SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of the August 29 series finale of Justified: City Primeval.
Timothy Olyphant’s return to the role of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in Justified: City Primeval completed its eight-episode limited series run tonight on FX. Surviving the Oklahoma Wildman Clement Mansell (Boyd Holbrook), Givens seemed headed to a proper retirement, hanging up his badge and gun for a quiet life in Miami. Just when he was finally out — a pensioner content to refurbish a Florida shack and dote on the daughter he neglected for years — with the promise of a relationship with lawyer Carolyn (Aunjanue Ellis)…up pops Boyd Crowder, the charming silver-tongued psychopath played by Walton Goggins. Crowder, who vexed Raylan on and off throughout the original series creation from the Elmore Leonard novels, has escaped with the help of a girlfriend posing as a guard who is supposed to escort him to another prison that will help a physical malady. And just like that, Givens is faced with the prospect of returning once more before Crowder makes it across the border of Mexico with his accomplice. In the interview that follows this recap, Michael Dinner — who hatched the series revival with David Andron and directed three episodes including tonight’s finale — acknowledges there is every possibility that Givens could be back for one more showdown. The episode closes with Givens not answering the cell phone call to focus on his daughter. For the moment, anyway.
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First things first. City Primeval‘s extraordinary villain, Mansell, begins the episode imprisoned by the Albanian game in the same panic room where he and his pot-dulled girlfriend Sandy (Adelaide Clemens) lulled a smitten Albanian gangster into a trusting relationship. It ended with Mansell crushing the mobster’s leg in a mechanical steel door. While at times seductive and charming, Holbrook’s madman has laid waste to his partner Sweety (Vondie Curtis-Hall), to go along with a judge and numerous others. The Albanians figure to leave Mansell in the room for a slow death rattle, and Givens is forced to watch it happen, while itching for a showdown. Givens comes to let Mansell loose for a final standoff. Only to find that the gangster with the crushed leg has opened the door to reclaim his honor; he got his head caved in with his own gun for his trouble.
Givens has his own issues. He’s developed real feelings for Mansell’s lawyer (Aunjanue Ellis), who arranged for the panic room crypt because Sweety was her surrogate father, and he’d like nothing more than to ventilate Mansell and head home. Mansell tracks down the rest of the Albanian gang and wipes out all of them, This will lead to a final meeting at Carolyn’s apartment, where Givens is in full Clint Eastwood gunslinger mode, for a date he’s been waiting for since he first saw the sociopath Mansell.
It comes down to the mano a mano showdown, only it goes wonky. When Mansell appears to pull his weapon, Givens obliges with three well placed fatal shots. Only to find that what Mansell was slinging is a cassette tape with his mediocre musical tunes.
After clearing the case that began with a crooked judge’s black book, and bringing heat on the crafty detective who tried to clear Mansell by tying his gun to an innocent, Givens keeps his word to his daughter, and heads home to Florida for a mundane life with a challenging precocious teen. Carolyn gets her judgeship over her friend and rival (Regina Taylor), the culmination of a career wading in the muck of the Detroit criminal world. But it is clear that her heart is with Raylan, and he is right there with her. And then comes that one last Boyd Crowder surprise. A fitting capper twist to an exceptional revival series driven by Olyphant’s work, a towering villain turn by Holbrook, and a tour de force by Ellis, the star of Lovecraft Country and King Richard. Now, Michael Dinner explains the twists and turns that honored the wit and colorful characters the late Elmore Leonard was revered for.
DEADLINE: Okay, so we are focused on Raylan’s showdown with Boyd Holbrook’s Clement Mansell and his reign of terror. And then here comes Raylan’s Lex Luthor, Boyd Crowder [Walton Goggins] to screw up his old marshal friend’s retirement. Crowder’s prison escape is pure Boyd, and he doesn’t let us down. It certainly gives the sense the story of Raylan Givens isn’t over yet.
MICHAEL DINNER: Well, I’ll give you the medium story. I think there’s a difference between Clement and Boyd Crowder. People are always comparing villains. Boyd Crowder, as Raylan said in Justified, when we were 18, we mined coal together. There’s a familiarity there, the yin and yang. Clement Mansell is a nihilist and unpredictable, at a time in Raylan’s life where maybe he’s lost half a step. And the thing about Raylan losing half a step or not, this is a guy he doesn’t understand and he’s trying to understand as opposed to Boyd Crowder. What we didn’t want to do is reboot Justify. We were trying to parachute Raylan in the City Primeval story set in Detroit. And the intention was really to let it stand on its own and not to have characters from the past unless it made sense.
