BT.com: What made the show enjoyable to work on?
James Purefoy: It’s a small show, so that means you have a lot of creative input, because all of the people who are part of the creative process are right there on set, including the show runners, the writers, and the writer of the book, so you can make very quick decisions about changing things in the script if you feel you need to. That’s always a really good thing.
What’s the show about, and where do we find Hap and Leonard at the start of episode 1?
The show is about two guys in their late forties: Hap, who is an ex-peacenik and hippie from the 60s who did time for not going to Vietnam, and his very close friend Leonard - a black, gay ex-Marine and a Reaganite, played by Michael Kenneth Williams. He’s a man of infinite contradictions and has a very short temper.
They’re an unlikely duo in many ways, and despite the fact that they might bicker and argue, we know their relationship is 100% strong and they’ll do anything to look out for each other.
We first meet them in 1987 when they’ve just been fired from their jobs doing hot, back-breaking work in in the rose fields of Texas.
So now they’re unemployed, blue collar men in their late 40s – and the American dream hasn’t really happened for them. Then Hap’s ex-wife Trudy comes back into their lives with a proposition. She happens to know that there’s $1 million in cash in the trunk of a car at the bottom of the Sabine River which has been there since a bank robbery went wrong years before. So if Hap and Leonard can find the car and get the cash out, they can keep 20% of it - $100,000 each. So obviously this is life-changing money for them, so the show becomes a treasure hunt set in the swamps of East Texas.
What were the challenges of getting into the role of Hap?
I grew up in a village in Somerset that was based around factories and industrial agriculture - the kind you don’t really see on British television or film, but that are the reality for lots of people in the country.
So I recognise Hap and Leonard as being like the characters I hung out with growing up - men who were on the edge of poverty and constantly trying to find madcap ideas and scams to get out of it. Good, strong men, but men who haven’t been dealt the best hand in life. So despite the series taking place in east Texas, I think it’s based on universal values I grew up with.
Tell us about your on-screen chemistry with Michael
Michael and I knew each other from a show called The Philanthropists and felt we still had some unfinished acting business to do. After I’d finished working on another show called The Following I ran into Michael at a party and he told me about Hap and Leonard and said they hadn’t found their Hap yet.
I read the script and loved the characters and writing, which was really beautiful and well-judged. So the chemistry was the least of our worries. We always knew we got on in front of the camera because we got on so well off-camera as well.
What was it like working with Christina Hendricks, who plays your ex-wife Trudy?
Christina is like a Rolls-Royce while Michael and I are like a couple of old battered pick-up trucks. She knows exactly what she’s doing, she’s incredibly professional and it doesn’t hurt that she’s staggeringly beautiful as well. She plays the part so beautifully.
What you see is not what you get with Trudy. You think she’s one thing and she turns out to be something else entirely. She met that challenge head on and she was a joy to work with and good fun.
How did you find shooting the action sequences on the show?
It was quite a tough shoot for an Englishman who likes temperate weather and a soft drizzle. We were shooting in Louisiana towards the end of the summer, so it was incredibly hot with humidity edging close to 100% nearly every day. I was changing my shirt nearly every 15 minutes.
And then there’s the wildlife. In England, my only risk is running into a badger or fox, but where we were filming in the swamps of east Texas and Louisiana we had alligators, copper-headed snakes and the brown recluse spider. But action sequences are fine with me – I’ve done a lot of them, and it doesn’t trouble me as much as the alligators.
Why should people watch Hap and Leonard?
Because it’s really good! It’s very beguiling piece of TV that unravels itself in front of you in a truly beautiful way. It’s only six episodes so you don’t have to give over half your life to watching it, and they’re great characters. It’s funny, sad, exciting and intense. It’s all the things you want really out of a good piece of TV. I couldn’t recommend it enough.