Somehow the addictiveness of FX’s hot drama series JUSTIFIED is only more apparent as the series whips right through its third season. Taking a few minutes to chat with press in a recent conference call, star Timothy Olyphant dropped a few teasers and candidly shared what he likes most about portraying Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a man quick to pull the trigger when necessary and who stares down the deadliest villains with beguiling calmness.
What is your favorite thing that you’ve gotten to do in this role?
TIMOTHY: It’s all pretty fun. The shows — it’s a blast. It never stops being fun. I’m on that set five days a week and it feels like I’m batting 1000 in terms of when we call wrap. I’m in a pretty good mood. It’s really impressive day in and day out how enjoyable the job is.
Is there something that you’d like to do in the role that you haven’t yet?
TIMOTHY: No. You know, I think that my focus is just trying to tell the story you promised the audience. And so far that’s just been a wonderful challenge, and I just kind of want to see the thing fulfilled and its full potential, I guess.
There seems to be an air of violence always hovering around Raylan. Does he carry that with him or is that something that he just stumbles into given the nature of his work?
TIMOTHY: Well, they do give you a gun when you take the job, so I suppose there’s a reason for that and he enjoys the job, and then every now and then he gets to shoot somebody. It’s a pretty good time, all things considered.
What do you — as an actor — enjoy the most about playing Raylan?
TIMOTHY: The humor is the most fun. It’s a blast being able to do comedy and I always feel like we’re kind of doing a comedy show. And it’s just Elmore Leonard’s cool, all his characters are cool. It’s fun to pretend to be that cool.
In the last episode Raylan seemed to be surprised that he shot the nurse, and I was wondering why is that? Is it just because he’s never really shot a woman? And how will that affect him going forward?
TIMOTHY: I think that definitely played a part. And not to spoil upcoming episodes, but the fact is women aren’t often involved in crimes where they get shot by people in law enforcement. So law enforcement don’t have too many opportunities to shoot at women. So I think it’s a big deal — if you talk to cops — it’s a big deal to shoot a woman. I mean really it’s essentially the equivalent of imagining ever hitting a woman. I mean, just guys, you just don’t do it. And if it happens it’s quite the topic of conversation. You could hit a couple dozen guys, but you hit one woman and you’re going to think about it and everyone’s going to talk about it. And I think it’s kind of in the same ballpark.
This season is all about crossing lines and I was wondering if there’s a line that Raylan would never cross that you can think of?
TIMOTHY: We’re going to try to find out.
When you meet a real-life counterpart or real-life U.S. Marshal, do you think they tend to dig Raylan’s style or might they kind of like, tsk-tsk that the root’n-toot’n kind of buckaroo style he has?
TIMOTHY: I got a call from Elmore’s guy the other day. Elmore’s working on a new novel and he’s thinking of putting Raylan in it and his guys had call the Washington Bureau to talk to them at the Washington office, and he was worried that he was going to have to go through a bunch of red tape. He then sent me an email and said, “They got JUSTIFIED posters in the office. They were more than happy to talk to us.” You know, I appreciate him passing that on to me.
Do you think that Raylan would actually ever give up fighting crime for the woman that he loves? Or does that kind of work and lifestyle hold too much allure for him?
TIMOTHY: I think the ladies are going to be a problem to Raylan for a while. I think he understands the job a little better.
Because it seems like Raylan is always getting beaten up, shot, strung up, etc., for you, what’s the hardest kinds of scenes to film?
TIMOTHY: You know, it’s really not a lot of heavy lifting. You know, I guess you’re right. The nature or the tone of the show, the way we shoot it’s got a lot of bumps and bruises. But it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty clean and we do a lot more talking than we do fighting. So physically it’s not a tremendous challenge at all. The challenge is week after week trying to keep up the standard. We set a high bar. Elmore Leonard set a high bar and challenges meet that day-in and day-out.
It seems like because the other characters have become so well developed over time that this season they’re able to spend more time away from whatever Raylan is up to and focus on some of these other folks, like with the Dewey storyline the other night.
TIMOTHY: Well, it’s some combination of the fact that we have amazing writers, we have an amazing cast and I want days off, and you put it altogether and it lends itself nice to allowing everyone to show off a bit. I thought from the beginning when I took the job — I mean, I was pretty clear that a show was about the character I was playing, but I’m less interested in a TV show that just focuses on that guy so heavily. I think it’s a tough thing to pull off. It’s a tougher — I don’t know how you don’t get bored of that as an audience, and to some degree as an actor — so when you have someone like Damon Herriman, I knock on the writer’s door and say, “Listen, this guy’s great. Send me home. He can carry this thing for as long as you want.” It’s because of my position on the show that quite frankly that I have been allowed to participate in that process and in the storytelling. So I still get a great deal of satisfaction whether I’m in the scene or not. It’s really one of the great joys of the job for me. I feel like either way it’s a win-win for me.
Can you kind of discuss in board terms how the various pieces we’ve seen so far are going to play out in the coming episodes?
