It not uncommon for actors to play the same part twice, but reprising the role of Adolf Hitler is the kind of detail that’ll make anyone stop and take note. So it goes with Noah Taylor, who first played a young Hitler in 2002’s Max, and stepped back into the dictator’s shoes for AMC’s Preacher.
After escaping from Hell in Preacher’s season-two finale, Hitler has been nowhere to be seen — until Sunday night’s episode, that is. The character’s return, which finds him working in a Subway knockoff, is a bit of surprise, not least to Taylor, who says he didn’t know he was going to last past the second season. Vulture caught up with Taylor to discuss his second go at playing Adolf, returning to Preacher in the handily titled “Hitler,” the rise of fascist haircuts, and Paddington 2.
I have to start with the obvious question: How did you end up playing Adolf Hitler for a second time?
[Laughs.] Actually, it’s based on the fact that I played it the first time. When Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] were discussing who to cast, they referenced the film Max, and I think the casting agent suggested, “Well, why don’t you just get him?” It’s actually really good to do it a second time, in a way, because it’s a much more comic portrayal. It takes some of the sting out of it. It’s a more … “enjoyable” is not the right word, but it’s been a further tread on the character, if you know what I mean.
Was that your initial reaction when they came to you?
I’m a big fan of the work that Seth and Evan had done, and I was a fan of the show. I’d seen the show before I had anything to do with it. I was aware of the tone of the show, and I thought if anyone can carry a difficult part like that off, it would be those guys, in terms of what they’re doing with the character. The intentions behind it are correct. The guiding thing on that show is that there’s a freedom of anything goes, because it’s recognizably the world, but it’s kind of a parallel world, which allows you to have Jesus, Satan, Hitler, whoever, wherever. It really has a lot of room to move, in terms of what you can get away with, and it’s this fantastical, over-the-top, cartoony world — you have to approach it like that. Not to take it too serious and get offended by it. Certainly there’s something to offend everyone in there if you really want to look for it. It’s quite ecumenical in that regard. It doesn’t really spare anybody.
When it first came out that Hitler was a character, one of the concerns was that Preacher seemed to be trying to make him too sympathetic, to the point that it was a relief when we find out that he ditched Eugene on purpose.
Yeah, I hoped that was clear in the last season. I guess that’s the challenge from a performance point of a view, and also in terms of wedding all the episodes together — you hope that that arc carries over in terms of its clarity. I always wanted to play it like he’s just this terribly horrible, effective manipulator of poor, innocent Eugene, so it’s good to have that pay off a bit more in this season. Of course he’s a horrible person. The audience knows who that character is, so they know that anything nice about him is false.
How do you prep for a role like this? I assume it was different from the first time — as you said, this is a slightly more comical, more fantastical take on it.
It’s more like the Mel Brooks sort of thing. I studied the Bruno Ganz Downfall version. Both brilliant performances in their own ways. I just wanted to make him a preening, sly creature, and I practiced a German accent a bit. He is effectively imprinted in everyone’s psyche, in a way. I’ve certainly read a lot about him over the years, but in terms of the performance, it’s just really trying to milk the comedy from the script.
Is it strange seeing yourself with that hairstyle and that mustache?
It’s not good, it’s not good. Thankfully, the mustache is a fake. To just walk around New Orleans for three months with that could be problematic. The haircut, worryingly, seems to have come into fashion over the last couple of years, and I think it’s even called “the fasch.” I think some of that crowd like to rock that look again these days. It’s a bit disturbing.
Is that something you thought about while shooting the show? The political climate has changed a lot since the second season began.
Definitely. Without stating the blindingly obvious, you’ve got a new president. It’s harder to be comical about Hitler, but then it’s also equally important to recognize bumbling clowns can be very dangerous, because they don’t initially seem to pose any threat. You should always be aware of the clown. Again, I think Hitler is a valid character, especially if you’re going to take the piss out of him, because that’s the thing fascists really hate the most — being made fun of. There’s always room for a bit of that. But yeah, it’s not a show about politics or anything specifically. I’d say its world is more theological and supernatural, but we can make that vague comparison.
I’ve read in a couple of interviews that you’re not a big TV watcher. How did Preacher wind up getting on your radar?
I must have been lying to whoever I said that to. Well, I don’t actually have a TV. I watch stuff online a bit, but I did go off TV for a long time. I’m like anyone else, I chew through series. I forget how I came across it. It’s on a different platform in the U.K. — it’s on Amazon, I believe. But yeah, it caught my eye and I loved it. It’s really different and bold.
You mentioned that the show has something for everyone, both in terms of something to like and something to be offended by. Does anything get under your skin about it?
Not really. I was brought up Catholic, so I suppose if I want to get really irate about our blessed Lord and stuff like that, I could, but what’s the point? I think anything that provokes laughter is generally a healthy thing. If you’re offended by something, just don’t watch it. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
I have to ask about another recent role you did. What was your experience shooting Paddington 2?
Oh, it was great. I’ve got an 11-year-old, so it’s nice to do stuff like that every now and again, because otherwise all the rest of it’s either me being a pervert, or Hitler, or stabbing someone, so it’s not suitable viewing for my daughter. It’s nice to do a sweet, innocent kid’s pic every now and again.
Had you seen the first Paddington before signing up for the second?
Yeah, they’re really wonderfully made films. Thankfully, they’re witty and amusing enough that you can watch them as an adult without chewing your wrist off. Having sat through a lot of unbearable children’s films — I won’t name and shame any — yeah, it was great.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.