Hap and Leonard interview: James Purefoy teases season 3, Hap’s resilience, cultural relevancy

Come Wednesday, March 7 on SundanceTV, Hap and Leonard season 3 will officially arrive! This season is subtitled “The Two-Bear Mambo,” and it is going to serve both as further exploration into the Hap and Leonard friendship as well as a reflection on modern-day issues. Over the course of this season you will see the title characters head to Grovetown, a place riddled with racism and the Ku Klux Klan. What they run into there will be so much more than either one of them ever bargained for.

In leading up to the start of the new season we were fortunate enough, for the second straight season, to do an interview with James Purefoy discussing some of what appeals to him about this season, the topical nature of the story, and also how he would prefer to film the next season of the series if given an opportunity.

CarterMatt – What made you excited about the story of The Two-Bear Mambo in the first place?

James Purefoy – To be honest with you, when we first rooted the story for Two-Bear Mambo and I had read the book, I saw there was a great deal happening with the KKK. That was back in March of last year, and the KKK seemed not so much irrelevant, but old news in a way. I wasn’t really sure if we could find a way to make these bunch of clowns seem like they really mattered to the world today. They seemed so on the fringes and so ludicrous, and they weren’t part of the national conversation at all.

Then, when we were going into the production in the summer of last year, we had Charlottesville happen. We had the President of the United States saying that there were ‘fine people,’ as he called them, among the marchers at Charlottesville. It suddenly felt like there was an intensity to the re-rise of the KKK. Suddenly, we were dealing with that head-on with the show. The show became very present and very immediate to me in the sense that we were dealing with something that, when we started the show, felt like it had been put to bed — the idea of one race being better than another race or white superiority. We thought that this argument had been largely won. Yet, when you look at some communities within America, that argument has clearly not been won. It was good to have that conversation within the confines of a television.

There is an interesting challenge for you guys in that this is a period piece. With that, how do you take some of these themes and discussion points and play them as your characters?

What happens is that you go back to their arguments, and their arguments haven’t changed. Their arguments were seen as very much on the edge of things for a long time. Now, these conversations are being had in all seriousness in many conversations that people are having.

It’s a good thing actually doing it through a period piece, since in doing so you can shine a light through where we were in 1989 and it suddenly becomes even more relevant in a way than it would if you did it [set] now. I was more than happy to confront those issues in a show like ours.

Where is Hap going to be when the new season picks back up? Has Hap been hardened by some of what he’s been through, or has he appreciated on some level finding his place?

One of the things I’m starting to realize about Hap is that I think he might be a manic depressive (laughs). I think he’s someone who tries constantly to be optimistic and cheerful, but life keeps throwing s–t in his direction in such gigantic quantities. He feels like he is marked in some way. You’ll see what happens to him right at the end of this season. If we get a fourth season, I’m not even sure how we’re going to deal with the result of the end of the third season. I don’t really know how he can make a comeback.

I feel like bad things have happened to him and yet, he constantly he tries to pick himself up, dust himself off, and start again. So many bad things have happened to him throughout his life, and I’m not sure things will get much better; yet, I admire his tenacity and him trying to make things better. I admire the way that he keeps trying to bring himself back and is trying to stand up straight, even though the world has not been all that kind to him.

I think he’s reflective of a lot of people in America, actually. I think there are an awful lot of people out there who feel a very similar thing — the s–t keeps flying at them and they keep trying to pull themselves up; yet, it just keeps flying at them. I think the older he gets, the more he’s realizing that he is running out of time, as well.

We’ve spoken in the past about how male friendship is presented on this show in a way that is different from many others that are out there. How does the relationship between Hap and Leonard evolve now?

I think what happens each season is that they are challenged again. Their friendship is totally challenged this season. They get [in grave danger] during the season and their humiliation is so great and so bad that they can’t even look at each other and discuss it with each other.

[Showrunner] John Wirth has played a lot this season with time jumps. I think he said to you in an interview the other day that you go from A to P back to G, then from G almost to X and then back again to J. It jumps backwards and forwards this season, so the way viewers experience it is with a series of time jumps. They’ve been beaten very badly and are frightened, and they have to face their fears.

That’s what the core of this season is — they have to dig deep inside of themselves and try to pick themselves back up. They have to reconstitute themselves and really build back up in order to face that fear, to face the people who have made them so frightened.

Where do things stand with Hap and Florida at the start of season 3? Is he still feeling hurt by her decision to not be with him [because of his race]?

I think he’s burning a very strong candle for her, despite the fact that they really only had a short relationship. He really felt that there could have been something there. But, he has no say in that because she decided that they were not to be for reasons that Hap does not completely understand. I think Hap sees the species of homo sapiens as a single race. I think he finds it hard to accept that she doesn’t want to be with him because he’s white and she’s black, and she only sees herself getting together with a black man. I think Hap finds the concept of that really difficult to deal with. He sees it from a very different point of view.

He’s hurt. He felt he had something with her, and he felt that she had something with him; but, there was this strange idea that race would have to be something between them. So, I think he holds that candle for her at the start of the season and then he’s asked to go and find her. Then, it becomes a quest — it’s almost like an old-fashioned, medieval quest to find the damsel in distress … or is she in distress? He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know where she is and he’s not going to stop. He remains absolutely rooted to that quest. He will not stop until he knows she’s safe.

There’s something old-fashioned and tremendous chivalrous in this that I admire greatly.

I know one of the benefits of doing this show is that you can do the six episodes, and then go off and do other things like Altered Carbon or spend time with your family. Would you like to see the episode count expanded, or are you happy where it is?

What I would really like is to do two seasons back to back. If we could convince [the network] to do that, that would be ideal.

In Atlanta where we shoot, I believe there are 42 shows, scripted and unscripted, that were shot there. Getting crews to commit to a small show like Hap and Leonard when they have the opportunity to work on shows that are 13, 15, or 22 episodes long [is difficult]. These crews obviously have families to feed, so they’re going to work on something that brings in a regular wage. It proves quite difficult for us to get people in Atlanta to commit to just a six-episode arc. It means that they aren’t working on other shows.

So, I would like to do two seasons back to back since that would give us twelve episodes, and it would give our incredible crew a little more job security. That would be my favored route; whether or not they would go with that, I have no idea.

Is there anything else that you still want to explore with this character?

It’s hard to say off the top of my head since they all arrive within the script, but the great thing about a show like Hap and Leonard is that it looks like a mystery, but to me the mystery in many ways is less important. It’s really the McGuffin from which we are able to examine these issues facing these two men and the community around them. That’s what really fascinates me. I spend a lot of my time in England — I find it absolutely fascinating spending three months a year getting the opportunity to look through the keyhole at a community that I would never get an opportunity to examine in the way that we do if I hadn’t done the show. To be a part of that community for these three months of the year is something I enjoy greatly. I like working with all of the other actors and I find it a tremendous privilege to be able to examine all parts of that community.

I believe that’s what [author] Joe R. Lansdale does — he presents the idea of a whodunit, but what he is really doing is giving you profound social commentary.


We want to give a very special thanks to James Purefoy for speaking with us about what’s coming up on Hap and Leonard. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this show we strongly recommend checking it out!

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