James Purefoy on the Relevance and Urbanization of Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo, Brotherly Love and Taking Risks

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Tonight when Hap and Leonard returns to Sundance, you'll once again see James Purefoy affecting his East Texan accent in his East Texan wardrobe, playing Hap Collins, best friend (more of a brother, really) to Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams).

What kind of shenanigans do they find themselves in during Hap and Leonard Season 2? Let's just say things get very real very fast, and these near-brothers come very close to losing each other.

In a discussion that examines the unexpected relevance of Mucho Mojo and how entertainment can be a lens through the past or future what we're experiencing today, Mr. Purefoy engagingly supported his show, the social issues of modern society, the power of good authors and the benefit of fear. 

James Purefoy Hap and Leonard vertical

TV Fanatic: So let's talk Hap and Leonard.

James Purefoy: Go on. Do you want to or are you being forced to? [laughs]

No! I'm not being forced at all. Well, I was forced for this, but I heard good things and covering TV there is just so much to watch, I missed it previously. I'm really glad I did.

Oh, I can just imagine. You must spend your life watching TV.

I do, and it's kind of sad, but also exciting because I like TV. I've practically given up movies.

Really. So you actually are a TV Fanatic, in fact?

I am. I am! And as such, I think the tone of Hap and Leonard Season 2 is much different than that of Season 1. What can you tell me about that?

Yeah, it is. Well, I think the geographical location of it is vital, and you just can't do that same sort of thing with it that we did with the first season. The first season was very localized, it was very rural.

The space we were in literally got smaller, smaller and smaller until the space we were in was one house, I think, and we didn't move from there for two episodes because of the nature of what was going on in the narrative. Whereas this season, it's opened right up, and we are now in the African American community of LaBorde, East Texas. The fictitious town of LaBorde.

So suddenly we've become a much more urban show. That's the only specific thing that's changed, I guess, is where we shot and the community we were shooting in was a very different place and that required the tone to change.

So, yes, I guess for me there are two sort of interesting things that happen for me this season, one as a British actor who has never really seen those communities in East Texas, I was able to have a look through the keyhole because it was very much Leonard's hood, and it was Leonard's relationships and it was where Leonard grew up.

More of Hap and Leonard

And as Hap, it wasn't Hap's world in many ways, so he was sort of, kind of a bystander in a lot of ways. But it also meant that Hap, again because of the narrative, Hap finds himself in a situation where he has to step up to the plate and get his mojo back really damn fast because he'd been quite passive, really, in the last season, and he needed to be a lot more active.

Because he's lost Trudy, his ex-wife, the love of his life, and at the beginning of this season, it looks like he may well be losing Leonard to doing time to in prison for child murder because that's what it looks like in the beginning, to the cops anyway. Hap has to pull his finger out and do something about that, and it gives him a focus for the first time in 25 years, 30 years.

And he realizes he's pretty good at it. He really enjoys being a private investigator. He enjoys it, he's obsessive about it and like I say, he finds his mojo and it will kick us off into the following seasons, I feel.

It also seems to deepen the friendship, from the viewers' perspective. We get a little bit more of what these two men are about. Do you agree with that?

Yeah, I do agree with that, but I think what happens is when you're faced with losing somebody; it concentrates the mind, doesn't it? When you realize that this person could die of an illness or they could go to prison for 30 years and that's the only person really you've got left in the world, and that's the person you've grown up with all your life and is much more like a brother than a friend.

When that's at stake, that elemental idea of that relationship, then you realize what they really mean to each other. There can be a lot of glossy banter backwards and forwards between these two, but when it's their very existence that is threatened, then yes, you really notice how close they are.

The Guys on Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo Season 2

The story itself, too, is a little deeper. The first season was almost...

Crazy? Yeah.

Fantastical. And now it's not. You've hit reality.

Yeah. There is. I think one of the things that Joe Landsdale does is Joe pops around in genres all over the place all of the time and he switches genres and he can take you somewhere utterly fantastical one minute in one book and then with the same characters examine – there was a spate of child murders in Atlanta between 1979 and 1980, and I think that caught his imagination and he wanted to write about what happens to those women who are left behind, the mothers who are left behind in those situations.

So I think one of the things that he wanted to explore because you know, he's no slouch when it comes to exploring social issues through these characters and in these books. He talks about it a lot, he talks about it as a man, to me a lot. It's not something he wants to ignore, poverty in East Texas or LBGT rights in East Texas or the complexity of how some African Americans might view people who are gay in East Texas.

These are all issues that he's poking around at and highlighting. So when you talk about reality like that, yes, absolutely, he's very interested in those sort of things and he uses the framing device of Hap and Leonard to examine a lot of those issues. It was very interesting, because we were filming the show during the process of the US election...

That Cannot Be Good - Hap and Leonard

Lucky you!

Well, I was fascinated because I'm a big politics junkie, so I'm fascinated by all that kind of stuff. But when I read the book, Mucho Mojo and first read the script, it didn't seem overly political at all.

It was actually during the election that so many of the issues about race or LGBT rights or those sorts of things, that all of those, I think to a lot of people, those issues had been parked. We'd won those arguments. Those conversations were now dead, we don't need to talk about that anymore.

