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Timothy Olyphant on 'Justified,' 'Deadwood' and marshals who interpret the law

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. Our guest, actor Timothy Olyphant, has performed in dozens of roles in film, television and theater. He's best known for playing two iconic lawmen - Sheriff Seth Bullock in the HBO series "Deadwood" and a subsequent film, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the FX series "Justified," which earned Olyphant a Primetime Emmy nomination. Among his many other roles, he starred with Drew Barrymore as the husband of a realtor/man-eating zombie in the Netflix comedy series "Santa Clarita Diet" - trust me, it is funny - and he played the tour manager of a rock band in the Amazon Prime series "Daisy Jones & The Six."

In "Justified," Olyphant's character, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, was reassigned to his native Eastern Kentucky, where he chased a bunch of colorful criminals for six seasons, some of whom he'd known since childhood. That series ended in 2015, but it has been revived in the new FX series "Justified: City Primeval," which, like the original, is based on the writings of Elmore Leonard. In the new series, Givens, now in late middle age, finds himself in Detroit dueling with a sociopathic criminal in a distinctly urban setting with his 15-year-old daughter in the picture. I should note that our interview was recorded before the actors strike began.

Timothy Olyphant, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Good to have you.

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: Thank you, Dave. It's good to be here. I feel like I got a little taste of what an obituary might sound like for me when you first started and I was like, is this what it's going to be like?

DAVIES: Well, you'll never know, I think. It will hopefully be longer...

OLYPHANT: That's what they say...

DAVIES: ...And richer.

OLYPHANT: ...That's what they say. The other thing I heard there, which is the self-involved, neurotic actor, I was like, did he just say late middle age? I was like, what's with the adjective late middle age?

DAVIES: Well, if you're 50...

OLYPHANT: I was like, isn't middle age enough?

DAVIES: Yeah, well, the character's in his 50s, right? Yeah, whatever. OK.

OLYPHANT: That's right. The character is.

DAVIES: Right.

OLYPHANT: I don't know how they got - I'm still 35, but they aged me up for the role...

DAVIES: That is...

OLYPHANT: ...So it's all good (laughter).

DAVIES: Right, right. Well, I'm glad you're hanging in there in your 30s. I have to tell you, "Justified" - I mean the original series, which ran six seasons - is one of my favorite TV experiences ever. I look forward to watching all of those seasons again. You know, you chasing all these colorful, complex criminals in the hollers of Harlan County. Was that a really special experience to you, too?

OLYPHANT: Well, first, thank you. I appreciate you saying so. We had a ball making the show. You know, it's just one of those jobs. There's rarely a day you left the set where you didn't think, well, that was cool. You know, it was just always cool.

DAVIES: Now, I see that you are an executive producer in the revival of the series, which is set in Detroit. I know that you had a part in Quentin Tarantino's movie "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood," and I read that a conversation with him in - somehow moved this idea forward or planted the seed.

OLYPHANT: Put some wind in our sails. It certainly put some wind in our sails. You know, we - the writers and I, we've always been in touch since we wrapped the show - the original show. And we've always talked about what do you think, you know, is the time right? You know, do we want to take another swing at this thing? And if so, who's got an idea? That was like (laughter), you know? And everyone's busy. Everyone - you know, the thing going against it - it's like any kind of reunion, you know, in life. You know, it's just everyone's life is getting in the way. So getting us all together and coming up with the seed of an idea was probably really the trickiest part. And I had an idea that maybe we could just go back to Elmore - you know? - grab one - he doesn't - we've already used all the Raylan material, but maybe there's some other material there that, you know, might lend itself to the conversation, you know?

And "City Primeval" was - it felt like a bit of a layup. It was so close to our kind of narrative. And I thought, you know, maybe we could strip this for parts, use the bones of it. And it would start the conversation. And I ran it by Quentin on the set of "Once Upon A Time," and he liked the idea. I mean, he's a huge Elmore Leonard fan. He was a huge fan of that book. He considered making that movie at one point in his career. So not only did he like the idea, he had ideas, you know? So he was - it was fantastic. So that just sent me back to everybody with a great deal of enthusiasm, which is, you know, we're going to do this.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to a clip from the new series. You are in Detroit in this series, kind of by chance. And you end up getting assigned to assist the Detroit police on a case involving the attempted murder of a judge. And this is a scene where you and some really gung-ho Detroit cops have identified a suspect, have stormed into his house and he has fled to the basement and slammed the door. And his mom is standing by. And the Detroit cops are inclined to kick the door down and end this by force. And as we'll hear in the end of the scene, they kind of do that. But first, we hear you, as Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, just try to talk to the suspect who's behind the door. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL")

IAN BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) Stay back. I'm not messing around.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAMMING)

JEANETTE O'CONNOR: (As Ms. Tenderbock) Barry, what are you doing?

