‘Preacher’ Actor Graham McTavish Recalls His First Professional Job on the London Stage

Graham McTavish Big Break in Entertainment
illustration: michael Hoeweler; photo reference: Pari Dukovic/AMC

AMC’s “Preacher” is beginning its second season, with Graham McTavish returning as the godlike bounty hunter known as the Saint of Killers. The Scottish actor was a fan of the cult comic books on which the show is based long before he signed on for the series, and the Saint of Killers was his favorite character. Similarly, McTavish was a “Lord of the Rings” aficionado for a decade prior to playing Dwalin in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy. McTavish is also heading into his third season portraying Dougal MacKenzie in the British-American television drama “Outlander” and has guested on “Prison Break,” “Empire” and “24,” among other series, while also voicing video games such as “Call of Duty” and “Assassin’s Creed III.” Variety first mentioned McTavish on Aug. 8, 1984, touting his upcoming solo performance of Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” in various London theaters. He worked extensively on the U.K. stage before heading into television and film.

Was “Krapp’s Last Tape” your first professional job?

It was. In those days to get your [Equity] card in Britain, you needed to fulfill certain criteria. It was a classic catch-22 situation. You couldn’t act professionally unless you had an Equity card, and you couldn’t get an Equity card unless you had acted professionally. I finally got my card on Oct. 15, 1984. I remember the date very well. It was a big, big deal.

In the play, you used a reel-to-reel live tape recorder. What was that like?

It was pretty nerve-racking — even remembering it still makes me feel sick. I started the show, and no sound was coming out. I can probably trace my phobia in technology back to that experience because I had no idea what I was doing. I was literally on the point of just stopping and standing up and saying, “I’m so sorry. I can’t go on with the show.” Then I noticed the mute button. I had pressed the mute button. That was the longest five minutes of my life. And [the audience] didn’t seem to notice. I carried on, and I did the show. But I was sweating bullets inside my costume.

How did you get involved with acting?

I was very lucky. I fell into acting by accident. While I was at school, I’d write these comic sketches with a friend of mine, and we would perform them because we didn’t trust anyone else to do it. But I had no ambition for acting at all. The drama teacher used to ask me constantly to be in school plays, and I always said no. On one particular occasion, an actor had fallen out three days before the show was due to go on, and he came to me and asked me if I’d step in. To this day, I have no idea why I agreed. Possibly there was a girl that I was keen on in the cast, and I thought this might be a way of getting on her good side. So I did the play and fell in love with it instantaneously.

What aspects of the industry do you appreciate?

I am always reminded of myself as a child. If you’re lucky enough as an actor, that’s the part of you that you stay connected to — the child who was able to imagine any world, any situation, and enjoy it. There are moments when you go, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this. It’s so strange.”

You’ve worked in theater, television and film. Which do you prefer?

I honestly don’t have a preference. They’re all really genuinely enjoyable. They make different demands on you in the technical sense. They all essentially require the same thing. You have to be truthful to the material.