Dave Andron, when we first sat down, we decided we’re going to do this together. He pitched bringing Walton back, and my first reaction was, okay, but let’s not do what’s expected in episode five, Raylan’s struggling with Mansell, and he goes to see Hannibal Lecter in prison and says to Boyd Crowder, I don’t understand the bad guy. Tell me what you think. Dave’s pitch was always, look, it’s a 12,000 pound elephant for people who’ve seen the show, and let’s just bring him in at the end for fun. There were three hurdles. The first hurdle was, Tim was one of our partners. So Tim said, well, yeah, if he wants to do it, it’d be great. And the next hurdle was Walton.
We all feel like we stuck the landing with him some years ago. And next to Margo Martindale, Walton Goggins is about the busiest actor in Hollywood, one thing after another. We went to Walton and we said, we’re not asking you to commit for the whole thing, but would you have any interest? We described what we were thinking and he said, that might be kind of fun. He was really busy at the time doing a Jonathan Nolan thing. So we would’ve had to fit it in to a really small window. We wrote the pages while we were writing the pilot. And he read the pages and flipped out and said, well, this would be a ball. And I’m not kidding when I say there was no intention in our part of, well, this could set up a future. But the fact is, I guess if everybody has a good time, we could do more of this. We could. So that’s how it all started. And then, yeah, we had the short window with him, and it almost blew apart because about two weeks before, we were supposed to shoot this in Chicago, and we got a call from the state of Illinois and from the Chicago Film Commission. And they said, well, because of Covid and being understaffed, you can’t shoot in any prison in the state of Illinois, and we’re supposed to start shooting in a week and a half, what do you do? You’re not going to build sets.
Two years ago I shot in an empty prison in Pittsburgh. I said, if we can do that, I can rewrite the pages in 20 minutes right now to shoot it in the Pittsburgh prison. Usually it takes two to three weeks to do the permit process, but we were able to do it. And we shot that great bridge since he’s escaped from prison. The film commission said, it’s your lucky day. They were going to demolish the bridge in a couple weeks. We pivoted and that’s how it all happened.
DEADLINE: You kept it close to the vest.
DINNER: We got Walton for a day and a half or something like that, and it was a joy. Walt has been a fantastic poker player. I don’t know if you’ve spoken to him in the last three months, but he’s done press for different things, and it always comes up and he says, yeah, it’s too bad it didn’t work out, or it wasn’t the right piece or whatever. He’s been a really good poker player. We try to keep it quiet because a couple people have talked to that, have seen it, were so surprised and overjoyed. If we get that reaction from people who are watching tonight, it’d be awesome.
DEADLINE: So we end with Raylan painting the house and taking his daughter on the boat, and they’re bonding. And the call comes in from the US Marshal’s office because Boyd Crowder has escaped prison. Suddenly, you sense he is restless for the manhunt and you imagine him breaking his word to his daughter, and putting off retirement to hunt down his old buddy. Is that where you are going, with Raylan not yet hanging up his gun?
DINNER: Yeah. This was the second act of his life, and there could be a third act. Look, if there’s not, I feel really good about this. We did this to have a good time. But I feel like there is another story to be told as long as we all are convinced, including John Landgraf, that we don’t want to mess up the original ending on the first Justified. But I do think that it’s something that I would like to do that Andron would like to do, that Tim would like to do, and Walton would like to do. And it’s really, does it fit in FX’s plans or not.
There was a discussion about this before the strike happened, so certainly nobody’s thinking about it because of the strike. We’re not allowed to talk to FX. But I do think there’s a third act, and I like to say that I’m a big fan of Unforgiven, that story of a guy who’s up to his chin in pig slop who has to strap on the gun again, because he was a gun slinger. And in a way that’s kind of the third act of Raylan’s life if we decide to do that. I mean, the second act is to get him to put on that badge. And the third act is to pick it back up again or pick up the gun again. Look, there’s certainly a drama set up. Boyd Crowder is now out in the world and he’s on his way with this prison guard, this woman who broke him out, and they’re headed to Mexico, supposedly. He’s got a son out there that he doesn’t know anything about, and Ava’s out there and he doesn’t know where she is, doesn’t know what happened. So there’s certainly a story to be told if the stars align.
DEADLINE: I’ve been watched Justified since moment one, because I was such a big fan of Elmore Leonard. This has been my favorite season, and there were plenty of good ones.
