Over the past few years, we here at Den of Geek have preached the gospel of writer Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale is the champion storyteller who has won many awards for his many crime, western, horror, and contemporary novels and short stories. Mr. Lansdale has penned a number of comics including Jonah Hex for Vertigo and Steam Man for Dark Horse, and has also written a number of fantastic episodes of the classic Paul Dini and Bruce Timm Batman and Superman animated shows. Mr. Lansdale, or Champion Joe as his fans call him, is a genre giant that shouldn’t be ignored.
The Hap and Leonard series of novels is Lansdale’s longest running and most beloved works and it will make for perfect episodic TV. The show, which premieres on March 2nd on Sundance, stars James Purefoy (The Following) as Hap, a kickass, kind hearted lovable lunkhead and Michael Kenneth Williams (Boardwalk Empire) as the African American homosexual ex-Navy Seal Leonard. Together, the two BFF’s get in all sorts of trouble as they always try to do the right thing and help those in need, even if it gets the pair into a passel of trouble. The series, developed for TV by Nick Damici, Joe R. Lansdale, and Cold in July director Jim Mickle, should appeal to fans of Justified as it has that same Southern friend, scraped knuckled mentality and dry wit as the much missed FX crime drama.
We had the honor from hearing about Hap and Leonard from Joe R. Lansdale, himself. Take it away Joe!
For the uninitiated, can you give us the elevator pitch for Hap & Leonard?
Two East Texas guys, smart, but on a kind of hamster wheel for a large number of the books, working dead end jobs, and sometimes getting involved in dangerous matters to right wrongs or protect others. They are an odd couple. One is white and liberal and heterosexual, the other is black and gay and Republican of the old school.
Both, however are atheist and martial artists and hard noses, and have a core of decency and honor. That said they sometimes go too far to do what’s right and end up doing what’s wrong.
Can you talk about the genesis of how this series came about?
I was well under the spell of the old Gold Medal Crime novels when I wrote Savage Season, and I wanted to write a modern version of that. I had tried the same thing with Cold in July, and I wanted to give it another go. I never expected it to be a series, and it was just supposed to be about a guy named Hap that was based on me and how things had gone wrong in his life, where he had failed to make the turn I managed to make.
And then Leonard showed up, and then I realized they were close buddies, and Leonard revealed he was gay, and the story took over. But again, a lot of it is borrowed from my life.
Why Sundance, what made that network right for your most famous duo?
First off, they were the ones interested. But they are a unique network and do some cool work and are trying to expand their brand. They thought Hap and Leonard could do it. So do I. They have been a good network to work for, and I’m happy with how they’ve treated me and the others involved in the series.
When Hap & Leonard was first published, having a kickass homosexual protagonist in Leonard was quite groundbreaking. What was the fan reaction to this watershed moment like in those early years?
You know, nearly all of it was a good reaction. Even folks who were, if not homophobic, homocautionary, seemed to like it, and I’ve been proud to say a few readers have told me they never thought of a homosexual character as likeable or someone they could really come to like before the series. It changed some minds, or at least was one of the factors in having some minds changed. I like that.
I probably ended up having the Leonard character because of a lot of bad things happening to gays in East Texas around then, around Tyler especially. I also knew not all guys fit our stereotype of what a gay person was supposed to be like. I liked the idea of that for Leonard, and he is in some ways more popular than Hap.
What would you say motivates Hap?
A sense of right and wrong. Caring about the weak and the helpless and the poor. He himself has been the last two in some ways.
What was the casting process like? Did you have your eyes on the two stars early on?
I didn’t cast. Jim Mickle and the Network did, but I, like others in on the series gave suggestions. I really like who they picked for all the roles. Everyone is terrific.
What are some of the themes that the first season will explore?
Loss of idealism and trying to learn how to fit those idealistic urges into a pragmatic world.
What were some of your film or literary inspirations for the Hap & Leonard duo?
Gold Medal novels primarily, and in this case my own life. A lot of films have influenced me as to how I present scenes, but I can’t say which ones for this book. Not sure.
I see the first episode is entitled “Savage Season,” is this a season long adaptation of the novel or is that a one and done?
The first season is Savage Season, but there are bits from Mucho Mojo there, as well as Two Bear Mambo. As fine as this season is, if they proceed to the next, and follow the books, well, Mucho Mojo is a killer.
What is the next literary step for Hap & Leonard? We have a new book coming right?
Hap and Leonard have become more settled, almost respectable with jobs as part time private eyes. Hap and Leonard both are going to have some changes in the new one, Honky Tonk Samurai, but Hap especially.
Has the fact that your kickass pair is going to be on TV changed your approach to the characters at all?
Nope. I like them the way they are.
Are there any other Champion Joe TV or film projects in the works?
The Bottoms. Bill Paxton and I have been trying to shake that one into a film for awhile, and I’m still hopeful. Also The Thicket. Peter Dinklage’s partners are interested in it and have an option on it.
Who rounds out the rest of the Hap & Leonard cast?
Bill Sage plays Howard, and he’s wonderful. Christina Hendricks plays Trudy, and she is awesome. Jeff Pope. Neal Sandalands, Polly McIntire, Jimmy Simpson are the primary members of the cast.
Any other books or projects you want to plug?
Besides the new Hap and Leonard novel, Honky Tonk Samurai, there is also Hap and Leonard, a collection of stories from Tachyon. Some new stories here, and I’m really proud of this book. Michael Koryta was kind enough to write an intro.
There is an ebook version titled Hap and Leonard Ride Again, and it has more stuff in it not in the paper version, and there is a long Hap and Leonard story only as an ebook titled “The Briar Patch Boogie.” Paradise Sky, my hardback novel from last year, is coming out in paper this year. Also an old fashioned pulp adventure titled Hell’s Bounty, written by my brother John L. Lansdale and myself is out in February.