The first thing you notice about Timothy Olyphant is the way he talks. He’s got this slow, slacker’s drawl, the kind of sun-stained smoothness that’s totally placeless, maybe even timeless — because yeah, he’s a star out-of-time, an old-school workaday actor who just happened to hit it big. That’s how you know him, anyway: as Raylan Givens from Justified, the neo-western psycho thriller based on an Elmore Leonard character, which ends its Emmy-fueled six-season run this month. Or maybe as Seth Bullock from Deadwood. Or as the handsome guest star on sitcoms from The Office to The Mindy Project.
But also, there’s the way he talks. The way he seems to be searching for the right answer — the real answer — in a totally artificial setup. Like he wouldn’t mind revealing some essential truths to himself in the course of our brief interaction, if the opportunity arises. That’s the thing about Timothy Olyphant. He’s not really just an actor. He’s a thinker. An art lover. A lover of learning — like, honest lifelong learning, because that’s what it takes to be a better artist, a better actor, a better man. That’s what you notice about Timothy Olyphant.
Let’s start at the beginning. Growing up, was acting always the thing?
I grew up in Modesto, California. Cow-tipping was the thing. Ice-blocking was a thing. Cruising was a thing.
What did you think you were going to do?
I thought I was going to try to get out of there. But career-wise? I had no idea. It wasn’t until I went on a college recruiting trip that I discovered the art department — I had no idea such a thing existed. You can get a degree in that? I liked to draw, so that became my major in college. I was thinking maybe I’d have an art career. Worst-case scenario I’d get my masters and teach.
Your resume now is so varied — comedy, dark stuff like Justified. What you were hoping to do originally?
In some ways I was trying to get my hands on the best possible thing I could get without having to deal with anything I wasn’t prepared to deal with. So it was always one step forward, two steps back. Take a breath. See if I can deal. I got great opportunities right off the bat. And at the same time I either passed or failed to get things that would have made things ridiculously quick. I passed on enormous opportunities only to end up playing the supporting role in the next film. And then I’d think to myself, “What the fuck am I doing? Why did I do that?” But sometimes I feel like I got away with some things, because I’ve been able to work for a long time and I haven’t had to deal with any kind of fame issues.
Has that always been your attitude, that it’s just a job?
I guess any other way of looking at it doesn’t interest me much. I do like the job, and I feel fortunate to still do it. You get paid a lot for it. But I’m not sure anything else is really very productive.