In the SundanceTV series Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo, Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) found themselves in a whole heap of trouble while unraveling a murder mystery with too many twists and turns to keep track. Between the discovery of a skeleton, Trudy’s missing ashes and a literal pissing match with a neighborhood drug dealer, Hap and Leonard must learn to get out of their own way, if they’re going to survive all of the crazy things that life throws at them.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, the incredibly talented and always compelling to watch actor Michael K. Williams talked about why he loves the relationship between Hap and Leonard, that he’d be game to continue this series, the fun in working with the different supporting characters that make up this unique world, the show’s female energy, and the fact that these guys are too vain to not do the right thing even though it often gets them into trouble. He also talked about his experience on The Night Of, and why he finds himself drawn to the pain of life.
Collider: When you did the first season of Hap and Leonard, did you think that would be it, or did you think it had a good chance of coming back?
MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS: I didn’t know. On paper, it read really well. But we shot it in Baton Rouge, and it was a brutal shoot. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what we had or what it was gonna look like ‘cause I couldn’t get a gauge from what we were shooting. It was a foreign genre for me, with all the action. It was over the top and big, and I was like, “No one is gonna buy this ticket!” But, they did.
This relationship between Hap and Leonard is just so great, but so different from what we get to see on TV.
WILLIAMS: The relationship is what I loved the most. What brought me to the project was the relationship between Hap and Leonard. I loved the diversity and the two different worlds in which they live in. It’s really beautiful. We have a real friendship, James [Purefoy] and I, so I know that that translates into Hap and Leonard’s world. You couldn’t pay for this. Me, him and his wife have sat down, many nights, over a bottle of wine, just kickin’ it about life. He and I are both so opinionated. He feels comfortable enough to have comments about the black experience to me, and know that I won’t judge him or feel offended. I can tell him to go fuck his British self off, and he won’t get mad or offended. We have that relationship and that type of honesty with each other, and it really makes for a great working experience with him.
James Purefoy told me that he could see this show going for seven seasons. Would you be up for continuing this?
WILLIAMS: You know what? There are worse things in life to be attached to. I love James. It’s in Atlanta, and we shoot during the fourth quarter of the year, so the weather is great. It’s good Christmas money. I’m telling good stories with someone who I admire. Life could be worse. Atlanta has got great people and great food. It could be a whole lot worse, at this stage in the game.
This show has some big moments of drama, but it also has a great sense of humor to it, with some great supporting characters, in such an interesting world.
WILLIAMS: It’s a lot of fun. It’s an out there world. I’m glad you find it interesting, but it’s out there. It’s definitely unique. It’s very unexpected and fresh. For me, the best experience is to get to watch all of these different actors that come to the different seasons and bring these A-game performances. I’m just like, “Wow, can you do that again, so that I can take notes? How did you do that?!” That’s the greatest joy, in doing a show like this. I get to watch all of these thespians come rip it a new asshole.
Christina Hendricks had such a great energy in Season 1, but Tiffany Mack has also brought a great energy as Florida in Season 2. How have you found that change?
WILLIAMS: Florida is interesting, but there’s only one Trudy. I’m not being funny or pitting one against the other, but when Christina walked to the set, there was only one Trudy. Once that’s done, you go another direction, which is what we did. Tiffany came and did her thing, in her own way. Florida is a completely different woman from Trudy, and I think she did an amazing job, as well.
The loyalty that Hap and Leonard have with each other also gets them in more trouble than anything else. Do you think that’s healthy?
WILLIAMS: Yes, but that’s the way friendship should be, to a certain extent. When you love someone unconditionally, you go to war for them, and they do that for each other. They know they can call each other when they need each other. In this day and age, everyone needs a friend like that.
Doing the right thing also seems to get them in trouble a lot. Do you think they ever regret doing the right thing?
WILLIAMS: I think Hap and Leonard are too vain to not do the right thing. The vanity of being able to say, “Yeah, we helped you solve those murders because we’re good people inside,” is worth the effort for them. They think they’re detectives, this season. That’s what really gets them into trouble. Instead of letting the police do their job, they think they’re the police, but that’s the humor.
Now that it’s all done and you have some distance from it, how was your experience with The Night Of?
WILLIAMS: The Night Of was heavy. You never know how something is gonna turn out, or at least I don’t. All you can do is hope that people receive it. The Night Of was brutal and dark. That was 180 days of sheer hell. It was shot in the winter, up in Yonkers. It was brutal, but we got through it, as a team. With the ending, people were like, “Did he do it, or didn’t he do it?,” and I’m like, “Well, does it matter?” That’s the ending. He’s screwed. At that point in his life, he’s better off in prison than free. We don’t know if he did it or not, but because of the stigma and because of who he is, as a Muslim and as an immigrant, he’s screwed.
You’re such a great actor, and there are so many actors who either want to work with you or who talk very highly of having worked with you.
WILLIAMS: Thank you!
What do you look for in a project? What is it that speaks to you?
WILLIAMS: Honesty, empathy, pain. I understand pain very well, so I look for that in a role. If the characters are well-written, don’t tell nobody, but I’ll do the damn thing for free. I’m serious. It’s the writing. I love beautifully flawed characters. This is all fake. Everything is fake. At the core of every person or belief, there’s a pain and a thorn. There’s always something, whether it’s a physical thing, a health thing, or an I wish I had someone or something in my life thing. We all know some level of pain, so I like to see the ugliness of characters. It’s a side that we show, only when we strip down in the bathroom mirror. Those are the characters that I’m interested in playing. I like those stories and that level of honesty.
Do you ever find yourself needing to do something lighter and with a bit of humor, when you’re telling stories on the darker side of things, or do you just want to stick with drama?
WILLIAMS: I love dealing with drama. I’m drawn to the painful side of storytelling, more so. I feel like that’s where you get the most honesty from. My laughter comes from irony. You laugh at my pain. I can’t look for the laugh ‘cause I’ll fall flat on my face. I like the type of laughter that comes from irony like, “Of course, it’s sunny today when I wore a mink coat!” I’m that guy. I was raised on Benny Hill and The Odd Couple and The Honeymooners.
Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo airs on Wednesday nights on SundanceTV.