Prior to FX's western drama Justified, fans of actor Timothy Olyphant were understandably frustrated with his career. For every turn on a brilliant television show like Damages or gone-before-its-time Deadwood, Olyphant was the easily the best part of some questionable B-rate films. Luckily, the American actor with a penchant for sheriff roles has found his niche on the popular cable series based on the novels by Elmore Leonard.
True to form, Olyphant plays Rayland Givens, a U.S. Marshall who isn't afraid to enforce his own brand of justice on criminals out in the hills of east Kentucky. Characterized by its balance of light-hearted humor and riveting drama, the new season boasts guest stars like Patton Oswald, new villains, and Rayland dealing with parenthood. On the eve of the show's season premiere, Olyphant shares with Buzzine's Rachel Heine what fans can expect next from Justified.
Q: Hi Timothy, welcome back for season four! First off, our readers would love to know, what are you enjoying on television as a viewer?
TO: You know, I can’t get enough of NBA basketball and I’d like to say that I’ve been saying for years the Los Angeles Clippers were the team of the future and I... no one paid attention to me... and that the teams are present and I appreciate you asking that question.
Q: You're very welcome. This season, you’ve stepped into another role on the show, behind-the-scenes as executive producer. What does that shift mean to you, and how involved are you now in the creative process from season to season?
TO: Well, first of all it means a great deal to me. I just… 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 week in and week out 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.
Q: How so?
TO: Well, you know, it’s so easy. I’m guilty of, you know, you come up with one idea, one moment, one line, something that leads to something and you say… it’s easy for me, I’m ashamed to say, I can sit back and say look at that. It would be no show without that. Right there, that was my idea. I can make the whole episode and it’s nothing.
Really, you know, 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 some kind of miracle. And my job basically is to, you know, just keep poking at it and keep asking questions and keep… 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, just I think it’s - 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. And like I said, that collaboration has been really fulfilling.
Q: In terms of the writing, many of the characters on the show follow a very strict code of honor. How do you think that affects the characterization and unique popularity of the show?
TO: 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 define one another not by - necessarily by, you know, good guys and bad guys. But, you know, just which ones are the assholes and which ones aren’t. And there’s often times just certain lines that good guy or bad guy, they just won’t cross and there’s a respect that come, you know, 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 can’t pick up an Elmore novel and not find that chapter to chapter in all of his books.
Q: Speaking of Elmore Leonard… prior to this upcoming season, how much of his latest book about Raylan was a consideration for the story? Did you use that as a background at all?
TO: We’ve been using that book in season two, three and in season four, and we steal from Elmore Leonard every chance we get. But that book is alive and well in four seasons and in the last two.
Q: Tonally, the show really captures Elmore Leonard’s voice… all the characters express themselves in that colorful, idiosyncratic way. As executive producer, how much contribution do you have in that, and as an actor, how much fun is it for you to deliver those kinds of lines?
TO: You know, it’s - 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 they 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, what an opportunity it is and I’m enjoying every second of it.
But, my contribution to that... you know, very little. It’s… I’m not sure that’s… I’m not sure it’s my greatest strength. But, you know… and there are others on the set, Walt, probably chief among them, who has a real good feel for that. I usually talk in some sort of, you know, the word “dude” comes out of my mouth a lot, and so usually… my contribution need to be translated and rearticulated in Elmore speak.
Q: Let’s get into the upcoming season a little bit. We finally get to see Raylan as a dad. Given his relationship with his own father, how will that affect him?
TO: Well that’s a good question and I think that depends of a couple things. One, how long they let us stay on the air and, you know, the longer we’re on the air there’s a good chance we’ll see Raylan as a father. You know, the second half - 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. But - because no one wants to deal with that, but I like the idea creatively 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 he was a father of two in all the books. And I thought that was one of the ways in which Elmore sort of differentiates himself from - or at least differentiates Raylan from the type of character that can be cut from the same cloth. You don’t see, like... the old westerns and see them actually having to parent or be involved in some kid of divorce and visitation rights. And those kinds of things, I think, are kind of what makes Elmore Leonard tick.
Q: On the other end of the spectrum, you always have such fantastic villains on this show. Will there be any new bad guys to reckon with in season four?