TIMOTHY: Well, it doesn’t get any easier. We’ve got a lot of people with the capacity for violence and we got a lot of people that have conflicting wants and needs. And they all keep running up against each other. It’s a violent season and it’s kind of a fun — twisted violent season. And the key to it is hopefully we can continue to sort of ground these people to make you feel like, “Wow, they’re actually quite interesting, complicated folks.” And it’s been a lovely season. It feels like it’s totally different than the first two, and yet feels very much like our show. I couldn’t be more happy with it.
Looking back on all the seasons, can you talk about some of your favorite moments from the show?
TIMOTHY: Oh my gosh, there’s not an episode that doesn’t have something that just tickles me, that I couldn’t be more pleased with. You name an episode, I’ll tell you something great in it, that I just couldn’t be more happy with or more proud of. And it’s always good for me to actually say that out loud because it’s really easy — no matter how great a job is — to wake up in the morning and say, “Fuck it, I’m not going.” And then you realize, “You know what? It’s a great fucking job. It’s just awesome.” And like I said, not a day goes b — it’s like I was saying to someone the other day it’s — I don’t know if there’s a real selling point but I remember being an athlete as a kid — I was a swimmer, I loved it. I don’t remember a time where I didn’t love it. But I remember countless mornings at 5:45 where I said, “This is bullshit. I’m not going. I’m not jumping in that goddamn pool. It’s fucking cold out, I’m tired, no fucking way.” And then you jump in the pool and you start swimming and you’re like, “You know what? I love this sport. It’s just so much fun.” And as we get towards the end of the season you start thinking to yourself, “I just am not getting up tomorrow morning. I don’t know how to figure out one more of these things.” And then you go there and you dive in and you start working with Walt or you start working with Natalie or Nick or you start working with the writers and trying to solve the episode, the scene, and it becomes such a wonderful fulfilling experience. And I just get a great deal — it’s child’s play — but I get a great deal of joy out of it.
When you were a little boy growing up did you have any cowboy heroes?
TIMOTHY: Well I remember liking the song “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” There’s countless westerns that I remember enjoying. I remember watching BONANZA as a kid. I got really excited when we saw Modesto on the map and every now and then they’d head to Stockton or Modesto and we’d get real excited. So I grew up around all those cowboys and we had a horse growing up. And Modesto back in the day was a shit-kicker town and so I’m very fond of it all.
In the last episode, there was a very sad moment at the end where Raylan comes home and he opens up that letter in the kitchen. I was just wondering are we going to learn what’s in the letter?
TIMOTHY: Wouldn’t it be sad if we just dropped it and the next day was just the case of the week. Wouldn’t it be? Yes, it would be very sad. My gut is — and I say this with some insider information — that he’s not going to let that rest. I think that we’re going to get to the bottom of that.
It seemed that when Raylan and Winona got back together that was the quiet portion of his life. Will he strike a balance to try to get that portion back? Because the season is so conflicted and so violent, it’s just nice to have a place to come home to.
TIMOTHY: Well, I can’t promise you that everything works out rosy. I can tell you that one of the many things I like about the show and the story is that relationship feels like a real relationship and it feels complicated. And because of that I’d like to think that it will continue to exist in some capacity. You know, she’s a woman who has great meaning to him and she’s pregnant with his child, and I think that somehow is always going to play a part in who he is. And besides, Natalie’s awesome. And so I don’t see us ever getting rid of her.
In many scenes it looks like you’re about ready to crack up with laughter. Is it hard to keep a straight face in some of the scenes while filming?
TIMOTHY: Yes, you know, I have a good time. When it really works — like I said — I get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. And it’s the tone of the show is to be right in that little pocket there where you’re making a comedy and you’re not acknowledging it. So as long as it feels like it’s within the tone of the show, the reality of the scenario, kind of the whole thing kind of lives.
How much gun training do you have to do prep for some of the gunfight scenes in the show?
TIMOTHY: I’m just winging it. I don’t know, it’s show business and if you’re like me you kind of end up carrying a gun in one project to the next. And I just learned kind of on the sets over the last couple years. You know, you send your kid out to Hollywood to be an actor and they’ll teach him how to shoot a gun.
In the last episode when Raylan’s explaining to the other nurse about Dr. Blowjob, about that hand gesture you did, was that kind of something you just threw in there?
TIMOTHY: I appreciate you noticing. It’s trying to have as much fun as we can on that set. I don’t think that gets written. I mean, we’re all working . Look, my head gets a little foggy. I can’t tell you who comes up with what day-to-day, and quite frankly, I’m guilty of having — I don’t know who to blame for this — but I tend to take credit for everything unless it doesn’t work, and then I just point fingers. But the fact is that set is a very collaborative set and we’ll take ideas from anyone and everyone that’s within earshot of the set. And the writers are there. There’s not a set, there’s not a scene that’s being shot that, where the director and a writer aren’t there. And there’s other cast and we turn these things around and look at them in every single direction and look for the opportunities. Oftentimes we’re writing on the spot. We’re looking for — I mean, as I recall it now — I think we had many gestures that we all discussed and tried to figure out which ones were too far and which ones were too inappropriate. And so I’m sure there’s some pretty good dailies on that one.
