It’s no wonder why Timothy Olyphant rules the screen as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens: pardon my language, but he’s a badass both on and off screen. The star of FX’s Justified is one of my all-time favorite actors, both for his masterful performances and because he’s just as watchable when he’s not playing a part. You can imagine my excitement, then, when he sat down with me to talk about season two of one of the best shows on television. I had a hard time not fawning…or falling over laughing.
I want to get the fangirling part out of the way and say that you’re one of my all-time favorite actors, so this is an honor and a pleasure.
I like you already. Thank you. It’s very kind of you to say.
Now, we share something kind of in common: I heard you film parts of Justified in Santa Clarita, is that right? I went to college out in that area.
A great deal of it we film out in Santa Clarita, which in the summertime, you just head straight towards the sun, and just before you catch on fire, [it’s] there.
One of the changes for season two is that you picked up a producer’s credit. What is it that interested you in doing that?
Well, last year I just pretended to be a producer and I rather enjoyed it, so I thought, might as well get the credit. It’s really one of the great joys of the job and one of the real challenges of the job, being a part of the whole thing.
Have you been able to tackle more of your character now that you’re past the first season? I’ve heard some TV actors say that it takes a season to find their characters.
This really is a journey, and I’ve been very fortunate to be allowed in on a part of that process. So, that is the real challenge here for me that I’ve really enjoyed. I don’t think of it as building a character. We’re just telling a story and I don’t know how it’s going to end. The tremendous upside here is that it’s such a great character, and it’s really tough to get your hands on a great character.
The part of season two that really interests me so far is the changing relationship between Raylan and Boyd. You and Walton Goggins work very well together. Where is that headed this year?
Walt’s fantastic. Anytime he’s on the call sheet I know it’s going to be an easy day for me, because I just sit back and let him do all the work. When you’ve got someone who’s going to take the take, moment to moment, keep you on your toes – I remember years ago, my acting teachers saying, “Just work off the other person.” Well, when you’ve got someone like Walt [that] makes it real easy to do it.
As far as his character, we had a lot of fun with him this year. Elmore said, “He’s one of these guys where I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, but I can’t stop listening to him.” He’s one of those guys who just seems like he could be whoever and whatever he needs to be, given the situation. Walt can speak more eloquently about the character than I can, but we really had a lot of fun watching him sort of start out with him sort of lost in the woods, and [then] kind of regain his footing and find his way and come back to life. And he’s in a completely more kind of dangerous and compelling way this year than last year.
There’s still a lot of buzz about the two of you being robbed of Emmy Awards last year. I know I’m still upset about that. Did you have a sense, when you were playing this part last season, of how big it was going to be?
I knew when I read the thing; I was like, “Close the deal before somebody else gets a whiff of this thing.” I trust I know a good part when I see one, and usually when I see one, I have to wait for like seven people to pass in order for me to get to it, and they’re not going to. I knew it was good writing. The books are great. The character’s iconic.
I try to remove myself from the general public as much as possible – I have an elevator that goes straight to my room in the building, so I don’t have to see people. No, I’m just kidding. People have been very generous. People have been very complimentary. And I know the difference between someone coming up to you on the street and saying, “Hey, you’re that dude, right. Yes, that’s what I thought.” And I know the difference between that and somebody coming up and saying, you know, “Big fan of the show. Big fan of that character.” That’s nice. You’re out there telling stories, you’re hoping to find an audience, and it’s very appreciated.
Speaking of the books, how much do you take from Elmore Leonard? Do you consult him as far as the character goes?
Elmore, you know, more or less all I’ve done is kind of chat with him. I don’t think I’ve asked too many specific questions, in terms of “What would you do, where would you go?” What I’ve really taken advantage of is just the opportunity to be around him and to listen to him, to shoot the shit with him, and it’s amazing what you can learn from that. He’s a cool customer, you know, and I think a lot of what – a lot of the answers to the questions that I may or may not have are kind of right there just listening to him. These characters and these stories he tells, they really are an extension of him. Hanging out with him, you just get a vibe and I just try to copy that.
You’ve had such a great career yourself, with so many roles where you just sort of steal the show. So what’s the secret to your success?
I’ve been really lucky. Especially the last two years. I’ve been working for a long time and I’ve just really been allowed to work with very little of the baggage and the pressures that can come with my job. I’ve just been able to, for quite some time now, you know, get to the set and be in a film and just get better. You do it for however many years I’ve been doing it, if you’re not good by now then I think that’s going to be about it.
The last couple of years I feel like a combination of two things. One, I’ve really kind of realized how much I enjoy the job. And at this point in my life I kind of show up to work with a real interest and a real commitment, and I guess a level of confidence. I’m not looking for answers when I show up to the set. I’m just asking the questions, you know, asking questions over and over.
And I think I’ve been given some great material. I mean, in the last couple years I did High Life that went to the Berlin Film Festival. I did Perfect Getaway, The Crazies, this, the TV work I’ve been able to do, stuff like with those guys in Damages. They’ve been great roles. They’ve just been really great roles and I’ve been able to have a meaningful dialogue and collaboration with the filmmakers on each one of those projects. And each time it’s led to work that I’m really pleased and proud of.
So, honestly, how cool is it to be the hero of one of the best shows on television?
I could just go on forever. The job is just a joy, day in and day out. I’ve never left that set and didn’t think to myself, “That was great. That was just a great scene. It was a great moment. It was a great performance.” Not mine; I mean I’m talking about the ones around me. I put in these long hours on this puppy, but at the end of the day you just always walk away going, “God, there’s something to be proud of. It was pretty cool.”
My thanks to the amazing Timothy Olyphant for this interview. Catch him every week in Justified, Wednesday nights at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.