DETROIT — 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 just started its fifth season. “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. 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 in 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.”
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” 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.’ ”
— Detroit Free Press
(one hour) airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.