Seth Rogen’s giggles should have been unsettling.
After all, Baton Rougean Michael Papajohn’s ear had just been bitten off and a corn cob stuffed down his throat as a finale to the bloodiest battle he’d ever fought.
Yet Rogen couldn’t stop laughing, maybe because he knew he had something special, a scene that would go viral after airing as a trailer for AMC’s new series, “Preacher.” The show premiers Sunday on AMC, following the finale of “Fear the Walking Dead.”
The 1-minute, 20-second clip shows Tulip, one of the series’ main characters, being strangled from behind as she’s driving. The fight with her attacker takes them on a high-speed ride through a cornfield, ending with the strangler’s death.
That’s not a spoiler. Papajohn readily admits it’s his bad guy character that comes to the brutal end. And it’s his character that’s causing part of the Internet buzz.
“I was filming in China when I heard people talking about the trailer,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it.”
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Papajohn is now in Malaysia, where he’s filming “Reborn,” a Chinese film he spent most of April working on in Shanghai. He was able to make a quick trip to Baton Rouge in between to visit wife Paula Joy and son Sean and attend the 1986 LSU baseball team’s 30th anniversary reunion. Papajohn was an outfielder on that team, the first to play in the College World Series.
Next up, Papajohn will travel to Atlanta to play the detective sidekick to Nicolas Cage’s character in “Vengeance: A Love Story.”
But first comes “Preacher,” which is based on the DC Comics’ series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. The television series was developed by Evan Goldberg, Sam Catlin and Rogen, who directed the first episode and thought it hilarious when actress Ruth Negga uses her teeth to tear off Papajohn’s ear.
“Oh, I still have my ear,” Papajohn says. “But Rogen was giddy. He kept giggling, and I was laughing, too. He was just so joyous to work with.”
“Preacher” tells the story of Jesse Custer, played by Dominic Cooper, a small-town preacher in West Texas who is accidentally possessed by a supernatural creature named Genesis. Custer’s possession is a combination of good and evil, driving him to explore his own powers as he seeks God.
Joining him on his journey is Cassidy, a hard-drinking Irish vampire, and Custer’s old girlfriend, Tulip O’Hare, the one who kills Papajohn’s character.
His bad-guy persona is just one of many roles Papajohn has tackled since his introduction to Hollywood in his senior year of college. It was 1987 and “Everybody’s All American” was being filmed in Baton Rouge. His eligibility had run out on the baseball team, and he was working on getting his degree in general studies when he signed up to be an extra. He played a football player.
“And the director, Taylor Hackford, told us that we would get paid more if we took hits,” Papajohn recalls. “I needed money in my checking account, so I started taking some pretty hard hits.”
Papajohn’s effort impressed Hackford, who offered to help him find stunt work in Hollywood. When minor league baseball didn’t work out, Papajohn headed to California.
“I’ve never said that before,” he says, “but it’s true. Hollywood was my backup.”
Papajohn eventually took acting lessons, knowing stunt work becomes more hazardous with age. His resume includes 39 stunt credits and 99 acting credits, including the carjacker who kills Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben Parker.
Papajohn didn’t think much of the carjacker role until a producer explained its importance.
“He said, ‘Don’t you realize who you are?’” Papajohn says. “He said,’ You’re playing the character who gives Peter Parker the reason to become Spider-Man.”
The producer gave Papajohn a copy of the “Spider-Man” comic where Parker’s uncle dies and told him to get the actors and director to sign it, then hand it down to his son.
A makeup artist on another movie did the same thing upon finding out Papajohn was going to work in the premiere of “Preacher.” Again, Papajohn wasn’t familiar with the series. He just knew he was going to New Mexico to work with Seth Rogen.
“He said, ‘This is so awesome,’ then he walked out and came back with a ‘Preacher’ comic book,” Papajohn says. “He told me to get it signed and keep it.”