Justified Riffing: Olyphant and Goggins Talk High-Def TV Magic

Why is Justified so damn good? Simply put, it’s one of the best written, best acted, best sounding, and best looking shows there is, season in and season out. Based on a character sprung from the brilliantly unique mind of Elmore LeonardJustified stars Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as his most frequent (and most cunning) adversary, Boyd Crowder. In Leonard-speak, Raylan and Boyd are two sides of the same coin who are more often than not on opposite ends of the same side of that coin. (Or something like that. Look, I tried…)

In the wake of the show’s impending recent Season 4 finale (airing April 2 at 10 p.m. on FX) and its just-announced Season 5 renewal, as well as having its first three seasons readily available for binge Blu-ray marathoning, I chatted up both Olyphant and Goggins to get the goods. Olyphant feels Justified looks as good as it does because “Francis Kenny, our cinematographer, does an incredible job of making our California locations look like we’re in Kentucky.” As for the now-concluding Season 4, Goggins says he would “put it up against any season we’ve done so far. I’ve really had a good time doing it.”

So let’s take a ride into the depths of Harlan County, shall we? First, Olyphant shares his pithy take on the show’s visual qualities, analyzes his role as a producer, and posits who’d win in a gunfight between Raylan Givens and Seth Bullock. And then Goggins discusses working with cameras at close range, his love of singer/songwriters, and why a special woman named Venus is likely to rise again.



METTLER: Justified is one of the best looking and best sounding shows we’ve seen in high-def. As a quote-unquote “pretend to be a producer” of the show, you must be very happy about that.

OLYPHANT: I am. I’m thrilled to hear that. There’s nothing that you’ve said so far that disappoints me.

METTLER: [laughs] Good, I’ll try to keep things in that vein. Are most of the show locations still in Santa Clarita [California]?

OLYPHANT: We get all around in that area. We cruise over to Pasadena and Altadena, and we get up to Green Valley north of Santa Clarita. We use whatever we can find around there to make it work.

METTLER: The richness of the cinematography, the locations, and the way everybody looks is critical to be that good so we believe that you’re in Kentucky as opposed to California. I was actually surprised when I heard that commentary back on the Season 1 Blu-ray set. It was so believable. The locations are fantastic.

OLYPHANT: Yeah, Lord knows they’re working their tails off on that, and it’s not an easy task. They’ve done a great job. It looks nice.

METTLER: As an actor, do you do different things because the show is shot in high-def?

OLYPHANT: Well, those are things that you stand back and appreciate the way you do. The only thing that I can do somewhat every now and then is participate in the conversation. If there’s a shot, or something I’m seeing, or an angle where I’m on set, I have, for better or worse, suggested, “Come over here and take a look at this. What if we shot it over here?” When we’re making the show, it’s pretty fast and furious, and it’s very impressive what they’re able to accomplish.

METTLER: Were you asking for different angles when you were, say, hanging upside down and being hit with a baseball bat at the end of Season 2 [in Episode 13, “Bloody Harlan,” directed by Michael Dinner]? Asking for, say, “a little more to the left or to the right, please”?

OLYPHANT: [laughs heartily] That was one of my better ideas! Yeah, they hung me upside down, all right...

METTLER: How very noble of you to put yourself in that position…

OLYPHANT: It seemed like a good idea at the time. [both laugh] It was sad, though; I really had no business complaining since it was my idea. And Lord knows there was plenty to grumble about.

METTLER: That was a hugely effective scene, and you totally went for it. And as I’m sure you know, you gotta use good wood instead of aluminum in those situations. Did you ever play baseball yourself?

OLYPHANT: I never did, no. In my 20s, I may have played in a softball league, but I don’t think I ever participated in a game. Crazy…

I was lucky. Earlier in that season on the day we were in the batting cages [in Episode 8, “The Spoil”], our director, Michael Watkins, who played minor league ball, was incredibly helpful. I always had a pretty good idea of how to swing a bat, but like anything, it’s best to have a pro to tell you the little things you just don’t know. I remember him telling me, “You’re not swinging, you’re not swinging, until you’re swinging.” There was a constant sort of beginning to start the swing; you’re not still, and then you see it, and then you start to swing. And I was like, “Oh, that’s a fantastic little tip.” I just started tagging every ball, meeting every ball much earlier that I was before.

And then there was something about him telling me, “Swinging, it’s your right hand; you’re basically coming through with that right hand.” And again, I don’t think I’d ever considered that.

METTLER: And also the follow through — that you keep on swinging through after you’ve made the contact, you keep the motion going to avoid hitting those foul balls.

OLYPHANT: Yes, right, you’re not driving it.

