Q & A: Timothy Olyphant talks ‘Justified’, Good Writing and Why His Character Doesn’t Have an Accent
Timothy Olyphant is one of those actors who I love to watch. Whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy, I just plain enjoy his work; you never really know what his characters are going to do and his choices are always interesting.
Olyphant is back for season 4 of FX’s Justified where he plays Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens and if you’ve watched the first couple episodes of the new season, you know that we’re going to be in for a great ride.
In this recent conference call Q & A, Olyphant, who also serves as the co-executive producer on the show, talks about the season, working on the show and why Raylan doesn’t have much of an accent.
Justified airs on Tuesdays at 10 on FX
You’re executive producer. What does that actually mean to you and how involved are you in the plotting and the planning from season to season?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
Can you expand?
Timothy Olyphant: 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. (Unintelligible) 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 quite 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.
A lot of the characters on the show have a strict code of honor. What do you think about that in terms of how characterization is on the show? Like, do you think that it makes this show much more unique than other shows on television right now?
Timothy Olyphant: 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 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 colorful idiosyncratic way. And I wanted to ask how much contribution you may have in that and how much fun is it for you to deliver these kinds of lines.
Timothy Olyphant: 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 and 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. I kind of – 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 – and my contribution need to be translated and rearticulated in Elmore speak.
Everybody Raylan grew up with is a criminal and in your view, what keeps him from slipping into that himself? Seems like he could so easily get into crooked pursuit. Why doesn’t he?
Timothy Olyphant: Well, that’s a good question. I – you know, the answer is not to be a smart – but 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 is watching how close he can get to that without crossing. And, you know, at times – we were just talking about this yesterday in the writer’s room about, you know, there’s a fun game that happens now and again where – where others try to pen him down on who he is and what his intentions were or what would’ve happened had it not gone exactly the way it did. And Raylan is often the who’s not allowing them that – he refuses to allow, you know, allow him to get pinned like that. And in some respects, seems it’s outrageous and even that anyone would even ask the question. That’s kind of a fun character to play.
Raylan doesn’t really have much of an accent like some of the other people from the same part of the country where he is from. Why did you choose to approach it that way or why wouldn’t he has as pronounced an accent as a lot of the other people among whom he grew up?
Timothy Olyphant: Well, personally I think everyone else is probably doing it wrong and I’m doing it right the accent that you’re picking up on. And that – that’s just – that – I – listen, I think I have a very good – it’s a very good group of actors and 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 shortcoming. And I think that might be what you’re picking up on there.
Otherwise, you know, honestly, as far as the accent’s concerned, I mean, there is one there and, you know, it’s kind of made a choice from the jump to keep it hind of subtle. The character was from Harlan County but left there at a fairly young age. And so, I mean, there’s certain things that are very specific that I – that it’s still there in the dialect but it’s not as strong in say somewhere like Boyd Crowder who’s lived there his whole life and has never left that county.
How do you feel introducing the western culture to young people that didn’t have the chance to watch it when it exploded?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
Is it more difficult to be actor or the co-producer?
Timothy Olyphant: Well, the problem with being a co-producer is when the actor won’t come out of his trailer, that’s where it gets – that’s where it becomes problematic.
You’ve mentioned before that you enjoyed the comedy element of the show, that kind of lightness of tone. How do you balance kind of that tone with the more serious subject matter that we sometimes have?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
Are you interested in doing more comedy things in the future? Is that what you like to do?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
You’ve entered season four now. I’m just wondering what you’ve learned in the time you’ve been on the show.
Timothy Olyphant: 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, 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.
Prior to the upcoming season, how much of Elmore Leonard’s new book about Raylan was a consideration; did you guys go back and forth on that at all?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
How would you compare the character of Seth Bullock that you played in Deadwood and Raylan?
Timothy Olyphant: You know, I wasn’t that funny on Deadwood. Feels like a – that character was really serous. You know, woke up every morning with a – in a bad place. I – Raylan seems to be a much more easy going – seems to enjoy his job kind of guy.
And is that something that feels a little bit more comfortable for you or sort of brings more of kind of what you sort of feel like as a person?
Timothy Olyphant: 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 (unintelligible) our show like a David Milch or any really good drama is operating on a number of levels that are really both – 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.
Timothy Olyphant: I think, like I said, there – on show we are often times looking for the funny and 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 kind of – or the seriousness of it rises up. But, you know, then it’s covered with the sense of humor and that’s very different than what we were doing on that show.
Do you think that Justified ranks as one of the best adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s work? He even said that work as Raylan is the kind of guy he saw when he his lines.
Timothy Olyphant: 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.
Some actors in another series used to direct some episodes and in another season would you like to direct an episode of Justified in the future?
Timothy Olyphant: 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. It’s more about the fact, you know, sit in the back seat and try to drive, you know.
You’ve been playing Raylan for a while now. Do you still find or do you find that sometimes you – it’s still hard for you to, I guess, get a scene down perfectly or is it fairly easy for you now, like, since you’ve played the character for so long?
Timothy Olyphant: 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.