“Justified” is considered by many to be one of the best shows on TV. The series debuted in 2010, and it centers on a deputy U.S. marshal in Kentucky named Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) and his conflicts with criminals who are involved in illegal drug trafficking. The show, created and executive produced by Graham Yost, is based on Elmore Leonard's novels “Pronto” and “Riding the Rap” and Leonard's short story “Fire in the Hole.”
The fourth season of “Justified” premieres January 8, 2013, in the U.S. on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time. Olyphant, who’s been nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on “Justified,” talked with reporters in a telephone conference call about the show’s fourth season. He gave some insight into some of the new characters that will be introduced in the season and what may happen to some of the show’s main characters.
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 … Raylan’s not really dealing with it. I think that Raylan does his best to try not to deal with those kind of things, that’s what makes him Raylan.
Can you talk a bit about Raylan’s connection to the hill people and how they fit into this season?
The hill people are some characters we introduced about one-third or so with Raylan and like all these people from Ireland, everyone has some kind of connect with one another and the question does that help or hurt them.
What are you enjoying on television as a viewer?
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 no one paid attention to me. And that the teams are present and I appreciate you asking that question.
Well, good. In the first two episodes, we’ve seen you don’t really get to have much with Boyd. When are you and Walt Goggins going to cross paths again for some scenes?
Stay tuned. You’re not going to get through the season without them hooking up. What we didn’t want to do is just keep it on the same scene over and over. we’re doing our best to try to keep the story both familiar but yet unexpected. And when we sit down and try to concoct these things we’re looking for the unexpected and hopefully we’ve got that this year.
You’re an executive producer of “Justified.” 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 week in and week out in that capacity. How involved I am? In my mind, I’m doing everything and but in reality I’m doing very, very little …
Really, 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 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 shoot out ideas of any kind. 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.
Will “Justified” ever film in the Kentucky hills?
I would love to; I just want to say it was up to me it would be there. But it’s these other people ...
What do you think bringing the show to Kentucky might add?
What would it add? We’d be able to do better driving scenes. We wouldn’t have to spend all that money in post trying to get rid of the palm tree in the background.
There you go. How much Kentucky-centric research do you do? 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 rouse 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 any other day we steal from whoever and wherever we can to try to put the best story out there.
So you talked a little bit about some of things that might be happening this season with some of the earlier questions. Are there any surprises or plot twists that fans can expect this season?
Yes, the short answer is yes. Can I tell you what they are now? No, we don’t want to spoil anything. But we do our best to keep people leaning forward.
And 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 honor. What do you think about that, in terms of how characterization is on the show? Do you think that it makes this show much more unique than other shows on television right now?
We’re trying to do Elmore Leonard right and Elmore Leonard is always about some sort of moral code amongst cops and thieves and they define one another not by necessarily by good guys and bad guys. But just which ones are the assholes and which ones aren’t. And there’s oftentimes just certain lines that good guy or bad guy, they just won’t cross and there’s a respect that come from that. So 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.
You’ve been talking about the scripts and 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. How much contribution do you have in that? And 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, 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? Very little. I’m not sure it’s my greatest strength. And there are others on the set — Walt, probably chief among them — who have a real good feel for that. The word “dude” comes out of my mouth a lot, and so usually my contribution need to be translated and re-articulated in Elmore speak.
Season 4 of “Justified” begins with Raylan kind of bending the law with his bounty hunter spare gig. And it seems that everybody he grew up with is a criminal. What keeps Raylan from kind of slipping into that himself?
That’s a good question. The answer is I don’t know. But so far, so good. 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. We were just talking about this yesterday in the writers’ room about how there’s a fun game that happens now and again 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 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.
Will we get a chance to see Raylan as a dad? And given his relationship with his own father, how will it affect how he is a father?
That’s a good question and 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.
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 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 — or at least differentiates Raylan from the type of character that are cut from the same cloth.
You don’t see 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.
Do you have children of your own?
I do. I have three.
How many episodes have you made so far this season or did you make them all?
No, we’re shooting number eight right now.
