Timothy Olyphant on His Return to Justified Role and the Potential for More Raylan Givens

The FX series star breaks down his gunslinging return to the world of Justified, discusses working with his real-life daughter, and teases talks of another season.

by | July 18, 2023 | Comments

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With Justified: City Primeval, FX’s prestige Western cop drama makes its triumphant return to television. Eight years have passed since U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens last graced our screens. Now, with a different Elmore Leonard story guiding the way, Timothy Olyphant’s slick Stetson-wearing lawman is back in action.

Over the past two decades, Olyphant has become America’s go-to gunslinger. From Seth Bullock in Deadwood to Cobb Vanth in The Mandalorian, a character which (as he notably stated during the TCA Winter press tour earlier this year) was a direct pull from Raylan, Olyphant has made a career out of playing righteous lawmen.

“The boots still fit,” Olyphant told Rotten Tomatoes in a pre-SAG strike chat about the eight-episode limited series. “I grew up in Modesto, California. It’s not far from home, these roles. They’re really fun to play and, after a while, you just go with it.”

Boyd Holbrook, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Adelaide Clemens, and Vivian Olyphant round out the cast of Justified: City Primeval, which trades Harlan County, Kentucky with Detroit, Michigan. Thanks to the return of the show’s original producing team — Graham Yost, Michael Dinner, Dave Andron, and Sarah Timberman have reunited for this — the limited series dials into the nostalgia fans want while expanding the Justified universe in new and exciting ways.

To get you ready for Raylan’s return to TV, here are five things to know about Justified: City Primeval.

1. Same Raylan, New Stakes

Justified: City Primeval stars Timothy Olyphant

Justified: City Primeval stars Timothy Olyphant (Photo by Chuck Hodes/FX)

City Primeval steps outside of Raylan Givens’ comfort zone. This story takes place a decade after Raylan and criminal mastermind Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) parted ways. Nowhere near his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky, this new tale picks up in Miami, Florida, where Raylan juggles his law-enforcement responsibilities as U.S. Marshal with that of being a father to 15-year-old Willa Givens (played by Olyphant’s real-life daughter Vivian).

This is still Raylan Givens, we’re talking about. And it’s not long before a dangerous highway interlude finds Givens stuck in Detroit. His calculated country sensibilities are put to the test in Detroit’s hardened streets. And while he’s chained to the responsibility of keeping his daughter safe, he’s soon immersed in a complicated murder case that leads directly to violent sociopath Clement Mansell, aka “The Oklahoma Wildman.”

2. Quentin Tarantino helped get the series off the ground

Quentin Tarantino, on the set of Once Upon a Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino, on the set of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Photo by Andrew Cooper / © Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection)

Quentin Tarantino is a fan of Elmore Leonard’s work. He even adapted the author’s novel Rum Punch into his 1997 movie Jackie Brown. So, it should come as no surprise that the renowned filmmaker had a fair share of interest in making City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit into something.

Instead of doing something with the material himself, though, Tarantino planted a thought into Timothy Olyphant’s head while on the set of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in which Olyphant appeared as an actor who plays — surprise! — a TV gunslinger. Co-producers Michael Dinner and Dave Andron explained to Entertainment Weekly that, if not for Tarantino, the series may not exist to begin with.

“One day the phone rang, and it was Tim Olyphant who said, I’ve been sitting on the set with Quentin, and we were talking about this book, City Primeval. We thought it would make a great year of Justified,” Dinner said. “So we started kicking around the idea, and FX was into it.”

Tarantino was attached to direct an episode or two of the new series. That didn’t end up happening, but his involvement in getting the show off the ground is pretty cool, nonetheless.

3. Casting Olyphant’s Real-Life Daughter Was a Risk

Vivian Olyphant in Justified: City Primeval

Vivian Olyphant in a character portrait as Willa for Justified: City Primeval (Photo by Kurt Iswarienko/FX)

One of the details that made filming City Primeval a special experience for Olyphant was the addition of his daughter Vivian to the cast. She makes her professional acting debut as his on-screen daughter Willa. It was a bit surprising to learn that Vivian rarely had time on set with her dad, during her formative years.

“She’d been on set very rarely growing up,” Olyphant explained. “She’d never seen the show, but she was interested in acting as a kid. So when this opportunity came up, my wife and I talked about it. That conversation was not really, Do you think she could do it? It was just, What else comes with that? The downside to my job is there’s a lot of baggage that comes with success, and it’s not always the easiest thing to navigate. So I think the biggest thing was asking if she was ready for that kind of pressure, and that kind of life change.”

Kids can express intense interest in a hobby one minute only to turn cold on the concept the next. This was a big concern for Olyphant who revealed, “It’s not that long ago that she was a kid who wanted to go to camp and then the night before, refused to go. I had these nightmares where the night before, my kid says, I don’t want to do it. I’m like, Wait, is this going to be that?! Because if it is, I’m f—ed here. I’d be in a s—load of trouble.”

Thankfully for everyone involved, things went as planned. No one got in trouble and, according to her father, Vivian was a consummate professional.

“It was a joy,” Olyphant revealed to Rotten Tomatoes. “I feel very blessed and lucky to have been able to share the experience with her.”

4. City Primeval’s Villain Is Unlike Anyone Raylan Has Faced Before

(Photo by Chuck Hodes/FX)

One of the bigger details die-hard fans may have a tough time accepting is that, in this new installment, Raylan’s long-time antagonist Boyd Crowder is nowhere to be found. Boyd Holbrook, however, takes things up multiple psycho notches with his performance as “The Oklahoma Wildman,” Clement Mansell.

Mansell is a sociopath, through and through. And while we’ve seen Raylan go up against some heavy-hitting bad guys through Justified initial run, this dude gives him a run for his money. Mansell’s hunger for money and power, mixed with a murderous lack of compassion for human life, makes him a formidable foe for Givens. And somehow, he has a knack for slipping through law enforcement’s fingers again and again.

Simply put, this case may take Raylan to the brink — and it may leave him changed, forever.

5. There’s Potential for More Justified Stories To Come

Timothy Olyphant in Justified: City Primeval

It goes without saying that fans want more Justified. An eight-episode limited series that drops viewers back into Raylan’s life is a gift. But now that we’re here, the question on everyone’s minds is: Will there be more?

The quality of the program’s narrative world-building, producer Sarah Timberman said during the 2023 Television Critics Association winter press tour. Even supporting characters that have appeared throughout the show’s run are presented with a deep-level of development that can invite a viewer to take a detour into these corners of the program’s universe for a bit.

It’s worth repeating that “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit” is not a Raylan Givens novel. But considering the signature Elmore Leonard panache that comes with this storytelling, he absolutely fits. If more Justified were to come, does that put other Leonard stories on the adaptation table? Could the creative team move outside of the author’s works for inspiration?

Peter Leonard (Elmore’s son) made a quick reference to George V. Higgins classic crime novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” during the show’s TCA panel. It’s too early to tell if more episodes are in the cards, and what literary work may act as the reference point for such things. However, something tells us this isn’t the last time we’ll see Olyphant in that iconic Stetson hat.

“Maybe there’s a murmur,” he told Rotten Tomatoes about talks of another season.