by T. J. Logan
Australian actor Robert Taylor portrays rural Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire on Longmire, the modern western picked up by Netflix for season 4 which premiered all ten episodes on September 10th. His performance, and the show itself, drew wide praise and a loyal following for the first three seasons on A&E. With a new home and the benefit of immediate binge-watching potential, let’s hope the future holds “blue skies” for Robert and the show.
Robert was kind enough to take time during his hiatus to talk with me over the phone from Australia. A slightly edited (for brevity) transcript follows or you can listen to the interview in its entirety at the bottom of the page.
SPOILER ALERT: The following interview contains some minor spoilers for Season 4 of Longmire.
Q: This season had an interesting structure, almost a 3-episode mini-series wrapping up the storyline from last season and the murder of Walt’s wife. Then a time jump and almost a new world (Nighthorse’s casino is open, Walt’s wife is avenged) for Walt to figure out. Did it feel like that to you?
Robert: Absolutely. The first three episodes kind of wrapped things up and then it had to start again. I watched the start of Episode 4 the other day where I was drinking all those cans of beer, you see that huge pile of beer cans…
Q: Did you actually drink all those or were they props?
Robert: Well, not in one go, no. It took me 2 or 3 days. I kept thinking, “Is this too many cans? Or not enough?” I could never decide.
Q: Like a lot of great shows, the “will they, won’t they” aspect of Walt & Vic (Katee Sackhoff) keeps the viewers rooting one way or the other. Why do you think Walt is so perceptive about others but seems so oblivious to Vic’s feelings? Is he really? Could he ever let himself think of her in that way?
Robert: What do you think? Isn’t that what guys do? You pretend you don’t know what’s going on because it’s too clunky or too embarrassing or too personal. I think that’s just what guys do, they just fumble around in the dark and don’t really know what’s going on. Even if they do, they kind of pretend.
It’s in the writing anyway… even if I’m not dumb I’m going to play a bit dumb because for my character it’s hard to deal with. It’s at the forefront of his mind and it’s the last thing on his mind. He doesn’t know how to deal with it, frankly. Which is kind of amusing, it amuses me.
Q: As the titular character, do you work a lot with the showrunners and writers as far as ideas for his story and things Walt would & wouldn’t do?
Robert: You know, we’re just so in sync. I just love those guys… well, it’s two guys and a gal. There’s a couple other writers, but the main three EP’s: Hunt, Greer and John… there’s just so much subtext. It’s like we barely communicate because we’re in constant communication… we just have an understanding, we’re just all on the same page constantly. There’s nothing worse than actors that come along and want to change everything. The only thing worse is if you’re on a terrible show where you’ve got to change everything. I’ve been on shows with actors who take it over, and I’ve been on shows where I probably wish they’d taken over, but this show is not like that. The writing to me is perfect. I love their scripts. And we’ve been doing it so long, we have a short-hand in the way we talk to each other. And sometimes it’s in what we don’t say. They know me and they know the character, like I do, and we just have a really good system. I love working with them.
Q: It’s impressive to watch. Like you said, there’s as much in what Walt doesn’t say, he’s one of those characters whose silences can speak volumes.
Robert: An ongoing joke we have is I’ll be sitting at home after working 14 hours and I’m sitting in a chair for another 4 hours learning lines, then I go to work and I say, wait, I’m a man of few words. But I’ve still got to learn them and take that time.
I think it takes courage for writers to write less sometimes. It takes balls is what it takes. To say stuff without feeling they’ve got to explain it and explain it, over and over. You just let things land and let the audience figure stuff out for themselves. There’s a lot of great subtext there. It’s fun to play.
Q: It shows a lot of trust in the actors. You don’t have to say as much when you know you’ve got an actor who can communicate it for you.
Robert: Absolutely. I may change a syllable every episode, but it’s so minimal, and it’s usually because of some physical circumstance. It’s interesting, in the one about the oil rigs, I was the technical advisor because I actually worked on rigs and a lot of that stuff came from me because I knew the terminology and the equipment, how things work. So that one was fun. They’re just fantastic writers and I’ve got no complaints at all.
