Actor Timothy Olyphant

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Actor explains what led to his role in the FX series Justified.

Following an early career in off-Broadway productions, Timothy Olyphant has amassed a credit list of diverse film and TV roles, including the movies Live Free or Die Hard and The Crazies and such popular series as Sex and the City and My Name is Earl. He gave a standout performance in HBO's Deadwood and completed an arc on the Emmy-winning Damages. Olyphant was raised in California and studied theater and swam competitively at the University of Southern California. He can next be seen leading the cast of the FX series Justified.


Tavis: Timothy Olyphant is a talented actor whose credits include “Deadwood” and “Damages.” His latest project is the new FX series, “Justified.” The series is based on an Elmore Leonard short story and airs Tuesday nights at 10:00. Here now, a scene from “Justified.”
Tavis: (Laughs) You’re in a serious situation right there.
Timothy Olyphant: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what makes drama.
Tavis: That’s one way to put it. I was talking to somebody about this show and it’s pretty simple – shoots people.
Olyphant: Yeah. Yeah.
Tavis: He meets people and says, “If I see you back here in 24 hours, I’m going to shoot you.”
Olyphant: Yeah. It’s just great. (Laughter)
Tavis: You enjoy this character, I take it?
Olyphant: Oh, it’s a kick, are you kidding? Yeah, it’s a kick. All those Elmore Leonard characters are a kick.
Tavis: How did you end up in this role?
Olyphant: They gave it to me. (Laughter) A year or so ago I did a couple episodes of a show called “Damages” on FX, the network, and that basically led to this. John Landgraf, the head of the network, shot me an email which by itself was pretty cool and said they were going to do this show based on an Elmore Leonard short story and wanted to know if I was interested in doing it.
Tavis: Did you know Leonard’s work prior to the show?
Olyphant: I’ll be honest with you, I’ve told everybody yes, but really, no. I’ve been lying for months. (Laughter) I thought about this on the way here. I thought, “You know what, I’m going to come straight on this.”
Tavis: Yeah, tell Tavis the truth.
Olyphant: Here’s what I knew. I knew “Out of Sight,” the movie. I loved it. “Get Shorty,” I loved it, and I remember reading a script years ago – this isn’t fair, now that I’ve started talking I realize I should have stopped myself.
I remember reading the script to “The Big Bounce,” and I loved that script and I loved that character that Owen Wilson played, I think. I remember thinking when I read that script, I’d love to get my hands on one of those characters. But I hadn’t really read the books until I got this job, and then I read tons of them.
Tavis: I was being a little bit flippant when I talked about the fact that he shoots people, although he does. For those who haven’t seen the series, let me be more gracious about this. Tell me more about the character that you play on the series.
Olyphant: Oh, it’s fine. I actually hate talking about these things. He’s a marshal. (Laughter) He goes back to Kentucky where he grew up, and he shoots people. You did fine. (Laughter) That’s it. That’s it.
Tavis: They call the series – I figured this before I saw it, but then I saw it and I understand why they call it “Justified.”
Olyphant: Really?
Tavis: Yeah. Well, in my mind at least. These are people who are – have done bad things.
Olyphant: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I wanted to call it “Killtucky.” (Laughter)
Tavis: Not Kentucky.
Olyphant: No one would go for it. No one. I talked to everyone I could. I went all the way up the ladder.
Tavis: You keep to the acting, Timothy.
Olyphant: (Unintelligible) idea man.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you stay –
Olyphant: There’s no off switch here.
Tavis: You stay with the acting.
Olyphant: Then they were going to call it “Law Man.” But then Steven Segal came out with a show called “Law Man,” and ruined it for everybody. (Laughter) So how’d we get him back? We named it a title that sounds like a Steven Segal movie.”
Tavis: Yeah, “Justified.”
Olyphant: Take that, yeah.
Tavis: Is this where – you’ve been acting how long now?
Olyphant: Over 10 years.
Tavis: Yeah. So that’s not a really long time, but is this something that you saw – I know you didn’t see the character coming, but is this something that you – this kind of character something you saw fitting into the kind of role that you’d like to take on one day?
Olyphant: Oh, yeah. No, I actually – I think when I started this line of work I thought well, maybe one day if I work at this I could play characters like this one, yeah.
Tavis: Acting for just over 10 years now – how did you – which means you didn’t do this as a child, obviously.
Olyphant: No.
Tavis: How did you get into – how did you figure that this is what you were supposed to be doing 10 years ago?
Olyphant: It was a bit of a hunch, really. I was out here in Los Angeles, I was a fine art major, studio art, painting and drawing and stuff at USC. I owed some electives. Four years, I was already out, I was a swimmer at the time. I was swimming down in Orange County.
I owed some elective units and I was down in Irvine and they had – I could take any class I wanted, and they had acting 101 down there at UC Irvine, and I thought well, this is something I’d always kind of thought about.
