Maybe it’s just that Timothy Olyphant looks so good in a cowboy hat.
The Modesto-raised actor has now spent close to a decade playing strong, complicated lawmen who wear Stetsons, first as Sheriff Seth Bullock for three seasons on HBO’s “Deadwood” and now entering his fifth season as U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens on FX’s “Justified.”
As the FX show gets ready for its season premiere Tuesday night, the series reaches a personal milestone for its hat-wearing hero. Raylan will become a father this year, a role Olyphant has played in real life since 1999 with wife Alexis. Olyphant’s character has been the sometimes conflicted but always surefire moral center of the Kentucky backwoods tale of crime and punishment since its beginning.
The show eases into maturity with a familiar foe, new faces and fatherhood this year. The fifth season also will serve as a tribute to the late novelist Elmore Leonard, whose work the series is based upon. “Justified” executive producer and showrunner Graham Yost told Deadline.com shortly after the writer’s passing in August that more of Leonard’s classic characters would populate this season.
“Before he had his stroke, we were thinking, you know, we’re headed to end of the series, we’ve maybe got two seasons left, so we wanted to bring in the Crowe family, which is a big part of his world,” Yost told Deadline.com. “We’ve got Dewey Crowe on the show, but there are other Crowes that populated his books and we thought it would be fun to focus on that.”
Indeed, Olyphant’s Raylan will face off with more Crowes, including this season’s chief antagonist, Daryl Crowe (played by Michael Rapaport), the head of a Florida-based crime family, and Wendy Crowe (Alicia Witt), his sister and the family’s public face. These new Crowes are all cousins to the show’s dimwitted Dewey Crowe, who has been a lackey for various criminal enterprises over the years.
As Raylan, Olyphant has cultivated an ice-cold stare and itchy trigger finger, a quiet man amid the mayhem of murderers, meth dealers and more who inhabit Harlan County, Ky. The 1986 Beyer High graduate said keeping a hero like Raylan interesting has been one of the keys to the story’s success so far.
“One of the challenges of telling this story is that you don’t fall into the trap of just being cool, just waltzing through things in this laconic way. I think the trick is to put your hero in a tree and throw rocks at him,” he told the Guardian earlier this year. “Unlike a lot of the dramas you see on television, Raylan’s only going to move emotionally just a nudge; if he moves too far away from that, you lose the character. And that’s the challenge: How can we invest in this character that gives us so little? The key is the other characters. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘Raylan’s the hero and these other people are all a-------,’ and that doesn’t make for a very good show.”
The strong supporting cast includes the returning Walter Goggins, back as Raylan’s ultimate frenemy, Boyd Crowder, and Natalia Zea, who returns in a recurring role as Raylan’s ex-wife and mother of his impending child.
The series has a proven track record of elevating its supporting cast. As Raylan’s principal foe in the second season, veteran character actress Margo Martindale won an Emmy portraying crime family matriarch Mags Bennett. That same year, Olyphant earned his own Emmy nomination for best lead actor in a drama series.
Still, “Justified” isn’t all that has kept the 45-year-old actor busy this past year. Olyphant got to take off the hat and stretch his comedy muscle in a guest role on “The Mindy Project” this fall. In the one-episode appearance, he plays a momentary love interest for series star Mindy Kaling. The episode, which aired in November, featured Olyphant as a long-haired, multitattooed skater dude.
This isn’t the first time Olyphant, whose past work includes the big-screen projects like “Live Free or Die Hard,” “Scream 2” and “The Crazies,” has ventured into the funny business. He has made two stops on the hit NBC comedy “The Office,” as well as guest spots on “My Name is Earl” and an early role on “Sex and the City.”
Besides TV, Olyphant has some high-profile feature film work coming up in 2014. He will appear in the ensemble family comedy “This Is Where I Leave You” starring Tina Fey, Jason Bateman and Jane Fonda and slated for a September release. And he also is attached to the horror Western “Bone Tomahawk,” featuring Kurt Russell and Peter Sarsgaard.
In early December, Olyphant took part in a live stage reading of the original screenplay for the cult hit “Raising Arizona,” as part of an ongoing series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Olyphant and Amy Poehler read the lead roles made famous by Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter, respectively. They were directed onstage by comedian Patton Oswalt, who, coincidentally, had a major guest role in last season’s “Justified,” playing a bumbling constable who both helped and hindered Raylan.
But now as the “Justified” fifth season is set to start, it’s back to business for Olyphant. And while the production has been largely mum on major plot details, we can expect the show will tip its hat extra hard to the man who started it all.
“We try to honor and pay tribute to Elmore Leonard every chance we get,” Olyphant told the Guardian. “One of the things I like about our show is our willingness to every year have a different theme as long as it’s still in the Elmore world.”