When it comes to doing interviews, I admit: I’m selfish. I’d much rather have ten minutes with my interviewee, all by myself, than share any length of time with a dozen other people. But sometimes roundtable interviews are all you’re offered, and when it’s someone as cool as Timothy Olyphant, well, you take what you can get.
Olyphant’s career has been a long and varied one; he’s played a detective, an alien, a drug dealer, a cyber-terrorist, a deranged serial killer, a computer game character, and dozens of other roles besides. Where he really seems to shine, though, is in law enforcement: his turn as the perpetually angry sheriff Seth Bullock in Deadwood was fantastic, and his presence also vastly improved the remake of George Romero’s The Crazies.
So he’s perfectly cast as the lead in Justified, a drama based on the books of Elmore Leonard. Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, a deputy US marshal whose shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to dealing with criminals often lands him in trouble. The show’s fourth season is about to start in the US, and, as well as playing Givens, Olyphant also now serves as Justified’s co-executive producer, which is why he’s currently doing the promotional rounds. Below are the edited highlights of the roundtable interview, which flow about as well as you’d expect a string of questions asked by different people from all around the world to possibly flow…
(Some minor spoilers might follow, though I’ve done my best to remove them!)
After the revelation about Arlo at the end of last season, how does Raylan deal with that heading into this season?
That’s a good question. How does Raylan deal with it? Raylan’s not really dealing with it. You know, I think that Raylan does his best to try not to deal with those kind of things, that’s what makes him Raylan.
You’re an executive producer on Justified now. What does that actually mean to you and how involved are you in the plotting and the planning from season to season?
Well, first of all it means a great deal to me. I am very thankful for the opportunity and it’s made the job just thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly challenging and it really has been a pleasure to be able to have permission to work with the writers and the directors in that capacity. How involved I am? You know, in my mind I’m doing everything and but in reality I’m doing very, very little.
The writers on this show are amazing and they sit down in front of a blank page and the fact that they come up with what they come up with week in and week out is quite some kind of miracle. And my job basically is to, you know, just keep poking at it and keep asking questions. I had the luxury of not having my name on the page and I think that gives me a certain amount of freedom just to, you know, shoot out ideas of any kind. And, I don’t know, I think because I’m not a writer it gives me a certain vantage point that sometimes can be helpful when I engage with the writers and collaborate with them in that way.
How much Kentucky-centric research do you do? There’s a lot of colourful corruption there that’s not fiction. Do you guys ever get inspired by stories from the bluegrass state?
We have folks that we’re friendly with from back in Harlan County that have been very gracious and stayed in touch with us and we continue to us them as a source of material and inspiration. And we also spend a good deal of time talking with marshals and then we spend a good deal of time trying to rip off Elmore. So, you know, we steal from whoever and wherever we can to try to put the best story out there.
Why do you think the show has retained its popularity?
I like it because it’s really entertaining. Beyond that, I don’t have any answers for you.
A lot of the characters on the show have a strict code of honour. Do you think that sets Justified apart from other shows on television right now?
Well, look, we’re trying to do Elmore Leonard right and Elmore Leonard is always about some sort of moral code amongst, you know, cops and thieves, and they don’t necessarily define themselves as, you know, good guys and bad guys – it’s just about which ones are the assholes and which ones aren’t.
And there’s often times just certain lines that a good guy or bad guy just won’t cross and there’s a respect that comes from that. So, you know, we’re always looking for that. We’re looking for that moral code that each one of them has, that thing that separates them from one another. And, you know, you can’t pick up an Elmore novel and not find that chapter to chapter in all of his books.
One of the things that really stands out about the show is it really has that Elmore Leonard sound, the characters all express themselves in such a colourful idiosyncratic way. Do you contribute to that at all? How much fun is it for you to deliver these kinds of lines?
First of all, the latter part of that question is it’s a joy, you know, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak these lines and have such good dialogue. It’s hard to get your hands on that and I feel like I get to do it week in and week out. And it’s not lost on me and what an opportunity it is and I’m enjoying every second of it.
But, my contribution to that… you know, very little. I’m not sure it’s my greatest strength. There are others on the set, Walt [Goggins] probably chief among them, who has a real good feel for that. But the word “dude” comes out of my mouth a lot and so my contributions need to be translated and rearticulated in Elmore speak.
The seasons begins with Raylan kind of bending the law, and since we know everybody he grew up with seems to have become a criminal, I wonder, in your view, what keeps Raylan from slipping into that himself?
Well, that’s a good question. The answer is I don’t know. But so far, so good, you know. And he seems to be walking right up to the edge now and then and that’s kind of the fun of it, watching how close he can get to that line without crossing it.
We were just talking about this yesterday in the writers’ room – you know, there’s a fun game that happens now and again where others try to pin him down on who he is and what his intentions are. And Raylan refuses to allow himself to get pinned like that. That’s kind of a fun character to play.
Will we see Raylan becoming a father this season? Given his relationship with his own father, how will he handle that?
