The Knockturnal sat down with Hap & Leonard’s titular characters: Michael K. Williams and James Purefoy, courtesy of SundanceTV.
The Knockturnal: What attracted you to your role?
Michael K. Williams: The first thing that attracted me to Hap and Leonard was – he’s a walking contradiction. He’s conflicted. I love the character. I love that he’s not somebody I normally saw on television. And I love the world that they exist in. And the writing in which they executed super well. That was the first thing that attracted me to it.
The Knockturnal: You usually play strong characters. With this season taking place in a racist town, did you feel you had to tame your voice/character a bit?
Michael K. Williams: I don’t approach my projects like that. It’s about who the character is. It’s being honest to that character. It’s not about playing another tougher act. I play the honesty – the true notes of each character to the best of my ability. And for Leonard, you know, he’s weathered. He’s been beaten. He’s a black man in America who served his country and who is a little left behind. He’s a little bitter behind that, and he has a real bond with his friend – in Hap. And they kinda lean on each other for support and in understanding that it’s just a beautiful friendship between two men. It’s a great story being told about friendship, masculinity and about male friendships in America; about sexuality; about race; all of the above. All of those things I find to be beautifully attractive to the show.
The Knockturnal: What was one of your favorite moments from the show?
Michael K. Williams: One of my favorite moments from this show is actually going to be in this season. You know, it was for personal reasons honestly. The first two seasons, we had to struggle to find the rhythm, the voice – it was a lot. I thought that just because he (James Purefoy) and I were friends, it would be a no-brainer for us to jump into this. But it actually made it more difficult because we learned each-other in a sense in this world. And we learned how we work. And it was just a process. In season 3, I feel that the rhythm he and I have, and the banter – you know, it’s dark but it’s still a comedy. And banter is definitely a part. And rhythm in the banter is definitely part of the show. I feel like this season we mastered that. It’s in the pocket. There’s a situation where Hap goes into this thing where he does this little – what do you call it – practical jokes, if you want to call them, to get information. He thinks he could woo anybody, you know, with sweet talk and it doesn’t always work, right? So this time, it’s not working so he decides to create a fictitious story about an African doctor. He decides to tell these men who want to kill us that I’m the African doctor. So I immediately have to come up with an African accent, and he gives me some notes. James pulls me aside, says “Mike, do it like this”. I’m not gonna give it away because I want you to enjoy it. He tells me to do it a certain way and he gives me an idea – a note, as an actor. And it was in the moment. It was quick, and it was ingenious. And it’s one of my favorite moments. People are gonna get to see me as funny. I don’t get to make people laugh often in my career. So I think this is one of the most funniest moments in my career. And it was all based on a note that my co-worker gave me. So it’s one of my favorite moments in the show.
The Knockturnal: Did you guys do research for the show? Ever read the books?
James Purefoy: Yeah, I mean – I read the books. I find it interesting doing that – reading the book. Because it gives you an idea of the tone of what Joe Lansdale went with this season. So I find it useful to do that. And it could be a dangerous thing reading the book because you often kind of find yourself playing things that are in the book rather than in the script. So sometimes it’s good to do that, sometimes it’s not. I did a fair amount of research on the KKK and the KKK in east Texas. And I think one of the important things – as you were just saying – for the first time, and this is one of the things that White Supremacy does, is Hap and Leonard look at each other like: “Oh, you’re a black guy. Oh, you’re a white guy.” It’s something they’re aware of but they’ve never really seen that as a negative or a potential negative. That’s the poison.
The Knockturnal: Does that make you uncomfortable on set?
James Purefoy: No, because we’re very honest with each other.
Michael K. Williams: It didn’t make me uncomfortable with James, it made me uncomfortable to have to play those notes. It’s uncomfortable. We shot it in Georgia where, you know, historically a lot of things happened. It made me uncomfortable at times on set to come and see sprawled the word “Ni**er” “Go home, Ni**er” sprawled on the side of the car that my character was in. To see Confederate flags.
James Purefoy: You don’t need a prop master to write “Go home, Ni**er” on a car and then look up and you realize that all the windows above you have got Confederate flags in. You don’t need the “Go home, Ni**er” written down because with those Confederate flags, you say that with that flag. So we had life imitating art, imitating life right there on the set in front of us.
Season 3 of SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard premiered March 7th.