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) I just need to figure it out.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Hey, Barry.

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) Not coming down here.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) No one's coming down there. All right, listen to me. You don't know me. I'm Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, and I can assure you no one's coming through this door.

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) You're damn right they're not.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Don't need to talk tough. I'm just trying to help.

O'CONNOR: (As Ms. Tenderbock) Jesus himself couldn't help him. My son's going to hell in a handbasket.

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) Shut up, Mom. What does that even mean?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) It means you need to calm your ass down. Just talk to me, Barry. Come on. Face to face.

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) Give me one good reason I should do anything you say.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Because up until now, no one has been hurt except a Cadillac CT6. But some of the agents and officers up here, Barry, especially the ones by the toaster oven, are a little hungry and a lot irritable. So if I was you and I was sincerely interested in saving my ass, I'd open the door, talk this out and end it while I'm still breathing. Come on, Barry. What do you say? Head to the SUV out front instead of the afterlife?

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) OK, stand down. I'm going to need a few things if you expect me to...

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING)

O'CONNOR: (As Ms. Tenderbock) What the hell is wrong with you people?

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) Oh, my God. He broke my nose.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Not sure that was entirely necessary, but OK.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That's how we do things in Detroit.

BRATSCHIE: (As Barry Tenderbock) He broke my nose, Mom.

O'CONNOR: (As Ms. Tenderbock) I know.

DAVIES: And that is our guest, Timothy Olyphant in the new series, "Justified: City Primeval." Yeah, I'm not sure that was entirely necessary. Marshal Raylan Givens always keeping his cool. In this series, you're dealing with a criminal, Clement Mansell, played by Boyd Holbrook, who is - he's a truly malevolent character, but his lawyer is a woman that you end up dealing with in some interesting ways. And that probably complicates, you know, Raylan Givens' life and the story.

OLYPHANT: You know, Raylan has a way of making things a little more difficult for himself. And then probably 'cause that unconscious mind, he kind of wants to deal with those issues more than he wants to deal with others. I will say that lawyer is played by the incredible Aunjanue Ellis, and getting her on board was just a huge win for us, for the story and for the audience, and just a wonderful performance. And Boyd - same thing. The cast really just is incredible. I missed so many of the original cast. It was - really missed them. On the other hand, we got really lucky with everybody that got involved in this one. And actors came in, and these new characters came in, and it was nothing like our show, no one we'd ever seen before. And yet every day we left the set, and you're like, it feels like our show, you know? It feels like our show. We're in a different world. We got all these different characters, and yet - I mean, driving around with Victor Williams - he plays one of the detectives. The banter between us - I just thought, this just feels like - are we sure we didn't shoot this in the previous series because it feels like home, you know?

DAVIES: Right. Right. Now...

OLYPHANT: It was cool.

DAVIES: Now, the Raylan in this series, as you mentioned, has a complication, which is that his 15-year-old daughter happens to be with him. He didn't plan it, ended up in Detroit kind of by chance. And she is with him. And she is a curious and willful child played by your own daughter Vivian, right? How did this come about?

OLYPHANT: Yeah. How did that work out? It really was the best thing about the gig for me, personally, was working with my daughter. It was just a joy. I didn't see it coming, us working together, and this is how it went.

I knew acting was in the picture. She had always wanted to act, you know. When she was - when our kids were little - she's the youngest of three - and we used to take family videos. She was the only one who asked to see playback. So we kind of saw this coming.

And she was in college. She's a singer-songwriter. She was at the Berklee College of Music, and we were shooting this over the summer. We were talking about what her plans were going to be for the summer. And my wife said, isn't there a part in your show for your daughter? And I said, isn't she supposed to be, you know, around Vivian's age? I said, what do you think? She said, you know, bring it up to her. And if she wants to audition, give her - let her have a swing at it.

So rest is history. She did great.

DAVIES: Yeah.

OLYPHANT: Yeah. It was pretty cool.

DAVIES: It didn't create any discomfort on the set for you? And there's one case where she is visibly menaced by this - you know, this sociopathic dude who is your archenemy here. And that's pretty emotional. Was any of that difficult for you or her or the crew because you have this relationship?

OLYPHANT: Dave, I'm not going to lie. There was so much going on. I think it was by and large, just a wonderful experience, not only for us but for the crew. I think it was a lovely atmosphere. And having young people on the set - in this case, my daughter, who's never really done this - everything was a thrill. I mean, she would be like, Dad, I'm getting picked up in a van tomorrow with the other actors. And I'd be like, yeah, so what? And she's like, no, it's so exciting.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

OLYPHANT: Everything was so exciting, you know? Call sheet was exciting. Fittings were exciting. EPK - you know, the electric press kit interviews - she couldn't wait. I'm like - I was like - I felt bad. I'm always trying to get out of those. So that was really refreshing. And, you know, quite frankly, I was really proud of her. She worked really hard. It was fun to watch how hard she worked and how fun she was having doing the work.

