A lot has changed in the seven years since Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) had his final showdown and left Harlan behind in the Justified series finale. And when the fan-favorite lawman returns in FX’s highly anticipated new revival series, Justified: City Primeval, not only is he a new man, he’s also brought to a new city and faces a new formidable opponent, one more challenging than his former foe Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
All that “new” may be jarring for fans of the original run, but it’s what excited the showrunners about returning to the world of Justified. “We’re glad we could do this,” Michael Dinner tells EW.
“It’s very, very new. Not quite the old Justified,” Dave Andron adds. “Only people who read the book might have an idea, but I think people who haven’t, who just expect the old thing, are going to be very surprised.”
The revival picks up 10 years after the original series ended. Givens has left his hometown behind and now resides in Miami, balancing his life as a U.S. Marshal and part-time father of a 15-year-old girl (played by Olyphant’s real-life daughter, Vivian). But a chance encounter will send Givens to Detroit, where he crosses paths with a violent, sociopathic desperado who’s already slipped through the fingers of Detroit’s finest once and aims to do so again, and his powerful lawyer. These three characters set out on a collision course in classic Elmore Leonard fashion, to see who makes it out of the City Primeval alive.
Below, the two showrunners dive deep on what fans can expect from the new revival series.
Justified: City Primeval
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to return to this world with a new Justified series after the original run ended so perfectly?
DAVE ANDRON: Well, we wanted to make sure we f—ed it up. We ended it so well. Why would we leave well enough alone?
MICHAEL DINNER: We thought we ended it well, and we thought we were done. We thought we rode it into the sunset, and some series, you don’t get to do that — they pull a plug and you don’t get to feel a sense of completion and you regret the fact that you couldn’t end it the right way. We thought we did. We never intended to go back into the waters. But there was this book, City Primeval, which is kind of a crown jewel of Elmore Leonard’s work. It was his first Detroit crime novel and that kicked off his becoming the preeminent writer of American crime fiction.
A lot of people had wanted to make this book before. It almost got made by [Sam] Peckinpah years ago as a movie, and [Quentin] Tarantino wanted to make it as a movie, and a lot of people wanted to play with it in television, streaming or cable. We had a great experience doing Justified, and some years later Elmore’s son had approached me about doing it as its own thing. I’d always loved the book, we always referenced it when we were in the writers’ room on the original series, and so that was the intention: It was going to be its own thing.
And then one day the phone rang and it was Tim Olyphant who said, “I’ve been sitting on the set with Quentin, and we were talking about this book, City Primeval. We thought it would make a great year of Justified.” So we started kicking around the idea, and FX was into it. It was very complicated to put together because the rights situation was a little murky — part of the rights belonged to the estate, part belonged to MGM which was going to make this movie several times, and it took a while to get it going, but then we did.
We had a great time for seven years on this show, and so the real intention was what if we did a long movie, a limited series, that’s not really trying to go back for the past with Justified, but to do a mashup between this book and this character that we loved, and not to revisit the past as much as we looked at this character as if he had three chapters in his life, and this is the second chapter. We catapulted him into this story, and Dave and I like to say that the road in front of him is a lot shorter than the road behind. He’s at a state in his life where he is this walking anachronism, and can this guy survive in a world that’s not the same world that he’s used to? And the world’s changed politically, sociologically, and he’s changed as a man, and that’s where we find him.
ANDRON: As Dinner said, it is a different world, especially in the world of law enforcement, than when we ended the show. In going back to it, we had this great piece of source material a lot of people were excited about. We all missed Elmore’s world and the tone, but nobody really wanted to take a victory lap and just do it to get the band back together. There is an opportunity to bring Raylan into the present moment and say something a little different about his character and see if … Elmore’s characters only move a nudge, but can we move him a little more, one more nudge into the present moment? And when we figured out how to do that, we decided this is an idea worth doing.
How is this new series going to compare to the original?
DINNER: The cool thing about it is that tonally, it feels like the show we did, but it also feels very different. The great thing about doing Elmore’s stuff is that we say that you don’t see the joke coming, you don’t see the violence coming, and you don’t see the emotion coming sometimes, and everything kind of sneaks up on you. It’s surprising. To me, it feels like a grown-up version of what we did. It feels both familiar and different, and [has] all these new characters who feel of this universe.
