How a British actor, a WIRE veteran and an indie director brought HAP AND LEONARD to TV
With the hit SUNDANCETV series HAP AND LEONARD entering it’s third week, behind-the-scenes articles and more hit the Internet.
James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams in HAP AND LEONARD (James Minchin/SundanceTV)
In a ROLLING STONE interview with show runner Jim Mickle, and the titular stars James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams, Stayton Bonner unearthed some HAP AND LEONARD factoids.
Joe Lansdale will bust that ass,“ says Michael K Williams, his face turning serious. "Don’t get him twisted.” Sitting across the glass conference table, British actor James Purefoy nods. “Have you seen his fights on YouTube?” he asks. “On set, we’d just ask him how to do the right moves.” It’s mid-morning in SundanceTV’s sleek wood-and-glass offices in Manhattan, and Williams and Purefoy — stars of the new southern noir series Hap and Leonard, based on Lansdale’s novels and premiering tonight on the cable channel — are describing the three months they spent shooting down south with the 64-year-old East Texas author. “Poison oak, poison ivy …” Williams trails off. “Copperhead snakes, spiders, gators,” Purefoy finishes. “One guy got bit by a brown recluse and ended up with a hole the size of a golf ball in his shoulder.” Williams shakes his head: “Joe will fuck you up.”
Above all, Mickle was interested in depicting the realities of male friendship. “Hap and Leonard are fascinated and terrified by and also respect the differences in each other,” he says. “But I love how they just exist with that and don’t spend time discussing those differences, as much as they do giving each other shit – most guys’ relationships are like that.” Williams agrees. “The writing definitely attracted me to the piece,” he says. “My imagination went all over the place. Like, ‘Who would they get to play these fucking people?’”
Luckily, the director didn’t have to ask himself that same question. After Williams signed on to play Leonard, the former star of THE WIRE and BOARDWALK EMPIRE immediately suggested Purefoy for Hap. Turns out, the two actors are old friends dating back to the short-lived 2009 show THE PHILANTHROPIST. “He’s my brother,” Williams says. “I didn’t have to work at it with him.” Again, Mickle got lucky. “Sam Shepard and Don Johnson clicked like that in COLD IN JULY– they had known each other going back decades,” he says. “You spend a lot of time writing chemistry or whatever and then when you just have that in real life it completely comes through on the screen.” In the show, Williams gives a standout performance, subtly portraying the vulnerabilities beneath his character’s tough exterior. And Purefoy captures the hard-luck desperation of a man who can’t keep from pursuing an old flame that can only lead to trouble. Hendricks rounds out the trio with a nuanced portrayal of a femme fatale striving for something better than her truck-stop waitress gig. Yet despite the performances, when HAP AND LEONARD works, it’s largely because of the natural bond between its two leads – an odd-couple casting coup of a scraggly bearded Shakespearean-trained Brit and nattily-dressed former Madonna backup dancer that just clicks.
Read the rest of the interview at ROLLING STONE.
Eric Benson of TEXAS MONTHLY offers up a brief oral history of the show.
Even a studio green light and a top-notch cast didn’t guarantee that a Brit and a bunch of New Yorkers were going to be able to pull-off a quintessentially East Texas show.
Lansdale: When we got to set in Baton Rouge, I gave out copies of Whut Makes You Thank Teksuns Tawk Funny? to Michael and James. Karen bought it for them. They needed it.
Pamela Lansdale (Joe’s niece, retired Smith County homicide detective, and Joe’s personal assistant on Hap and Leonard): There was a dialect coach, but that didn’t go so well. The actors would come to Joe. Christina [Hendricks] has some Southern roots, and she seemed to pick it up easier, but James [Purefoy] would come to Joe a lot. Right before filming, he’d come over and say, “Joe, how would you say this?” Joe would laugh and say, “Look, there’s no trying to sound like me, because nobody can sound like me. But this is how I’d say it.”
Purefoy: I had a lot on my plate because obviously, I’m an Englishman playing Hap, and the East Texas accent is notoriously hard even among American actors. But the truth is that Joe’s accent is much stronger than television will allow. One of the irritating things that happened is that I learned his accent, and then the network went: “We know he sounds like that, but we’d rather you just backed off from it a little bit.” Joe’s accent is really extreme.
Mickle: Even more than the accent, people hear Joe’s voice and just instantly catch some of that vibe and some of that tone. That was really great to have.
Read the rest of the history at TEXAS MONTHLY.
Christina Hendricks in HAP AND LEONARD (James Minchin/SundanceTV)
At INDIEWIRE, Liz Shannon Miller interviews Christina Hendricks about playing the femme fatale.
What’s interesting, though, then is it’s a really fascinating trope, but then you’re trying to take it and find a character there. Do you have a specific process for that?
Usually, when I accept a project, it’s usually because the character is written so well. If I read it and think, “Oh, I can see in my mind who this person is. I can see how I would like to develop her. I can see where I can take this,” it means it’s beautifully written. And if it’s not, I usually don’t respond to it.
So I liked that, yeah, she’s presented as a femme fatale — these are scripts coming from pulp fiction novels, so there are stereotypes in a way — but you see immediately in Episode 2 that there’s so much more to her. Here she is, coming in blazing like a femme fatale. The next thing you know, she’s working at a family burger, and you realize that her intentions are actually more optimistic and positive than maybe they were in the beginning. So, I like that she’s well-rounded and keeps you guessing.
Read the rest of the interview at INDIEWIRE.
Pollyanna Mcintosh in HAP AND LEONARD.
SUNDANCETV asks 6 questions of Pollyanna Mcintosh.
Q: How would you describe Angel?
A: To her face, I’d describe her as a formidable fighter, a one-of-a-kind style icon and a ferocious lover, but if she wasn’t around to kick my ass, I’d say she was a deeply damaged and angry woman who has found love and will annihilate anyone standing in the way of it. What I hope you get when you watch her is a feast for the eyes, a character you love to hate and a few snorty laughs amidst the excitement of the mayhem she brings with her. If the audience also feels for her, then that would be thrilling.
Q: What drew you to the role?
A: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici and Joe Lansdale created a brilliant six-episode story with characters I was intrigued by and dialogue that fizzed… On top of all that, Angel was an irresistible character. She’s larger than life… There hasn’t been a role for a while that I waited on such tenterhooks to find out if I would get it.
Read the answers to the other questions at SUNDANCETV.
For more info about COLD IN JULY, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story