And then there was the loaded part, which is, you know, I'm executive producer. I've - I have a lot invested in this thing. I'm guilty of giving actors notes. There is one actor on the set who will actually say to my face, she doesn't want to hear it (laughter). It makes me think maybe the other actors want to say that. You know, your kid will tell you what other people won't, you know?

DAVIES: Really?

OLYPHANT: So she really...

DAVIES: She didn't like the direction she was getting?

OLYPHANT: No, there were just times - she's my daughter. She's like, Dad, no, stop it. And I'm like, wait, you can't tell me that. I'm the star of the show. You know, it's really a wild experience.

And as fun as acting is, and, you know, at this point in my life, it's kind of fun and games for me, there's a great deal of pressure on a set. Clock's ticking. You need to get this. We need to get this moment. And seeing your teenage kid in that situation, you know, you feel as a parent, you just want to kind of - you know, there's this instinct to step in and try to help them...

DAVIES: To manage it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

OLYPHANT: ...To manage it. So - and at the same time, you're like, but we do need this take.

(LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: So, you know, step up, girl. Let's go. You know, there's a lot going on. It was very special. It was really a special experience. And yeah, I hope I get another opportunity.

DAVIES: We're speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the FX series "Justified: City Primeval." It premieres tonight and airs on FX Tuesday nights. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GANGSTAGRASS' "LONG HARD TIMES TO COME")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant. He stars in the FX series "Justified: City Primeval," which premieres tonight and airs Tuesday nights on FX. I will note that we recorded our interview before the actors' strike began.

I think a lot of people really became aware of you with "Deadwood," which was 2004, which is really kind of an amazing piece of television - critically acclaimed and well-remembered, you know. And this was - I guess you were in your mid 30s. And it's - you know, I went back and watched some episodes recently. You know, you were the first name that appears on the screen. It's right there - Timothy Olyphant. And a lot of great actors in that.

And it was a really unique set, right? I mean, David Milch did this, and they actually built this mining camp. It's kind of a town, but I call it a camp. And he would change things in the middle of the day - right? - or in the middle of the week, and then give you lines for the next day. I mean, was this a difficult, stressful acting experience?

OLYPHANT: Yeah, everything involved - it was one of the most incredible acting experiences and still one of the most memorable sets I've ever been a part of. And working with David Milch is like a gift that just keeps on giving. He was a force of nature. He was brilliant. It was madness.

For me, it was definitely pressure-filled early on. And I was surrounded by incredible talent, most of them probably around my age now. And they were just a marvel to watch. It was an incredible set.

DAVIES: Yeah. And you're getting, you know, pages that you have to learn for the next day. And the language is not typical, right?

OLYPHANT: Dave, we were getting pages that we had to learn by lunch.

DAVIES: OK.

OLYPHANT: We - you know, like, go - well, you know, we can shoot this other scene while you learn that. No, we - he was writing - it was unbelievable to watch him go.

DAVIES: Yeah. And the dialogue was in this archaic sort of Victorian language, which, you know, I would assume would not be so easy to memorize.

OLYPHANT: No. Easy to memorize - you know when you - you know, like, when the writing is good, easier to learn. When the writing's bad, that's when it's really tough. When the writing's bad - yeah - 'cause you, you know, you're like, what do I say again? Because you're like, it just doesn't connect to anything. This one was - it was a mouthful, and, you know, it was - in that regard. But whenever he handed you a page, it was so vivid and so delicious, challenging to - just 'cause there was a lot of work, but it was not difficult to - I mean, they stick in your brain. I can remember scenes, you know, from that show like it was yesterday. They're so vivid.

DAVIES: I've read that, you know, you felt like you were just sort of barely keeping your head above water on these shoots. There were just so many veteran actors around who are at the top of their game. I don't know. Anything you learned from them that you can put into words?

OLYPHANT: I remember going to the wrap party after the first season, and I realized I wasn't in the gag reel very much. And I thought, that's a problem. You know, they're having - everyone's having more fun than I - I need to have more fun with this gig. And I do - that was a big revelation for me. You know, I remember watching, like, Ian McShane and Brian Cox, where they would be in intense scenes, but the two of them, as soon as cut was called - giggles, you know? And I thought they seemed to be carrying a little less weight on their shoulders than I am. You know, there's this trick - I've been more or less making a living kind of playing character roles. And there's often a bit of a pitfall when you play a lead role that you feel, like, the burden of the responsibility of being the lead.

