"They've created a monster," "Justified" star Timothy Olyphant joked about his new role as a producer on the series, which begins its second season tonight on FX. Olyphant and executive producer Graham Yost were on hand at the TCA Winter Press Tour last month and our Jim Halterman snagged some time with the duo where they chatted about the actor's behind-the-scenes participation as well as what to expect from Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens during the show's sophomore run.
"There's very little that I'm doing this year that I didn't do last year," Olyphant said about his aforementioned status. "I think that we had an opportunity to spend some time together and have conversations prior to the season beginning and he just knew what to expect and vice versa and I think it really helped. When I see the first three episodes, I see the result of that and I'm very proud of it."
Coming off a well-received debut season, both critically and ratings-wise, Yost revealed he and the writing staff went on a research trip to rural Kentucky - where the series is set - late last summer to spearhead ideas for season two. "What we got from [the locals] was that we were doing a good job but that doesn't mean we couldn't do a better job," Yost shared. "One person said, 'Thank you so much for having no one say y'all,' and they appreciate not being a bunch of toothless, barefoot people scratching on themselves."
Olyphant shared his excitement for the new season in terms of the new actors surrounding him as well as returning regulars Walton Goggins, Nick Searcy, Erica Tazel, Jacob Pitts, Joelle Carter, Natalie Zea and Raymond J. Barry. "With no disrespect to anyone in particular last year, I think we have more really good actors this year. The entire Bennett clan - Jeremy Davies, Joe [Lyle Taylor] and Brad [William Henke] - their all good. They all get the joke. Last year we had some standouts like Jere Burns and Stephen Root... those guys in particular stand out as guys who kind of got it. They can hold the screen on their own. They got the drama, they got the comedy of it all and it feels like everybody this year is in on it." In fact, Olyphant teased, both Burns and Root will reappear in the second season.
One noteworthy addition to this new season is character actress Margo Martindale, who has appeared in everything from "Hannah Montana: The Movie" to TV's "Dexter" and "Hung." As matriarch Mags Bennett, Martindale is not only playing mother to the rambunctious Bennett brothers but is a leader in the Harlan County crime universe. Yost teased that in seeing Martindale's work in tonight's season premiere, any wonderment about where they were going with her character was immediately put to rest. "We see [Margo's] work from the first episode, the scene towards the end... we see that and we go 'We have a season... let's get us some more Margo!' Without giving anything away, the scene in question clearly proves that the unruly Bennett boys probably picked up their devious ways closer to home than initially imagined.
Martindale, also on hand, said she channeled some unlikely sources for playing Mags Bennett. "I feel like there's no gender, which is exciting. Sometimes I feel like Robert Mitchum and sometimes I feel like Burl Ives. [Laughs.] Like something I did [in one scene], I wanted to do it as a preacher, like a sermon. I heard Burl Ives coming out in me! There was something about that sound and his voice. I also did 'Cat On a Hot Tin Roof' with Ned Beatty and sometimes I feel like Ned Beatty. He's about as good as it gets. Ned Beatty should be on this show!"
The actress added that working with the established cast and crew was not difficult in terms of getting in sync with them early on. "This is a place that I live very easily and it's a part of the world that somehow is in me," she said with a sense of surprise. "I don't even mean because it's Southern but because it's so to-the-ground and it's with no affectation or pretense. A lot of what I do... sometimes you have to brighten it, especially if you're doing a Disney picture so I'm always softening my voice or prettying it up a little bit." However, in stepping into Mags Bennett's shoes the experience is as far removed from Disney as possible. "What this is is 'Drop it all out!'" Whatever Martindale is doing, from the reaction of Yost, she's doing it right. "Margo is just turning cartwheels and it's just great."
How does the actress go to those dark places for such a complex character? "A lot of words, a lot of preparation," she said of her experience shooting thus far. "The night before I always took myself somewhere to be alone and no TV, no nothing, and just had to get in that place." She also said Olyphant was more than generous in offering up any help she may need for her work. "From day one he made me feel like I was here, I was part of it, 'What do you want to do? What do you want to run? How do you want to play it? Come to my trailer' so immediately I felt absolutely comfortable."
One thing that fans of the show have been vocal in a positive way is that first season adversary Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) is still a part of the show, even if there's a bit of mystery about where Boyd is emotionally in the second season. When asked, Yost said he couldn't predict how the show would be different if Crowder was not around for season two and had died early on, as was originally the plan. "You just can't ever look back like that. I wouldn't want to be writing in that alternate universe, let's put it that way. I'm glad to be writing in this universe where we have Boyd in the show. I think the show might have been okay without him but it wouldn't have been as good." Olyphant joked, "We can get rid of Walt!" The actor/producer quickly continued, "I adore the man. I love working with him and he's a terrific actor."
One challenge for Yost and the writers from the beginning was getting down the distinct voice of the man who created the world of "Justified" - author Elmore Leonard, who also serves as a executive producer on the show. It was Leonard's novella, "Fire in the Hole" that served as the basis for the series. "It takes awhile," said Yost of getting comfortable writing in the unique Leonard world. "I think for me," Yost said, "one of the things that helped me was adapting the short story because I was literally using some of his dialogue and just retyping and just the process helped me become Elmore-ized. I think that it was a process for all the writers to get used to doing his stuff and, frankly, I think I had to do more work in the first season corralling people, rewriting and massaging to make it congruent with Elmore than this season. People just get it more and get it better."
"Justified" returns tonight at 10:00/9:00c on FX.