DINNER: That makes me feel pretty damn good. Elmore was an awesome guy, and City Primeval, it wasn’t his first Detroit novel, but was one of the first. And some people think it’s kind of mean. It was written around 1980 and a lot of people think it’s kind a crown jewel of his stuff. It was so much fun to go back into what I call the Elmore Sandbox.
DEADLINE: Last time I interviewed Elmore, he was just so proud of Justified. It made up for all those years he’d get hired to write scripts and get pushed around, and when people turned his great books into bad movies because they took out all the humor and nuance. Then we got Get Shorty and Out of Sight, and it was like, oh that’s how you adapt Elmore Leonard. Just stick to what he wrote and use his dialogue. You guys have honored his spirit here. So many of his great lines. Like the hapless lovestruck Albanian gangster who says after being gaslit by Sandy (Adelaide Clemens), says, “You broke my heart…and my leg.”
DINNER: Well, that’s one of the few we didn’t steal from Elmore, I’ll tell you that. But look, the thing is about Elmore is what Scott Frank learned a long time ago. That you need to learn when to invent, when to embellish and when to get the hell out of the way. And it starts with that Elmore had a great ear. He writes great characters, and then you need to know how to make it your own.
DEADLINE: Scott Frank told me that when he adapted Get Shorty, he took a green marker to the book, intent on highlighting dialogue he wanted to use. By the time he got to the end, he said the whole book glowed green. Here, you guys made changes borne of necessity. In the City Primeval novel, the hero is Raymond Cruz, who took on the Oklahoma Wildman Clement Mansell. The actor Paul Calderon played Cruz in Out of Sight, and shows up briefly and his novel storyline is acted out by Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens. How did that become the plan?
DINNER: I’ll try to do it as quickly as I can because it’s kind of a long-winded story. We finished Justify six, seven years ago and years after that, Elmore Leonard’s son Peter took over the estate. He asked me if he would do City Primeval as a series. I said, sure. I started fiddling with it, and actually I was going to pitch it as a period piece, and then I was in Rome, working. The rights situation was convoluted. It had almost been made into a movie a couple times before, once by Quentin Tarantino. Some of the rights belonged to MGM, some belong to the estate.
While I was in Rome, I got this phone call from Tim Olyphant, who must’ve heard that I was going to start developing this. He said, Hey, are you familiar with City Primeval? I said, well, yeah. And he said, I was talking to Quentin on the set [they were making Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood], and we were saying how this would make a great Raylan story. I asked Tim to wait till I was back in a week. Let’s talk about it when I get home. I’m not saying it’s a dumb idea, but it’d be very complicated because of the rights. I came back, I was going back into another FX deal, and was about to go with this thing as its own thing, and talked to John Landgraf about it.
He said, well, Tim had told us about this and we would love to discuss making it a Raylan story. So that’s how it started. Dave Andron and I decided to partner up on it. Dave was an executive producer writer on Justified. Graham Yost was at the time in an Apple deal, so he couldn’t officially work on it, though he would read stuff and drop in once in a while. Our original intention wasn’t to reboot Justified. That was the first act of Raylan’s life, and we felt we stuck the landing. Could we parachute Raylan into this story? And there were certain difficulties with that. We didn’t want to do a disservice to Raymond Cruz, who’s kind of the literary granddaddy of Raylan in a lot of ways. This was a postmodern Western that Elmore wrote, and in some ways you can see the evolution from Raymond Cruise to Raylan. So we wanted to make sure that was done the right way, and that it truly was a Raylan story. But at the same time, like I said, what Scott discovered is where do you invent and where do you keep what a master did? It was an adaptation. Yeah.
DEADLINE: So you have Raymond Cruz (Calderon), who tells a little story about gunning down a bad buy who it turned out had reached for a cigarette lighter and not a gun. It was foreshadowing with how Raylan’s death dance with Clement Mansell worked out. Was that foreshadowing deliberate?
DINNER: Yeah. We wanted to make sure that that character was given his due, that we weren’t just stealing. And we thought, wow, it’d be pretty cool to see this guy who in a way was the Ghost of Christmas Past, come to Raylan, and we kept trying to figure out how to make that work, and whether it’d be more involved or whether he would just show up as it is right now in the story. So Raylan shows up on the doorstep looking for Raymond Cruz because Raymond was the arresting officer some years before of Clement Mansell. He shows up at the ex-wife’s door, and then Raymond meets up with Raylan in this bar. We just thought it would be a good idea and kind of fun to do this scene where you see a guy who’s now done, and Raylan, who’s in the second act of his life, about four or five years away from mandatory retirement, and a walking anachronism. And so in a way, it’s kind of the Greek chorus in the scene with Raylan.
