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James Purefoy gripped audiences on Fox’s The Following, playing convicted serial killer Joe Carroll, with bodies endlessly piling up around and after him.
But get ready for a different, softer side of the British actor, as Purefoy opens up emotionally in the upcoming SundanceTV buddy drama Hap and Leonard. The role of Hap Collins has Purefoy playing a white working-class laborer who spent time in federal prison for refusing to be drafted and serve in the Vietnam War and, fast-forward to 1980s East Texas, is trying to better his life.
“It’s easy to be ironic, cynical, sarcastic, flip. But those are not edgy things anymore,” Purefoy told the Hollywood Reporter after also starring in the iconic role of Mark Antony on HBO’s Rome, and having film credits that include A Knight’s Tale and Resident Evil.
He added roles that hint at misogyny are also to be avoided, for everyone’s sake. “Machismo is a kind of a dead thing for me. That’s not the way we need to be going as a male sect,” said Purefoy.
Playing a good character, he added, is about shedding macho armor to reveal what’s inside. “It’s about bringing out your heart, without feeling you’re less of a man. It’s saying I have heart, I have vulnerabilities, and sensitivities, and this is not bad to show,” said Purefoy.
At the beginning of Hap and Leonard, Purefoy’s character is barely scraping by as he picks roses on an East Texas plantation. The Brit actor will star opposite Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire), who portrays Hap’s lifelong best friend, Leonard, an openly gay, black Vietnam vet with anger issues.
Together, Hap and Leonard struggle to stay on the right side of the law. But that’s not easy, Purefoy insists, because the world Hap and Leonard live in very much reflect a downtrodden Texas, where too many people in real life go without in the face of economic failure.
“This is not a flashy network show full of very successful people. Empire this is not,” he said. “This (Hap and Leonard) is the way things are for the majority of people. Life is tough, and it’s not going to get any better any time soon,” warned Purefoy.
He pointed to the around 40 million living below the poverty line in the U.S. “It’s not because they are lazy or indolent. It’s because the system is stacked against them,” said Purefoy. The series, produced by Sundance Studios and based on the Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels, portrays the two lead characters trying to pull themselves up by the bootstraps by retrieving unrecovered money from a bank robbery.
But as much as they try to improve their lot, it’s never enough. Purefoy insists many Hap and Leonard viewers will relate to their struggle. “There are millions of people trying to endlessly get themselves a better life and it doesn’t happen, and they live and die in poverty,” he said.
“Although people wish it was the case that things will change, sadly, for most people, that doesn’t happen,” added Purefoy. Christina Hendricks, Bill Sage (Boardwalk Empire) and Jimmi Simpson (House of Cards) also star in Hap and Leonard. The series hails from writer-director Jim Mickle and writer Nick Damici, who also adapted Lansdale’s Cold in July. Nick Shumaker and Jeremy Platt will executive produce, along with co-executive producers Lansdale and Lowell Northrop and producer Linda Moran.
Hap and Leonard‘s six-episode first season will premiere in early 2016.
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