Timothy Olyphant on ‘Justified’ Season 4

The star of FX’s critically acclaimed drama previews the new season and makes a few cryptic comments much like Raylan Givens himself.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Our first interview of the new year was a conference call earlier today with “Justified” star Timothy Olyphant.

The FX original series returns on January 8 for a fourth season with Olyphant as Elmore Leonard’s U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Word has it that Raylan will face some hill people this year, as well as the usual characters from Harlan County, Kentucky. Olyphant kept the spoilers light in previewing the new season, and you could hear the Raylan in some of his deadpan answers to straightforward questions.

Q: When will Raylan cross paths with Boyd again?

Timothy Olyphant: 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 having the same scene over and over. We’re doing our best to keep the story both familiar yet unexpected. When we sit down and try to concoct these things, we’re looking for the unexpected and hopefully we’ve got that this year.

Q: After the revelation about Arlo last season, how does Raylan deal with that?

Timothy Olyphant: That’s a good question. How does Raylan deal with it? You know, Raylan’s not really dealing with it. I think Raylan does his best to try not to deal with these kinds of things. That’s what makes him Raylan.

Q: What is Raylan’s connection to the hill people and how they fit in this season?

Timothy Olyphant: The hill people are characters we introduce a third or so of the way in. Like all these people from Harlan, everyone has some kind of connection to one another. The question is does that help or hurt them? That’s what we’ve got to try to find out in the course of that story.

Q: What did it mean to you to go behind the scenes being an executive producer? And as executive producer, how involved do you get with the writers?

Timothy Olyphant: First of all, it means a great deal to me. I am very thankful for the opportunity. It made the job just thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly challenging. It really has been a pleasure to be able to have permission to work with the writers and directors week in and week out in that capacity. How involved am I? In my mind, I’m doing everything but in reality, I’m doing very, very little. It’s so easy.

I’m guilty of you come up with one idea, one moment, one line, something that leads to something. It’s easy for me, I’m ashamed to say, I can sit back and go, “Look at that, there would be no show without that. That deal with the hat right there, that was my idea! It made the whole episode!” and it’s nothing. The writers on this show are amazing. They sit down in front of the blank page and the fact that the come up with what they come up with week in and week out is some kind of a miracle. My job basically is to keep poking at it, keep asking questions.

I have the luxury of not having my name on the page and I think that gives me a certain amount of freedom 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. Like I said, that collaboration has been really fulfilling.

Q: How much contribution do you have in the individual lines you get to deliver, and how does it feel to speak Raylan’s dialogue?

Timothy Olyphant: First of all, the latter part of that question is it’s a joy. It’s a pleasure to be able to say these lines and have such good dialogue. It’s hard to get your hands on that. I feel like I get to do it week in and week out. It’s not lost on me what an opportunity it is and I’m enjoying every second of it. My contribution to that, very little.

I’m not sure it’s my greatest strength. There are others on the set, Walt [Goggins] probably chief among them, who adds a real good feel to that. The word dude comes out of my mouth a lot. Usually my contributions need to be translated and re-articulated in Elmore speak.

Q: Is it more difficult to be actor or 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 becomes problematic.

Q: Will you ever go to Kentucky to film?

Timothy Olyphant: I would love to. I just want to say if it were up to me, we would be there. It’s just these other people.

Q: What would bringing the show to Kentucky add to the show?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, 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.

Q: How much Kentucky research do you do?

Timothy Olyphant: We have folks that we’re friendly with from back in Harlan County that are very gracious, they stay in touch with us. We continue to use them as a source for material and inspiration. We also spend time talking with the marshals and we spend a good deal of time trying to rip off Elmore. Whatever we can to try to put the best story out there.


Q: Can we expect some new plot twists this season?

Timothy Olyphant: Yeah. The short answer is yes. We don’t want to spoil any of it but we do our best to keep people leaning forward.

Q: Why do you think the show has retained its popularity?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, I like it because it’s really entertaining. Beyond that I don’t have any answers for you.

Q: Does the code of honor each character has, whether on the right or wrong side of the law, make this show unique?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, look. We’re trying to do Elmore Leonard right and Elmore Leonard is always about some sort of moral code amongst cops and thieves. They define one another not necessarily by good guys and bad guys but which ones are the a**holes and which ones aren’t.

There’s oftentimes a line that, good guy or bad guy, they just won’t cross and there’s a respect that comes from that. We’re always looking for that moral code that each one of them has, that thing that separates them from one another. You can’t pick up an Elmore novel and not find that chapter to chapter in all of his books.

Q: What keeps Raylan from slipping into crime himself? He’s been associated with the same people in Harlan county who could influence him.

Timothy Olyphant: Well, that’s a good question. The answer is, I don’t know. But so far so good. He seems to be walking right up to the edge now and then and that’s kind of the fun of it, watching how close he can get to that without crossing.

We were just talking about this yesterday in the writer’s room. There’s a fun game that happens now and again where others try to pin him down on who he is, what his intentions were, what would have happened had it not gone exactly the way it did. Raylan’s the guy who refuses to allow him to get pinned like that. In some respects, he thinks it’s outrageous that anyone would even ask the question, and that’s a fun character to play.

Q: Will we get to see Raylan as a dad? How will his relationship with his father affect how he is as a father?

Timothy Olyphant: That’s a good question. I think that depends on 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 sets tend to be a pain in the ass. And if they’re not a pain in the ass, their parents are a pain in the ass.

