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PREACHER’s Julie Ann Emery and her penchant for playing badasses

julie ann emery - preacher - s2e9
(AMC)

Is there anything more striking or impressive than the outright coolness of a resolute badass?

Julie Ann Emery knows what I’m talking about. If you haven’t caught her role as Featherstone in AMC’s Preacher, then you are missing out on an opportunity to see a demonstration of how to achieve that state of mind.

Let’s start with a description of the character traits that puts Featherstone in this category of characters. First, she’s ruthlessly methodical. If you’ve ever seen the video of Julie Ann stripping a Glock 9mm in about ten seconds (see below), then you not only know the level of commitment this actress has to deliver when playing Featherstone, but there’s a seamlessness about her transitions into the different type of people she has to be.

I had chance to ask Julie about this process.

“She’s a chess player,” she answered. “Featherstone is always looking five moves ahead. You get to see that in her different personas, from the jazz singer, when she games Jesse and then she actually games Herr Starr in that scene.”

The scene Julie Ann is referring to is this incredible moment in Episode 9, when Featherstone is staring down the receiving end of Herr Starr’s own Glock. It jams, and she unjams it for him, calmly and methodically. Then she transforms from being a victim, to a gun mechanic, to an administrative manager to concierge and even wiling to be the object of Herr Starr’s obscene rape fantasies.

Perhaps it also requires a special state of mind? If so, then what’s the state of mind one needs to be a badass?

“I’ve done gun-work before, but I’ve never stripped a Glock. I worked with our armourer and a retired New Orleans police officer to get that right. I got the script ten days before we shot that scene and I was asked if I wanted to fake it, and I said: ‘My gun has jammed – what would you do? I want to do what you do.’ My fingers were numb at the end of the day, But I’d pick it up and do it again. So he worked me very hard and I wanted it to be second nature, because that’s how you make her a badass.”

We’ve included that video here and even though the focus might seem to be on stripping the Glock, the real skill is watching Julie Ann deliver a performance that shows us the state of mind. It is a fluid state; one that sees the end game of this character and utilizes all skills and tricks at her disposal to secure her survival and her success. The Glock is just a symbol of this character’s resolve and this scene is really about Featherstone establishing herself in the show as a force to be reckoned with.

“This is the first moment where we get to see the Grail dynamic between Hoover and Featherstone – and Starr. Hoover is having a death-bed confession when he says that he loves me and I’m like: ‘Shut up!’ Until there’s a bullet in my head, this isn’t done. She keeps her cool and Starr is so ruthless, that this is when we learn so much about these characters.”

It’s Featherstone that’s the power behind this dynamic. Another trait of being a badass is the willingness to undergo preparation, hard-work, and planning. There’s a power behind every badass and Featherstone is no different.

“For me, it’s the acquiring of skills,” she sad. “If you have the skill set, you move through so many different things.”

Julie Ann brought up an experience from one of her earlier roles that lent itself to exploring this idea further.

“It was about eleven or twelve years ago; it was one of my first series and I was playing an FBI agent. I was the shortest – the smallest person on the show, and I really wanted to be authentic and viable. We did a lot of things – we had actual FBI agents who were consultants on the show, we had gun instructors from the L.A. branch of the FBI. They took us through their simulated computer system that takes you through live shooter scenarios. But one of the things that I did was I got myself into a Tae Kwon Do class and I thought it would affect how I moved, and I was right. Gun stance is the same as fight stance and it affected me in a deep way and it really affected the role. I’m not timid. I mean: I can take someone down because I have the skills.”

Experience makes the acquisition of these skills possible because the mind can accept them so easily. But the mind needs to have some degree of pre-conditioning in order for that to happen.

“I was always a tomboy,” she revealed. “I was the only girl in my neighbourhood so I got into a lot of fights. I was never one to back down. But it’s more of a stretch for me to wear a dress and heels on a red carpet than it is for me to do a fight scene! And I never tend to back down … and neither does Featherstone.”

So, what’s the best bad ass moment in Preacher that Julie Ann is proud of?

“Well, sitting in the van with the Grail SWAT guys is definitely cool, especially when one of them hands me a make-up remover wipe! But It’s hard not to love the stripping of the Glock. I mean, I’m proud of that because I think I got held up once when the cylinder jammed. But otherwise I did that in one take after that. But there is something about getting into that van, dropping the baby, and taking off that wig that was definitely badass!”

But the mind of a badass is the mind of the strategist as well as the resolute warrior. While Featherstone can handle firearms, operate heavy ordinance (as we saw with Featherstone’s expertise in operating the drone/cruise missile in the second season) and lead field operations with Grail assault teams, she can also deftly manipulate, persuade and deceive whenever the moment arises. How does she manage to slip into that character so easily?

“I like crawling inside a character that is completely different from myself. She thinks differently. I mean, Featherstone is a zealot; that’s probably my favourite part of her. Not that we need zealots walking around the world [laughs] but there is no line for her to cross. She sees what needs to be done and she does it in the most expedient way she can. She doesn’t second-guess herself, but I do. I like that and it’s fascinating to play a character that doesn’t even recognize there’s a line to cross.”