And you can watch it with a lot of people's careers going from character roles to leads and whether their performances hold up - that you can see they're oftentimes more comfortable in the character role where they get to kind of chew the scenery, and then they bottle up a little bit when they become the lead. And, you know, when you talk about, like, doing "Justified," I don't think I think of it as a lead, you know, in that respect. That's kind of what makes it really fun. I just think I'm playing, you know - you can play those scenes as if you're the - you're playing a supporting part, you know? You're playing a kind of a character role. Sometimes you can play some of those scenes like you're the bad guy, you know?

DAVIES: And have fun with it.

OLYPHANT: It's just way more fun. And then you just trust that the writing takes care of it. And so I think the first - the beginning of "Deadwood," that's what I felt. And David's a lot. You know, David was a lot to - I mean, the set was a lot. It was overwhelming. And the pages the day before and just trying to figure out your place, you know? And also, it's a beginning of me trying to figure out how to be a squeaky wheel without being a problem.

DAVIES: A squeaky wheel on the set - you mean kind of just wanting to tweak a direction or a line.

OLYPHANT: The fact is, most of these things, especially when they're - especially in television, but in all of them, it's hard to navigate how to advocate for yourself and trust that you're not going to be difficult - you know? - that you're going to actually be helpful. And I think that was still, even at that point in my life, stressful for me. And I think when that show ended and I started getting my hands on bad material, I was like, OK, well, you know, I've seen how it's done right, you know? I've seen Milch. I've seen what it can be done. I've seen these kind of things. And so it was a - like, when I say it was a gift that kept giving, that's what I mean. I was able to go to sets and say, no, we could just rewrite this. And they're like, it shoots in three days. I was like, who gives a - I did this - we could shoot this - we rewrite it and shoot it at lunch in - on "Deadwood." So you know what I mean? This can - we - this can get better. We can...

DAVIES: A world of possibilities. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

OLYPHANT: It's a world of possibilities. The secret is that, a lot of times, the more I sort of started to advocate for myself - you know, when you get your hands on parts that are pretty good but could be better - but when you start taking more responsibility and having more fun with it, I found just the opposite happened than what I was concerned about. I just had way more fun at work. I had way better relationships with the directors and the writers. But it all started - the conversation all started on the "Deadwood" set.

DAVIES: You know, since - I'd read that you'd kind of felt like maybe you were struggling a little bit in that - with the responsibility of that role. I went back and watched the first three episodes, which you're very prominent in.

OLYPHANT: Turns out I was great, right? What the hell am I talking about (laughter)?

DAVIES: Pretty darn good. I mean, I'd just say, I mean, you did not seem over your head. There was an intensity to it, you know? Like, this guy runs hot.

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: You could see that. I could see you...

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: Yeah. It was intense.

OLYPHANT: Look, I mean, part of the job is you're just constantly - I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make it simple and how to make it easy. And when it feels simple and easy, when all the work goes away, that's just a really great place to work from. And it's hard not to look at early work and not see the work.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break here. We're speaking with Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the new FX series "Justified: City Primeval." It airs Tuesdays on FX. We recorded our interview before the actors strike began. We'll hear more after a break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SCHWARTZ'S "DEADWOOD MAIN TITLE THEME")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. We're speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant, known for playing the iconic role of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the TV series "Justified" for six seasons. He now stars in a revival of that show with Givens investigating a sociopathic killer in Detroit. It's called "Justified: City Primeval," and it premieres tonight on FX and will then air on Tuesday nights. When we left off, we were talking about another iconic role he played - Sheriff Seth Bullock on the HBO series "Deadwood." I should note we recorded our interview before the actors' strike.

You know, in 2019, you kind of had a reunion because you returned to the character for the movie "Deadwood." And it was also written by David Milch and quite a story. I mean, there's intrigue and gunplay and score-settling and (inaudible). I want to - was going to play a clip from the film. There was a beloved man in town, Charlie Utter, who has been shot to death. And it was a murder for hire engineered by this predatory businessman, Hearst, who wanted his land.

And in the scene, we're going to hear you as Sheriff Bullock are talking to Al Swearengen, the brothel owner, who's a morally ambiguous character, but who was at times in alliance with Bullock. And they're discussing what to do about this. What about this murder? It begins with Swearengen, who's played by Ian McShane, questioning your decision moments before to publicly confront the man behind the murder in the street. So Swearengen speaks first. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE")

IAN MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) You ever think, Bullock, of not going straight at a thing?

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) No. What's the move, Al?

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Wish to [expletive] I knew. Killing Charlie Utter changes the game.

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) Let's say the man has an eyewitness to bring to bear.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Name him.

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) Samuel Fields.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Was an eye witness to what?

