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Emmy newcomer 'Justified' comes on strong

August 04, 2011|By Lisa Rosen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Timothy Olyphant leads a quartet of first-time Emmy nominees that includes Walton Goggins, Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale
Timothy Olyphant leads a quartet of first-time Emmy nominees that includes… (Prashant Gupta / Sony Pictures…)

For a single series to receive multiple Emmy nominations for acting in one year is quite an achievement. It points to a show's overall quality when the talent bench runs so deep — consider "Mad Men's" continued presence in the acting categories and in the drama winner's circle, or "Modern Family," which has twice loaded up on acting nominations and was awarded the top comedy prize last year.

Now, flying slightly lower on the public's radar, comes "Justified," the FX crime series set in the poor, coal-mining towns of Kentucky and based on Elmore Leonard stories. Virtually ignored by Emmy voters last year (it did receive a nomination for main title theme music), its second season came on like gangbusters, earning four acting nods — going to four first-time nominees in Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, Margo Martindale and Jeremy Davies. And while the series itself did not earn a nomination, for anyone who's watched Olyphant as U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens face down the criminal elements in Harlan County, the multiple honors are no surprise. Except, perhaps, to the actors themselves.

"Whoop de doo!" hoots Martindale, who, reached by phone just a day after her 60th birthday, was delighted to be included. The supporting actress nominee has worked on stage, film and television for more than 40 years, in everything from "Dead Man Walking" with Sean Penn to FX's short-lived but intriguing "The Riches." But it was as "Justified's" Mags Bennett, matriarch of a deranged crime family, that she finally caught Emmy's attention.

Martindale and her cast mates credit the writing by executive producer Graham Yost and his staff for giving them all roles to die for. "Far too often in our entertainment, Southerners have been portrayed as one-note, and more often than not as stupid," says supporting actor nominee Goggins. "That's not the case here. Elmore loves his characters, Graham loves them, and all of us absolutely worship them."

Goggins plays Boyd Crowder, a complex nemesis for Givens but one never meant to even be a regular character. Boyd died at the end of the original pilot, but the chemistry between Goggins and Olyphant was so immediately riveting to the show's producers that the episode was reshot to keep him alive. The antagonistic relationship has only deepened as Boyd has gone from a hard-core criminal with a penchant for launching rockets to a struggling penitent, "only to realize that he's a combination of both former selves," says Goggins.

That interplay of the characters is key, but lead actor nominee Olyphant comes back to the writing. "Sometimes it's really easy to make the other person the problem and make the hero flawless," he says. "What works the best in these stories is when a scene's over and you feel like both people have a real point, and it's easy to side with each of them." They are all, in their own minds if not in reality, justified in their behavior.

Guest actor nominee Jeremy Davies plays Mags' twisted son, Dickey, a man who still holds a grudge against Givens from a high school-era baseball game gone very bad. Davies grew up reading Leonard's books and reveled in his character, "who at first glance triggers a more two-dimensional snap judgment from the audience, and then he turns out to have more going on beneath the surface."

The same is true of most of Harlan's population, including Dickey's smiling viper of a mother. Olyphant praises Martindale for "trusting that being sweet and folksy [as Mags] is more frightening" than a conventionally tough portrayal. In return, Martindale credits Olyphant with creating a chilling cordiality between their two characters that heightened every encounter. "Tim's ease in what he does actually permeates the whole show," she says.

In fact, the actors seem to revel in each other's company and have nothing but respect for one another. If ever an actor was born to play a role, says Davies, Olyphant was destined to be Marshal Givens. "You can find Raylan's depth of charm and wit and intelligence DNA-deep with Tim," he says, likening their collaboration to jazz. "Rather than arriving on set having mapped out your entire performance, you're allowed to get comfortable not knowing precisely what's going to happen in front of the camera."

Goggins agrees. "What was so transformative for me is that working with Tim, Margo and Jeremy, nothing is premeditated, and nothing is the same," he says. "The situation dictates the outcome; the story is king."

Unfortunately, the story dictated that Mags had to die a horribly poetic death. Even though Martindale has since gone on to work on the new CBS fall series "A Gifted Man" — with two of the producers from "Justified" — she still mourns the loss of Mags. "Honestly, what I'll miss is that free abandon," she says. "Mags could do anything she wanted to do." She even misses wearing the men's clothes that helped the actress bring Mags to life. "I didn't have to fit into somebody else's world, because it was my world."

But at least the group will get to reunite at the Emmys. Which leads Martindale to one predicament not shared by her three colleagues — or Mags for that matter. "What the hell do you do about a dress?"

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