Featherstone also adopts many different personas in her pursuit of the Grail’s ambitions. While she is a dominant character in her own right, it’s also a credit to Julie Ann that she can also pick up and drop these different personalities Featherstone creates. She shared a little about her process with us.

“Featherstone hates Jenny. Jenny feels weak to me and Featherstone hates weakness. The jazz singer plays on sexuality and that’s also something that Featherstone has a lot of judgement about. These traits are something that she sees has contributed to the downfall of the world and that she disdains, but for her to pick up these personas and these traits to accomplish her goals makes her all the more diabolical to me. There’s no place she’s not willing to go.”

It makes one think about role models that bad asses would want to emulate. Julie Ann thinks that Herr Starr is an obvious role model for Featherstone.

“She idolizes him. He’s decisive and full of action – he does what needs to be done and I think she relates to that. It’s more like the love of a cult leader. But, if things were different, I think Featherstone would probably idolize Tulip. She is a decisive badass, full of action as well and is a woman that takes charge and does things that need to be done. All things being equal, if Featherstone and Tulip met on their own terms, outside the story, she’d probably admire Tulip a lot.”

Pip-Torrens-Preacher-Herr-Starr
(AMC)

In terms of real people, who would Julie Ann would like to play?

“Christiane Amanpour. I’d love to be a frontline female journalist who’s gone into places where women aren’t allowed. She is definitely SUCH a badass. I think she does it so cleanly and effortlessly. You never see her sweat and I’ve been obsessed with that idea. But when my husband and I go on road trips, we’ve been listening to the Star Wars books on audio and the female General – Rae Sloane – she’s a bad guy – but she’s complicated and I love characters I don’t understand when I first read them. She’s really actionary and I’d love to play her. Any of the women on the island of Wonder Woman! All these women of all ages kicking ass! I loved it! I’d be any of those women!

“I love that we are living in a time where we are seeing more badass, actionary women in the male role in films and television shows. If I had seen Rey in Star Wars when I was a little girl, that would have meant everything to me! Women have been typically portrayed as reactionary and kudos to Preacher when they decided to add another woman to the show, and they decided to make Featherstone every bit as bad ass as Tulip! They made Featherstone competent, decisive and skilled and I’m really glad they took the character in that direction!”

While I’m a comic guy and a devout Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon fan, I had to acknowledge Julie Ann’s point in this. This is where the television show outstrips the comic, in that the development of Featherstone is definitely more detailed and thorough in the AMC production. While we see indications of these traits in the book, we see them fully fleshed out in the show. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and Emery is the right actress for the role.

julie ann emery - featherstone - preacher
(AMC)

However, Julie Ann is quick to give the credit to the writers for the show for this development.

“It’s such a great role and I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about living up to it, but that’s kudos to the writers. There weren’t a ton of fully fleshed-out women characters in 90’s comics and I think they’ve done such a great job in rounding out Tulip and they’ve taken the same route with Featherstone. I think they’ve added dimensions and that’s Sam Catlin and the Writers’ Room crew.”

I think that brings me to the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece. Is there anything more striking or impressive than a resolute badass? The answer is: a resolute badass woman.

From a personal perspective, badass women have always impressed me, in literature as well as in real life. When I was growing up, I had a mother who would fight tooth and nail for not just her own prosperity but for the success and welfare of her kids. I married a strong woman who I view as an equal partner in the life we have built and together we brought two wonderful and talented daughters into this world.

I want my girls to see their mother as a force to be reckoned with as well as someone they can rely on in stressful times. I want my daughters to grow up in a world where they will be seen as individuals of character and respect, rather than weak and objectified dependents. They will define themselves as their mother defined herself with all of her accomplishments. She is a woman, a mother, a professional and a wife and, by God, she took it all.

The more badass women we have on the big or small screen, the more society will rethink its perceptions of how we treat the women in our lives. Julie Ann’s character is to be feared but also respected and regarded as a strong, capable leader who understands the only way to accomplish her goals is, as Julie Ann expresses it, to “acquire the skills and move through.”

It’s up to me as a father to provide my girls with every opportunity to grow and develop. Julie Ann’s advice to aspiring badasses is to acquire as many skills as possible to give yourself the edge and to be capable of rising to every occasion. That’s good advice and it works well in ensuring that I am able to open every opportunity for my daughters to allow them to obtain those skills.

But, of course, it’s their mother that holds as a true role model as they can expect. Just as Featherstone has her role models to emulate, my girls have theirs. But the more the media portrays women as equal and capable characters in their own right, the more my girls and others of their generations will be able to look at their mother, and at fictional characters on the screen, and gain the confidence they need to move forward in their own ambitions.

Julie Ann Emery is an extremely talented actress to portray one of these power female roles so effortlessly. But after talking to her for the second time, I learned that the reason she can play one of these roles is because she herself is driven by many of the same qualities that define her characters.

And that is striking, resolute and impressive.

THAT is a badass.

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About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.