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) Eyewitness to them as did for Charley Utter.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) And thereby need a good murdering.

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) Sad step in legal administration.

MCSHANE: (As Al Swearengen) Well, if it ain't for Hearst to follow the law, why the [expletive] should it be for you? Now, how should I construe that look on your mug, Bullock?

OLYPHANT: (As Seth Bullock) My job ain't to follow the law, Al. My job is to interpret it, then enforce it accordingly.

DAVIES: And that is our guest, Timothy Olyphant, in the movie "Deadwood." What comes to mind when you hear that?

OLYPHANT: Well, I'll tell you two things, but a bunch of things put a smile on my face. First of all, Ian McShane - what a force. I mean, just - you know, it's the best thing that happened to my career was, you know, being in a position to watch him work up close - something special. And, you know, I miss him.

You know, that movie, all the cast, everybody involved - when we all reassembled - and, you know, I admittedly was dragging my feet - but when I got there, it was just very emotional and quite sweet. You know, it was only three years of my life - that show. But boy, it made quite an impression. And it was just great to see everybody and just an incredible, incredible group. It's a very special experience.

Then, you know, I sounded pretty good. I think I did all right. I think the other thing that is in that scene which I want to give credit to, which is Charlie Almanza, the retired Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Charlie Almanza, who was our technical advisor on "Justified," and I leaned on him all the time - that scene, when I first got it, there was this statement there about following the law. And this time around I - because I'd now known Charlie, I called him. And I said - you know, I picked - he was available to me to pick his brain about things.

And he said to me, no, your job is not to follow the law. I said, what are you talking about? He said, your job is to interpret the law how you see fit, given a situation. That's what we do. And I picked up - I mean, next day I was in front of David and saying, hear me out.

And that's where that came from. That was a back and forth between David and I and then with Charlie and then back to David and I. And that's - that last line - Charlie Almanza - he more or less wrote that.

DAVIES: Yeah. Especially a marshal in - what? - 1879 or whatever it was (laughter).

OLYPHANT: That's exactly right.

DAVIES: Right, right.

OLYPHANT: Yeah. Yeah. No, it was really great. And you know, that's - that collaboration - it puts a smile on my face when I - I had forgotten that, and when I heard that line, I was like, that was Charlie, you know. That was - and that also was - kind of reverting back to what we were talking about before, when I first showed up for that job, I was trying to do my best and say the lines that were in front of me. And when we came back around to do the movie, I think I was just in a different place to be open to, I'm going call an actual U.S. marshal and just talk to him and see what comes up.

And these gems happen when you kind of invest in that way. And, like, it's that thing where you're like, it was a gift. It was not something that wasn't appreciated by David. It was something that was welcomed and everybody wins. It was - that collaboration is - puts a smile on my face.

DAVIES: Yeah. You'd mentioned that the scenes that you would get from Milch for "Deadwood" - you still remember them. Is there a scene from "Deadwood" where you literally remember the dialogue you might want to share with us?

OLYPHANT: Well, I remember so many lines. And I can quote a bunch of them that just start popping to mind, but you're going to have to bleep almost every one of them.

DAVIES: That's the trick...

OLYPHANT: I mean...

DAVIES: ...With that show. Yeah. OK. Well...

OLYPHANT: Yeah, I mean, but you - by the way, I noticed - you're like, Tim, try not to swear. And then every clip I'm in has swearing.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

OLYPHANT: What's the deal? You're holding me back. I remember - I'll say - I love - this is one I'm not even in. I remember the F the future. And is it - Tobolowsky says, you do not F the future, sir. The future F's you. And I was like, wow, that's pretty good.

I remember some of my own. I remember days. I remember doing that scene with Garret Dillahunt where I call him a slant-eyed MF. And he says, I was born this way. And I say, who do you blame for the rest of the F'ing mess?

DAVIES: (Laughter).

OLYPHANT: I mean, there - it's just beautiful stuff. And more importantly, I remember Milch's, quote-unquote, "direction." You know, he didn't direct a single episode, but we did not shoot a scene without him approving what we were about to shoot because his penchant for coming in, and we'd be already well into coverage, and then he would start rewriting the scene. And we'd have to go back and start from the beginning. So we would always make sure we had him there before we started rolling because he would invariably rewrite it before we started shooting. And in his rewriting, he was essentially directing. And so I have countless examples of incredible direction that he gave that has stuck with me forever.

DAVIES: Can you conjure one?

