“I like to think there was some growth.”
This was actor Timothy Olyphant in New York last month, pondering the trajectory of his TriBeCa sidewalk career. He was referring specifically to the task of reviving past roles, which he first did a few years ago in the 2019 film revival of “Deadwood.”
Now comes “Justified: City Primeval,” an eight-episode limited series premiering July 18, on FX. It features Olyphant returning to what is arguably his signature character, Raylan Givens, the Stetson-sporting deputy US Marshal who anchored the Kentucky crime drama “Justified” for six seasons.
The new show follows Raylan to Detroit for a fish-out-of-water adventure with a murderous villain (Boyd Holbrook) and a sharp-elbowed but attractive lawyer, played by Aunjanue Ellis. The creators describe it as the existential development of a character, invented by the crime fiction grandmaster Elmore Leonard, who begins to realize that he cannot chase murderers forever and that he is running out of opportunities to bond with his teenage daughter.
“It’s a mature, grown-up version of the show that we did,” said Michael Dinner, who created the limited series with Dave Andron. Both are former writers and executive producers on “Justified,” which ended its run on FX in 2015.
The creators and Olyphant, who is also an executive producer of “City Primeval”, hope to bring Raylan back for at least one more series after this one. But first, they’ll find out if people are still interested in the character or “Justified” without the original show’s evocative surroundings and colorful criminals, played by the likes of Walton Goggins and Margo Martindale.
“With all due respect to our original cast, who I loved, adored and miss, it was a really fun experience to be with all these new cast members but still feel like we’re doing our show,” Olyphant said. “This feels right in the sweet spot, but I don’t know, it could be a total failure.”
If he did not seem particularly bothered by the possibility of tarnishing the legacy of his most famous creation, that is partly an effect of his affection. In conversation, Olyphant is easy-going and witty, qualities he brings to his work that also belie another of his defining characteristics: seething intensity.
That combination proved perfect for the darkly comic, morally ambiguous world of “Justified.” Olyphant’s performance in the series shifted his previously successful career into a higher gear, which in turn made his future prospects less dependent on the success of the “Justified” revival.
As it happened, Olyphant was in New York for a screening of a different twisted crime thriller: “Full Circle,” in which he plays a Manhattanite with secrets who married into the wealthy family of a famous chef, played by Dennis Quaid. (Other stars include Claire Danes, Jharrel Jerome and CCH Pounder.) Premiering Thursday on Max, the gripping six-episode series revolves around a botched kidnapping with international consequences.
“Full Circle” was directed by Steven Soderbergh, the latest in a list of talented people that Olyphant has long wanted to work with and now has. Others include Quentin Tarantino, who cast Olyphant as 1960s TV cowboy James Stacy in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019), and David O. Russell, who hired him to play a disfigured thug in “Amsterdam” (2022). Kenneth Lonergan made him the center of his acclaimed play “Hold On to Me Darling” (2016).
“You can throw Larry David on the list,” Olyphant said, referring to his appearance as a smarmy groom on “Crb Your Enthusiasm” in 2020. “I don’t know how long I’m going to keep doing this, but I’m going to do it. show up every day for that guy.”
There was also a short run as a “Star Wars” lawman in “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett”, and a longer one as a Mormon US marshal in “Fargo”. He played the husband of a zombie in the horror comedy “Santa Clarita Diet” and himself in two different sitcoms: “The Good Place” and “The Grinder”. Earlier this year he had a memorable turn as a grizzled tour manager with terrible hair in “Daisy Jones & the Six.”
Soderbergh, who said he had wanted to cast Olyphant for years, called him “the best example of a seasoned professional, because he can give you anything you want.”
“That’s the best thing I can say about anybody,” he added.
The afternoon after the “Full Circle” screening, Olyphant lounged in a metal chair outside a TriBeCa coffee shop and marveled at the company he keeps these days.