METTLER: See, I watched those Ted Williams instructional videos when I was growing up.

OLYPHANT: Yeah. I’m one of those guys who can just mimic it. And that gets me pretty far. But there’s nothing better than having someone say these two little things where you then go, “Wow, as soon as you say it, it makes all the difference in the world.”

METTLER: What was interesting about the commercials that aired for Season 3 and the promo materials for this year’s Blu-ray release made it look as if you and Boyd are kinda like Starsky and Hutch — or maybe a modern-day Seth and Sol — but we know better.

OLYPHANT: Oh, those crazy people over there in marketing. Well, we never shot that scene, but there sure was some good stuff with Mykelti [Williamson] as this wonderful character over in Noble’s Holler, Ellstin Limehouse. There are some legends about a black guy who was in this holler in Kentucky that was set aside for emancipated slaves, and so it’s a large black population with a great history to it. He played a guy who does all of the Bennett family’s banking, keeping their money under the church. It’s kind of a cool part of that year.

And Neal McDonough plays Robert Quarles, a Northerner who came out of Detroit and wants in on the action in Harlan County, and he there’s as an outsider. And then we had all of the usual things, you know: Boyd’s alive and well and doing his thing. Winona [Natalie Zea] is pregnant, and Raylan’s got a lot on his hands.

METTLER: And whose fault is that, I wonder?

OLYPHANT: Yeah, you know, look — it takes two to make an accident.

METTLER: I’ve heard that, I’ve heard that. It’s a good thing to know. Sometimes it takes three, but that’s a different show.

OLYPHANT: Right, exactly. [laughs] Well, you never know. I might just take that to the writer’s room.

METTLER: You can take it for free, you’re a producer.

OLYPHANT: That doesn’t sound un-Elmore.

METTLER: Speaking of being a producer, has that role increased, such as you having more conversations with Graham [Yost, co-creator of the show] about what’s what?

OLYPHANT: What exactly do I do, you mean? It’s a very involved, sort of odd process making a TV show. I mean, the short answer is I do a little bit of everything and people are very welcoming, and when I leave the room, perhaps they curse at me.

METTLER: Maybe sometimes they do that even when you’re in the room.

OLYPHANT: [chuckles] Everyone in the room has been quite polite. It was really just a wonderful invitation to sit down in the room in general. It was really quite generous for Graham to invite me into that for Season 3. I was involved in the past, but I’m much more involved now. You know, to be able to go in there and hear the broad strokes of what they have planned for the season at hand, and have a chance to tell them the things I was interested in or respond to the direction they were going — that was great. After a few of those meetings I started meeting separately with Graham, and we’d sit down and start going through outlines. They involved me in that process, or at least pretended to involve me in that process. Once it gets into script form it starts changing where we have writers who take on an episode, and my work and communication starts singling out with the writer of the episode.

METTLER: I know you’re a reader of Elmore Leonard like I am, so I think you’ll agree that three of the most important elements for Justified are tone, rhythm, and cadence. Watching the episodes in blocks on Blu-ray after seeing them sequentially as they first aired, you get into that Elmore kind of world and really see how the WWED edict [“What Would Elmore Do?”] that came out of Season 1 was executed. And you, the one who has to probably speak the most words on the show, knows where it’s done right, or not.

OLYPHANT: Yeah, you know, it’s one of those deals — I’m not a good singer, but if I were, I’d have a good sense of whether I was on key or not. That’s basically what you’re looking for. Making sure it sounds about right and it feels that you’re in that groove. And when it bumps, you try to push it back in the right spot.

METTLER: One last question here, but it’s a very critical one. I’m going to give you a scenario, and you tell me how it plays out. Ok, so we’re gonna have a showdown. We’ve got Raylan Givens on one side, and Seth Bullock [Olyphant’s character on Deadwood, the sheriff] on the other side. What happens, who wins, and what goes on there?

OLYPHANT: Hmm. [brief pause] Bullock’s too angry. Sooner or later, that’s gonna cost him. He’s gotta chill, man.

METTLER: [chuckles] Yeah, I don’t think they had anger management back then.

OLYPHANT: I don’t think that anger’s good for a quick-draw situation. I think you wanna go with the guy who’s relaxed.

METTLER: You have two completely different physical demeanors for those characters. There are some similarities, yeah, but they’re quite different in the way they walk, talk, and move. You see those subtleties, and you can clearly tell that this guy is different than the other guy.

OLYPHANT:That’s nice of you to say. I really appreciate you paying attention like that. That means a lot, actually. Puts a smile on my face. 


NEXT: Walton Goggins discusses working with cameras at close range, his love of singer/songwriters, and why a special woman named Venus is likley to rise again.