Elmore Leonard: Justified Gets It Just Right
Elmore Leonard with Justified star Timothy Olyphant
Elmore Leonard doesn't waste words on the page or in conversation.
So when asked what he thinks of Justified, the FX series based on one of his characters, anachronistic U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the prolific author's response is simple and direct: "I like it a lot."
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For Leonard, whose 43 novels and countless short stories have inspired decades of TV and movie adaptations, dialogue has always been the key to the 84-year-old writer's success. And Leonard thinks that's one of the reasons Justified works.
"When he delivered the lines, the ones that I wrote, they were just the way I heard them when I wrote them," Leonard says of series star Timothy Olyphant. "That doesn't happen very much. They're sticking right to my sound, and I think it's really good."
Leonard likens Olyphant's spot-on line delivery to that of Richard Boone, who starred in the 1957 western, The Tall T, the first film made from a Leonard story ("The Captives"). That same year saw the release of the original 3:10 to Yuma, also adapted from a Leonard short story. At the time, that was just what Leonard wanted.
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"When I started writing in the '50s, I was hoping for movie sales," he tells TVGuide.com, noting he made $90 when Yuma was published. "After that, when I got into crime [stories], I began to think more of the writing than the possibility of a movie. Still, in my style of writing, I always write in scenes, and I always write from a character's point of view. So, that feels like a movie, and when a studio executive reads it he can see it as a movie."
Of the many adaptations of his works, Leonard is particularly fond of the 1967 Paul Newman film Hombre. He also gives high marks to the mid-to-late-'90s triumvirate of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Jackie Brown, the last of which Leonard says may have come the closest to his original intent in "Rum Punch," the story which inspired Quentin Tarantino's film.
Leonard's works haven't always fared as well on TV. The author was no fan of ABC's Maximum Bob or Karen Sisco, which put Carla Gugino in the titular role Jennifer Lopez originated in Out of Sight. Leonard said the writers of Sisco never found the character.
"It ran for six episodes, and in each episode, I think her personality changed," Leonard says. "They just had to find out who she is, and how she operates most effectively and most entertainingly. And they never found it."
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Justified, on the other hand, has Raylan Givens nailed, Leonard says. "I thought he was laid-back in just the right way," he says. "He's a confident lawman, and he knows he can shoot. He knows he can pull his gun. That's what I like about him: He doesn't rush anything. He doesn't seem on the muscle, because he knows he's the good guy."
Leonard has begun work on a new Raylan Givens story which he hopes might inspire plots for the show's second season, if FX renews the series. "It's a new idea that they can get into if they like it," Leonard says. "It doesn't have anything to do with the continuity of what they're doing, so they can wedge it in anywhere. I'm going to write at least 60 pages and give it to them. If they like it, fine."
And if they don't, Leonard says he will pen a couple more Raylan stories and publish a collection. After almost a year working on his latest novel, Djibouti — a story about Somali pirates holding merchant ships for ransom — Leonard views writing Raylan as a break.
"It's not a rest, but it's more restful to write about Raylan Givens because I know him so well," he says.
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.