In FX’s new drama ‘Justified‘ (March 16, 10 p.m.), Timothy Olyphant takes center stage as Raylan Givens, a quick-drawing U.S. Marshal with a fondness for Stetson hats and a weakness for beautiful women.
After successful roles in critically praised ensemble dramas ‘Deadwood,’ and ‘Damages,’ the 41-year-old Olyphant has been handed the big guns this time around, and he’s happy to dig his un-spurred heels in.
“I’ve been lucky,” the modest Olyphant says of his new gig. “I feel like I’m on a real roll.”
Based on the Elmore Leonard short story “Down in the Hole,” ‘Justified’ finds Raylan reluctantly returning to his hometown in Kentucky following a trigger-happy episode in Miami, only to discover that home is still filled with all the friends – and enemies – he once left behind.
Olyphant sat down in Pasadena this past January to discuss his latest role, why he wasn’t disappointed in ‘Deadwood’s’ infamous non-ending, and his love of Larry David.
I seem to have noticed a theme with the characters you’ve recently played and their penchant for toting guns. Is it a prerequisite nowadays?
Wait a minute, talk to me. What are we counting, here?
Wes on ‘Damages,’ Seth on ‘Deadwood,’ Raylan on ‘Justified’…
Well, how many movies have you seen this year that had guns in them?
Exactly. Tons. There you go! It’s not me, it’s the projects.
Well this particular project is yours – this is your show. Are you nervous about carrying a series and how people will react to that?
Yeah, I read something the other day that said the success of the show will be based on fan’s reactions to me, and I thought ‘Well that’s not something I wish I had read.’ [Laughs] I don’t think about it, although I’m nervous about a show that’s too much about one character. I’ve always thought that was a bad idea. The shows I tend to enjoy are usually ensembles. That said, I haven’t had a day where I didn’t think this was a great story and a fascinating character. It’s not worth spending time thinking about the rest.
What are the shows you’re interested in?
I remembered years ago when I first discovered what they were doing on HBO. One of the things I really enjoyed about ‘Deadwood’ as a viewer, was that who ever was on screen at the time, it felt like the show was about them.
Do you have any misgivings about continuing to work in TV with the way ‘Deadwood’ ended? Or – as most fans say – didn’t end?
When that show ended, to be quite honest, I thought to myself ‘Well that’s not such a bad thing.’ It was great while it lasted. To me the only thing worse than a show ending early is a show lasting longer than it’s supposed to. I think the danger with television is that it’s successful and it never goes off the f*cking air – until everybody stops watching. There are rare occasions when that’s not the case. ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ for me is like don’t ever take it off the air. And don’t ever have it not be about this one guy. That’s the rare example.
Having seen the ‘Justified’ pilot, I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of humor within the framework of some of the more intensely dramatic scenes.
That starts with Elmore [Leonard] and the tone of his books. To some degree I think that’s what they did so well with movies like ‘Out of Sight’ and ‘Get Shorty.’
It definitely makes you sit up in your seat.
I think what’s great about Elmore’s work, and I’d like to think we’ve pulled this off as well, is that underneath all of that stuff on the surface you can still find the weight of the situation. There’s something that Elmore had mentioned, hanging out with Detroit cops and being in really intense situations, and yet being struck by the humor of these guys and how they use that as a way to protect themselves and get through the day. That’s kind of my experience in very intense situations. I remember being at the scene of this horrific car accident and seeing these people who were trapped in their car, essentially dying. I remember seeing these ER guys show up, the medics, and we were waiting for a helicopter to be flown in. It was incredibly horrific and the medics were commenting on how the guys who got out of the helicopter had nicer equipment than they did. I’ll never forget that moment.
When was this?
It was some years ago, but it feels consistent. You see it when you watch shows like ‘Cops.’ Car chases are fascinating on that show because they’re not often what you’re used to seeing. They’re just very matter of fact. I think that even though we’re making a TV show and trying to find the entertainment value, I’d like to think that when you look at specific scenes – like one with me and Walt Goggins – you feel the weight of the situation but they’re still laughing and are buddies.
It’s that kind of uncomfortable interaction that can really put you on edge as a viewer.
There’s a similar story that I was always struck by about Joe Montana being in this intense football game. They were driving down and there were a few seconds left on the clock and he goes into the huddle and is like ‘Look up in the stands! That’s John Candy!’ And then he’s like ‘I love his movies.’ [Laughs] Then everyone in the huddle is like ‘we’re gonna win this game!’ He was so relaxed and in the moment. This is what you prepare for and this is what you’re about. Somewhere in there that’s what makes this guy [Raylen] tick.
He’s the consummate professional…until he starts drinking moonshine.
What I like more about it is that sometimes he’s actually quite revealing in times where he shouldn’t be. He’ll be transporting a prisoner but telling the guy a story about his childhood; telling a violent psychopath very revealing things about himself. Something I really love about Elmore is that under all the hip, cool, pitter pat dialog like you see with Quentin Tarantino, there’s really fascinating things going on about human behavior and how people handle situations and what they reveal about themselves.
‘JUSTIFIED’ PREMIERES TUESDAY MARCH 16 AT 10 PM ON FX