DEADLINE: We revealed that Quentin Tarantino was in talks to direct some eps here. What happened and how close did he get to doing Kokomo the fourth episode with the Albanian mob?
DINNER: Yeah. We were a week to two weeks away from him starting to prep. Look. We thought, well, that would be kind of fun if he wanted to do it. He was a huge fan of the show, a huge fan of Elmore. So I called him, Dave Andron and I spoke to him. He really wanted to do it. In fact, between the third episode and the fourth episode we had, it was Quentin. So he said the way it was structured was actually the way it finally ended up in the air that in the fourth episode, it’s kind of a deconstructive narrative. So the whole breaking of the leg was going to be moved up, and he was going to actually do the third episode.
Instead of deconstructing the narrative, we moved it up into the third episode because he wanted to shoot that. And anyway, so we were all ready to go, and he was about ready to prep. And then I got the call that for some personal reasons, he couldn’t do it. And so we had to scramble, and I actually brought in our old friend Jon Avnet to take his place. So it would’ve been fun, but he did get close. He was actually, not that he gave a lot of notes, but it was kind of good to get another point of view. He read a number of the scripts and especially the script that he was going to do.
DEADLINE: Well, aside from directing Jackie Brown from an Elmore novel, Quentin optioned several of Elmore’s books, intending to write and direct. But you can only do so many things. Now, a few things about this season. Raylan’s precocious daughter Willa was just adorable, and natural in scenes with Raylan. Turns out the actress is named Vivian Olyphant and this was art imitating life.
DINNER: So we were writing these scripts and we thought what was interesting in his kind of existential journey was that he was close to retirement. A couple of years down the road, we had set up the daughter, the baby in Justified, and we saw her in the last episode. We thought also that was interesting because he’s divorced. He’s like, Mr. Good Time Charlie, who drops in on his daughter’s life twice a month if he’s lucky with the custody arrangement. And we thought, that’s interesting because she’s 15 going on 16, so he’s a couple years away from her being emancipated. He thinks he’s a great daddy. He’s not so great. Actually, time’s running out for him. So look, I’ve cast young actors and actresses before, and when you catch lightning in a bottle, it’s great. I mean, we did and Justified in the second season, we had a great young actress [Kaitlyn Dever].
So we started looking for young actresses and Tim said, look, we don’t have to do this, but you should read my daughter, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but it might be kind of interesting. We thought, oh, this could be trouble. And we read her and were kind of taken with her. First of all, she carried the baggage of their relationship in a good way, and she was just kind of quirky and interesting, and there’s something interesting about her. So we said we tested her and we showed it to the network, and the network agreed. And there you go. It was fun to see them on the set because Tim could be her scene partner, could also be dad, Tim could be also an executive producer, and there’d be times when he’d be saying, if you do this…and she said, don’t tell me I got this. She had this contest on the set where she had a vote, a tally being taken. Who was your favorite Olyphant? She claimed she won by a landslide.
DEADLINE: She brought out empathy in Raylan, who beats the hell out of his nemesis Clement Mansell when he crosses the line and convinces the young girl, to come with him, pretending he is Raylan’s friend. He was trying to get a rise out of Raylan, and, mission accomplished. Raylan seemed different this whole season. Impatience for all the bureaucracy and crap that goes on, tired of the manhunts. It takes him a while to get back to the thing you love about him. He’s the gunman from the Old West, caught in the contemporary world of Miranda rights. What qualities did you try to make different in the Raylan we knew from the series?
DINNER: Well, we like to joke that the audience expects him to shoot one person per episode. Look, this is a slower burn over eight episodes. And that was really deliberate. He is, as I said, kind of a walking anachronism. He always was. But the stakes are raised in the world in which Raylan lives right now. I don’t think the world’s changed over the last 7, 8, 9 years from when we ended the show. But certainly we’re much more aware of stuff because of the news, and we’ve seen a lot of stuff happen with law enforcement. And so certainly that existed in our minds, though we didn’t want to hang a flag or do some woke story. But certainly the world has changed. And what I feel pretty good about is we told that story put him in today, and what’s at stake for him as a character I think exists in this material. So he slowed down from where we saw him. He still can pull a gun, but has he lost a half step? Maybe there’s more at stake for him. He has a daughter that he has a couple years to connect with her before she’s emancipated. That’s different for him. And he’s got more of a perspective than he had before, kind of an overview as a little bit of an elder statesman in terms of law enforcement. And so that’s how we pick him up in this show. And it’s ironic, we don’t really see him put anybody down until that last episode.
