From co-writers Jim Mickle and Nick Damici comes Hap and Leonard, a noir tale like no other adapted from Joe R. Lansdale’s novels and featuring James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams in the titular roles.
We were lucky enough to grab Purefoy for a few questions about the new show, what British viewers should expect from the series that has already made waves in the States and more! Read on to find out what he had to say…
For those who aren’t familiar with Hap and Leonard, how would you describe the series?
Season one of Hap and Leonard is very much a treasure hunt. There are two guys – Hap and Leonard – they are the best of friends, very close friends since they were small. Hap is a white, blue collar, East Texan agricultural worker. He was something of a hippy during the 60s. He’s very liberal and he did time in the 60s for not going to Vietnam. He didn’t want to go to Vietnam and he went to prison for it. His best buddy, Leonard, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, is an ex-marine, he’s black, obviously, and gay and a Republican; a very strong Reganite. So, he is a man full of contradictions. He also has a terribly short temper and anger issues, but they are good buddies, they’re blue collar, as I say East Texan agricultural workers; they work in the rose fields.
At the beginning of the season, we find their jobs at the rose fields have been taken by cheaper, immigrant labour. They’re both men in their late 40s, and life has somewhat passed them by. They’re not really taking part in the American Dream as such, because although they’ve pulled themselves up by their boot straps and they’re working terribly hard, time is running out and the American Dream has yet to arrive in their lives.
Hap’s ex-wife, Trudy, played by Christina Hendricks, comes back into his life offering him a chance to take a share of one million dollars that has ended up in the trunk of a car that is in the bottom of the Sabine river. If they can get hold of this money by diving down and getting it out of the car, then they will both receive $100,000. Cue much lark and malarkey!
How would you describe the challenges Hap faces throughout the series?
There are enormous challenges that Hap faces throughout the series. One is that he has to deal with his ex-wife who he was desperately in love with when he was young, and he still holds a very strong candle for, he cannot resist her and he is weak every time he is around her. She gets him around her little finger and he sort of knows that she’s not good for him.
Then a couple of episodes in, we start unfolding another story which is the story of Soldier and Angel. Soldier is a serial killer and we slowly start realising that Hap and Leonard’s storyline and Soldier and Angel’s storyline are destined to collide in a very difficult and unpleasant way! I won’t give it away obviously, but the two storylines come together as the series progresses, and that is going to be the major challenge for Hap; how to deal with this nightmare character, Soldier, and his crazy girlfriend, Angel. Those are the big challenges.
You’ve said there’s a theme of betrayal in the show in the past; do we see the relationship between Hap and Leonard tested?
We don’t really… I mean Hap and Leonard are such good friends, those friends that we all know and love. They bicker, and argue, and are irritated by one another one minute, but you always know fundamentally that they’ve got each other’s backs 100%, so their relationship is never in doubt.
The theme of betrayal is very strong simply because of the ex-wife Trudy who comes back into Hap’s life. It’s through that, that we start realising that maybe her agenda is maybe not all it seems at the beginning of the story.
How closely does the series follow the original novels by Joe R Lansdale?
Oh yeah, the series does follow them pretty closely. There are some times where we need to bring in other narratives and other characters, but generally speaking they follow the books very closely, including great chunks of dialogue and storyline. What we do is we conflate sometimes. We might take a character from another book and put them in this series, or we might take one out. Really, that is just the difference between a novel and an adaptation of that novel. If it works better for the show, then we put it in, if it doesn’t then we take it out.
The show has a great cast; as you mentioned Michael Kenneth Williams and Christina Hendricks – what were they like to work with?
I’ve known Michael for seven or eight years now, maybe nine years. I worked with Michael on a show called The Philanthropist for NBC and we got on very well, and due to the nature of that show we kind of always felt we had unfinished business, and that we wanted to act together and work together again on a more level footing, so this was the opportunity we had. Michael came to me with the project and asked me if I would be interested in playing Hap in the show – he had already been cast - and I seized the opportunity, mainly because A) I really like working with Michael, I love him, and B) because I love the story, I love the characters and I like where Joe Lansdale comes from and the kind of stories he tells.
Christina; nothing really you need to say about Christina that the world doesn’t already know. She’s an awesomely good actress, it’s certainly not a hindrance that she’s drop dead gorgeous as well, and she’s incredibly professional. She knows what she’s doing, she arrives on set utterly prepared and ready to go, and I was very grateful for that, because we had a very short time to shoot this show, and the more prepared people were, the better it was. She was really prepared for the job, she knew what she was doing and she was always exciting to work with.
What was the shooting process like? Was there any ‘typical’ day you could describe?
We shot the first season of Hap and Leonard towards the end of the summer in Louisiana, in and around Baton Rouge. If anyone’s been to Louisiana or comes from Louisiana, they know what the weather’s like down there at that time of year, it’s unbearably hot for an Englishman. It’s incredibly humid, you would have a thunderstorm every single afternoon, we were oftentimes filming in the swamps outside New Orleans, so we would have to deal with the possibility of alligators on the set! We had men with guns who were prepared for alligators to have a little nip at them. There were copperhead snakes and the brown recluse spider, I remember that being a particular concern in some of the buildings we were shooting in. It was a hot, humid… It’s not called swamp-noir for nothing this show! I think Michael and I were literally handcuffed together for two whole episodes, so we became very friendly on that!
The series had a great response in the US from viewers, how did you find that?
We were delighted, certainly to be Sundance TV’s top-rated show ever. More people watched our show than I think any show on Sundance, so that’s incredibly gratifying, that people got into this show and watched it, and it got great reviews as well, so we felt we slam-dunked it on both counts. We got good reviews and we got a lot of people watching for that channel. It’s very satisfying when you do a bit of work that people enjoy. That’s why you do it in the first place.
Then you were commissioned for a second season; how did it feel to get that news?
It felt great. Because it got such good viewing figures for them and because it went down pretty well with the critics, it would have been a surprise not to get one I guess. The show isn’t hugely expensive by any means and I think it’s a very beguiling piece of television. I think people reacted to it and really enjoyed watching it, so it seemed only right that Sundance give it a second season and now we’re waiting to see if we get picked up for a third season.
You’ve worked on some high profile projects both in film and TV; do you have a particular favourite from your recent past?
Playing Mark Antony in Rome will always be a favourite of mine, because he was such an outrageously big and interesting character to play. Also the fact that we were able with that character to find out and present the public with a biography of that man that had not been really seen before. There’s only so many versions of Mark Antony available for film and television viewers, and because the research on that show was so in-depth and so archaeological in many ways; we dug down to find information about the man and about all the characters in that show that the audience hadn’t been aware of. I think we perhaps made a more complex version of that man that hitherto had been seen on television, and that again is very gratifying.
What projects will you be working on in the coming months?
Right now I’m in Vancouver and I’m working on a project called Altered Carbon which is a big sci-fi show for Netflix, in which I play a 375-year-old trillionaire. That’s gonna be an enormous project, it’s very exciting working on it. We’re doing it for Skydance television and Skydance Studios. We’re gonna be presenting a world 500 years down the line, 2500, and it’s a very complete, authentic world we’re showing here. We’re only on episode three here so it’s all to play for, but it’s a great journey we’re having.
Hap and Leonard starts Tuesday, March 7 at 9pm on AMC on BT TV.
Tagged in James Purefoy