The Knockturnal caught up with Jim Mickle to discuss season 3 of Hap & Leonard, now airing on Netflix.
Set in the late 1980’s, Hap and Leonard is a darkly comic swamp noir of two best friends, one femme fatale, a crew of washed-up revolutionaries, a pair of murderous psycho killers, some lost loot, and the fuzz. See below.
The Knockturnal: Did you try to keep it the same as the books?
Jim Mickle: Depends. So, Season 1 we were very, very, very, very faithful. Season 2 I think we found a good balance where it’s probably about three-quarters of the way there. We’ve created a couple of characters that are not in the books. And that’s given us a lot of flexibility to veer in different directions. But I guess ultimately, I think we stay very close to the books, but we throw a couple of curveballs that I think is good, like if you’re a fan of the books – it’s not verbatim but hopefully it’s just as good because it’s like a little twist on what you’re expecting. A lot of the key landmarks things are there, but it’s just in a slightly different way. Sometimes we’ll throw a slightly different character. So, I think it keeps it fresh for fans of the book. But also if you haven’t read the book, it’s also you feel like you’ve had a piece of it.
The Knockturnal: You’ve read the books yourself?
Jim Mickle: Yes. Many. Yep. Yep, I mean, there’s 12 or 13 of them. But I read them. This season is based on a book called Two-Bear Mambo – that was the first one I read, and that was like in 2005 maybe. So I was just a fan of the author. And I went to a used bookstore and they had Two-Bear Mambo and that was the first one. So I kinda got into the series through that, 13 years ago or something. And then since then, I’ve read them all multiple times. Once you know you’re doing the show you kinda get a hang for that.
The Knockturnal: Which book is your favorite?
Jim Mickle: Mucho Mojo is probably my favorite. It’s the one our second season was based on, just as a book. When he started writing the first book, he just wrote the book. He didn’t know it was going to be a series, you know? I think he wrote it, killed off a lot of characters off, but I think later came back and realized “Oh, I really like this relationship”. So then it became a series. The second one is where he started to really plant the seeds of what the series really is, and a lot of the characters continue on from there. But he also I think really found his footing talking about race and class and sexuality. A lot of the issues that he really makes entertaining, really. Relevant and entertaining – I think he really found in the second book. And it’s also just a really cool gothic, you know, mystery story. So that’s really good. The one we just did – Two-Bear Mambo – is also really good. There’s one book, Captain’s Outrageous, that I love, where they’re on a cruise ship and they go to Mexico and then take on a drug cartel – that’s fun. There’s one called Vanilla Ride that’s almost like a comic blonde-style assassin that comes after them, that’s really fun. So they’re all really cool in their own way. Those are the favorites.
The Knockturnal: How do you divide the books between seasons exactly? What did you cut out of the first two seasons?
Jim Mickle: Not a whole lot in season 1. It was mostly creating stuff on top of it. Because the thing that made season 1 tricky is that it took place almost in real-time. They get taken prisoner, it’s like – boom – you’re in this chair with them in this room. So you’re really there for – I think the story takes place over 3 days or something – which, with 6 episodes, is like, you’re almost doing everything. So, in that one it was more about fleshing things out, adding more twists and turns to the story. In season 2, Florida’s character was different than she is in the book. In the book, she’s a little bit more of a kind of sexpot. She’s like very overtly sexual and she’s very pulpy – she’s like a pin-up version. That wasn’t as sustainable for a whole season. It was fun for a flash of the character but for someone we wanted to take up and down emotionally, it was tough to deal with that. And then we cast Tiffany who I think just has a really – she’s more of a cerebral kind of a beauty and intelligence to her. So we kind of morphed the character a little bit more to be more of a mature presence in Haps’ life. And that was a big thing too. I guess she was a little bit more like Christina Hendricks in season 1, where she’s complicated but she’s very like of the moment. I think we wanted her to be a dose of maturity that could kind of contrast Hap. So that was something in season 2 that was changed quite a bit. In this season, season 3, for example, we changed as a character Reynolds, who is like a corrupt, racist cop. He’s a guy in the book. We made him a female this year to make more character out of her. Just stuff like that, to throw little curveballs. So that’s an example of what we tend to do.
The Knockturnal: Hardships in making the show?
Jim Mickle: A lot. Making 6 episodes can be challenging. I think creatively, narratively, it can be great, because you don’t get to the point where you’re creating bullshit to stretch episodes out. It also, I think, lets us set things up, play with it, and pay it off in a way that’s more cinematic – more like a movie than a soap opera. So that can be great. And I think especially for these books it’s a perfect amount of story and mystery and all that. And I really like shows like Happy Valley and a lot of UK shows, BBC shows that do the 6 episode thing. It’s like a good, bite-sized story. Creatively and narratively, it’s hard to pull off on a show because you’re kind of caught between doing something that’s 10, 12, 13, 22 episodes where you can really get into a rhythm, you know, production-wise. And it can also be hard to find crews because a lot of people that are like, “I can get employed for twice as much doing something else”. So that can be difficult. It’s almost like you gear up, you start making the show and you finally start hitting your rhythm, and you start hitting your rhythm by the 6th episode and then you go to bed. So that’s a challenge. You know, we’re a super ambitious show. A lot of TV is a lot of two people standing and talking, or sitting and talking. We have car chases, and train stunts; different time periods. Especially this season, we have rain and weather and a lot of night stuff which is also tough, but we have shoot-outs. We have a lot of stunts. We kind of pile everything from an ‘80s action movie into these stories, which is tough to do on a tight, TV schedule.
The Knockturnal: Where do you find your creative fervor? Your inspiration?
Jim Mickle: Good question. You know what, weird enough: South Korean movies. They have a way of telling stories that is like, it’s tense, it’s suspenseful, but it’s heartfelt. And it’s also really humorous. And they manage to take all that and jam-pack them into these stories in a way that I don’t think we have quite figured out how to do successfully in U.S. storytelling, or movie-making, I should say. And so, I find almost every time I finish something, I’ll see some new movie that comes out in Korea and I’ll just start to fall in love with it all over again, and feel like “Oh, that’s what I want to do!” So, for Cold in July, which is the movie we made right before Hap & Leonard, that’s the same universe; same author; same story as Hap & Leonard that, you know, we had [optioned that book] for seven years, and I saw a couple of movies called The Chaser and Memories of Murder and The Yellow Sea and it was all just a different breed of crime storytelling that I just loved, and that kind of found its way into Cold in July. Right now – this came out last year on Netflix – called Okja – it’s on Netflix, it’s just an awesome children’s story. It’s kinda magical. And saw that and fell in love with that, you know, it kind of reinvigorates me. And then also going to film festivals is great because you get to see like new, fresh voices and storytelling and people that are there because they love movies in a way that you don’t always get in the grind of watching Netflix and that sort of thing.
The Knockturnal: What are your next projects?
Jim Mickle: A movie with Netflix called In A Shadow of The Moon. That’s with a guy called Boyd Holbrook, you know, he was on Narcos. He was in Logan. He was the bad guy in Logan with the mechanical hand. So yeah, doing something with him, shooting later this year. And developing a show with Hulu right now, a pilot called Sweet Tooth, based on a Vertigo comic book. Those two and we’ll see what happens with Hap & Leonard.