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Credit: Alfonso Bresciani

Betty Buckley discusses the joy of being an older actress and delights in playing Preacher's Gran'ma

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Jun 29, 2018, 4:00 PM EDT

Season 3 of AMC's Preacher premiered on June 24, formally introducing fans to one of the most iconic characters from the comic series the show is based on, Jesse Custer's grandmother Marie L'Angelle. The wonderfully creepy Matriarch of Angelville and all around villainess is played with relish by actress Betty Buckley, who freely admits to SYFY WIRE that she's having a blast.

For a certain generation, Buckley is associated with Eight Is Enough as the stepmother who came into the Bradford family's life after the death of their mother. For others, she was the kind gym teacher who tried to help young Carrie White and ended up dead for her troubles in Carrie. Or, for you Broadway lovers, you'll remember Buckley's portrayal of Grizabella in the original Broadway cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats. Even if you've only recently discovered Buckley thanks to roles in M. Night Shyamalan's Split or her recent turn on Supergirl, one thing's for sure, Betty Buckley is an icon.

A rather accomplished icon, at that. Buckley is a Tony Award winner, an Emmy Award nominee, and she just released her 18th solo album, teaches acting, rides cutting horses, and even has her own awards organization.

All of that life experience is a backdrop for her delightful dive into the depths of Preacher's Gran'ma, a role she seems to have been preparing for all her life.

What is it about the role that drew you to it?

Preacher really appeals to my iconoclastic nature because I'm a student of comparative world religions since my early 20s, so I love shows that really challenge what you think about all these things. I think it's genius. I was so excited there was a role I could play on it... We immediately went to New Orleans and I met Ruth Negga and Dominic Cooper and Joseph Gilgun and I was on set and I couldn't believe my good fortune. I was so excited to work with them. It's one of the greatest 4 months of my life, working with this incredible production team. The actors, the crew is just, they are all the nicest, most skilled, brilliant people I've ever had the opportunity to work with.

Preacher, Betty Buckley as Gran'Ma

Credit: Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

Gran'ma is such an interesting character. What do you like most about her and what do you enjoy most about playing her?

She's so mean. She's just really cruel and really insane. I worked with my psychologist that I've worked with many times over on many roles I've played. She's a brilliant lady. Whenever... I play aberrant characters, which I seem to do more and more of those, which are my favorite kind of characters, I need her expertise to help me find her humanity and why she does what she does.

But I'll tell you, in making film especially when you're an actress you're always worried about how you look on film, how they light you, always working with your camera people to be at your best, with the expectations of our culture that you always look perfect and beautiful and whatever. But to play this character where you don't care what you look like, and working with this phenomenal design team and you just go for it, and they're shooting you upside down and backward and every which way and you have no idea. It was fantastic.

So there's something freeing about just being able to be full out.

Yeah, when you just get to be ferocious and as ugly as you can be. It's fun. It's much harder to try and be all prissy. When you get to just be "Rawr!" it's really fun, it's a blast. I got to do some action stuff with Ruth Negga too, which I was just ecstatic. There's this wonderful stunt guy on our show who's the stunt choreographer, John Koyama, and the stunt people on the show are just out of this world. They were all being really gentle to me. Being really careful with me. I was like, "You guys, just so you know, don't worry about me. I'm a cowgirl. I live on a ranch. I ride horses every day in Texas. I'm tough."

They were like, "Oh, she's tough! Go for it!"

It was so much fun.

Can you tell us a little bit about what's coming? How scary does Gran'ma get?

As scary as I can make her. I don't know what you'll think. She does some pretty ruthless things. Really ugly things... When I was working on her and living in New Orleans, which is its own weird place, it's like, living there I was like, "Wow, this place is crazy." One waitress, we were there through Mardi Gras, shooting through the Mardi Gras season, I went to the bar and this waitress goes, "Well, you know, in New Orleans we're all hedonists. Anything goes."

There are all these voodoo shops, and I'm playing like a voodoo sorceress, it's spooky. You can really feel ghosts everywhere.

The first three weeks to a month of this show I really was having nightmares. She was really entering my psyche and I felt really vulnerable because I'm turning myself inside out to lend my soul to her darkness. It's not easy but it's gratifying, it's like a process you go through. I enjoy that kind of work, fortunately. So it was ultimately very joyful experience.

Also because everybody on Preacher, from the production team, the writers, the directors, the creators of it, the actors, the crew, everyone in their own specific craft and specialty is the best of the best. And everybody loves the storytelling on Preacher and loves the iconoclastic nature of it if you will. There's a style to it that we all absolutely love. So as a team everybody is so into that, we're all collaborating together to make it happen in terms of telling the story.

Preacher, Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Betty Buckley as Gran'Ma, Colin Cunningham as TC

Credit: Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

Well, I think you're gonna be very thrilled. I have a feeling it exceeds your expectations. I have one last question. You've done so much in your life. I get the feeling that you don't rest on your laurels.

You know what I thought? When I was young I was very blessed to have this insight that my best work would be when I was an older actress. I just always knew that as a young actress. So that's why I was studying really hard to learn from the greatest teachers that I could find in New York. The greatest mentors and watched really great actresses work and tried to learn what that was and how to do that. I knew that life itself was this journey and I've always seen it as a kind of school in that we're meant to have fun and we're meant to grow and we're meant to evolve and learn to be better humans and how to love each other better and how to love ourselves, and become a part of a community of love on this planet. Fortunately, those messages came to me in my 20s from brilliant people, brilliant philosophers and teachers and role models and I just knew that was my journey and that trajectory. These incredible teachers, because of my own efforts in finding them, taught me so much. That's why I teach. Because without these teachers I would've been a mess.

But having that knowing allowed me to be patient with myself as I grew.

Two years ago I kind of woke up one day and thought, you know what, you are that older actress now, by the way. I was like, that's cool. I'm here, I know how to do this now!

The opportunities have been kind to me over the past few years. They have been wonderful blessings. Grey Gardens, with Michael Wilson, Rachel York that we did in Sag Harbor, and then LA and then Split with M Night Shyamalan and James McAvoy, Getting On with Laurie Metcalf and Niecy Nash, now Preacher and Supergirl, it's just been one blessing after another. This Preacher thing is like the cherry on the cake. It's been fantastic. But I think our culture, I think it's important to believe that's possible, that life can get better and better and you can become a better and better human being or better at your craft in your life.

I've never understood why people felt this need to retire at some point. Let's just keep doing what we do and do it better and share with people what we've learned. It's a joy.