James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams Talk Dark Themes, Haunting Backstories in Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo

The Sundance series stars preview new characters and more featured in the upcoming season.

by | March 14, 2017 | Comments

Based on writer Joe R. Lansdale’s novels of the same name, Sundance’s darkly comic drama Hap and Leonard stars James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams as a pair of lifelong friends living in Texas during the 1980s. The series returns this Wednesday for a six-episode second season — subtitled Mucho Mojo after Lansdale’s second Hap and Leonard novel — which picks up shortly after where the first season left off, and we got to speak with Purefoy and Williams about new developments in the series. Purefoy began by telling us that viewers will find a slightly different Hap after the events of Season 1. [Note: Season 1 spoilers below]

“He is getting over the death of his wife, Trudy. She died at the end of last season and he’s grieving that loss, trying to make sense of that loss and wondering where life is going to go from here,” says Purefoy. “I feel like, towards the end of last season, he managed to stand up straight for the first time in a long time. I think by the end of last season he found that he was respecting himself again, slightly. So at the beginning of this season, he’s able to greet the world with a little more confidence than before.”

But any sense of peace and confidence is quickly overshadowed by the trouble Hap and Leonard quickly find themselves in. The death of Leonard’s Uncle Chester (Henry G. Sanders) leads the main characters to stumble upon a string of missing young, black, male children, which is a bit darker in tone than in Season 1. Purefoy and Williams both said it was a hard storyline to balance with the comedy of the show.

“That was a very thin line to ride, the darkness of all these dead children and the slapstick humor that comes with being Hap and Leonard,” says Williams. “But when you have a vet like James as a co-worker, you hit the mark. I think we did it with dignity. It’s a dramedy, so the comedy has to be there, so I think we did it with dignity.”

Purefoy added that the comedy is a necessary component to make the tragedy stand out even more.

“I think tragedy only ever really works if you’ve got a good few laughs thrown in,” he said. “I think it’s really important to have a change of style and a change of scene, and the more you can laugh with characters and at characters one minute, the more tragic stuff that happens after that — it’s a dramaturgical idea that’s been around for a long time; Shakespeare used it a lot. You have to have a good laugh one minute and experience tragedy the next. I think it works best if you can achieve both of those things in a simultaneous program.”

The missing and presumed dead children aren’t the only dark spot in Season 2. Beau Otis (John McConnell) returns after the reveal in the Season 1 finale that he is the man responsible for killing Hap and Leonard’s fathers that fateful night when they were children. Purefoy likened it to a Greek tragedy playing out between Hap, Leonard, Otis, and the sheriff.

“The Beau Otis thing is a very Greek tragedy. The fact that Beau Otis killed both Hap and Leonard’s fathers — Beau Otis is the scion of a rich, white, Republican, over-privileged group of people in that community,” Purefoy explained. “He represents everything that Hap doesn’t like — on a personal level, on a political level, on a racial level. He is everything Hap cannot bear. There’s a real Greek tragedy element to the Beau Otis-Hap relationship.”

Williams agreed and said that it’s a story set 30 years ago, but still remains relevant today.

“To have Beau Otis come back, there’s a lot of tension there — there’s a lot of racism there, and just disrespect for one’s civil rights, basically. There’s a lot of covering up going on, and I think that was a timely thing to touch on right now, with all that’s going on,” said Williams. “Sometimes when you look at some of the decisions, particularly with the police shootings on unarmed people, who is making these decisions [not to indict]? I’m no judge, so I couldn’t begin to answer that, but it’s good that they explore that [on the show]. And the relationship between their parents and Otis, I like how they tied that in.”

Not only is there the Beau Otis tie to Hap and Leonard’s fathers, but Beau’s father, Sheriff Valentine Otis, was part of the cover-up decades ago and is still a part of law enforcement in town, making Sheriff Otis a bigger threat than his hapless son. The sheriff is played by veteran actor Brian Dennehy, who both Purefoy and Williams said was a huge addition to the cast.

“You throw the legend that is Brian Dennehy into that mix and it gets pretty explosive. Brian Dennehy is someone I’ve admired for a very, very long time. He’s one of those character actors that’s been around a long time, and everything he does seems like it’s being chipped in marble,” says Purefoy.

“Brian Dennehy is a G. He brings all of that larger-than-life to the character, to the set. He’s so lovely to be around,” adds Williams.

And Dennehy isn’t the only new face in Season 2. An attorney named Florida Granger (Tiffany Mack) comes into Hap and Leonard’s lives, in addition to a young man named Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon). Florida immediately catches Hap’s eye, but she initially wants nothing to do with him.

“Why would she? He’s a loser. He’s a loser and he’s not going to get his s— together and he’s losing his hair,” Purefoy said with a laugh. “He’s on his way out! But she represents something astonishing to him. He thinks she’s just delightful. He sees modernity, he sees ambition, brightness, fierceness, professional conduct. She kicks ass; she’s something he admires very greatly.”

He added, “The love object of Hap is the least interesting thing about Florida Granger. She has many, many sides to her. She’s a very multi-faceted character; she’s a powerful character. She knows what she wants — she’s a really cool female character, and I think the audience will fall in love with her.”

Williams had similar praise for Thurmon, whose character Ivan is someone with whom Leonard forms an unlikely bond in Season 2.

“The storyline between Leonard and Ivan, that’s the relationship. That’s a love affair; it’s just not sexual. It’s true love. That’s the first time Leonard has expressed that for another human being — the first time he’s truly expressed unconditional love for another human being is in Ivan,” said Williams. “Lonnie, the actor, he gets some performances out of me that I didn’t see coming. He’s a beautiful kid, and you immediately want to take care of him. He got some s— out of me that I wasn’t expecting.”

Though Hap and Leonard hasn’t yet been renewed for a third season, both Purefoy and Williams were excited for it to continue on Sundance.

“I’m a middle-aged British actor who lives in the countryside in England most of the time, so to go into this world for three months every year, it’s really interesting for me,” said Purefoy. “We don’t see a relationship like Hap and Leonard on TV very often. A lot of men have a friend like Hap or Leonard, and we rarely see a relationship like this on television, and I often wonder why not? For me, getting into this world for three months every year is strange and alien to me, but one I’ve grown to love and cherish. It’s really valuable to me.”

Season 2 of Hap and Leonard premieres Wednesday, March 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Sundance.

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