EXCLUSIVE: Ruth Negga Reveals the Surprising Punk Rock Inspiration for Her Badass Role on 'Preacher'

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Photo: Getty Images
In AMC's gothic action dramedy Preacher, Ruth Negga stars as the hard-drinking, tough-as-nails Tulip O'Hare, and despite the delicate nature of the flower she shares her name with, Tulip proves time and again she's not someone to be messed with.
The actress recently sat down with ET during a press junket promoting the second season of the acclaimed series, where Negga opened up about the surprising real-life icons who inspired her performance -- and revealed how her character is a far cry from how Tulip appeared in the comic book series Preacher is based on.
In the comics, Tulip is a skinny, blonde white woman who is getting her life back on track after kicking her drug habit. In the TV series, Tulip bites a man's ear off while fighting him in runaway car careening through a field and then kills him with an ear of corn. Then, she builds a bazooka out of tin cans and duct tape and uses it to shoot down a helicopter. This takes place all in the series' first episode.
The differences from comic to screen were immediately apparent, and Negga -- who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar earlier this year for her role in the biographical drama Loving -- said the radical departure from the character in the comics was a conscious choice.
"They wanted to sort of update Tulip," Negga tells ET of the intentions behind the show's creators, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. "The comics were written in the '90s and I think they all wanted to make her more present and more modern. Which is important, especially with the conversations we have about women's place in comics, and women's place in TV and movies."
In recent years, there has been a major (and long-awaited) resurgence when it comes to strong, independent bad-ass female heroes -- from the recent blockbuster success of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman to Charlize Theron's scene-stealing performance as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Negga explained how Tulip fits in among the groundbreaking female heroes who came before.
"This is a woman who denies all projects and refutes any sort of traditional definitions of what a woman in an action piece should be," Negga, 35, shared. "So I think that was just a necessary kind of update."
Photo: AMC
However, when it came to fleshing out Tulip, the actress admitted that she looked to real-life female icons for inspiration.
"What influenced me was sort of the punk era, and that kind of androgynous nature of all these musicians, who refused to be one thing or the other -- they're kind of slippery," Negga said. "David Bowie, for example, was a huge influence. Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, all those women -- Debbie Harry playing CBGB's -- they kind of intelligently cut through a really male, seemingly aggressive scene. I just love what they did."
"I like it when you kind of refuse to be boxed in by your gender, and by what people assume," she added. "I mean, can you imagine what people thought when they first saw Bowie? I mean they must have been astounded."
For Negga, the importance many people place on preconceived notions of gender have long been a point of contention.
"It's always troubled me that one must play with certain toys as a child because of how you came out of the womb. Or you must dress a certain way, and it signified this or that," she said. "I like not being contained by that."
When it comes to Tulip, there's nothing about the former-criminal-with-a-strong-moral-compass that ascribes to any particular expectations. She's involved in a relationship with Jesse Custer -- the eponymous preacher, played by Negga's real-life boyfriend Dominic Cooper -- but the romance isn't her defining motivation. And Tulip is never afraid to throw down or stand up for what she believes in.
Photo: AMC
Among other sources of inspiration, Negga said she's always felt connected to women like "Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Eartha Kitt. [They had] that sort of energy that people [describe as] masculine, by why is it masculine? Because I'm sure women have had that energy too."
Ultimately, the actress explained that her character's traits, motivations, personality quirks and human flaws were informed by the challenges and relationships she's experienced and the revolutionary men and women she's idolized as ground-breakers.
For Negga, Tulip is a character who has "been amassed through a lifetime of not liking boxes."
Preacher airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.