OLYPHANT: Telling Garret Dillahunt when I was beating the [expletive] out of him and he was, like, acting as if he just wanted to get out of there, he told Garret a story - and who knows if it was true or not. But he's like, let me tell you a story, Garret. There was a time I was in an alleyway and three guys are coming my way. And I said to myself, these guys have no idea what they're coming up upon, you know? And he goes, and now they're kicking me and they're kind of roughing me up. And I'm thinking to myself, any minute now, I'm going to spring on them. And then he goes, now they've taken my wallet and my shoes and they're walking away. And I'm thinking, here I come. I'm about to surprise them. And he's like, Garret, that's the scene. You know, the whole time I'm beating him up, he's telling Garret he's about to turn the tables on this guy.

And these stories were so vivid and I don't even know, quite frankly, thinking about it, if it was actually usable direction. But it was incredible storytelling, and it was incredible insight into his life and a way to think about drama. He'd just go on and on. I remember doing the scene where we're having a town meeting. We're, you know, talking about how we're going to start a government. And we started setting up the scene. Everybody's sitting at the table, and then I - Bullock and Hawkes - you know, John Hawkes - we show up and sit down and the meeting starts. And Milch comes in and says, no, no, no, no. That's not how these things worked. Nobody knows what they're doing, you know? Nobody knows what to do. So everybody - he goes remember junior high at the - you go to the dance and you're standing against the wall, you got your hand up against the wall because if - you know, if you take your hand off the wall, this thing might fall over, you know? This building might fall down. So you better be over here just making sure things stay upright.

He would start directing everyone to do that. And then Bullock comes in and he's been in government, so he's going to take a seat. And then everyone's like, oh, OK, we're going to sit down? OK. And then he told - he said, everyone should be staring at everybody and trying to look at their - the person next to them and their body posture to figure out how they should sit at the table 'cause no one knows how to sit at the table. You don't know how to start a government. You don't know how to sit at - should we be serving peaches? Maybe we should have - you know, it was all just watching him take over and giving us this insight into not just performances but into history and how humans work.

DAVIES: Since we've talked so much about David Milch, I guess we should - now, I - he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few years ago...

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...Right? Do you - are...

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...You in touch with him at all? Do you know what his condition is?

OLYPHANT: I haven't talked to him in a bit. I've seen some of his family, and I know some of the cast members have been in there. And I can just tell you, I'm thinking of him. It's been a bit since I've spoken to him. But, you know, my heart goes out to him and his family because I saw his son just a few weeks ago. And that's just an - as you know, it's just an ugly disease. Just a very heartbreaking disease.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break here. We are speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens in the series "Justified: City Primeval." It appears on FX Tuesday nights. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA'S "IGUAZU")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant. He stars in the FX series "Justified: City Primeval," which airs Tuesday nights on FX. I will note that we recorded our interview before the actors strike began.

It is fun to hear you be funny after these intense roles where you play lawmen. And I thought we'd listen to a clip from an appearance you made on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the Larry David vehicle. This episode is where Larry and some of the regulars in the show are flying to Cabo for a destination wedding. Your character, Mickey, is the groom, and everybody's staying in a really nice resort. And in this scene, Larry David shows up at your room, kind of a little late at night. And he has spent the day noticing that everyone seems to have gotten a nicer room than he did. But he's coming to you because due to some classic Larry plot twist, he had to come without his luggage. And so he doesn't have a toothbrush. And so he's knocking on your door to see if you can help. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) Oh, que pasa, Larry?

LARRY DAVID: (As Larry David) What? Oh, my God. Are you kidding? Are you kidding me?

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) Yeah. Not bad, huh?

DAVID: (As Larry David) Not - this is unbelievable.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) How's your room?

DAVID: (As Larry David) It stinks.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) No.

DAVID: (As Larry David) Yes.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) It was supposed to be great.

DAVID: (As Larry David) It's not great.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) I said to you guys, the rooms are great. You're going to love them.

DAVID: (As Larry David) Yeah, I know, I know.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) Oh.

DAVID: (As Larry David) But my room's not great at all. Everybody's got a better room.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) I'm going to talk to somebody.

DAVID: (As Larry David) So, what, you just think this is some kind of accident that I have a bad room?

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) Oh, come on, Larry. Come on. Don't be like that.

KIMBERLY SHANNON MURPHY: (As Sasha) Mickey? What's going on?

DAVID: (As Larry David) Oh, hey, Sasha. Congratulations.

MURPHY: (As Sasha) It's late.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) She's not wrong.

DAVID: (As Larry David) Yeah, it's - it is late. Do you happen to have an extra toothbrush, by any chance?

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) We do have an extra toothbrush.

DAVID: (As Larry David) You have an extra toothbrush? Fantastic. I can't believe it. That's so great.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) I'm sorry. I misspoke. It's for us.

DAVID: (As Larry David) What do you mean? I have an emergency. It's an emergency. I don't have a toothbrush.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) But that's your emergency. This is for in case we have an emergency.

