By Julie Hinds
January 4, 2014
When Timothy Olyphant first met Elmore Leonard on the set of “Justified,” the man who plays Raylan Givens instantly liked the straight-talking, calls-it-like-he-sees-it vibe of the man who created Raylan Givens.
“He was just as cool as they come,” says the star of the FX series, which will launch its fifth season Tuesday night. “Pretty early on, he told me not to be afraid to lose the hat. He said, ‘You know, maybe a gust of wind just comes along and you never see it again.’ I thought that was fantastic.”
Leonard’s initial dislike of the cowboy hat chosen for the character of Raylan was one of the few bones that the acclaimed Detroit author ever had to pick with the series about the tough, laconic, yet complicated U.S. marshal.
Although most Hollywood versions of his work left him disappointed, Leonard experienced a love affair of sorts with “Justified.”
He liked the show, which was inspired by his short story “Fire in the Hole,” which featured Raylan. And the show liked him more. Series creator Graham Yost was such a Leonard fan that he made WWED (What Would Elmore Do) the guidepost for the writers.
Leonard’s death in August at age 87 makes this season of “Justified” a bittersweet reunion with viewers. There will be a 90-second tribute to Leonard accompanying the first episode. The brief segment is part of a much longer piece that eventually will be part of the Season 5 DVD, according to Yost. It will include interviews with cast members and others who worked with Leonard, plus readings from his novels.
Olyphant and Yost both came to metro Detroit to attend Leonard’s funeral and pay their respects to the man who represented the show’s true north. When they talk about him now during separate phone interviews, their sense of loss is almost palpable.
“There’s an old saw that you should never meet your heroes, and that applies, but not in Elmore’s case,” says Yost. “He was just fun to hang out with and had a great attitude about life and work and writing.”
In the first episode of the new season, Raylan goes to Florida to work on a case, a trip that brings him back into the realm of the Crowe family, the lawbreaking brood connected to recurring character Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman).
“It’s about the Crowes coming to town. We look at them as an invasive species,” says Yost.
At the same time, Raylan’s longtime frenemy Boyd (Walton Goggins) will head to Detroit to deal with troubles in his drug trade. While “Justified” had to shoot the Florida scenes on location to capture the lush topography, the Motor City scenes were easier to duplicate elsewhere and were filmed in Los Angeles.
One of the major themes of the season will include Raylan’s effort to deal with becoming a father and figuring out what kind of parent he will be, given his tortured relationship with his own dad.
New characters will include crime family leader Darryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport) and a Florida policeman played by “Anchorman 2” star David Koechner.
Will this season contain any cookies, or secret surprises, that are nods to Leonard?
“If I give those out, then they’re no longer cookies,” says Yost. But he did reveal that Koechner’s character is named Gregg Sutter, the same name as Leonard’s longtime real-life researcher.
And in a scene in which Koechner’s cop talks about one of his kids trying to become a writer, Yost says the comment he makes “is lifted almost entirely, at least the whole point of it, from something Elmore said in the past about his own writing, that he even talked about when he had his acceptance speech for the National Book Award.”
Although Leonard kept a respectful distance from the creative side of “Justified,” the series inspired him to write the 2012 book “Raylan.” Olyphant helped prod Leonard into developing that novel, at least in part.
“I don’t know if he needed much of a nudge,” the actor says. Not long after the conversation about the cowboy hat, Olyphant recalls, he told Leonard, “I’ll let the wind take my hat off my head; you get back to writing some stories where the character of Raylan is in them.’”
Leonard’s reply to Olyphant? “He said, ‘You know, I might do that.”
In 2012, Leonard talked to the Free Press about the book, which he dedicated to Olyphant and Yost.
“I felt, well, I can’t just take money for nothing. I thought, ‘I’m going to write something.’ So I wrote a book and thought they could use any part of it they want,” said Leonard. The “Justified” writers used parts of the book for season two story lines.
Olyphant says that Leonard’s personal style evoked his characters and his novels.
“What I was always aware of was the tone, the humor, the ease with with he told stories or made jokes without acknowledging them. He just had the timing. He was not unlike his books.”
Yost’s voice fills with emotion when he talks about Leonard and how much it means to the entire “Justified” team that the author was pleased with the show. “The fact that he got a kick out of the show was absolutely the most gratifying thing,” he says.
This season, Yost says, “There’s a certain degree that there’s a switchover from ‘We hope Elmore likes this episode’ to ‘This is in memory of Elmore.’ We hope that ... we’re, in his memory, doing the best we can to make him happy.”