’ ‘cause it’s usually the boys who get to do that — people think girls aren’t capable of extreme violence,” she laughed. “We’re in the throes of filming the season now and it just gets even more exciting. She unfurls more and more in such an unexpected, exciting way … I think remorse is something she quells. She does have an extreme sense that justice should be served, but it’s her justice.”

As with any adaptation, the show has some differences from the comic, but the producers reassured fans that all of the most iconic beats will be included. “It starts in a different place … There’s challenges we have in that the comic starts going at 200 mph and doesn’t really sit in any one place, and because we’re a television show we have to be in one place. First season, we wanted to localize it in this little West Texas town,” Catlin explained. “But the world of it, the comedy of it, the action of it, the characters of it all should feel like ‘Preacher’ … for ‘Preacher’ fans, if they haven’t seen something, just give us time, we’re going to get to all the great setpieces and characters.”

AMC will premiere “Preacher” on May 22, following the midseason finale of “Fear the Walking Dead.”

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