Ellstin Limehouse, played by Mykelti Williamson … is his character due to return this season at all?
There’s a good chance.
Raylan doesn’t really have much of a Southern 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?
[He says jokingly] 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. 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 honestly, as far as the accent’s concerned, I mean, there is one there, and 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. There are certain things that are very specific, 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.
Which western characters inspire you to play Raylan?
Oh, none specifically but I do like a good western.
And did you enjoy watching western movies when you were young?
There are 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? They’re all great.
And how do you feel introducing the western culture to young people that didn’t have the chance to watch it when it exploded?
I appreciate the question, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t go to work thinking we’re making a western … I don’t really kind of define it in that way. I don’t know/ I don’t really think about it that way.
Is it more difficult to be an actor or co-producer on “Justified”?
[He says jokingly] Well, the problem with being a co-producer is when the actor won’t come out of his trailer. That’s where it becomes problematic.
You 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?
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?
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.
What have you learned in the time you’ve been on “Justified”?
I’m sure there’s a serous answer in here somewhere. I like my job 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 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, as I said before, I have a very good healthy understanding of how good a gig this is. You’re never quite sure when you first get something if you really have a sense of what an opportunity it is. I think I’ve learned over the years that this is about as good as it gets as far as working in show business.
How long do you think “Justified” will last?
A couple more weeks at least.
Prior to the upcoming season, how much of Elmore Leonard’s new book about Raylan was a consideration. Did you guys go back and for that on that at all?
We’ve been using that book in Seasons 2 and 3. And in Season 4, we steal from Elmore Leonard every chance we get. But that book is alive and well in four seasons and in the last two.
And how would you describe Raylan’s friendship with Constable Bob? What fans can expect?
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.
“Justified” is not a western but could you talk a little bit about how you might compare the character of Seth Bullock that you played in “Deadwood” and Raylan?
I wasn’t that funny on “Deadwood.” That character was really serous. I woke up every morning in a bad place. Raylan seems to be a much more easygoing. 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?
I’d like to think I’m a little more easygoing than the character on “Deadwood,” without question. They both seem to have at time some anger-management issues but I think for the most part, 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.”
I think that there’s similarities in that Elmore really is firing on all cylinders. And our show 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 f*cked-up, so on and so forth. And so I think there are some similarities in terms of at times the type of storytelling. But I think they were very different experiences for me as an actor.
On show we are oftentimes 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 or the seriousness of it rises up. But then it’s covered with the sense of humor and that’s very different than what we were doing on that show.
In the last other three seasons, we have seen a lot of violence and blood. How many gorier scenes or how much more blood are we going to see on this fourth season?
I don’t think there’s any gore … We’re going to be operating in the same world we operated in the last three seasons, just a different story.
How much does it mean for you as an actor that Elmore Leonard ranks “Justified” as one of the best adaptations of his work?
It means a great deal to me. Elmore doesn’t have to say that, and there’s a chance he’s only saying it to sell some books. I’m going to take him at his word and I appreciate it greatly. And 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 other TV series used to direct some episodes. Would you like to direct an episode of Justified in the future?
No, I don’t see that happening. If I were to direct an episode, then there’d be no one for me to blame, and that’s not going to be any fun. It’s more about the fascist in the back seat and try to drive, you know.
There have been great villains on “Justified.” What can we expect in Season 4?
There are a few here or there, but we really made a choice of kind of 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, 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. I say that at the same time there’s just a lot of week in and week out great new guest stars and great new characters.
Is there a guest star in particular that you’re especially excited about?
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. I mean, he’s fantastic. And who else we got? Jenn Lyon, who played the bartender is just fantastic. There are so many good actors that kind of come and go throughout the season, kind of running through them in my mind, but they’re so many good performances this year. Chris Chalk in that first episode is fantastic. And he’s going to play a bigger role throughout the season. He’s great.
So you’ve been playing Raylan for a while now. Do you find that sometimes it’s still hard for you to get a scene down perfectly, or is it fairly easy for you now, since you’ve played the character for so long?
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 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.
For more info: "Justified" website