DAVID: (As Larry David) You're not going to have an emergency. What makes you think you're going to have a toothbrush emergency?

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) Look at you. You're having an emergency right now.

DAVID: (As Larry) Mine's a fluke. It's a fluke emergency.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) This whole thing makes me nervous, Larry.

DAVID: (As Larry) It's a fluke emergency. Toothbrush emergency? It's one in a million.

OLYPHANT: (As Mickey) You're probably right. I won't have a toothbrush emergency. And you know why I know that? Because I have a [expletive] extra toothbrush.

DAVIES: (Laughter) Our guest, Timothy Olyphant, on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: Tell us a little about the experience. I mean, is it ad-libbed? Is it all lines? What's the experience working on a scene like that where you're arguing?

OLYPHANT: So there's an outline. It's the best. There's an outline. You show up - on that particular day, you show up. We're in this beautiful hotel. And I'm at the beach. And we have a little, quick huddle. Jeff Schaffer, co-runs the show with Larry, was directing. And we huddled up. And he says, OK - they read what the scene is. Larry shows up. He's upset because everybody's room is better than his room. And then he - and you say, why are you here? And he says he needs a toothbrush. You tell him you have one, but he can't have it. All right. Let's go. And then you start shooting. That's it.

(LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: That's literally it. You - the next thing that happens is they pick up the cameras. And they've already marked it. And you just start shooting. And it's - couldn't be more fun.

DAVIES: Did you do several takes?

OLYPHANT: You know, Jeff will say, look; this first take might be seven, eight minutes long. Don't worry. And it might not be funny at all. Don't worry about it. We'll just, you know, kind of - we'll just do it again and just narrow it down. And, you know, we'll just find it. And then, usually, every take, you just find a little something, a little gem that they like, you know? Little accidents happen, you know?

I like - you know, we like when you say, isn't it great? Your room's not great? The more you can say the word great, we like that, you know? So there's a lot of, isn't this great? That's great. Yours isn't great? No, they said they would be great. And (laughter) it's kind of the tone of the show, you know? Somewhere, as I recall, somebody mentioned toothbrush emergency as if that was a thing.

DAVIES: (Laughter).

OLYPHANT: And then, you know, oh, we like that. You know, lean into the toothbrush emergency, try to - and you just kind of discover it as you go. You shoot way more than you end up using, but it goes quick. And Larry's a very generous laugher, so it was a very - and I am, too. So we spent a lot of time, two people laughing - totally unusable.

DAVIES: That's what I was going to ask, if you broke up a lot, yeah.

OLYPHANT: Oh, my God. I'm terrible. I'm the worst. I laugh at my own jokes. And, you know, it's not proper behavior.

DAVIES: (Laughter) You know, when you - earlier when we were talking, you were talking about, you know, studying the craft of acting. And I think you said something about kind of the - drama and comedy are kind of the same thing. They're somehow connected. I was just thinking because, you know, the role in "Deadwood" is so serious most of the time.

OLYPHANT: It's all like comedy, though. I mean, I know - there's no difference, you know? "Justified," I think of it as a comedy. I - if I'm engaged with the writers in a back-and-forth, as far as I'm concerned, we're writing jokes. We're writing - you know, the nature of drama is two guys walk into a bar - right? - and then there's a rug pull. That's what Elmore is. That's what our show was.

You're just looking for the rug pull. We're looking for - taking it a direction you didn't see coming. You're looking for what is both totally unexpected, but yet inevitable. And that's the nature of a joke. So you know, even in "Deadwood," as we went along and, you know, my shoulders started to drop below my ears, you know, I'm always looking for - there's comedy there. David's writing's really funny. I mean, it's just tone after that. It's just finding a tone. That's what shifts. Anyway, that's what I'm selling. I don't know if you're buying it. That's my...

(LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: That's my - I'm sticking to that. There's no difference between drama and comedy. It's all the same thing.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in a revival of the series "Justified." It's titled "Justified: City Primeval." We'll talk more after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOB DYLAN'S "WIGWAM")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the revival of the series "Justified." It's titled "Justified: City Primeval." We recorded our interview before the actors' strike began.

I want to talk about one more role of yours, and this was as a road manager for a rock band in the series "Daisy Jones & The Six." It's on Amazon Prime. It's about a band that hits it big and then breaks up due to drama among its members. And you're a veteran road manager. And this is a scene where you're describing your job on tour with this rock band. And we're going to hear you talking to a mechanic because the band's bus has broken down. And you need him to get the part right away, and he says he can't. And you essentially bribe him with concert tickets for his kids. But the scene begins with you describing the job of a road manager on a rock tour to an interviewer. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DAISY JONES AND THE SIX")

OLYPHANT: (As Rod) Let me tell you what it's like to manage a rock band. We're driving all over hell and creation, city to city, roadies and crew the whole night. And not one person - not one - ever asks how we're always stocked up on gas, or beer, or the special tea Daisy likes that you can only get shipped in from Thailand. No one says thank you. No one notices a damn thing until something goes wrong. I know. You said you won't have that part till the morning. But let me ask you something. You like rock 'n' roll?

