Hap and Leonard: James Purefoy talks naked mud scenes, filming in Louisiana and an unlikely friendship

Hap and Leonard Barb Oates

Author Joe R. Lansdale’s noirish book series is brought to life in SundanceTV’s new Hap and Leonard, a sometimes dark, sometimes funny, but thrillingly endearing story of two best friends in the late ’80s who set out to uncover a lost fortune. The six-hour series event premieres Wednesday, March 2 at 10pmET/9pmCT.

Hap and LeonardHap Collins (James Purefoy) is a white ex-hippie with a huge heart. You seriously want to hug the guy. He struggles with his bad habit of falling in and out of love with the wrong woman, his biggest temptation being his ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks). His best friend, Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams), is a black, openly gay Vietnam vet with some anger management issues. While it’s questionable where Hap and Leonard’s next dollar may come from, their friendship is unwavering.

Relaxed at a Pasadena restaurant, Purefoy tells us he needed a more uplifting character after playing soul-sucking Joe Carroll, the dark, nihilistic psychopath killer in The Following. Thankfully, his character Hap couldn’t be more different, starting with Purefoy ditching his mesmerizing British accent for Hap’s East Texas drawl. “What’s a guy from Yeovil, Somerset, in the west of England make of that? It’s difficult. It’s not easy,” he says of his new accent. But Purefoy has found Hap’s voice and is delightfully spectacular. Here he shares some of his thoughts on his character and the series.

On just how relatable Hap and Leonard truly are …
You know, Hap and Leonard are two men in their middle to late 40s and I think this strikes a cord in a lot of Americans right now. A lot of people have been told that if they work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you can make an American life whatever you want. I think there are an awful lot of people in their late 40s, early 50s who are going, “Hang on. I have worked hard and I’ve pulled myself up by the bootstraps, but I’m working longer hours for less money and somehow when is this thing going to happen because frankly, I’m running out of life.”
When’s it going to happen? A lot of people, life happens and that thing they were promised, if they worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, that never happened.
I really recognize these men. They’re men who, when I was growing up in the west country of England in a very industrial, agricultural community, the pub was full of men like Hap and Leonard, always on a get-rich-quick scheme of some kind. A scam, a pyramid selling scheme, a stolen good or something would come into their life. Anything that could just bump them out of the rut. This $100,000 — you know, most TV shows or movies now, it’s about billions or tens of millions. They just want $100,000. It’s much more simple because that’s enough to get them out of the rut.

On friends who are as thick as thieves …
They’re those kind of buddies — and most men have got those kind of buddies in their life somewhere — people who they’ve known for 25, 30, 40 years that they just know they’re going to be there for them. Come rain, come shine, they’re not going to turn them over or f@#k them over. They’re their buddies and they will always be their buddies. Most people have got a reason why that is, you know? A playground fight, something that happened years and years ago where a bond was formed. You’ll find out what it is but I can’t tell you.

On what happens when we do find out …
It breaks your heart when you find out. You’ll cry.

Hap and LeonardOn filming in Louisiana in the summer …
I remember one of the crew members. It was a blistering hot day. It was like 105 degrees, 99 percent humidity, and bugs. Mosquitoes, copperhead snakes, gators. There were men on the set with guns because gators could come out of the swamp at any second. One of the guys sitting with me goes, “So James, you got a problem with this kind of weather?” I went, “Frankly, yes. I’m used to a very soft drizzle. That’s what I like.” Just give me a soft drizzle in a temperate climate and a cup of tea after 4 o’clock and I’m OK.

On what was really unnerving …
Unnerved me apart from the gators? And the brown recluse spiders? All of it. All of it unnerved me. The worst thing I have to deal with in England in my garden is ladybirds.

Oh, ladybugs. We call them ladybirds.

On working with Christina Hendricks …
Michael and I are like a couple of rusty old pickups and she’s like a beautiful Rolls-Royce that purrs on set.

Hap and Leonard's Jeff PopeOn that hilarious day with Chub (Jeff Pope) being naked in the mud …
He should have his own sitcom, like a big sitcom. I can easily see him doing something very, very funny for a long period of time and, if somebody doesn’t snap him up soon, there is something very wrong with the world because he’s a very funny man. Very bright, really sharp, dry as you like. It was just a fun day, you know, to see Jeff Pope butt-naked in a hole of slimy mud that he stayed in for hours. Nine hours he was in that f@#$king hole. … He couldn’t come out and it was bugs and mosquitoes and he’s bare. Then people sort of forgot about him after a while and ignored him. Then you’d turn and go, “Ha ha ha ha!”

 Hap and Leonard airs on SundanceTV  Wednesdays at 10pmET beginning March 2.