Hap and Leonard (1)

Jim Mickle’s movie Cold in July brought Joe R. Lansdale’s writing back to the big screen. The only previous movie adaptation was the horror comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, but Mickle, along with cowriter Nick Damici, captured Lansdale’s hard boiled southern crime thriller. Now that team is bringing Lansdale to series television with Sundance Channel’s Hap and Leonard.

James Purefoy plays Hap Collins and Michael K. Williams plays Leonard Pine, two out-of-work men in the ’80s. When Hap’s ex Trudy (Christina Hendricks) brings them the location to a sunken stash, Hap and Leonard agree to help her find it. And everything goes according to plan and they part as friends, right? We sat down with Mickle before Hap and Leonard’s panel for the Television Critics Association to discuss the new show, which premieres this week on SundanceTV. 

You’ve done a hard boiled crime story with Cold in July. Had you been thinking about what you might be able to do in television for a while?

Definitely television. I didn’t know it would be sort of grown out of what we’d already done with the Lansdale thing, but definitely. Movies get harder and harder to make and harder and harder to find the right audience for. When you’re doing character-driven genre, that can be really tough. I think television can be really attractive when you want to spend a little more time on a story I guess.

Did you discover Hap and Leonard through Cold in July?

No, Hap and Leonard was one of the first Lansdale things I read, so maybe 10 years ago. I knew about Lansdale through Bubba Ho-Tep, remember that film? I saw that. That kind of blew me away. I was like, “Whoever did this, I want to read everything they’ve done.” So I tracked down a lot of Joe’s stuff, one of the first of which was I think Two-Bear Mambo, the third book in the Hap and Leonard series. Cold in July came after that but there’s some overlaps too. The Don Johnson character in Cold in July is in the Hap and Leonard universe so there’s cool overlaps.

Is it possible to see those overlaps in the series?

Not the Don Johnson part yet.

But would you hold out for Johnson rather than cast someone else as Jim Bob?

I would love to. Knock on wood, I hope the show goes well but I also hope he becomes available at some point.

What surprised you about the process of developing television?

I don’t think anything was that surprising. Everyone sort of preps you going in. You hear a lot of times, “In TV it’s done this way, in TV it’s done this way.” So you’re prepped. The voices, there’s a lot of voices. There’s a lot of network oversight, and even though I think we had the best version of that, there’s still a lot of that which I wasn’t used to because we’ve only done independent things in our own little bubble I guess.

How have you found the process of having six episodes to tell the story?

Great. What was the most fun I think was the beginning, the puzzle piece-ness of it and putting stuff together and knowing that you have act breaks and ends of episodes. I thought it was so fun. So the structuring of it I thought was really rewarding. I don’t know, there’s something about my mind that really got off on that.

Are the episodes like chapters of a book?

I mean, they could be. They’re not literally. We bring other things in, we jostle things around, we combine elements from different books and characters. So it’s not literally like chapters but one of the fun things about Joe’s writing style is that they’re page turners. You’re always like, “Oh, I’ll just finish a chapter and go to bed.” Then you’re like, “Oh no, I’ve got to read more.” So we try to do that version of that in the show.

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