It was about that time in my life where I had to do something, so I took this class and it was a blast. I thought – I waited for a while, it was a decision to go get my master’s in fine arts or move to New York and study acting, and it seemed like the most fun idea at the time.
So I drove across the country and I started taking acting classes with a man named Bill Esper at William Esper Studios. I did that for two years and then I went out and tried to get work.
So when I showed up in New York, really, I’d taken this class for a quarter and I knocked on his door and met Mr. Esper and said, “I want to learn how to act,” and he said – I hadn’t done a high school play. I had just taken this one little class, but it seemed fun and it worked out, so.
Tavis: I didn’t interrupt while you were telling the story –
Olyphant: You should, because I’ll just keep –
Tavis: No, no, I deliberately didn’t want to interrupt while you were telling that story because I’m always amazed at stories like that, how people are doing something else and then through happenstance they find themselves into something that they’re really gifted at, and the next thing you know the guy’s fronting his own series on FX.
Olyphant: Well, it wasn’t – yeah, well, thanks. At the time I was married and I still am, actually, but –
Tavis: That’s important to say, in case your wife’s watching. Yeah, “I’m still married.”
Olyphant: And happily. She was just like, “Pick something.” I had all sorts of – I wanted to paint, I thought, well, I could start a band, that seems fun, and acting seems fun. She was just, “Just pick something.” So yeah, I moved to New York and I felt like I had a leg up in a way.
Not having any experience, not having any bad habits, I was at it – I approached it in a way that was more – it felt like I was trying to, as an athlete, I was trying to take everything I’d learned as an athlete and somehow apply it to something that’s really quite different, but in a way that was, I think, very helpful in that I set very specific goals and tried to really be very methodical about it.
Tavis: What do you make of how well the series is doing? It ain’t that old yet and you’re burning them up already.
Olyphant: Well, it doesn’t suck. (Laughter) You do these things, you want people to see them, so I’m very proud of it. I worked really hard and it was a kick to do, it was fun, so it’s fun. I’m thrilled that people are responding to it.
Tavis: Is this attire, this big hat and these clothes you wear, is this attire that you would ever, prior to doing this character, get caught wearing?
Olyphant: No, I’m not even sure I should be wearing it on a TV show. (Laughter) I think it’s a little –
Tavis: You like this look?
Olyphant: Well, we went for it. (Laughter) You know what I mean? The thing is, you forget that just about everywhere else, everyone’s wearing them. That’s one thing about being in L.A. and New York, you forget.
I shot a movie in Iowa last year and went into Des Moines, there was some concert. It wasn’t even like a country-western; I think it was James Taylor. Every dude had a hat on.
Tavis: I don’t have one of those, Timothy.
Olyphant: Oh, you should.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) You’re like, “Everybody’s wearing it.” No, we ain’t.
Olyphant: You should wear one on one – just come out – oh, come on.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Olyphant: Give it a chance.
Tavis: You know what’s funny? There is a funny clip which I swear will never see the light of day, and if it does the folk around here will get killed, and Brian’s laughing because he knows where I’m going. One day, speaking of those big hats, Larry Hagman was on this show as a guest one day, and he walked on, of course, with his big hat on.
Olyphant: See? He wasn’t fooling around.
Tavis: We’re talking about this hat, so he gives me this hat and I put it on, and it fall all over my head. (Laughter) I said Dude, you got a big head. Just fell down. So there’s a clip that should be on the cutting room floor somewhere, never to be seen again, but if I keep watching this thing long enough, I may get me one of those.
Olyphant: Yeah, it’d look good on you.
Tavis: Yeah.
Olyphant: Yeah. You’ve got to find the right one; you’ve got to try on different ones. Everybody – the problem with the hat is that everyone talks about the hat, and it’s sort of –
Tavis: It’s the kind of hat that would inspire you to talk about it. It’s a big hat, Timothy.
Olyphant: As soon as the writers wrote a show all about the hat, that’s when I stopped wearing it on the show, just to screw with them. (Laughter) Because they never come to the set, so I did one episode where I just didn’t wear the hat, because I knew the next episode was all about someone taking my hat. No one said anything to me. I don’t know how it went over.
Tavis: You’re kind of ornery, aren’t you?
Olyphant: I think it’s best to be. (Laughter)
Tavis: Before you get much more ornery, I’m going to end this conversation. His name is Timothy Olyphant. His series is called “Justified.” It’s on the FX network. Timothy, good to have you on.
Olyphant: It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Tavis: Good to see you.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm