“Hap and Leonard” is bringing bestseller novelist’s Joe Lansdale’s Southern-fried world back to TV for another go… And by the looks of things, the show’s taking an even darker turn than in its freshman season.
Vietnam vet Leonard (Michael K. Williams) went through the wringer last year, and the new six-episode run is set to explore Hap’s (James Purefoy) growth since Trudy’s (Christina Hendricks) tragic death… While investigating a crime that hits close to home for Leonard.
The core of the series is the solid relationship between these two men: Hap’s white conscientious objector and Leonard’s angry gay vet are a portrait of postwar America, but the characters are so specific, and their friendship so strong, that the mystery plots don’t even need to be as tightly paced and smartly done as they are — but you could say the same of the novels, the second of which (“Mucho Mojo”) is the basis for Season 2.
With a whole new set of challenges for Leonard, this season leaves Hap to figure out what he’s made of. This may feel like a fun genre show, but the subjects have an urgency and relevance we simply cannot ignore — and actor James Purefoy wholeheartedly agrees. We were thrilled to speak with him ahead of the show’s return, and he teased all sorts of changes to expect this time around.
Season 2 feels a lot darker than where the show left off… Which was already pretty dark. What sort of trouble do Hap and Leonard get into, this time around?
Hap gets his mojo back completely, in this season. He understands what he can do, and what he’s good at — and I think that’s now where we’re going to be heading on the show.
…It’s dark in the sense that there are twenty kids missing! There was a big story in Atlanta — I believe, in either ’79 or ’80 — where a whole bunch of kids went missing. I suspect that Joe Lansdale was very much taking that on board, when he was writing this story about all these missing kids. So that’s where it starts getting dark…
‘Hap & Leonard’ feels like a fun genre show, if lacking the supernatural element, and yet explores these serious issues — homophobia, racism, child murder… Is it challenging to strike that balance?
We were filming during the election and it was bizarre how political it became. When we first read the script, it didn’t feel like that. And then suddenly, it felt very heightened: Suddenly all those issues were really up for grabs in a way that we felt like No, wait… Hang on, these arguments have been won! We’re moving on, aren’t we?
But, oh no… Now, suddenly we have people in the White House who may not be so keen on the equality of marriage or LGBT issues. It suddenly felt like we were up against it again: All these battles we thought we’d won as a society, suddenly [feeling] like it’s all going to get regressive again. So I think that the politics of it became much more apparent in a much more acute way, when we were making the show, than they had been when we were reading the scripts and the books.
That’s an interesting thing about the show, and about Joe Lansdale: You think it’s one thing he’s saying, but he’s coming from a very different place from where you would imagine your average Texan writer might be coming from.
Have you read the books, per chance?
I read the script first, and then of course, I started reading the books — then I got to know Joe really well!
You know, he was around every day during the first season, he was on set all the time. He’s a profoundly interesting man: Both of his parents didn’t know to read or write, and he was very self-taught. He came from a very poor background, where racism was very much endemic: He grew up in that world and fought against it tooth and nail.
I love the fact that neither Leonard’s sexuality or Hap’s sexuality is any kind of issue between them. They never talk about that, they’re not interested. Neither of them judge the other for it. So there is a kind of a sense of… We’re re-examining what male relationships can be, within this show. I don’t think we’ve done that for a long time on television. It’s a show I’m really proud of — and there are a whole bunch of things that keep bubbling up that you’re not expecting.
And speaking of the male relationship, it feels like you and Michael K. Williams have been best friends for years. What kind of work went into forming that dynamic?
Well, we have to go back a ways… Eight or seven years ago, I did a show for NBC called “The Philanthropist.” I was playing a billionaire philanthropist, and Mike was the guy who played my security detail: He played a character called Dax in that show, who flew my jets, drove my cars and looked after me. We got on really really well. We just clicked, and have been really close friends ever since.
So after that show, we felt like there was unfinished business in terms of acting, because we never got to do enough on that show. He was the one who brought “Hap & Leonard” to me — I was in New York finishing up on “The Following” and I was about to go back to England. I saw him at a party and he told me about the show, saying We haven’t found our Hap yet. I’m playing this character Leonard. I’d love it if you looked at it. And then I picked it up and read it, loved it and thought it was a really complex and interesting piece of work… And now Mike and I get to play out our friendship on screen.
So, very easy! That’s the short answer.
Sounds like quite a unique situation.
Yeah, it plays out really well. We’re just two friends who have each others’ backs, no matter the situation.
Is a six-episode season the perfect length for a show like ‘Hap & Leonard’?
Well, it does open you up to other creative opportunities. We shoot this during three months of the year, so it means I have nine other months to fill with other things. I’m doing “Altered Carbon” right now for Netflix up in Vancouver, that’ll come out in 2018… But also, very specifically, you don’t want to spread it too thin.
With the “Hap & Leonard” series, we take some bits from other novels but essentially, it’s one book per season. You just don’t want to spread that too thin. I think six episodes is really perfect, you know — these are simple stories that need to be told in a concentrated way over five and a half hours.
Six feels like a good number.
Yeah, I don’t think it outstays its welcome or gets silly.
I’ve been on a show where — I’m sure you’re aware — you feel sometimes like Hang on, we’re just treading water, here. I know this scene means nothing, it is a total red herring and wasting 10 minutes of screen time… We can totally do without it when we’re treading water through 15 episodes.
There’s none of that in “Hap and Leonard.” There’s no fat to trim!
“Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo” premieres Wednesday, March 15, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sundance.