Q: Walt’s got a very deep sense of honor and morality. Where’s the line he won’t cross? How far do you think Henry’s actions might push him toward or over that line? Do you see that impacting their relationship down the road?
Robert: Absolutely. Henry is going to pursue that and it creates a dilemma for me. It’s inevitable and it should be really interesting how that’ll manifest itself and we deal with that. Because my character’s not against cutting a few corners, some people love that and some people complain about it. They say, “That’d never happen,” but it’s what’s happened here. And he’s more interested in doing the right thing than checking off boxes. And that’s part of the deal, a big part of the character and part of the show. But Henry’s probably going to take that to another level.
Q: Did you enjoy shooting Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips) a little bit?
Robert: Yeah, I insisted on many takes. I got him the first one but I said, “I think I need another.” I just winged him. I wouldn’t normally miss, obviously, so I had to work hard to pull that off.
Q: Is there an actor in the cast you’d like to have an intense scene with that you haven’t already?
Robert: Probably Adam Bartley, who plays “the Ferg”. And it did kind of happens towards the end of this season. When he first started he was like the kid on the show, and the kid in the sheriff’s office. He’s grown as a man and matured. We talk to each other a lot, we’re pretty free and easy with our criticism. Some of which is constructive and some is just to undermine each other for laughs… we’re pretty free offering each other acting advice. In that scene, I’ve just fired the new deputy (Zach), and I was unsure about what I’d done. We debated how to play the scene, and I played it like I was asking for his approval. And he became the father figure just for a moment, and I became the one who was unsure, and I love that kind of dynamic. Adam played it beautifully.
Q: Who would be your dream guest star for the show?
Robert: Can we get Raquel Welch from 1973?
We had Gerald McRaney. There may be a better actor out there but I’m not sure who they are. Sam Shepard was in Santa Fe and I see him around and know Adam’s become buddies with him. He’s trying to get him to come on the show.
And everybody talks about Sam Elliott. That’d be fun. He’d win the best mustache competition, but who’s got the deepest voice? That’d be fun. We’d be digging ditches to see who could get their voice lower. Or who’s got the biggest hat?
Q: What other projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
Robert: There’s a couple movies. I can’t really say too much, they’re still negotiating, I guess. But the thing I get most excited about is playing Sheriff Longmire.
Q: Was there a character aspect of Walt’s you personally have in common that you used to build your performance on?
Robert: The modest answer is no, but the honest answer is yes. I did feel a connection and understood the role and the soulfulness of it, the decency of it, the quietness of it. That’s how I read it and that’s how I decided to do it. I got the job so I couldn’t have been too far off, I suppose. Plus I look like the guy and the clothes fit.
Q: Noticed any differences in working with Netflix vs. A&E?
Robert: It’s pretty seamless. They are different beasts, though. A&E had a certain kind of show that they pushed, and they were very good at that. The thing we’ve noticed the most, and it’s not in the making of the show it’s in the editing, is there are no commercial breaks and no requirement for the show to run a certain time. So the season is 33- 50% longer because we don’t have to cut all this cool stuff to fit into 42 minutes. I think one of the episodes is like 66 minutes. That’s a real joy.
Q: Where do you see Walt ending up when the series ends (hopefully years from now)? What will his “ride into the sunset” look like?
Robert: I don’t know. That’s a really good question. The first couple seasons I was thinking this is going to end with him just taking his horse and riding into the woods with a bottle of whiskey and a book and you just never see him again. He’s just done. Other people say no, he’s got to find peace. I’m like, “a piece of what? A piece of pie?”
I don’t know. And I think that it’s cool that I don’t know. Anything can happen. We’ve just got to hope for more seasons to explore that.
Q: This season ends on another cliffhanger… Who do you think’s kicking down Walt’s door?
Robert: I hope it’s not Vic because she’d be really… I wouldn’t mess with her, man, not for all the tea in China. She’s a tough cookie.
I don’t know. I read it and I thought it was a certain person and then I was talking to Greer and she said “No” and she told me who it was, I shouldn’t say who, and I was surprised. But you never know, it could change. There are a bunch of people it could be. The usual suspects.
FULL PHONE INTERVIEW: