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9. Build a Better Hero

Nix the kids, keep the hat.

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Justified


Elmore Leonard created the character Raylan Givens. But it was show-runner Graham Yost who transformed Leonard’s story Fire in the Hole into the pilot of the FX series Justified. Played by Timothy Olyphant with a brooding sexuality and steely resolve, Raylan still sees himself as a lawman out of an old Western, a man with a code. But Yost took some liberties with Leonard’s creation. I wanted to write the coolest character on TV, he says. Here’s how he did it.

9A. Change the age.
He’s in his fifties in Elmore’s world and 40 in ours, Yost says. So his references are more toward TV than film Westerns. Specifically, Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon. Raylan isn’t really a shouter.

9B. Give him a tortured backstory.
Leonard’s story had Raylan’s coal-miner father dead of black lung, but Yost took inspiration from the character’s trademark Stetson to develop a more colorful family history. If someone makes a choice to wear the hat, Yost says, then he’s really chosen to be a marshal. That’s got to come from somewhere. I thought, If you’re making that strong of a choice maybe your father was a career criminal.

9C. Keep his adversary alive.
In Fire in the Hole, Raylan kills his childhood friend, the charismatic white supremacist Boyd Crowder. In Justified’s pilot, Boyd, played by Walton Goggins (The Shield), originally suffered the same fate. But Yost, in pondering how to make a thirteen-episode first season, changed his mind. As Yost notes, Boyd is the closest thing that Raylan has to an equal.

9D. Add Complexity.
In a quiet moment in Justified’s pilot, Raylan’s ex-wife says, Honestly, you’re the angriest man I’ve ever known. Leonard says that moment surprised him. Justified’s Raylan has more sides to him than the way I wrote him. Says Yost: With a short story or novel, it’s closed. We don’t have to find out more about the guy. In a series you do need some place to go. He seems like this cool character, but still waters run deep.

9E. Nix the kids Raylan has two children in Leonard’s story, and none on the show. Children on the periphery can be complicating. You feel because you’re not seeing the children, Oh my God, he’s the worst parent alive. Like Frasier.

9F. Lose the hat, eventually
Leonard says he imagined Raylan’s hat as a gentleman’s Stetson, the kind cops wore when Oswald was shot. Yost admits, Elmore didn’t like our hat much, and as the season has progressed, the show’s writers have quietly moved away from it. There’s been an evolution. It was Raylan’s affectation early onhe was always in the hat in the pilot and now he wears it less. In fact, he lost it in last week’s episode, Hatless.


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