The Austin Chronicle

East Texas Noir

Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard get a swampy series

By Marc Savlov, February 26, 2016, Screens

Joe R. Lansdale is loving his moment in the sun. Sundance TV, that is, which will air a six-episode adaptation of the East Texas author's ridiculously entertaining Hap and Leonard novels starting March 2. Based on characters appearing in several Lansdale novels, the show was co-created by Nick Damici and director/screenwriter Jim Mickle – each of whom previously worked on the author's Cold in July for IFC Films. Hap and Leonard coffin-nails the hot-lead and cool Lone Star vibe of the Hap and Leonard tales so perfectly that Sundance TV would be plumb dumb not to order up as many additional seasons as fast as possible.

Said Lansdale, "It's a story of friendship and brotherly love, that's exactly it. They get mad at each other, they've had terrible disagreements, but they always circle back to one another because they know that each other are the people they can depend on most in the world."

For the uninitiated, Joe R. Lansdale is the finest writer, martial arts scientist/sensei, and genre-smashing "Champion Mojo Storyteller" to come out of Texas since O. Henry kicked off his literary career while stuck in the Travis County Jail after being caught embezzling mucho dinero from the First National Bank of Austin back in the late 19th century.

Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novels and stories – and the Sundance series – are set in the swampy and pine-forested area around Nacogdoches. Brothers from another mother, Hap is a blue collar working man, who long ago went to jail for conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War. His best friend, Leonard Pine, is a Republican vet, all hot-temper, who thrives on vanilla wafers and Dr Pepper. As Lansdale writes in his books, Hap and Leonard don't go looking for trouble, it just tends to saunter in the door, or kick it in, and their "adventures" are off and running.

In the Sundance series, James Purefoy is Hap Collins and Michael K. Williams turns in a spot-on Leonard, while Mad Men's Christina Hendricks appears in a golden East Texas glow as Hap's ex-wife Trudy Fawst. The trio click and snap, fist and scrap. It's love and life done Lansdale-style.

"The main character Hap is based on my younger self," said Lansdale. "I worked in the rose fields just like he did, I did all the jobs he did. And Hap's viewpoint is the same as mine. I was against the Vietnam War, just was he was. He went to prison, I almost went to prison. Leonard is based on a lot of different people I knew."

Speaking to the popularity of his Hap and Leonard stories, and why they're finally getting their onscreen debut at this fractious point in history, Lansdale said, "There's such a polarization right now [in America] that here's two guys who are very different, they have very different political views, although I would say that Leonard is the old-style Republican and not the current kind of, you know, throw-everything-in-the-sewer Republican. But they have a core of solidarity that has nothing to do with politics or social issues. It has to do with brotherly bonds, and they love each other like family. I think that's very appealing to people to see that there can be this kind of bond and [Hap and Leonard] can be different and yet they have this strong and powerful connection that has to do more with just having the same core values of honesty and sincerity and just trying to do the right thing. It's just that simple."

Sundance TV premieres Hap and Leonard Wed., March 2, 9pm.

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