Earlier today, FX announced that their Western drama Justified will conclude next year, ending the series’ run at six seasons. But for lead actor Timothy Olyphant, this was already in the works. “I imagine we’ll wrap it up soon,” he told Rolling Stone last week. “Whenever it ends, I’ll just count my lucky stars. Good gig. It’s hard to get your hands on this kind of character and this kind of writing.”
Still, the news is bittersweet. Justified has gained a substantial audience over the last four years, a remarkable feat considering that the show is based on a lone Elmore Leonard short story (“Fire in the Hole”). For Olyphant, 45, the series has afforded him the opportunity to carry a series as Raylan Givens, a Kentucky-based U.S. Marshal with a knack for witty comebacks and a desire to set things right – even if it means pulling the occasional trigger. Olyphant spoke to Rolling Stone about racism, the modern west and replica Stetson hats from his home in Los Angeles.
When you were first thinking about Raylan, what was critical to get across to the viewer?
I sound like an idiot. I start there. Then after that, the job is always the same. You’ve got to be funny, but you can’t acknowledge it. Elmore is a delicate dance. It tends to be light on its feet and every now and then, you go a little deeper and look for the unexpected.
Plots have changed, but Raylan continues to be a man who’s comfortable in his own skin.
That’s the trick of the show: How do you keep this character relevant and interesting? And at the same time not blow it up in the process. The world in which Raylan lives – he’s not going to move that much. The nature of that character is pretty much going to be Raylan. Last year we did a great jobs in taking some risks with the death of Arlo [Givens’ father, played by Raymond J. Barry]. And this year we’re doing interesting things with Raylan and Art [Givens’ boss, played by Nick Searcy]. One of the things about Elmore’s world is that there’s always a theme of professionalism that runs through it. His characters are defined by it, they’re good at what they do and they take their jobs seriously.
Is Raylan an anti-hero or just a hero-hero?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little bit of a grey area. He seems to be happy at his job, he enjoys his work, and every now and then he gets to kill someone.
It’s part of the job description.
Talk to a lot of Marshals and a lot of them tell you the way they came to the job is that they didn’t know the Marshals existed. But they told me “they’d give me a gun, a badge and the pay was pretty good – I’d give it a shot.” Raylan seems to be all into that.
He presents himself as a major badass. Do other Marshals say that this is accurate?
There’s some acknowledgement that they’re a bunch of cowboys out there chasing people down. I’ve met my fair share and there’s a number of them out there that seem to be. . . I don’t know if thrill-seekers is the word, but they enjoy the chase. I can say that some of that dialogue we’ve used over the years came out of some Marshals’ mouths. Things like, “Waking up everyday and looking forward to fucking someone’s day up.” [Laughs] I didn’t made that up! I heard that!
Have you been a gun person your whole life?
No, not really. I shot my brother with a BB gun and I’ve killed my fair share of gophers with a .22. But not beyond that.
When you’re working on a show like Justified, do actors keep gun choreographers?
Some of the guys on the set are pretty good with a gun. We got a camera operator who’s in that. . . what’s that badass little group over there in Israel? He was one of those guys. And every now and then he gives me some tips. Oh, and our prop guys are great. They know how to handle a guy.
Is Justified an accurate portrayal of modern rural America?
Lots of the stuff we’ve got going on is going on. There’s crime and shit-kickers and backward-ass white trash. I hate to tell you, but racism is alive and well in a lot of parts of the world. I’m guilty of when I first read this five years ago, I remember asking myself, “God, is this going to feel dated?” But between that and shooting the pilot, I realized there is nothing dated about this at all. That was right at the height of Congressmen accusing each other of being racist; people were talking about a “Black president.” Racism was a big topic then. We were outside Pittsburgh and people would tell me that the Klan was alive and well in those parts. I don’t know if we’ve tackled that issue as of late, but I know when we started, it was big.
Raylan seems to get women with ease. Do guys ever ask your advice?
No! [Laughs.] I’m happy to help out whenever I can, but I’ve been married 23 years. I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask.
At any given moment, how many Stetsons are on set?
No, I take that back. We have two.
I was worried. If someone spilled tomato juice on it you’d be screwed.
Over the holidays, our costumer took the hat and asked if it was okay to have it refit. “It’s taking a heck of a beating.” So I said, “Of course,” and she said, “God, I had the hat at my house and I was constantly locking the doors. . . I can’t be the person who loses that hat.”
Did you know they sell a replica hat on FX’s website?
They sell a replica?
I’ll tell you two things about the hat. One, it costs $144.95.
Oh no. . .
Two, the opening description of it says “experience the animal magnetism.”
Do you have anything lined up for 2014?
No. I need to get a job. I think its time.
Has Justified led to any bigger auditions?
No, and I think that’s what I’m getting at. What its led to is me spending summers sitting by the pool, walking the dog and driving the kids around. It’s really an unacceptable way to continue. [Laughs] I need to go get some other kind of work.