When it comes to SundanceTV’s "Hap and Leonard" — the Jim Mickle-directed series featuring James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams as best friends who get caught up in less than legal pursuits — there are words you might use to describe it, like "pulp" and "caper." But the show itself isn’t so easy to categorize, which is part of what attracted Christina Hendricks to the project.
Hendricks, indelible in our memories as "Mad Men’s" iconic Joan, sat down with Indiewire at the TCA Winter Press Tour to talk about Trudy, Hap’s ex-wife and the show’s designated "femme fatale"… except not exactly. Below, she reveals what made her choose "Hap and Leonard" despite wanting a break after "Mad Men," how her interests range across many, many genres, and why, exactly, finding the right role is like "finding a dress for a party." An edited transcript follows.
So, I’m curious how "Hap and Leonard" came to you.
Well, my AMC family — who I love. When they read the script, they thought of me and they ran it by Jim, our wonderful director, and luckily he said okay. Then they approached me, and it was almost immediately after "Mad Men" ended, so I wasn’t quite ready to go do something. I actually really wanted to take a break, [laughs] but then I read the script, and it was so fantastic and so unusual, and the character was so great that I decided I had to do it. So that was that.
I also realized that it’d been a really long time since I’ve seen you wear a pair of jeans.
Wait a minute, where’s her pencil skirt? [laughs] I know. How you dress, it changes your body language so dramatically. Yeah, and that was one thing that I think really helped define Trudy. Every time I get to rehearsal, I found myself sort of curling up like this, like a cat. [Hendricks pulls her legs up onto her chair.] I felt like she was very comfortable in her skin. She was a bit of a hippie, and I saw her sort of draping herself on things and feeling very relaxed.
Which is something you can do very nicely in jeans.
Yes! Exactly. So it was fun to have that different kind of wardrobe transform how you move and how you hold yourself. I think that helps develop a character a lot.
I’ve seen Trudy described as kind of a femme fatale. This isn’t your first time playing that sort of character, is it?
I would say, in a way, the character I played in "Firefly," maybe, was kind of a femme fatale.
Oh, good point! I can see that.
Yeah, she was probably the closest to that, yeah.
What does playing a femme fatale mean for you?
You know, a sort of seductress that ends up bringing along trouble for all that fall under her spell, I suppose.
What’s interesting, though, then is it’s a really fascinating trope, but then you’re trying to take it and find a character there. Do you have a specific process for that?
Usually, when I accept a project, it’s usually because the character is written so well. If I read it and think, "Oh, I can see in my mind who this person is. I can see how I would like to develop her. I can see where I can take this," it means it’s beautifully written. And if it’s not, I usually don’t respond to it.
So I liked that, yeah, she’s presented as a femme fatale — these are scripts coming from pulp fiction novels, so there are stereotypes in a way — but you see immediately in Episode 2 that there’s so much more to her. Here she is, coming in blazing like a femme fatale. The next thing you know, she’s working at a family burger, and you realize that her intentions are actually more optimistic and positive than maybe they were in the beginning. So, I like that she’s well-rounded and keeps you guessing.
I liked that choice as well. It’s not a humbling moment necessarily, but–
It’s a real moment.
It’s a real moment. I mean, I guess the premise isn’t over the top, but while it came off originally to me as something kind of silly and fun, then you get into the humanity of it. Was that something you were looking for specifically?
I don’t know if I ever look for something specifically. I’m constantly surprised when something unusual and new comes in, but I always do it project to project. I mean, if I were to say I’m looking for something that’s a bit pulpy, but then gets super-serious and really dramatic, I would never get that. It’s like looking for a dress for a party. You’re never going to find the dress that you need, you know? You find it three months from when you needed it. So, I never try to put myself in a box of specifically looking for something. And I never have up to this point. I just, as I read something wonderful, approach that.
It seems like it’s led you to a lot of really interesting and unique projects.
Yeah, you know, I’ve always sort of been along for the ride. Maybe there are actors who have very, very specific ideas. Maybe they plan things. I’ve never had the luxury of doing that. Most of the actors I know were just hoping to get the next job, and "Mad Men" afforded us, the cast, to sort of have a lot more opportunity than we had before.
But it’s still always hoping that you find something that’s so artistically fulfilling that you can contribute to, and that you can help tell the story in the best way it should be told. So, yeah. Maybe Tom Cruise can plan it out. I’m not able to do that.
[laughs] Is there stuff that you feel like you haven’t gotten to do yet, but that you would like to do?
I mean, I want to do everything. I would like to go back and do some more theater.
It’s something that I would really like to do. I’m spending a lot of time in New York right now, so that’s something that I’ve been talking a lot about. Which would be a different thing for me, a whole different schedule, a whole different kind of format, but I have a feeling I’m going to absolutely love it.
And everything: I wanna do action, I wanna do sci-fi, I wanna do a western, and then do a corset drama. I want to do all of it.
With theater, are you drawn to the great classic Shakespeare pieces, or are you more interested in contemporary works?
I guess in the same way I choose every project, I would know when I read something. I read something that’s a classic, that’s extraordinary, that I’m interested in, and I’m also interested in doing something that no one’s seen before, and introducing something new and exciting. I also would love to try another musical again. I love singing and dancing, the energy of what that brings. I’m a sucker for a musical. So, all of it.
I know Jim [Mickle], this is his first time in TV. He comes from independent film. How much did it feel like an independent film when you were shooting it?
You know what, I don’t know that I feel a difference between film and television ever.
There had been a few instances where maybe there’s a luxury of spending a little bit more time on scenes in film than you can on television, but for the most part, you know, I was doing a film yesterday, and it felt the same as everything else. So I don’t really know. Unless you’re doing "Star Trek" or something, I’ve never really felt a difference.
"Hap and Leonard" airs Wednesdays at 10pm on SundanceTV.
READ MORE: Christina Hendricks on the ‘Catwalk’ of ‘Mad Men’ and Not Needing a Happy Ending