Tell me more about how you moved this character and series into the present moment, because as you said, the way in which we view law enforcement in entertainment has changed so drastically. Since the original run ended seven years ago, how did you adjust the tone and characters to fit more into today’s society?
ANDRON: The biggest thing [is] it’s not so much that the world and law enforcement are different, it’s just that the public is now aware of what’s been going on for a long time. Raylan has always had a pretty specific code. There was a lot of gun violence in the show, but Raylan lived by a certain code and did things the right way. We wanted to bring him into the moment where he maybe had a little bit more of an understanding of what he was part of and the bigger picture in that way, paying a little more tribute to the world we live in and being aware of it.
DINNER: Also, Elmore created these characters that it wasn’t what they were, it was who they are. They were pretty fleshed-out characters, even the antagonists. It’s always about who the characters are at the core. When our characters move an inch, that’s a lot in Elmore’s world. So certainly, as Dave said, there’s more awareness. It’s not so much that the world has changed, but we’re more aware of it now.
Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder in ‘Justified’
| Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
The original run’s success was so dependent on Raylan and Boyd’s dynamic and their really complex relationship, so are we going to see Boyd again? If not, who is going to take his place in this series?
ANDRON: Those are big bad guy shoes to fill. This story is really going to be about Raylan and his demons and his past and trying to move forward at this point in his life. So we had to create a new foil for him and somebody who’s still a little bit of a mirror, but also a big obstacle. Thankfully we had a template of a character from Elmore that we got to start with. The book was written in the late ’70s, published in the ’80s, so we had to bring that character into the present. But it was a really daunting thing, coming up with who’s this really great bad guy? And we were lucky enough to have Boyd Holbrook come on and play Clement Mansell, who is, for those who really love Elmore’s crime fiction, one of his better bad guys, maybe his baddest bad guy.
DINNER: He’s a great foil, in some ways more dangerous. Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens were cut from the same cloth: They grew up mining coal together, so there’s a familiarity and they understand each other. That’s what the show was about. With this guy, Clement Mansell, he’s so unpredictable, and at a time when Raylan himself is seven, eight years older, so it’s not only who he is physically, but also because he’s so unpredictable … Boyd Crowder had kind of an amoral code, but he still had a code. I’m not sure that Clement Mansell, the bad guy in this, does at all. And that makes him really dangerous. It’s a pretty formidable antagonist for our protagonist.
Are we going to see any other familiar faces in this series?
ANDRON: Some old characters do show up, but that’s one of those things the audience is going to have to get their head around: It is a pretty new cast. It’s a new group of cops that are around him. It’s cops in Detroit, not marshals in Kentucky, and it really is a standalone Raylan story, just with a few old friends sprinkled throughout.
DINNER: This story’s kind of a three-handerI it’s about Raylan, Clement Mansell, and the third character is this woman defense attorney, Carolyn Wilder, who in some ways is kind of locked at the wrists and ankles, not by her doing, to Clement Mansell. But then there’s a fourth character, which is the city of Detroit. Raylan’s a little bit of a fish out of water in a place that he doesn’t understand as well as he understood where he grew up in Kentucky, or Miami where he lives. So that’s the core of this story, and then anybody else that appears in it is just organic to the storytelling itself.
ANDRON: I thought you were going to say the fourth character was Raylan’s daughter, who also happens to be Tim Olyphant’s daughter in real life, which is pretty fun.
How did he end up getting his real daughter to play his onscreen daughter? Was that always the plan?
ANDRON: No. In fact, we were horrified when Tim was like, “I’m going to put my daughter on tape for the role of my daughter.” And we were like, “This is a no-win. This is brutal. If it’s not good, what are we going to do?” And she was great. They had a ball doing it, and it was a lot of fun. It took about eight minutes on set for her to say, “Dad, stop. Don’t give me notes. Don’t tell me what to do.”
DINNER: They brought their own baggage to it, which was good, and it was interesting to watch. She would take little polls of who was the crew’s favorite Olyphant on the set.
DINNER: That’s classified.
Justified: City Primeval is slated to premiere summer 2023 on FX.