LOS ANGELES — Justified just finished a typically terrific fourth season that featured the Detroit Mafia invading Kentucky, a marriage proposal from antihero Boyd Crowder to his love Ava, and Patton Oswalt playing a constable who takes it (and takes it) on the chin before turning into an unlikely hero and saving the day. In the middle of this chaos, as always, stood Timothy Olyphant’s Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, laid-back and laconic, glaring and growling, one of television’s most fully realized lawmen.
We caught up with Olyphant recently to talk about the show’s evolution.
Q: Raylan had to deal with his past this season, most notably when his dad, Arlo, died. Were you surprised that tough old bird finally bit the dust?
A: I remember we shot a scene (earlier) where I told him, “You’re going to die in prison, it’s going to happen soon, and I’ll be thrilled when I hear the news.” And we realized as we walked away from that scene: Don’t we want to see that moment? And don’t we want to find out if that’s really how Raylan’s going to feel? You’re looking for the unexpected and yet the inevitable, that moment where people would go, “They killed Arlo! Arlo’s dead!” Well, of course he is. What else was going to happen?
Q: And keeping with the show, Raylan’s reaction is quite muted. But you see it hits him hard.
A: When I first think about these things, I always think in big, operatic terms. I think, “Oh, this is going to be fantastic! Finally Raylan, who always holds everything close, is going to just break down and lose it.”
Q: Which never happens.
A: I know! And as much as I’m itching to play that scene where Raylan completely falls apart, it always ends up being this small thing where, if you blink, you’ll miss it. That’s the game we’re playing: small moments of vulnerability.
Q: And then Raylan shuts the door.
A: Immediately. I remember in Season 1, Boyd asks Raylan if he believes in God. And Raylan says he does. And you think, “Ooooh, this is interesting.” Then the next moment, Boyd asks him to describe that God, and Raylan says, “You know: Long white beard, sitting on a throne.” That’s about all he’s going to give you.
Q: There’s no shortage of contrasting characters, though. One standout this season was Constable Bob. Was Patton Oswalt’s role envisioned as being that important to the story, or did it evolve?
A: Early on, we knew Patton gave us the blueprint for something special. The first day, I’m having a hard time getting through takes without cracking up, yet I was completely aware that he’s playing it dead serious, giving that character a level of sadness beneath it all. And we thought, “Wow. We could really throw rocks at this guy. You can make him as cute or funny as you want, but if we put him in a spot where we can really find out what he’s made of, that’s where the goods will be.”
Q: Season 5 will open with Ava in jail. Are Raylan and Boyd heading to a final confrontation?
A: As the story comes to an end, that’s the $64,000 question. That’s a big monkey.
Again, like with Arlo, you’re looking for the unexpected yet the inevitable. I don’t think we’re there yet.