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 of that, as far as storytelling’s concerned. Raylan being a father, one of the things that appealed to me about the books is he’s a father of two in the books. I thought that was one of the ways Elmore differentiates himself, or at least differentiates Raylan from characters who are cut from the same cloth. You don’t often see the old westerns and see them having to parent or be involved in some kind of divorce or visitation rights. Those kinds of things are what makes Elmore tick.

Q: How many episodes have you finished this season?

Timothy Olyphant: This is number eight right now.

Q: Will Ellstin Limehouse, Mykelti Williamson’s character, return this season?

Timothy Olyphant: There’s a good chance.

Q: Why did you choose not to give Raylan as pronounced an accent as other actors on the show?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, personally, I think everyone else is probably doing it wrong and I’m doing it right. That’s what you’re picking up on. Listen, it’s a very good group of actors and cast on the show. I often say wonderful things about them but sometimes I think they inadvertently make me look bad by their own shortcomings.

That might be what your’e picking up on. [Joking] Otherwise, as far as the accent’s concerned, there is one there. I just made a choice from the jump to keep it subtle. The character was from Harlan county but left at a young age. There are certain things that are very specific, that are there in the dialect but isn’ as strong as someone like Boyd Crowder who lived there his whole life and never left that county.

Q: How do you balance the comedic lightness of tone with the serious subject matter?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, whenever there’s a scene that’s really funny you try to figure out how serious it can be, and whenever you have a seen that’s really serious, you try to figure out how funny it can be. That’s kind of the game we play.

Q: Are you interested in doing more comedy?

Timothy Olyphant: This kind of reminds me of the question of how much I do as producer. In my mind I’m hilarious so I would love to do more comedy, but I’m not sure my perspective is a healthy one.


Q: What have you learned from the past three seasons of “Justified?”

Timothy Olyphant: I’m sure there’s a serious answer in here somewhere. I like my job. That’s become very clear to me. I know how to pretend to do things I otherwise didn’t know how to do. I know a few facts and things about law enforcement and what not that I was unaware of. I have a better sense of US marshals and what kind of people sign up for that job.

I know that as I said before, I have a very good healthy understanding of how good a gig this is and I’m not sure, 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 as good as it gets as far as working in show business.

Q: How long do you see the show going for?

Timothy Olyphant: A couple more weeks at least.

Q: Prior to the season, how much was Elmore’s book Raylan a consideration?

Timothy Olyphant: We’ve been using that book in season two, three and in season four. We steal from Elmore Leonard every chance we get, but that book is alive and well in this season and the last two.

Q: What will Raylan’s relationship with Constable Bob (Patton Oswalt) this season?

Timothy Olyphant: I wouldn’t call it a friendship. I’d call it a working relationship. I can tell you that Patton Oswalt is funny. That guy is so good. It makes it a little tough for me to get through a scene with a straight face. Yet he’s so serious and so fantastic, it’s a pleasure working with him.

Q: How would you compare Seth Bullock and Raylan?

Timothy Olyphant: You know, I wasn’t that funny on “Deadwood.” That character was really serious. I woke up every morning in a bad place. Raylan seems to be much more easygoing, seems to enjoy his job kind of guy. I’d like to think I’m a little more easygoing than the character on “Deadwood” without question.

Look, they both at times seem to have some anger management issues, but the shows, you lose the cowboy hat and they’re very different types of characters. The tone on this show is very different from the tone on “Deadwood.”Look, I think there are similarities. When Elmore is firing on all cylinders in our show, or like a David Milch or any really good drama, it’s operating on a number of levels that can be both serious and dramatic and at the same time funny and f***ed up, so on and so forth.

So there can be similarities in types of storytellings, but they’re very different experiences for me as an actor.

Q: How so?

Timothy Olyphant: Like I said, on our show we’re oftentimes looking for the funny. There’s a lightness in the tone, there’s a delicateness to the dance that you’re doing. Every now and then, the violence, the seriousness of it rises up, but it’s covered with the sense of humor. That’s different than we were doing on that show.

Q: How bloody will this season get?

Timothy Olyphant: I don’t think there’s any gore. Our show, people get shot. We’re going to be operating in the same world we operated in the last three seasons, just a different story.

Q: What does it mean for you that Elmore ranks “Justified” as one of the best adaptations of his work?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, 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, but I’m going to take him at his word and I appreciate it greatly. 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.

Q: Would you like to direct some episodes of “Justified” at some point?

Timothy Olyphant: No, I don’t see that happening. If I were to direct an episode then there would be no one for me to blame. That’s not going to be any fun. It’s more fun to sit in the backseat and try to drive.

Q: What can we expect from season four’s villains?

Timothy Olyphant: There are a few here and there but we really made a choice to kind of stick with what we had in the bullpen this year. 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 named Colton who comes in and works with Boyd. He’s just fantastic, thoroughly, thoroughly entertaining. What a wonderful actor.

We’ve got more Jere Burns. We have so many people at our disposal, we made a decision not to bring in too many new people. At the same time, there’s a lot of week in, week out great new guest stars, great characters.

Q: Is there one you’re especially excited about?

Timothy Olyphant: I really feel that Eldard’s work is top notch. Patton’s fantastic on the show but he’s not playing a bad guy. He’s playing a constable. He’s fantastic. Jenn Lyon who plays a bartender is just fantastic. There are so many good actors who come and go throughout these seasons. I’m running through them in my mind. There are 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.

Q: Do you find sometimes it’s still hard to get a scene down perfectly?

Timothy Olyphant: Well, the answer is when the writing’s really good it’s much easier and when it’s not good it’s more difficult. What we spend most of the energy on is getting the writing really good and the acting’s going to take care of itself.