Walton said that no matter how easy it may look, it’s never easy for Boyd to kill someone. And I was wondering how Raylan feels about killing folks? If it’s difficult for him?
TIMOTHY: The answer is I have no idea. I just know that he does kill folks and he seems to be getting along nicely.
The Boyd and Raylan scenes are always my favorites when you two are like being very polite to each other and sort of gentlemanly, but you’re still trying to get information from each other. I was wondering if they’re ever going to be able to sit down and have a drink without having an ulterior motive?
TIMOTHY: Well it’s a lovely thought. I don’t know if there’s much of a show there. You know what I mean? The nature of drama is conflict, and if there’s no conflict there’s no scene. So I love working with him too, as soon as they are in a position where they can go out and just have a drink and shoot the shit, I don’t think you have a show anymore.
JUSTIFIED has had some great antagonists. You had Margo Martindale last season and this season you brought in Neal McDonough who — quite frankly — scares me just a bit. So what’s it been like to work with Neal this season?
TIMOTHY: He’s been great. He’s been really great. I’ve really enjoyed it. He’s a class guy and he’s just willing to do and try anything, and I feel like as the season’s progressed his character and his work has just gotten better and better and more and more interesting. I just watched Episodes 9 and 10 and he just becomes I think a much more interesting, much more sick, twisted character. And Neal’s willingness to just go out on a limb has been wonderful.
Since you have producer credit on the show, would you ever consider directing or maybe even doing some writing on the show?
TIMOTHY: You know, I really just so enjoyed being part of the conversation with the writers and the directors and all that. And what’s wonderful about not being a director is that if I’m not in the scene I can leave and golf and watch ESPN. I appreciate the question, but whenever I consider it, I get tired.
You said that you thought that Season 3 was different than the first two seasons. Can you tease a little bit of what else we can expect to see in the season before the finale?
TIMOTHY: We’ve got a lot of — I mean, last year was fantastic. This year I think is a version of wonderful so far. There’s just a lot of balls in the air. I just love — there’s this dare I say plethora of wonderful characters that always, that walk that line between good and evil — bad guys that seem great and good guys that seem bad. And there’s so many of them. And I just really enjoyed the tone of it all. What can I tell you? We got Neal’s character, this Quarles, he’s a problem. His moral compass is a little off and he’s from out of town. And as the season progresses you just get this feeling of like there are bad guys in Harlan County and then there’s this bad guy who’s not one of us. And I think more and more it becomes these people from the North and becomes more and more the about the enemy within. It kind of starts sounding like a bad man series — within the crime syndicate community the Detroit people seem to be the most disliked.
What kind of father do you think Raylan’s going to make?
TIMOTHY: I don’t know. I get the impression we’re going to — God willing we have a few more years left in this — we’re going to find out. That’s my gut. It’s a funny thing about men sometimes. You meet men that you are very fond of and you just have a soft spot for. You think, “That guy’s just great. I love working with him, I’d love to have a drink with him, but thank God he’s not my father.” And sometimes I think this character might fall into that category somewhere.
Do you think in this third season of JUSTIFIED we will see Raylan change?
TIMOTHY: Well, it’s always a little tricky to figure that out. How much does it — the challenge with a character like this is that generally speaking these kinds of characters, they change very, very little — and what you hope for is if you do your job right, that the slightest change has a bit of an impact. Because in the end of the day, these kind of characters, they don’t talk about shit that much. They don’t — earlier you asked about how he feels about killing people. Well the reason I don’t know is because guys like this don’t talk about it. So I can speculate, but who really cares? I mean, guys like this basically, they move on. “What, are we going to sit and talk about our feelings?” As soon as you start doing that, it just betrays the character and the tone of the show and the type of stories you’re telling. So it’s very tricky. So that’s my long-winded way of saying I imagine he will change very little.
How involved is Elmore Leonard with the storylines this season compared with previous seasons?
TIMOTHY: Well he hasn’t done anything different season-to-season. He doesn’t write the show and he’s not involved in the writer’s room. He doesn’t meddle with them. But what he has done is he’s been incredibly generous with allowing us to use things he’s written from his novels, and the most generous thing is he wrote another novel. You know, this book Raylan that’s out is there for the taking for us, and we used a lot of it last year and we’re using some of it for this year. We just continue to sort of draw inspiration. He’s been very supportive. But he and I speak on occasion, but we never talk about the show. We never talk about stories or ideas or things like that. He writes a bunch of books and I just rip them off as much as I can.
To see more of the brewing conflict between Raylan, Boyd Crowder, Quarles and Dickie Bennett as war erupts and the villains seek to take control, be sure to watch an all new episode of JUSTIFIED tonight (aptly entitled “When the Guns Come Out”) at 10PM on FX. Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv