Christina Hendricks on Moving From ‘Mad Men’ to ‘Hap and Leonard’

Christina Hendricks on Moving from "Mad
Hilary Gayle/SundanceTV

Christina Hendricks has traded in Joan’s pen necklace and updos for a sultry new look as Trudy, the femme fatale at the center of SundanceTV’s new series “Hap and Leonard,” which bows March 2.

Based on the novels by Joe Lansdale, the six-hour event series follows two best friends — Hap Collins (James Purefoy, “The Following”) and Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Wire”) — whose relationship gets tested when Hap’s ex-wife, Trudy, reappears in their lives with a tempting get-rich-quick scheme. Hap just can’t say no to her — much to Leonard’s frustration.

Hendricks’ plate has been more than full since “Mad Men” closed its doors — she’s juggling several movies, as well as season two of “Another Period” — but she tells Variety she just couldn’t say no to “Hap and Leonard’s” darkly comic script.

Why did you decide to take this role?

I wasn’t quite ready to do something, honestly. “Mad Men” had just ended, and I didn’t think I’d find anything that I was quite ready to do or get excited about — and then I read the script. It was so fun and such a completely unusual character, I couldn’t say no.

How would you describe Trudy?

She’s a classic femme fatale in a way, but tied up in a very unusual package. She’s this free spirit, hippie, Southern girl. She has this very optimistic view of the world, but just brings trouble all around her. It’s exactly the opposite of what she hopes to bring, but she knows that about herself.

She couldn’t be further from Joan.

True. But she’s still running the show. She’s got the confidence in that way, and she’s very influential.

You also get to play a bit of comedy.

Absolutely. It’s a heightened sense of comedy. It’s going to get into some drama and get intense. But I liked the journey. It starts in this pulp fiction, campy environment and to see how it evolves into a very different place was a great read on the page.

What motivates Trudy?

I really do believe her when she talks about her motivation in episode three. She’s trying to be a better person. She’s self-aware. She knows she’s a bit of a mess up. She’s made a lot of mistakes and she’s trying to fix it.

And she’s aware of her power over men.

Absolutely; I think she probably has a different relationship with each man. But she also keeps messing up (each relationship). “I’m just not cut out for this,” she says in episode one. One relationship after another just keeps going down the toilet. She seems to be the one that leaves.

Talk about working with Michael Kenneth Williams and James Purefoy. How did you get along on set?

They were so fun and they’ve known each other for years. So I was the new kid and nervous of course, coming in so quickly from “Mad Men.” They were just so welcoming to me. We were all down there in Baton Rouge, in a completely different environment. We just fell into this family experience there, barbecuing over at Michael’s on the weekends and hanging out. It was easy.

How did you develop your chemistry with James? It’s key to the relationship with Trudy and Hap. 

He’s so great. These are two characters that have such a history together we had to have that fake chemistry right away. We really had only a few days’ rehearsal. But he’s just so open and welcoming that it made it very easy to jump in and be emotional with each other. He made it easy to do that.

And Michael? What does he bring to the role?

I love him. He’s a doll, an absolute doll. He’s got a real sensitivity to him in real life that he brings to his characters. A real heart. A generosity about him that I feel like we’ll be friends forever. It comes through, especially in this character, a very multilayered character. The relationships that he’s having with everyone in this script are pretty intense and I think he does it beautifully.

Are Trudy and Leonard ever going to see eye-to-eye?

Trudy on several occasions reaches out and tries to. But he’s not having it. She approaches him several times with an olive branch, but he’s swatting that thing away.

How involved was Joe Lansdale on set?

He was so enthusiastic, it was fun having him on the set. You know he knows what he wants. It’s like having a Matt Weiner on the set. It’s his story. It’s his world. And he knows this world so well obviously with the series. He was just beaming half the time. He’d say, “That’s exactly just how I imagined Trudy. You sound exactly like Trudy.” It was very encouraging him to have someone be happy with how the world he created came to life.

Will you be back for a second season, if there is one?

I cannot reveal that. It’s not something I will comment on. I’ve been trained from “Mad Men” to not say a peep. You’re not going to know how this ends.

As you look back over “Mad Men,” is there a moment you’re proudest of?

After nine years, you can’t pinpoint something. The whole thing was extraordinary. I think about it every day. People come up every day and say how much they miss the show. I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere anytime soon. It’s going to be a part of my life for a very long time.

Would you ever do a reunion?

I don’t think (series creator) Matt (Weiner) would ever do that. I thought he ended it perfectly. Why go in there and muddy things up? But if Matt wanted to, I’d be there.

“Hap and Leonard” premieres Wednesday, March 2, at 10 p.m. on SundanceTV.

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