The A&E drama series Longmire, based on the Walt Longmire mystery novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson, is a contemporary crime thriller set in Big Sky country. Walt Longmire (Australian actor Robert Taylor) is the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, who buries the pain of losing his wife behind a brave face and dry wit. With the help of Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), a female deputy new to the department, Longmire becomes reinvigorated about his job and committed to running for re-election, as he rebuilds his personal and professional life.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Bailey Chase – who plays Deputy Branch Connally, a confident go-getter with political aspirations that often motivate him more than solving cases – talked about what attracted him to Longmire, how he had originally auditioned for the title role, how much he enjoys the character development, why he prefers the shorter cable TV schedule, and what initially drew him to acting. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: This is a show that seems to really appeal to varied demographics and age groups. Was that part of what attracted you to it?
BAILEY CHASE: For me, I just try to come into every story open-minded, and then take that journey and be affected. This obviously did that for me. It was an immediate, “Yes.” I’m excited to go on the adventure with the rest of the cast. It’s just a great story. A lot of the shows that are out there today are very similar, in that they’re doing a commentary on what’s happening in today’s everyday life and are pulling from headlines. This is just real honest fiction. I live in Hollywood, Calif. It’s absolutely nothing like Absaroka County, Wyoming. For me, it’s a great escape and I really enjoy it. I enjoyed watching all the other characters in the pilot, more than myself. I guess I’m bored with myself, but I thought everybody else was really fundamentally strong, in pushing the story forward. I’ve worked on other shows, in the past, that might have been more dominated by one star, but even though this is Walt Longmire’s journey, as an audience you’re invested in what’s going on, with how these other players are coming in and out of his life and the impact that they’re having. The way that Robert [Taylor] plays Walt, he was just so open and affected, and therefore I’m affected watching it. It’s great. It was a really good experience.
Was Branch a role that you auditioned for, or were you offered this because of some of the other work you had done?
CHASE: I originally auditioned for Walt, and they tried not to offend me by telling me they thought I was too young for the role and that I didn’t have enough life experience. They asked if I would be interested in playing Branch, and I said, “Yes.” I had some questions about it being very much Walt’s journey and wanted to make sure that Branch would have the ability, in the storyline, to be his own man, and they said, “Absolutely! It would not be an interesting show without having that adversary, so we need somebody in the role who is a real threat to Walt and his ways.” They coined it old Wyoming, whereas Branch represents new Wyoming, for better or for worse.
How will the relationship between Walt and Branch develop?
CHASE: I’m curious to know the answer to that. They changed their minds, after watching the pilot and seeing the chemistry between the individual actors. Yes, it was inspired by the series of novels that Craig Johnson has written, but it’s not just an adaptation of that. We took a lot of stuff from the book The Cold Dish for the actual pilot, but going forward, we’ll continue to go our own way and just use that as the backdrop.
Do you enjoy getting to balance the procedural crime element of this show with the character development?
CHASE: Yes. They like to put a bow on it, at the end of every episode, about how good conquers evil. To me, watching this show is a more intimate experience because you do get to see the characters’ flaws and vulnerabilities, and they’re questioning right and wrong. An interesting element that Branch brings to the show is that little bit of doubt. Walt’s maybe questioning if he is right and if he does have it in him to run again, which they answer by the end of the pilot.
Having played cops before, do you always look for something in the character that makes him different?
CHASE: It’s tricky. The more territory you cover, the less room you have. In the pilot, it’s all really new and exciting. But, Saving Grace went season after season and I was always longing to do more with the characters’ lives. Longmire is more of a show about the characters and you couldn’t pay a bigger compliment than to want to know more about my character, or the characters on the show. With Saving Grace, it was more focused on the central character. I’m hoping and thinking that Longmire is going to be a very different experience, in that we will be able to cover all of that territory in, hopefully, the years to come, as long as we get the green light to tell those stories.
Did you do any research into the background of someone like this?
CHASE: Fortunately, I grew up in the South and I have a lot of redneck cowboy friends, so I didn’t have to search too far. I’ve spent a lot of time in the West, and going out to Montana. I ride horses and do a lot of the stuff already. And having played a cop before, I’ve had a lot of the technical training. What tipped it for me to place this was to find something new in this character, which hopefully I did. I’m excited, going forward.
As an actor, do you enjoy getting to develop a character over a longer period of time while working with directors who all have their own vision for the show?
CHASE: Personally, I do. I love when a director shows up with a lot of energy, and different ideas about how to change things and do it a different way. That’s one of the best experiences of doing a pilot. Everybody has that passion, doing a pilot and setting the groundwork for the show. Once you get into series, sometimes you don’t have that, so I certainly don’t take that for granted when I get it. One of the best experiences I ever had that way, in terms of getting great direction, was on the show Ugly Betty. I haven’t done a lot of comedy, and the director was just able to get in there and challenge me, in the perfect way, to get outside of myself and be this over-the-top character who, at the end of the day, actually ended up being pretty funny.
Do you enjoy the schedule for cable television, where you do fewer episodes?
CHASE: I do.
Are you a workaholic who likes to fill that extra time with new work, or do you take time off to recharge?
CHASE: A little bit of both, actually. With anything, it’s about finding that balance. I prefer to do cable TV because it allows you the time to do other things. I definitely have an eye on doing more work in features and playing different characters, but I am also a big fan of going on vacation and playing golf and going to the beach.
Do you have a dream role, or is there a genre that you’d love to work in?
CHASE: Yeah, I was actually just talking to somebody about an espionage film. I’ve been really attracted to the Bourne series, for example, and I saw Mission: Impossible 4 and thought that was great. I’ve seen all four of those films. Something like that would be interesting, where it combines certain physicality with a good story. That would be fun.
What was it that initially drew you to acting?
CHASE: I was definitely inspired and drawn to it. Where I grew up, acting wasn’t really accessible. I was just playing sports. But, I did watch a lot of TV. I watched a lot of Clint Eastwood movies on TV and had this fantasy of being like him when I grew up. I ended up playing sports through college, and then once that was done, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go do that boyhood dream.” I moved out to L.A. and was fortunate enough to start getting work. I worked just enough to stay in the game, and I never left.
Did you have a moment or a job that made you realize that this could really be a career for you?
CHASE: Yeah, the first real semi-regular job I had was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I did have a moment, driving to work one day, of just how cool this is. By no means, did I have a big part on that show, but just being part of something again that was bigger than myself, I just really enjoyed the ritual of going to work and playing, which is essentially what we do. We play pretend. Acting is a kids’ game. And, I got paid for it. I was like, “Awesome, I’m in!” It was fun.
Longmire airs on Sunday nights on A&E, starting on June 3rd.