Hap and Leonard interview: James Purefoy on season 2 story, Hap’s past, and Leonard’s present

James Purefoy -With the season 2 premiere of Hap and Leonard arriving on SundanceTV Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, we’re looking forward to the opportunity to see our title characters stir up some trouble, while somehow fixing it for both themselves and others at the same time. It’s funny at times, but also powerful and thought-provoking at others. Even though the premiere is right on the other side of the horizon, there’s still time to catch up! All you have to is check out the show on Netflix.

To help prepare you for the next edition of the story (subtitled Mucho Mojo), we have an exclusive interview below with James Purefoy. The man behind Hap Collins sets up the story of season 2, and at the same time also reflects on Hap’s journey so far and discusses the surprisingly political undertones that were discovered during the show’s production.

CarterMatt – What was the experience like preparing for this season? You had so many different changes, whether it be filming in Atlanta, different cast members, or working with some different people behind the scenes?

James Purefoy – For me, I found it a really fascinating experience this season, because it was much about the African-American community in this little town of LaBorde, Texas. As an Englishman and a person long away from that world, being able to be a fly on the wall in that world for three months was incredible and really interesting. Last season it was very much based on a rural setting, and this time we’re back in town and it’s a much more urban vibe.

Hap, by definition, takes a back seat. This is where Leonard comes from, these are the people he’s grown up with. Although I’ve been around, it’s his world more than my world.

That’s the macro idea of the show this time. For me and for Hap, he was really quite flustered the first season. He was taking s–t because that was the situation he found himself in. What happened with Trudy was sort of him breaking out of the chrysalis he had found himself in for twenty-odd years. In this season, Hap finds his mojo. Hap finds out what he’s good at, and what he’s good at strangely, is being a detective of some kind. An investigator. It gets under his skin, and he wants to figure out what happened to [the victims at the heart of the story]. That’s the mojo for him — he suddenly goes ‘well s–t, I can do this. I’m good at this.’ He suddenly does something that he knows and loves, and that will kick us off to the following seasons, as well.

Let’s talk for a minute about that notion of finding your calling. When you think back to what happened to him and Leonard last season with Soldier, that’s not the sort of thing that you tend to forget about. Is the process that he goes through in this season serving as a distraction for all of that trauma, and the loss of Trudy?

I think so. The fact is, Trudy is dead. She had come back into his life on a number of occasions over the years, and specifically last season. He’s now able to go ‘I’ve got to get over this because she’s dead now. I’ve got to be able to move on.’ The distraction of ‘what is this kid doing under the house’ and the ball that keeps rolling after that, Leonard being at the sharp end at a police investigation. The feeling that he could be losing Leonard may be too much for him to bear. He doesn’t really have anybody else. Trudy is dead, and Leonard [is in trouble] … That suddenly makes him sit up and realize what he needs to do. He has to step up to the plate.

Does the idea of losing Leonard bring Hap back somewhat to where he was with losing his father?

Yea, absolutely. There is a scene coming up where Hap tries to convince Leonard to go out of town, but he’s being his usual bulls–tty self. Hap then goes ‘what am I going to do if I lose you?’. He looks him right in the face and says that. He would be totally on his own [without Leonard], and I think that’s one of the great things about this show, that you can have these conversations between these two friends. They don’t happen very often because we don’t want them to be overcooked, but there is this great sense of brotherly love between them. When they have those conversations, they’re really poignant and you realize that it’s all bubbling up underneath and they need to have a conversation about each other and what they mean to each other.

One of the things that I really think about Hap and Leonard is that we don’t often see this sort of relationship on television between men. I think when the first season came out, a lot of people said ‘that show, that friendship you have. That’s a lot like me and my best friend.’ A lot of people empathize with it and recognize it.

The friendship aspect is one of the things that makes the show strong, and with that I of course wonder is there anything that you and Michael [K. Williams] do that is special or different to have that stand out?

