“We dig coal together.”
Timothy Olyphant closed Justified in 2015 with those powerful final words, an ode to his character Raylan Givens’ complicated relationship with his home in Harlan County, his old friend-turned-foe Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and even himself. For those who stuck with all six seasons of FX’s modern western, it was a perfect summary of the journey: from the Bennetts to the Crowes and everyone in between, the legend of Drew Thompson to a strong drink of Pappy Van Winkle, the Justified the community mined coal together.
Now, it’s time to return to the mines.
Years after closing the door on the Kentucky-based crime drama, Raylan Givens returns in limited series form. Justified: Primal City. Following the example of the famous novel by Elmore Leonard primeval citythe most recent iteration of Justified says goodbye to Harlan, and all of Raylan’s old friends and enemies, in favor of a new set of characters and a new city: Detroit, albeit filmed in Chicago.
For those familiar with Leonard’s original story, Raylan takes on the role of the book’s protagonist, Raymond Cruz, on the hunt for a deadly assassin known to some as Oklahoma Wildman, but known on his birth certificate as Clement Mansell. Sandman and Indiana Jones and the dial of fate villain Boyd Holbrook steps into Clement’s wild shoes, taking on Raylan, with a wide array of new players surrounding both men: Aunjanue Ellis as attorney Carolyn Wilder, Vondie Curtis Hall as waitress Sweety, and Clement’s own daughter. Olyphant, Vivian Olyphant as Willa, Raylan’s teenage daughter, just to name a few.
In the original series, there was a constant refrain: “You’ll never let Harlan live.” But the very existence of the new series, which will premiere Tuesday with its first two episodes on FX and Hulu, makes the argument strong. Forward, the hollywood reporter features a conversation with Olyphant (conducted in June before the SAG-AFTRA strike) about Raylan’s return, exploring his own relationship with fatherhood and the newest member of Raylan’s expanding rogues gallery.
He Justified The series finale closed things out so strongly. Was there any doubt about returning to Raylan’s world and impacting that ending?
That series finale years ago was such a special finale. If this doesn’t work, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I understand if people say, “What are you doing, mate? Why are you bringing it back? It was such a good ending!” But I hope you have fun with this one too.
But we got to see the first episode with a huge audience in Austin. [at the ATX Festival], and the reaction was great. It was so rewarding. They were there with us from the jump. But my experience was the same as I had with the writers as well. It’s a totally different cast. It’s a totally different world, and yet it’s still the same show. It’s still the show. It was really gratifying to see an audience be there with us.
The tonal continuity feels very intact. How much of that is in the spirit of asking, “What would Elmore Leonard do?” Especially when this series directly adapts one of his novels.
We know the sandbox we are playing in. Even when we come up with ideas and stories, we still know where it will change: it will change to this tone, to this world. That is the game we are playing. We had two really great ideas going for us. We had the book, which gave us something to start the conversation, and even anchored us at times. And then the writers had the idea to include Raylan’s children in there. Those two things are the essential ingredients that make this work.
It’s very similar to what made the original series tick. It was the Elmore Leonard material that got us started, and then it was what [original Justified creator Graham Yost] invented It was the father, it was the ex-wife. These were the things that made a lot of the game, the things that made Raylan relatable, and not just great. I think that’s what made it great television.
In Justified, both focused on Raylan’s strained relationship with his father, Arlo (Raymond J. Barry). Now, Raylan is the father, with his daughter in the role of… his daughter.
When we started talking about the idea of including Raylan’s teenage daughter in the story, we didn’t see my teenage son playing that role. But once we started to get the show on its feet, the parallels were a little…unsettling, to say the least. (laughs.) Raylan’s daughter and my daughter? Both, not so impressed. Apparently not so intimidated. They both really have their number. They see right through your shit. We didn’t see it coming!
What did you find out about Raylan by revisiting the character as a father?
The scenes with [his daughter] they were so refreshing. You have a character that just rolls their eyes at the guy. We don’t usually see that. It was a lot of fun putting him in that spot; watching him I have to be patient, I have to listen…watching Raylan have to In fact hear. I really enjoyed that side of the character. The fact that it was my son doing the work was very memorable, to say the least.
the villains in Justified they are always so memorable. What makes this Holbrook Clement Mansell compare to some of the greats of the Justified rogues gallery?
We were very lucky, across the board. The cast is ridiculous. We are dealing with a deep bank. I could go on with each one of them. Driving around with Victor Williams [who plays Detroit cop Wendell], I could have done it for hours. She could have been in a car with him for that long. We had this great chemistry. He loved everyone involved here.
As far as Holbrook goes, he was really cool. We found a really sweet place. There is a charm about him that I really like. Holbrook is a class act. He’s a wonderful guy, and a real talent. It was fun working with him. He brings a weight and a threat that I felt we don’t always get on the show with the quote-unquote “bad guys.” You really feel like this guy could screw Raylan over. That’s the sandbox we want to be in. It’s very gratifying to feel that we got there. He brings such a different energy than we had before the show. I’m not sure we’ve ever had someone like him on the show.
But I remember being a little worried, though: “If I’m okay, and he is great… is this going to work? (laughs.)
Interview edited for length and clarity..
Justified: Primal City premieres July 18 with its first two episodes on FX and Hulu, followed by a weekly release.