Preacher’s Ruth Negga: Tulip is More than the “Girlfriend”

Preacher has managed to take the comic adaptation to the next level by making a secondary female character — Tulip — a strong, fleshed-out lead with real agency. Ruth Negga has brought Tulip to life on the small screen in such a spectacular way, and shared a bit about her portrayal during the 2016 ATX Television Festival.

It was early on in filming that Negga knew that Tulip was so much more than just Jesse Custer’s “girlfriend” in this story. “The first scene in the cornfield, I never really read a scene like that. The explosive and upended convention about what you expect from a female character in a comic adaptation. It wasn’t just one color. There were so many nuances to [Tulip] in that one scene. I thought it was one of the most nuanced characters that I’ve ever read. I found her thrilling.”

Tulip challenges the perceptions of what’s considered “male” and “female” qualities, breaking down those little boxes that characters have been placed in based on their gender. Negga shared, “I don’t really look at it in terms of gender. I can draw on aspects of male characters, too. I don’t think anyone has any monopoly on any characteristic. We tend to box people in and think this is a feminine aspect and that’s a masculine aspect. I find it really restrictive to think I can’t have aspects of a male superhero or a male protagonist.” She added, “Tulip is so important because she defies expectations of badass women and stereotypes. They’ve drawn this woman who is so at odds with herself constantly and is in this dichotomy: one minute she’s quite tender and funny, and the next she’s so vicious. It’s a relief to see a woman with all those colors, all those nuances and fucked up-ness because for too long, we’ve limited that to the male protagonist being allowed to have ugly parts to themselves or flaws.”

Not only are gender roles being challenged in Preacher‘s TV adaptation. Negga, who is Ethiopian-Irish, is playing a character that’s blonde and white in the comics. She was asked if she feels pressure or a responsibility to bring more diversity to the screen. “Eventually I won’t feel that pressure, hopefully, or my kids won’t. I feel very privileged, actually. It never occurred to me until recently … because you get so complacent.” She reflected, “We should be much angrier. We should agitate. I’m in my mid-30s now, and when I see young women and men agitating, protesting, I don’t think they were as potent when I was that age, and I’m really impressed. That box that you put me in? No, not for me, don’t want that.”

Negga did some agitating of her own when the subject of the Preacher Funko Pop! figures came up — a series that includes Jesse, Cassidy and even Arseface, but excludes Tulip. Female fans have noticed the omission and are speaking up.

“I’m so impressed by the uproar,” Negga said. “It’s so narrow-minded. Women have money. They’re missing the point. If just being a compassionate human being doesn’t appeal to them, surely a dollar must appeal to them. Who are these people and what world do they live in?” And that’s when the subject of complacency came up again. “I surround myself with loads of different people — most of them are not right wing and they’re mostly liberal — so you forget that there are people who do think like that. All these battles that you think you’ve won, they’re not won. It’s easy to become complacent, but you have to be vigilant against that narrow-mindedness.”

I just had to ask about one of my favorite scenes in the series so far: Tulip’s baptism. Negga shared a bit about filming it. “It was really good fun. I’m such a scaredy cat. Not like Tulip at all. When I swim in the sea, I just do my arms and walk because I’m too scared of going beyond my depth. We were worried about it being too cold, but the water was iced to cool it down because it was so hot [outside]. I was really worried about doing it and then I couldn’t stop doing it after because it was so much fun. There are little things that could happen in scenes that you don’t really think about when you read [them] and you don’t know the impact. In the script, she gives Jesse a wink under water. It really reads when she smiles under water, all these lovely touches that really make a character flourish. That’s who she is in one little frame.”

I joked about no amount of holy water being able to help Tulip. She replied, “I’m surprised she didn’t burn on entry.”

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