I think that depends of a couple things. One, how long they let us stay on the air; the longer we’re on the air there’s a good chance we’ll see Raylan as a father. You know, the second part of that question is whether we really want a little kid on the show, because little kids on the set, they tend to be a pain. And if they’re not, their parents are. So, I don’t see us having a kid on the show too much, because no one wants to deal with that. But I like the idea, as far as storytelling’s concerned, of Raylan being a father.
One of the things that really appealed to me about the Elmore Leonard books was that Raylan was a father of two in all the books. You don’t see that, like, you know, in the old westerns; you don’t see them actually having to parent or be involved in, you know, some kid of divorce and visitation rights. And those kinds of things, I think, are kind of what makes Elmore Leonard tick.
Watching the show, several characters have strong southern accents, but Raylan’s isn’t anywhere near so pronounced. Why did you choose to portray him in that way?
[joking] Well, personally I think everyone else is probably doing it wrong. And I’m doing it right. It’s a very good group of actors cast on the show, and I often say wonderful things about them. But sometimes I think they just inadvertently make me look bad by their own shortcomings.
Otherwise, as far as the accent’s concerned, I mean, there is one there. We made a choice from the jump to keep it kind of subtle. The character was from Harlan County but left there at a fairly young age. So it’s still there in the dialect but it’s not as strong as, say someone like Boyd Crowder, who’s lived there his whole life and has never left that county.
Which Western characters inspire you to play Raylan?
Oh, none specifically but I do like a good Western.
Which ones would you recommend?
There’s so many great Western films. Let’s see, Red River, any of those Henry Fonda movies are fantastic. Any of those John Ford movies are fantastic. I love all the Eastwood Man With No Name movies, John Wayne, True Grit. What do you want? I mean, they’re all great.
But I don’t go to work thinking we’re making a Western. I mean, if you lose the boots and the cowboy hat, I mean – I don’t really define it in that way.
You’ve mentioned before that you enjoy the comedy elements of Justified, that kind of lightness of tone. How do you balance that tone with some of the more serious subject matter on the show?
Well, whenever there’s a scene that’s really funny, we try to figure out how serious it can be and whenever you got a scene that’s really serious, you try to figure out how funny it can be. That’s kind of the game we play.
Now you’re heading into season four, what would you say what you’ve learned in the time you’ve been on the show?
My goodness, what have I learned. I’m sure there’s a serous answer in here somewhere. But beyond – you know, I like my job, you know, that’s become very clear to me.
I know how to pretend to do things that I otherwise didn’t know how to do. I know a few facts and things about law enforcement and whatnot that I was unaware of. I have a better sense of the U.S. Marshals and what kind of people sign up for that job.
And as I said before, I have a very healthy understanding of how good a gig this is. I think I’ve learned over the years that, you know, this is about as good as it gets as far as working in show business.
There seem to be some similarities between your character on Deadwood and your character on Justified – how do you sort of compare and contrast those characters?
You know, I wasn’t that funny on Deadwood. That character was really serious; you know, he woke up every morning in a bad place. Raylan seems much more easygoing – seems to enjoy his job kind of guy.
Is that easier to play?
I’d like to think I’m a little more easygoing than the character on Deadwood, without question. Look, they both seem to have some anger management issues but I think for the most part, you know, you lose the cowboy and they’re very different types of characters. And the tone on this show is much different than the tone on Deadwood.
There’s a lightness to Elmore Leonard, there’s a lightness in the tone, there’s a delicateness and the sort of dance that you’re doing. And every now and then the violence or the seriousness of it rises up. But, you know, then it’s covered with the sense of humour and that’s very different than what we were doing on Deadwood.
Would you ever want to direct an episode of Justified?
No, I don’t see that happening. If I were to direct an episode, then there’d be no one for me to blame, you know, and that’s not going to be any fun.
The show has had so many great villains. What can we expect in season four? Are there any new villains coming to the fore?
There are a few here or there, but we really made a choice to stick with what we had in the bullpen this year. So, the good news is you get a lot more of Boyd Crowder, played by the great Walt Goggins, and you get more of his crew. Ron Eldard plays a guy name Colt who comes in and works with Boyd. He’s just fantastic. Thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining. What a wonderful actor.
We got more of Jere Burns; we had so many people that we had at our disposal. We made a decision not to bring in too many new people. But at the same time there’s just a lot of great new guest stars and great new characters.
Are there any guest stars in particular that you’re especially excited about?
As I said, I really feel that Eldard’s work is top notch. And Patton [Oswalt] is fantastic on the show. But he’s not playing a bad guy, he’s playing a Constable. Who else we got… I mean, you know, Jenn Lyon who played the bartender is just fantastic. There’s so many good actors that come and go throughout the season; there’s so many good performances this year.
You’ve been playing Raylan for a while now. Does that make it easier to get a scene down perfectly?
Well, you know, the answer is when the writing’s really good it’s much easier and when the writing’s not very good, it’s really difficult. And so, you know, what we spend most our energy on is trying to get the writing really good and then the acting kind of takes care of itself.
Timothy Olyphant (and the other twenty people on the call), thank you very much.
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