TO: There are a few here or there, but we really made a choice that, you know, kind of stick with what we had in the bullpen this year. So, you know, the good news is you get a lot more of Boyd Crowder and the - played by the great Walt Goggins and you get more of his crew. You know, he has a - Ron Eldard plays a guy name Colt who comes in, works with Boyd. He’s just fantastic. Thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining. What a wonderful actor. We got more of Jere Burns, you know, so there’s a lot of - we had so many people that we had at our disposal. We made a decision not to bring in kind of a - too many new people. But there’s a - you know, I say that at the same time there’s just a lot of, you know, week in and week out great new guest stars and great new characters.
Q: Patton Oswald is another one of your fantastic guest stars… how would you describe Raylan’s friendship with Constable Bob, and what can fans expect from that?
TO: I wouldn’t call it a friendship, I’d call it a working relationship. I can tell you that Patton Oswalt is money, I mean, that guy's so good... and makes it a little tough for me to get through a scene with a straight face and yet he’s so serious and fantastic. It’s just been a pleasure working with him.
Q: Is there a particular guest star this season that you’re excited for the fans to see?
TO: Well, as I said, I really feel that Eldard’s work is top notch and, you know, Patton’s fantastic on the show. But he’s not playing a bad guy, he’s playing a Constable. I mean, he’s fantastic. And who else we got, I mean, you know, Jenn Lyon who played the bartender, you know, is just fantastic. There’s so many good actors that kind of come and go throughout the season, kind of running through them in my mind but, you know, they’re all - there’s so many good performances this year.
Oh, you know who’s great; Chris Chalk in that first episode is fantastic. And he’s going to play a bigger role throughout the season. He’s great.
Q: You’ve mentioned before that you really enjoy the comedic element of the show, the lightness in tone. How do you balance that tone with the more serious subject matter?
TO: 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.
Q: Are you interested in doing more comedy in the future?
TO: You know, I think this kind of reminds me of the question, how much do I do as a producer on this show. In my mind, I’m hilarious, so I would love to do some comedy. But, I’m not exactly sure my perspective is a healthy one.
Q: Working within the framework of a western piece, do you feel as though you’re introducing the western culture to a generation of young people who weren’t around when it first exploded onto the scene?
TO: I don’t… I mean, I appreciate the question, don’t get me wrong, 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, it’s… I don’t really kind of define it in that way. So, I don’t know, I don’t really think about it that way.
Q: Still, Justified has had the inevitable comparisons to your earlier work on the very western Deadwood. How would you compare Seth Bullock's character to Raylan?
TO: You know, I wasn’t that funny on Deadwood. Feels like… that character was really serous. I woke up every morning with in a bad place. Raylan seems to be a much more easy going… seems to enjoy his job kind of guy.
Q: Is that something that feels more comfortable to you, both as a person and as an actor?
TO: I’d... like to think I’m a little more easy going than the character on Deadwood, without question. You know, look, they both seem to have at time some anger management issues but I think for the most part we’re… the shows, 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.
You know, look, I think that there’s similarities in that, you know, when Elmore really is firing on all cylinders. And our show, like a David Milch or any really good drama, is operating on a number of levels that… can be both serious and dramatic and at the same time is funny and fucked up, so on and so forth. And so I think there’s, you know, some similarities in terms of at times the type of storytelling. But I think they were very different experiences for me as an actor.
Q: With Elmore Leonard’s work featured so heavily on the show, what does it mean for you as an actor to be able to portray the stories in his books? He has said before that your work as Raylan is exactly the man he pictured when he wrote his lines.
TO: Well, it means a great deal to me. Elmore doesn’t have to say that and, you know, there’s a chance he’s only saying it to sell some books. But, I’m going to take him at his word and I appreciate it greatly. And, you know, we work really hard at trying to honor the man as best we can and it means a great deal to me that he seems to be happy with it.
Q: Lastly, what have you learned over the past few years of being on this show?
TO: I know how to pretend to do things that I otherwise didn’t know how to do. I know, like, you know, I know a few facts and things about law enforcement and whatnot that weren’t - 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 I know that, you know, as I said before, I’ve just - I know - I have a very good healthy understanding of how good a gig this is and I’m not sure - you know, you’re never quite sure when you first get something if you really have a sense of, you know, what an opportunity it 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.
The fourth season of 'Justified' premieres Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 at 10pm on FX.