The Season 4 "Justified" finale airs April 2 at 10 p.m. ET on FX, and tensions have reached their boiling point between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and the Detroit mob, with Raylan's pregnant ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) caught in the crossfire.
The Huffington Post caught up with Olyphant back in January to discuss the trajectory of the season and his experience filming the critically acclaimed series, which was recently renewed for a fifth season. There are no spoilers below, but Olyphant, who is also an executive producer on "Justified," shared some fascinating insight into both the production of the show, Raylan's dynamic with his longtime rival, the inimitable Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), and what about the show keeps challenging him, even after four years.
You're an executive producer on "Justified," and I feel like it varies from show to show in terms of how much input actors who are also executive producers actually have. Can you talk a little about your experience in that capacity?
They make me feel like I have a lot -- whether I do or not is probably up for debate. First of all, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to engage and collaborate with Graham [Yost] and the other writers the way that made me feel like I’m doing it. I’m there a lot. I’m at the writer’s room. A couple of months before we started shooting, Graham and I started talking immediately after the last season, as we always have done. I think I started coming into the writer’s room on and off sometimes back in July, August, and we engage in a constant dialogue. Before we start shooting, I’m in there a lot, and when we are shooting, I get in there whenever I can.
It seems like a very collaborative process and obviously, you have a very different perspective as an actor than the writers in terms of how a scene might work in practice and how you can add depth in unexpected ways.
It’s where all the fun is. Honestly, it’s been the greatest thing about this job ... I love my job as an actor, and obviously that’s what I’m getting paid to do, but I feel that the real treat on this show is engaging and collaborating with Graham and the rest of them. It’s very rare that you can be in a career for as long as I have, and still feel like you’re constantly learning and coming at it from an almost childlike perspective. This show has afforded me that experience. I think that always as an actor, I don’t want to overstep or pretend that I’m doing anything more than I’m doing. I ask a lot of questions. I’m somewhere between a big pain in the ass and a cheerleader. I push and I ask questions, and I think, and then I cheer them on, and I say, “Come on, guys. We can do it. Let’s go.”
What were you hoping to achieve or explore this season that you haven't in previous seasons?
Well, it starts with a very basic idea for me which is, "How do I still enjoy going to work?" ... If a movie is a marathon, television is a race to the death. If you’re successful, there’s a good chance they’re just going to squeeze it dry. Everybody wants to be liked, and everybody therefore just does what works.
I think the challenge is to say, “Fuck that. Let’s go where these characters want to go, and let’s trust that no matter what story we tell, it’s going to still feel like the world in which we created and started with.” I think that the challenge is to say, “What story do we want to tell? We already did that, let’s do something else.” The challenge with a character like Raylan is he’s so laconic, he’s sort of deflecting, or not allowing others to pin him down. How do you keep that character interesting? He’s not going to give you much. If he gives you too much, then you’ve betrayed the show, so you put him up a tree, and you throw rocks at him. I’m incredibly impressed that the show, for me anyway, continually makes that character of interest.
I read an interview that you and Walton did where you described Raylan and Boyd's relationship as the crux of the show. They're not really together for the first four episodes, but then their stories start to overlap. Can you talk more about their dynamic and how it's constantly shifting?
Again, from a creative standpoint, you’ve got two things. I love working with the guy, but I don’t want to keep doing the same scene over and over just because it works. [The Season 4] story felt like it gave us an opportunity to stay in touch with both of them with their own interests and watch those worlds collide slowly over the course of the season. I think that the fact is that Walt’s just too good not to get everything you can out of him because he’s just electrifying, and he’s an unpredictable character. He’s an unpredictable actor, and he’s as good as it gets.
We’re never going to stop. We’re going to keep going as long as he’s around. I just think the relationship between Raylan and Boyd -- like to some degree the relationship Raylan and Art (Nick Searcy) and some of the others, but primarily Raylan and Boyd is -- I’m not sure if one of them is very interesting without the other.
Right, they are kind of the yin and yang of the show -- they define each other in a lot of ways.
Well, it feels like something along the way, early on in their upbringing, just a nudge, made them two very, very different people and yet they couldn’t be more similar in many respects.
Raylan could have gone the same way.
It seems like one of those things. It’s hard to define what it was that just made it work out [differently] for him.
Raylan always has the benefit of having very strong women in his orbit, as does the show in general ...
First of all, all those actresses are just remarkable. They’re all so great. I could just watch a whole show about them. It starts with Elmore [Leonard, who wrote the stories on which "Justified" is based]. If you don’t have those women around in the story ... every story is better with a pretty girl in it. First and foremost, the Winona story and the relationship with that character, I think is an interesting one in that it’s a broken relationship, and now it’s more complicated with a kid on the way.
I remember when Graham and I first started the show, and he had introduced the ex-wife character. And also knowing that he was going to have this relationship with Ava [Joelle Carter] early on the show who, at the time, seemed like an absolute disaster -- I guess she still is. She had just shot and killed her husband and Raylan shows up after, God knows how many years, and she kisses him on the mouth and thinks all of her prayers have been answered, and you think, “What a disaster.” She’s just as concerned with the fact that she’s murdered her husband with how Lysol is the best cleaning product to deal with the bloodstain and her hair’s a mess. It was just a wonderful, bizarre character, and I remember this feeling of, “Well, if that’s who Raylan’s going to hook up with, then shouldn’t the ex-wife be the woman he wants to be with, but isn’t able to maintain a relationship with because of his own shortcomings?”
Right, because she's got her shit together and he really hasn't.
Trust me, a relationship with a woman who’s got her shit together is not easy ... This season, it felt like we had an opportunity, given that Winona picked up and left Raylan, to introduce Raylan to a lot of women that were the type like Ava, the kinds he was attracted to but should know better than to get involved with.
I love that you've been pushing to bring Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Rachel (Erica Tazel) into more storylines this season.
They’re just fantastic actors, and it’s about time we take full advantage of them. As far as I approach that from a story’s standpoint, I’m just looking for the answer to the same questions. "Who wants what? What makes it difficult?" Graham was talking about doing a scene that was going to be just Art and I, and then I introduced the idea of having Tim in the car. It’s a gut instinct ... by putting him in there, it provides an opportunity to make it more difficult, to enlighten, to quite frankly just see something we haven’t seen. It’s literally as pedestrian as, "I just haven’t seen that scene where you can watch that dynamic." I’ve seen a scene between Art and Raylan and that dynamic, but by putting the three of them together, it’s just as simple as watching the dynamics shift. It’s almost silly how much that adds to a scene, to say just by putting that third character in the car, the whole dynamic shifts. It also allows us to learn something about each of the characters that you wouldn’t have otherwise learned without them all being engaged that way.
"Justified" airs its Season 4 finale on April 2 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.