SundanceTV’s ‘Hap & Leonard’ Cast Talks Tornadoes, Femme Fatales and ‘Dukes of Hazzard’

Atop SundanceTV’s ambitious new lineup of programming debuting this spring is the darkly comic “Hap & Leonard,” starring James Purefoy (“The Following”) and Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire”) as two best friends whose relationship gets tested when a femme fatale played by Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) re-enters their lives.

The chemistry between the stars was evident during their panel at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, Calif. on Friday, as they recounted their (mis)adventures during the filming in Texas.

Trouble began from the first day, when they endured a massive tornado, which turned the sky green — and then dark at 4pm. While other shows in the area shot down, their production continued filming. “I’m from England! I like a soft drizzle,” said Purefoy, who plays Hap, Hendricks’ ex-husband who can’t resist her charms. “We had men with guns on the set just in case the gators ate us.”

Purefoy said he identified with the character he was playing, given his upbringing in the west country in England. “I come from a rural background, I knew this guy,” he said. “These are the guys from my pub trying to come up with madcap, get-rich-quick schemes, who haven’t really made it in life. With Hap and Leonard, it happens when she shows up in their life again.”

Hendricks said she wasn’t specifically looking for a comedic role after her years on “Mad Men,” but insisted she’s always had a talent for comedy. “I’m hilarious, you guys,” she joked.

The fact that her character is obsessed with the ’60s, she said, is pure coincidence. “Can you imagine if I said, ‘Go out and find me a character who is obsessed with the ’60s?’ As soon as I was Trudy, I was Trudy. There was never a day I was comparing the characters. I think it’s cool in hindsight. She jumped off the page to me… I like her freedom, her saunter. I find her very playful and hopeful and a trainwreck.”

The cast appreciated a reporter’s comparison to “Dukes of Hazzard.” “It’s more adult than ‘Dukes of Hazzard,'” said Purefoy, “but I’m delighted by that.”

“That’s a fun comparison,” agreed Hendricks. “There’s a sense of wild, free-spirited romp that you’re on. There’s also a little ‘Miami Vice’.”

There was an awkward moment on the panel, when a journalist asked Hendricks how she avoided being simply window dressing in the role. “I hope I’ve never been window dressing,” she replied.

Purefoy leapt to her defense, saying, “By just being purely brilliant,” he said. “Michael and I are a couple of rusty old pickups, and then a Rolls-Royce purrs onto the set.”

Hap & Leonard premieres March 2 at 10pm on SundanceTV.

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