Timothy Olyphant tells Rolling Stone what brought him back to the New York stage after two decades, why he doesn’t play the part for laughs and what it’s like stripping down in front of a live audience eight nights a week.
You hadn’t done theater in a while, why did you go back to the stage?
First and foremost: Kenny and Neil. As soon as the opportunity came up and I saw those two guys’ names, I knew immediately I was gonna want to do it. I don’t think I finished the first scene and I told my wife, “I’m gonna want to do this.” She told me to finish the fuckin’ play and, and I said, “I don’t have that much time!”
What was it about Kenneth Lonergan in particular?
I’ve been a huge fan of Kenny’s work from the jump. There’s very few things that have come along and I thought, “I wished I could have done that.” But the thing that still jumps to mind is, I remember auditioning for You Can Count on Me 20 years ago (and not getting the part). It was such a beautiful piece, though. So when this came around, it had a ton of appeal. Plus, I lived here in New York back in the Nineties, so the opportunity to return has always been on the mind. Just to figure out how to pull it off and what was worth trying to pull it off for. I had done a play at the Atlantic and lived in this neighborhood, so if I could work this out, it seemed like a shitload of fun.
I’m also ignoring the obvious: It’s very rare that a piece of material comes along that is both a sweet little fit and scares the shit out of you at the same time. That’s a really fun place to work from.
I re-read an interview you did with us in which you said Raylan, your character in Justified, is an asshole, so I wondered: Is Strings a good guy or is he an asshole in a different way?
Listen, you can’t believe everything you read [Laughs]. It sounds fairly credible. Is this guy an asshole? I haven’t thought of it that way. I think this guy is desperately trying to turn his life around in a very sincere way. He’s in crisis, his life is a fraud, he’s trying to get out of it — and it ain’t easy. I think he means everything he says, for the entirety of the play. At the moment, it’s an absolutely sincere thought — which is part of his problem.
We never get to hear you play or sing much, who would you model Strings after musically?
I don’t know; I don’t get more than a few syllables out. They don’t let me. Maybe I could pull off some sort of Johnny Cash-Leonard Cohen kinda vibe there. I don’t know, we sort of went for some old-school thing. I think my vocal range is so limited it wouldn’t let me commit.
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