“To be with Steven Soderbergh last night watching something that he’s done that I’m a part of, it just means the world,” he said. “I don’t know why it took me so long to get there, but it’s really nice to be there now.”
Now 55, Olyphant maintains an athlete’s physique — he just came from a swim at Asphalt Green in Battery Park — but his hair has gone mostly gray. As he revived old roles, he entered a new phase of his life: His three children with Alexis Knief, his wife of more than 30 years, are now grown up, and they followed her father not only into show business but also into the show. a world of “Justified”. Vivian Olyphant plays Raylan’s daughter, Willa, in the revival. “Nepotism, you can’t beat it,” he snapped.
Olyphant wasn’t sure he wanted to reprise his “Deadwood” role as Sheriff Seth Bullock. (Bullock received publicity for the film, adding yet another marshal to Olyphant’s resume.) Once on set, however, he realized how much the show meant to him. It also gave him a final opportunity to work with David Milch, one of the greatest writers of television, whom Olyphant deeply admires. (Milch later entered an assisted-living facility for Alzheimer’s care.)
“I don’t know what I was so afraid of,” he said. “It was quite moving for everyone involved.”
But Olyphant always assumed he would play Raylan again. “It seemed like the kind of character that could age well,” he said.
The new series updates Leonard’s 1980 novel “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit,” one of his most beloved books. As Raylan joins the Detroit police on a case that encompasses a string of murders, a psychopathic aspiring singer, Albanian mobsters, corrupt cops and a crooked judge, he’s often the odd man out in his own show.
“I think they wanted that collision, that’s why they sent him to one of the blackest cities in the country,” said Ellis, who plays a defense attorney at the heart of the story. Other stars include Victor Williams, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Marin Ireland.
During the original run of “Justified,” Olyphant was known as a sometimes demanding Leonard purist, insisting that the show stay true to the author’s dry wit and sly emotional complexity. That hasn’t changed — Ellis said Olyphant carried a tattered copy of “City Primeval” on set “like it was the Bible” — though Olyphant suggested the terms of engagement had evolved.
“I had fun working with the writers,” he said. “They picked up where we left off except this time, no one was throwing things. They were all used to mine [expletive].” (Dinner, who also directed several episodes, said that “he was a great collaborator.”)
All productions have highs and lows, but this show was more extreme than most. In the plus column, Olyphant called working with his daughter, who studies acting at the William Esper Studio in New York, “one of the greatest experiences of my adult life.”
“So special and challenging, walking that line between trying to get a scene and trying to be a parent,” he said. (“He definitely gave a lot of notes,” Vivian, 20, said. “But between takes, we’d have a lot of fun.”)
Less great: the night the show, filmed mostly in Chicago, filmed in a park and the cast and crew found themselves in the middle of an actual shootout. They all ducked for cover as two cars tore down the street toward and past them, exchanging sprays of automatic gunfire.
“You could hear the bullets kicking the rear bumper of the car in front: tink, tink, tink,” Olyphant recalled. No one in the production was injured, but everyone was left shaken.
“My heart goes out to the people who live in those neighborhoods because that’s just no way to live,” he said.
So is Raylan aging well? Is there growth? Viewers will have to draw their own conclusions.
“The road ahead of him is much shorter than the road behind,” Dinner said. “We put him in a place near the end of the story where he makes some decisions about his life.”
Olyphant’s path is also shortened, but the tradeoff is that “the game has become simpler,” he said. “I realize it’s all a joke, just getting away with it.” His co-stars say that whatever his inclination to downplay the task, his enthusiasm for it is apparent.
“He’s obviously very experienced now,” Danes said. “But there’s still that sense of giddiness and searching, which is wonderful.”
Olyphant in turn takes inspiration from those with even more experience, from their example that growth can be its own reward. Co-stars like Quaid, he said, “seem to be having even more fun than I am having.”
“So if they have me and keep inviting me to the dance,” he said, “I think I’ll keep showing up.”