... and he's 'a beaten-up old Chevy truck'

By Clark Collis
February 29, 2016 at 05:11 PM EST
Hilary Gayle/SundanceTV
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In SundanceTV’s new crime drama Hap and Leonard (which premieres Wednesday), James Purefoy’s character Hap Collins has a complicated relationship with his ex-wife Trudy, played by Christina Hendricks. In real-life, however, Purefoy has nothing but good things to say about working with the Mad Men actress on the show, which also stars Michael Kenneth Williams. 

“Christina is extraordinary,” says the Brit, whose previous TV credits include Rome and The Following. “She’s an amazing actress. She’s drop-dead beautiful but her acting ability is so precise and fine. She would purr onto the set and she would know exactly what she was going to do. If she was a car she would be a Rolls-Royce. And Mike and I are like a couple of beaten-up old Chevy trucks.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, who exactly are Hap and Leonard?

JAMES PUREFOY: It’s 1987. Hap is a white, working class, heterosexual — very heterosexual — man and Leonard, his friend, is a gay, black, Vietnam vet who has anger issues. They are two very close friends who work in the fields of East Texas, cutting roses, doing very manual labor. And this thing happens whereby Trudy, played Christina Hendricks, comes into their life again with a proposition, which is that she’s found out that there is $1 million in the trunk of a car. Trouble is, that car is submerged at the bottom of an alligator-infested river. But if they can help her get the money out, they get to keep $100,000 each. Mayhem and action ensues!

How did you get the job?

It came to me in a really curious way, actually. I’d just finished doing that funny show The Following. The show had been canceled, I was on my way back to London, wondering what I was going to do next. I ran into my old friend Michael Kenneth Williams, who I worked with on a show called The Philanthropist, for NBC. He was going to be doing this show called Hap and Leonard. He was playing Leonard and they were looking for somebody to play Hap. He said, “I’d love you to come and help me do this.” I got sent the script, and I looked at it, and I thought, “I should not be playing a working class, blue-collar, farm laborer from East Texas. I can’t do that. In fact, I shouldn’t do that.” Which is precisely why I had to do that.

The only way you get better, as an actor, is [to] confront your worst possible fears, and have a bash at something, and see if you can do it. I could spend the rest of my life playing very well-spoken, silky serial killers and bad guys. It’s easy for me to do that. What’s not easy is a part like this.

Having said which, I believe you have some real-life experience in the agricultural industry.

Well, where I come from. it’s very industrial-agricultural. The back of my house, when I was growing up, there was a slaughter house. That was what I went to sleep listening to every single night, the sound of cattle lowing, before they got offed.

This is some real Silence of the Lambs s— you’re laying on me, here.

It’s not! It’s just what happens. There were big chicken farms and, again, I’m not talking sweet, organic, free-range chickens, I’m talking battery hens. Thousands and thousands of them. And I worked on a pig farm. I worked on a pig farm and I became very good at castrating piglets, which is one of the jobs you have to do on a pig farm.

And what is the trick to castrating piglets?

Being very very fast. 

You can see a trailer for Hap and Leonard below.

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