Before being cast as quick-drawing U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens on Justified, Timothy Olyphant was best known to TV viewers as sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO’s Deadwood. Despite the fact that both characters could totally rock a cowboy hat, Olyphant feels that his Justified character — created by best-selling crime novelist Elmore Leonard — has a key element his Deadwood character was lacking: a sense of humour.

“This show definitely has more humour than Deadwood,” admits Olyphant. “Elmore [Leonard] has this twinkle in his eye, you know, and I think that comes across in the show.”

Although Justified just completed its third season on FX in the U.S., here in Canada the show hasn’t been widely seen until it was picked up by Showcase, which began airing the first season in March.

Based on a character that has appeared in several of Leonard’s novels, the series has already won a Critics’ Choice Award, a Peabody Award and a best-supporting-actress Emmy for Margo Martindale’s electrifying performance as backwoods crime kingpin Mags Bennett in the show’s second season.

Justified begins after Givens guns down a bad guy in Miami and unleashes a flurry of bad press that leads him to be reassigned to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky. Upon his return, Raylan is reunited with ex-wife (former Dirty Sexy Money star Natalie Zea), his petty-criminal father and old friend/rival Boyd Crowder (The Shield’s Walton Goggins), now a bomb-making, white-supremacist bank-robber who, as Justified progresses, becomes one of television’s most fascinating, complex villains.

Olyphant admits that although he’s long been a fan of Leonard’s books, he wound up reading a lot more of them “once I got the job. But I’ve always loved his work. His writing is so cinematic. The movies [adapted from his books], at least the ones that were successfully brought to the screen are some of my favourite films. I love Out of Sight — love that film.”

In fact, Olyphant points out that “for years I thought, ‘Ah, it would be great to get my hands on an Elmore Leonard piece,’ so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it. [The books] were great source material that was really beneficial. It’s been so much fun to be able to have that at my fingertips — and it’s an excuse to read those books over and over, which was a joy.”

Author Elmore Leonard appeared at the TV Critics Association January press tour to promote the show, and professed his admiration for the Justified’s writing team, led by show-runner (and Vancouver native) Graham Yost. “They’re pros,” said Leonard. “They know what they’re doing — good writing. I can’t believe it sometimes. My God, it’s a lot better than what I would have written in the scene, you know.”

The cinematic nature of Leonard’s writing, he explains, was certainly no accident, and it’s no coincidence that hit movies such as Get Shorty and Jackie Brown sprang from his typewriter. “From the very beginning I wanted to sell [my books] to the movies, so I made them very visual, as visual as I could, always from a character’s point of view and try to use all the characters and find out who they are. And I think that’s helped. And I’ve sold, I think about 20 to Hollywood. Because from the very beginning, I’ve been in it to make money.”

Writing for money may sound cutthroat, but Leonard admits that money can be an amazing motivating factor to stimulate the artistic process. “Why not write for money?” he says. “I think any writer is a fool if he doesn’t write for money. There’s got to be some kind of an incentive, in addition to the product. It’s fun to sit there alone and think of characters, get them into action and then get paid for it.”

 

JUSTIFIED airs on Sundays on Showcase.