Elmore Leonard on ‘Justified’ and ‘Raylan’

One of the great American novelists talks about his latest book and his hit FX TV series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

For the third season of "Justified," FX brought out author Elmore Leonard to meet the Television Critics Association. He’s just published a new book, "Raylan," based on the lead of the show based on his character. After the "Justified" panel, I went up to Mr. Leonard to ask more questions. So Leonard held court over more TCAers, but I mean, I interviewed Elmore F****** Leonard. That’s something.


Crave Online: How did the TV show inspire your latest book?

Elmore Leonard: The latest book originally wasn’t going to have anything to do with Raylan or the show. It was just my next book set in a private prison in Arizona. Well, a plot develops but I decided I’m going to put Raylan in it. I’ve got to put him in because he’s so much fun and I know him. I know him so I should be able to write him into the plot.

The character that I had as the main character is a bull rider. Three years in a row he was a champion bull rider. And then finally her retires and now he raises bulls. His name is Kyle McCoy which is kind of a cowboy kind of a name, you know. I can’t make him talk in an interesting way. I don't know why. Maybe it’s his name but I think if I just bring Raylan to take over and to take over the girls that Kyle is interested in, then it’ll work. The book’ll work.

Crave Online: Did that also happen when the Get Shorty movie came out and you were inspired to write "Be Cool"?

Elmore Leonard: I guess so, I don't know. I’m always asked where did you get that idea? And I never remember. There are a few that I remember, for example I saw a picture in the paper of two marshals standing in front of the Miami Courthouse when some dope dealers were brought on trial. One of the marshals was a woman and she had a shotgun on her hip like that, extended out and she was good lookin’. She was a knockout and I thought she’s a book.

Crave Online: Has Raylan done anything on Justified that surprises you?

Elmore Leonard: His lines, because I didn’t write them. Yes, his last lines. His scene ender. Yes, it always surprises me and it’s not overdone. It’s never overdone. It’s just right.

Crave Online: What do you think of kindles?

Elmore Leonard: I don’t have any of the modern stuff. I don’t have e-mail. I don’t have a computer, but I have my researcher who’s got all the electronic equipment. He lives here. I call him up and I get the answer much quicker than if I were to figure out [how to use a computer.]

Crave Online: What did Tarantino, Soderbergh and Sonnenfeld get right about your books?

Elmore Leonard: I think the whole picture. Everything. Tarantino’s been fooling with my stuff for quite a while, ever since when he was 13 years old he stole one of my books from a store. I didn’t even know he’d stolen it but then, in a talk I would mention that and I said, then he went back and bought the book. He said, “I didn’t go back and buy the book. I stole it again.” So to learn that is just Tarantino. That’s the way he is. But his picture I felt was so good. Well, he was fun to work with and fun to meet on the set when he was kind of interfering with the shooting of the picture. He was talking to me all the time until finally somebody said, “Will you get out of the way so we can shoot this thing?”

Crave Online: What do other filmmakers get wrong?

Elmore Leonard: Well, I don’t know. Just dialogue that is stupid. People in the movie business, like screenwriters, they’re writers. They hope to be writers and I don't know, I don't think they work hard enough at it. I work hard.

Crave Online: In this day and age, do you think we need more guys like Raylan Givens and Mr. Majestyk?

Elmore Leonard: There are probably a lot of them but they’re not quite as vocal. I think there are a lot.


Photo Credit: Associated Press/Carlos Osorio