DEADLINE: That final confrontation with Clement Mansell was so unpredictable. Boyd Holbrook was a helluva charismatic bad guy, and this might be his strongest performance to date as the Oklahoma Wildman. How did you know that he was going to kind of rise to the occasion? He was such a quirky guy. He had loyalties, he had eccentricities, but then he could turn around and beat somebody to death with the barrel of a gun.
DINNER: So a couple things. First of all, I mean that character more than any of the others from the novel, that’s where we did a lot of being true to Elmore, though we did embellish and we did some things that are not in the novel, which I can talk about in a second. But I mean, that character on the page was one of the best bad guys that Elmore ever wrote. Elmore used to write these characters that lived in the gray zone. His protagonists are good at what they do, but they live in the gray zone. Raylan had an itchy trigger finger, and most men are not very self-aware. Karen Cisco [Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight], for instance, drank too much, and had lousy taste in men. But the antagonists that he created also were in the gray zone. Some of them are a embraceable, some redeemable, and if they’re neither one, they’re just really interesting, which I think is probably the territory that Clement lives in. Great character on the page, and we embellished the whole musical thing, invented it to connect with her with Sweety [Vondie Curtis-Hall]. Sure, just they kind of ran together with the wrecking crew, but also that they had a passion for something with the music. Even though Sweety was the real deal, and Mansell basically stunk.
He was just a great bad guy who is funny at times and really terrifying in others. And that’s the great thing about Elmore’s stuff, is that it is appealing to directors and writers and actors because sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s dark and violent and sometimes it’s funny, all in the same breath. So I wish I could say Boyd was my idea, but I think Tim brought him up, or Cami Patton, our casting director. And we met with him and talked to him, and we felt like he would be really interesting. And I think he’s really terrific in it.
DEADLINE: When you’ve had Walton Goggins and Margo Martindale among others, the bar is high for villains. Did you consider many others?
DINNER: You start to cast pie in the sky, it’s a limited series. Who do you think you can get? And also you’re trying to worry about how do you make this work within the budget you have? So you make a list up, and sometimes it’s pie in the sky, and sometimes it’s people that are practical to go after. I think he was the first person we made an offer. Boyd had been doing very well on features and was right on the edge of breaking out. He’d just done Indiana Jones. He was the first person we went after and he wanted to do it. And there you go. I looked at the Wolverine stuff and I did wonder, did he have enough? Could he mind the humor? Could he be wild enough? And I think the answer came back as we started to work. Yeah.
DEADLINE: Vondie Curtis-Hall, what a face reflecting hard miles, a guy full of contradictions, empathy and frustration nothing has worked out for him.
DINNER: We had worked together years before I started features and kind of stumbled into TV, with The Wonder Years and then Chicago Hope. We brought him into Chicago Hope. You lose touch with people. And then we started talking about this role, which was smaller in the book. And in a way, he and Carolyn [Aunjanue Ellis] are Detroit. They represent Detroit in this story. And so we started talking about actors and making a list, and Cami said, what about Vondie? Man, he looks like he’s lived a life. He was fantastic.
DEADLINE: As was Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Mansell’s attorney Carolyn Wilder, the one who develops a romantic relationship with Raylan. So many strong scenes. The reveal that Sweety was her surrogate father after he’s killed, was just heartbreaking.
DINNER: I’m just a big fan of hers, Lovecraft Country and King Richard, there’s this quality that she has. She just seems real to me. And we didn’t want to go conventional. Raylon was married before to Winona (Natalie Zea). We’ve seen Raylan with women in Justified, but we’ve never seen him with someone like this. Someone who’s so formidable she is kind of a match for him. We see her in that first scene in the courtroom, dismantle him on the stand. We haven’t seen him go through that before. She’s just a powerhouse. And there are just moments where scenes between her and Sweety…I think the scene in the pilot between her and Jamal [Amin Joseph], the ex-husband. That scene is not one you’ve seen before in Justified.
It’s a really organic and very real scene between these two people. And with Raylan, this short two ships passing in the night relationship develops with her. I think of that scene in the finale where she’s in the bathtub and she’s talking about she never wanted this house and it was Jamal’s dream. The only thing that she liked in the house is that bathtub. And then says to Raylan, you’re leaving, aren’t you? I just think it’s pretty honest and raw. And so she’s just a powerful actress, and I think the two of them together is just really interesting.
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