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'Justified's' Raylan Givens is a star of page and screen

Elmore Leonard so taken with TV show that he extended character's literary life

Detroit Free PressJanuary 19, 2012 

  • ON TV

    'Justified'

    10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX

DETROIT — Staring down a no-good, gun-toting heir to a marijuana empire in rural Eastern Kentucky who has just thrown a dead rat at his car, Raylan Givens stands unfazed.

"You know how many wanted felons have given me that look?" he says, calm as a man on a Sunday stroll. "I say a thousand, I know I'm low."

Cool.

Raylan Givens is one cool character, whether he's enforcing the law as a deputy U.S. marshal in Elmore Leonard's new novel Raylan (William Morrow, $26) or on Justified, the taut, moody FX series that has become a critical favorite.

The book came out Tuesday, the same day Justified returned for its third season.

It takes only this snippet of dialogue from Raylan to establish that this is a neo-Steve McQueen, who goes by his own code, who never strains to create an impression, but who has complexities simmering underneath that super-cool exterior.

Leonard, the best-selling author and longtime bard of crime writing, says cool is a good word to describe his creation. "Cool, in a very not-showy way, but an honest way. He is cool, no question about it."

The Raylans of print and small screen have meshed into one of the most unusual and successfully interwoven relationships in the entertainment business.

Justified was inspired by a Leonard short story featuring Raylan called Fire in the Hole, part of the collection When the Women Came Out to Dance. (Raylan first appeared in the novels Pronto from 1993 and then Riding the Rap from 1995.) The story was carefully developed for TV by series executive producer Graham Yost, whose team of producers, writers, directors and actors share a "What would Elmore do?" dedication to honoring Leonard's distinctive style.

From the start, the show has put Raylan Givens into the rugged setting of his hometown, Harlan. It has added characters and built story lines that stay true to Leonard's gritty, smart, wry style.

Leonard — whose work has been a constant source for Hollywood, from stylish crime romps Out of Sight and Get Shorty to the Western 3:10 to Yuma — was so pleased with Justified and actor Timothy Olyphant's performance as Raylan that he was inspired to write more about the lawman.

The author, who is an executive producer of Justified but isn't involved in the day-to-day details, describes it more laconically.

"I felt, well, I can't just take money for nothing. I thought, 'I'm going to write something.' So I wrote a book and thought they could use any part of it they want."

A page-turner with three distinct story arcs, Raylan brings the federal marshal into contact with three intriguing women: a nurse running a bloody medical scheme, a ruthless mine-company executive and a college student who's an expert poker player.

The novel is dedicated to Yost and Olyphant.

"You know what? That's one of the coolest things that's ever happened in this business for me," Yost says. "Tim's pretty tickled, too."

The ties between Justified and Leonard's new novel are a happy ricochet, Yost says. When Justified was created, new characters were introduced, and mesmerizing antagonist Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who was killed off in Fire in the Hole, was kept alive.

Then Leonard picked up the baton, as Yost puts it, and began writing Raylan. He included a few of the new TV characters and an "alive and kicking Boyd."

Yost recalls seeing a chunk of Raylan in early summer 2010, as Justified was heading into the writing of the second season. The TV team used parts of Raylan for story lines.

"We took the character of Pervis Crowe and turned Pervis into Mags Bennett and added a son. He had Dickie and Coover, and we added Doyle," Yost says, referring to members of the Crowe family, a familiar dynasty from Leonard's work. "They're both a pot-farming family, a criminal family, all of that."

Another example of the book's links to the series is the rat-tossing scene in Raylan. It popped up in an episode last season.

"It's this interesting sort of back and forth where he's taking stuff that we've done, we're taking stuff that he's done," Yost says. Leonard "made it clear to me, right from the beginning. He said just take what you want and leave the rest behind."

In the upcoming season, viewers can expect to see a big element from the book in the fifth episode and something else in the ninth.

Yost hints that this season's themes will deal with what happens when you cross a line. "If you've drawn a line in the sand for yourself, what happens when you step over that?"

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