Whereas suddenly, during the election, you're looking at people who wanted to get into power who wanted to take back those rights and who want to retreat from those positions that had been so carefully fought for over the last 15, 20 years. So, suddenly it didn't feel very 1987, it felt very 2017, when we were making the show.

That's very true.

I think a lot of the best period pieces, a lot of the reason you set them in the past is so that you can view the present through the prism of that past if you like. In many ways, I think we were fortunate that election happened for us because it highlights a whole load of stuff in the script that I'm not sure would have had the same urgency if the election hadn't happened.

East Texan Boys

Right. And I was going to ask what you would hope viewers take away from the second season, but I don't think I even need to ask that because it is so relevant.

No. I think, you know, it's so incredibly relevant, all of the issues that bubble up to the surface every few pages in Hap and Leonard, those issues, they're still out there, and those conversations clearly have not been put to bed.

Because there are still people who want to take those rights back and away from people. And it always amazes me that the very people who want government out of their lives are the very people who want to step in and mess with people's lives.

That is very true. Is Sundance interested in more Hap and Leonard? Have they given you any word on that?

We don't know yet. We're doing pretty good, I think, for them. I think we got the biggest viewing figures they've ever had from any of their shows, so we'll wait and see. We haven't had a complete yes yet, but it would seem strange to me if they didn't want more. Put it that way.

Do you happen to have a friendship in your life that's as remarkable as that between Hap and Leonard?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I've got close male friends, two or three very close male friends who I know have got my back and I've got their backs and I'd do pretty much anything for them. I think Hap and Leonard, as I said, they are closer than friends. They are like brothers in the sense that they bicker quite a lot [laughs].

They bicker and they argue quite a lot, but they bicker and argue in the absolute knowledge that they are going to be there at the end of the day. You know, it's not going to happen that they are going to have an argument and they're not going to speak to each other for the next five years.

What's your key to so easily playing such a wide range of characters? You can play nice princes, crazed cult leaders and down home brotherly guys. How do you do that?

I don't know. I think it's just imagination. It's just cowboys and Indians in the playground. The best actors are just kids, aren't they? When you see somebody playing outside and someone is Darth Vader and the other one is Luke Skywalker and they just believe it. You just believe it because that's what you do when you're playing like that.

I just have to imagine myself as a Roman Emperor. I just have to imagine myself as this guy from East Texas who's got this black, gay dude, friend/brother, Regan-loving ex-marine. It's just about putting yourself in those situations.

James Purefoy in Rome

I love it. You could easily be typecast, but it hasn't happened.

Sometimes you are, and sometimes you aren't. You go through periods of your career, you know, there was a time when I could not get arrested without a sword in my hand, for example. You know. Literally. Every. Single. Job.

I have a collection of 15 swords now because I had it put in the contract that I had to have the sword at the end of the movie. And they are a testament – they sit in an umbrella stand by my front door – a testament that I simply could not do another part except one that had a sword.

But then that moves on, and then you move onto other things, as well. You take a risk. [Chuckles] That's the thing, if somebody would have said to me, 'Do you want to play Hap Collins? He's a blue-collar East Texan guy in 1987.' And every cell in my body would go, 'you will fail if you do that. That's a disastrous idea.' So you go, 'oh, well, OK. That means that's the job you have to do.'

Because you have to be frightened, you have to stretch your boundaries and stretch the boundaries of what you think you might be capable of because otherwise you might as well just give up.

Hap and Leonard allows you to do other things since there are only six episodes a season. What about Altered Carbon? What can we expect from that? How different will Laurenz Bancroft be?

Laurenz Bancroft will be someone very, very different again. He's a 375-year-old trillionaire, and when you've been around for 375 years in the same body, you learn a thing or two. So I think there is a manipulation and confidence to Laurenz Bancroft. Most people haven't lived to that, in fact, nobody has lived to that age, but if you had lived to that kind of age, then you are very good at playing people.

And that's going to be a huge show. If there were commercial breaks in Altered Carbon, then by the time you'd reached the first one, they'd have already spent the budget for all of Hap and Leonard. So, it's a big show, a big, exciting show which is showing an extraordinary, authentic world. It's not just a spaceship, but a world with streets and apartment blocks and whole places. It's a big, big show. Exciting.

East Texas Hap Collins

And it's also based on a book, so you can further dig into the source material for more understanding.

Source material you can read and dig and go back to, right, exactly. And that's always great and they're always good writers because they're well-written books. That's why they're out there, and that's why they're on the TV, because people want to watch them and they're telling urgent stories.

I think Altered Carbon, again, will be one of those shows that people will be viewing us now through the prism of then. And thinking we must never be like this [laughs] because if we end up in that world we are well and truly fucked.

What's the last thing you watched on TV, and why did you choose to watch it?

The OA, because one of my best friends, Jason Isaacs, is playing the bad guy who, bizarrely, is also called Hap in that. I am watching that because I love watching him, and I find it an incredible series, extraordinary. I'm finding it a really watchable, crazy, mad world that they found themselves in, that world. So that's what I'm watching. The OA.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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