Dark drama Hap and Leonard now out on Sundance TV

A get-rich-quick scheme spirals out of control into a darkly comic nightmare for two Texas buddies.
Michael Kenneth Williams, left, as Leonard Pine and James Purefoy as Hap Collins in Hap and Leonard. Hilary Gayle / Sundance Film Holdings LLC
Michael Kenneth Williams, left, as Leonard Pine and James Purefoy as Hap Collins in Hap and Leonard. Hilary Gayle / Sundance Film Holdings LLC

If you are up for a redneck safari into the heart of darkness with three gifted actors we know and love, look no further than Hap and Leonard, a darkly comic “swamp noir” ­story of two best friends, a femme fatale, some psycho-killers and a crew of washed-up revolutionaries in late-1980s Texas.

Based on the long-running series of novels by Joe R Lansdale – an American author celebrated for his quirky characters and the deeply ironic, strange or absurd situations he places them in – this highly entertaining six-part series begins tomorrow on ­Sundance TV.

The frantic action follows a pair of Lone Star losers. Hap Collins – played by James Purefoy, who was most recently seen as creepy serial killer Joe Carroll in The ­Following – is an east Texas boy with a fondness for Southern women, while Leonard Pine (The Wire and Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Kenneth Williams), a Vietnam vet with a hot temper.

The plot kicks in when Hap’s seductive ex-wife Trudy (Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) resurfaces with an offer the friends cannot refuse – “there’s a million dollars at the bottom of that river”. However, the supposedly simple get-rich-quick scheme quickly snowballs into all-out mayhem.

Chock-full of peculiar characters, Hap and Leonard provides a country-style twist on the classic mystery thriller, which will soon have you asking: what could possibly go right? Not much, it seems, when there is a million dollars up for grabs.

Already a critics’ darling after its debut on US TV, Hap and Leonard has been praised as “sweaty, hard-boiled Texas thrills ... a winner for Sundance TV” by The Hollywood Reporter, while TV Guide highlighted the “dark humour with psycho suspense”, and Deadline said of the lead pairing: “Purefoy and Williams are a winning combo.” Little surprise, then, that Sundance has renewed the series for a second season to be broadcast next year.

Purefoy, 52, perhaps best-known for playing Mark Antony in HBO’s much-admired historical drama Rome, says he instantly identified with Hap.

“I come from a rural background, I knew this guy,” says the British actor, who hails from England’s west country. “These are the guys from my pub trying to come up with madcap, ­get-rich-quick schemes, who ­haven’t really made it in life.

“With Hap and Leonard, it happens when [Hap’s ex-wife] shows up in their life again.”

Hendricks, a six-time Emmy nominee for her portrayal of Joan Holloway on AMC’s Mad Men, drips southern charm as Trudy, wrapping Hap around her finger and ensnaring him in her madcap scheme like a pro.

Hendricks says she fell in love with the project, in large part because her character is obsessed with the culture of the 1960s – which, of course, her Mad Men character lived through.

“Can you imagine if I said: ‘Go out and find me a character who is obsessed with the 1960s?’” says the 41-year-old native of Knoxville, Tennessee.

“As soon as I was Trudy, I was Trudy. There was never a day I was comparing the characters. I think it’s cool in hindsight. She jumped off the page to me. I like her freedom, her saunter. I find her very playful and hopeful and a train wreck.”

Williams, 49, who mastered the art of intensity as notorious stickup man Omar Little on The Wire and as racketeer Albert “Chalky” White on Boardwalk Empire, likes to think of his latest show as a “dark Dukes of Hazzard”. He describes the sarcastic Leonard as “a very jaded ex-Marine who felt that the best the country had to offer him after risking his life was working in a rose field”.

Sprinkling some seriously messed-up dramatic spice on the proceedings are Scottish actress Pollyanna McIntosh (Filth, Let Us Prey), in a mesmeric breakout role as psychotic “cat lady” and muscled murderess Angel. She toys with her prey like a true predator, with lethal assistance from Soldier, her drug-dealing paramour, played by Jimmi Simpson (The Newsroom, House of Cards).

Further muddying the waters of the treasure hunt are “revolutionaries” Chubs (Jeff Pope) and Paco (Neil Sandilands), who have their own plans for the money.

Even nature took a cue from Hap and Leonard – a series about bad luck and things going wrong – when, on the first day of shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a tornado turned day into night.

“I’m from England – I like a soft drizzle,” says Purefoy.

Yet inclement weather was the least of the cast’s worries.

“We had men with guns on the set just in case the gators ate us,” he adds.

• Hap and Leonard begins at 11pm on Thursday, September 8 on Sundance TV

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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