Michael and I were in a show together called ‘The Philanthropist’ that aired many years ago on NBC. We shot in southern Africa and the Czech Republic, and all over the place. We often found ourselves in slightly sticky situations (laughs). So we had each other’s backs and we were friends before this series started. We didn’t feel the need to have to do any further work because we’d already been in situations where we had each other’s backs. Where we looked after each other. We trust each other implicitly … We didn’t want to bring this relationship onto the show with rose-colored spectacles. We just wanted to bring what we already had onto the screen with us.

Do you enjoy the six-episode format of the show, where everything is very compact and you don’t have any of these drawn-out moments or threads that don’t necessarily connect?

I certainly feel like having worked in network television and seen a lot of network TV, you quite often find yourself doing scenes that you know don’t have any bearing on the arc of the main story. You know you’re treading water as you’re doing it. It’s hard to commit to acting when you know it’s sort of bollocks (laughs). You realize that you’re just filling time between commercial breaks.

With Hap and Leonard, I don’t think that there is any fat. Every scene and every moment counts. Six episodes. If you tried to spread it thinner, I think it would become watered-down. It wouldn’t hold as well as it does. Six episodes makes it all count and makes it all better.

Looking ahead, obviously it’d be great to see the show come back for a third season. Do you like to know what’s ahead in the books, or do you like to be more in the moment?

I know what they’re thinking of. One of the things that Joe R. Lansdale does is that he likes to mix and match genres, and he can often switch it up in between scenes. The next one that they’re possibly thinking about, the next book is about Hap and Leonard taking on the Klan. There’s very much a Western vibe to it. We might find ourselves doing close-ups of eyes.

Long may the show reign! I’d be happy to have it run for seven years. It’s only three months of the year, it affords Michael and I the time to go off and do other things — I’m working on Altered Carbon at the moment for Netflix up in Vancouver, which takes me about a month before when we would start season 3. I think it’s good. We come back refreshed and ready to go rather than thinking ‘here we go, another 22 episodes.’

One of the things that the show does really emphasize is this spirit of action and adventure, and we’re in this era now, not to get too political, where people are looking for any sort of adventure that they can. Do you see the show as escapism, or is there a [reflection] of our times?

One of the things that I found really interesting working on this season was that when I read the book and when the scripts started coming in, I really loved it. But then, as we were shooting it at the same time the election was happening, all of those conversations and all of those assumptions we’ve made over the last 15-20 years about race and about gay rights and LGBT rights. I think a lot of us thought that everything [was moving forward]. Everything was going to be okay, and we were never going to regress. Suddenly during the election, we were like ‘oh … oh s–t. (Laughs.) These issues are not cooked.’ These are going to be pulled out of the oven. The idea of them being able to go back on issues like gay, lesbian, and transgender rights. These conversations aren’t over yet.

All of those things in the show, there are lots of discussions about race and about LGBT issues, they were all coming up and it was becoming much more political as we were shooting than we had foreseen. In going back to your question of escapism, I think you will be watching season 2 and you’ll find ‘this is a lot more political than I thought it was.’

I hope some of those messages are discovered by people who may not share the same point of view as you or I on the subject, and I really am looking forward to seeing what you guys have coming up. 

One of the things about this show that I’ve come to really love is the geographic specificity of it. There’s nothing else out there set in this sort of place, and it’s so specific to East Texas and that world. This season even more, because we’re so in that world of small African-American communities within that city. We get to see some stuff that I don’t think you get to see very often on American TV.

This isn’t the only Hap and Leonard interview we have…

If you are looking for more, be sure to also take a look at our recent, and extensive, interview piece with John Wirth discussing Hap and Leonard season 2 and coming on board this season as an executive producer. We’ll be covering all things Hap and Leonard all season, and thanks to James Purefoy for all of his time and candor.

What do you want to see from the show, and from James Purefoy, for season 2? Be sure to share in the comments!

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