BOWIE HAMILTON: (As Nate) Can't say I do, partner.

OLYPHANT: (As Rod Reyes) I bet your kids love it. Now, you get me that crankshaft in the next half an hour, you could be father of the [expletive] year.

DAVIES: And he hands him two tickets to the big concert. That's our guest, Timothy Olyphant, as the manager of a rock band in the series "Daisy Jones & The Six." You know, you're wearing kind of a Mick Jagger haircut, I guess I'd say - shades and a heavy mustache.

OLYPHANT: You know what? Nice observation 'cause I think I showed up with a picture of Mick Jagger, and I said, this is what we're looking for right here. We want this. This is what we're going for.

DAVIES: Yeah.

OLYPHANT: And the glasses - I said, listen, I would like to wear glasses in every scene. And if you don't want them on my eyes, I just want them in my hair. I just want them propped up on the top of my head. And I said, if you agree to that, I'm in. Sometimes, with some of these jobs, you know, you let the hair and the wardrobe do all the work, you know? It just takes care of it for you. It just takes care of everything for you. You just act accordingly. You know, it's like putting on the Batman outfit. You're like, OK, there you go. You don't have to do much.

DAVIES: Well, the other thing about this is that it's set in the '70s, and everybody is smoking all the time.

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

DAVIES: I mean, I think in that scene you're actually taking a puff while you're offering the guy the concert tickets. I was just wondering, on the seat (ph), is it - did people choke up with all that smoke in the air?

OLYPHANT: It was a lot. And I'm guilty of - this is my acting tip for the young actors out there. If you can eat during a scene, be chewing something or smoking, it makes you seem like you're a way better actor than you are because it just grounds everything, gives you something to do. So I was - I would not - every time we were about to roll, I'd tell the prop guy, cigarette. Give me a cigarette. I'm going to work this cigarette as much as I - every scene, I'm - I don't know if you can find a scene in that show where I don't have a cigarette, you know? But that's not because I thought the character smoked all the time. I was like, oh, this is just more - better for my acting.

DAVIES: You know, you've achieved some real stature in your career by now. I wonder how often you're recognized in public and whether you ever wear a cowboy hat in public.

OLYPHANT: I'm not adverse to wearing hats. I throw a hat on quite often - not often a cowboy hat. You know, it depends - when in Rome. But generally there's a hat on my head. How much am I recognized? You know, I don't know. I don't know what's normal. You know, my life is relatively boring where I just go to the same places all the time. And so I don't think anyone thinks of me as a celebrity. You know, if I'm at an airport or if I got lost and found myself in a mall, I guess it - you know, it changes the narrative. But I've been really lucky.

DAVIES: You're able to live your life.

OLYPHANT: I'm getting away with it. I've gotten away with it for a long time. And I think also - and it's a testament to the roles I've been allowed to play, which - I'm convinced that if you play, like, a character that seems kind of cool, then people try to be cool around you. So I get what is the best thing you can get in show business. I often get someone who comes by and just says, hey, man, like your work and then keeps walking. And I always - if my wife is next to me, I say, honey, that's as good as it gets. Didn't ask me for an ounce of time or anything, just wanted to pass that along and that just means the world. I just want you to know that's the coolest thing you can do.

DAVIES: Well, Timothy Olyphant, thanks so much for speaking with us.

OLYPHANT: It was a pleasure, Dave. Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Timothy Olyphant, star of the new FX series "Justified: City Primeval," premiering tonight and airing Tuesday nights on FX. On tomorrow's show, we'll speak with writer Alden Wicker about hidden dangers in synthetic fabrics often used in low-priced clothes known as fast fashion. Her new book is "To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick - And How We Can Fight Back." I hope you can join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Tina Kalakay (ph). Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARLAN COUNTY LINE")

DAVE ALVIN: (Singing) Another morning, another motel bed, another city waiting up ahead. Light another menthol to clear my mind of those memories I pretend to forget. 'Cause I always want to live without regrets. But, yeah, I still think of her from time to time. Only she's still living across the Harlan county line. Now, when we met, we were both living far from home, trying to get by and tired of being alone. For a moment I thought she was mine. 'Cause she had a voice I just wanted to believe. She said her mother was full-blood Cherokee, and her daddy was a union man down in the mines, fighting the good fight across the... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Dave Davies is a guest host for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.