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 Robert Taylor (Agent Jones in The Matrix) talked about how this series came about for him, what sets Longmire apart from other shows like it, what appealed to him about the character of Walt Longmire, balancing the procedural crime element of the show with the character development, and that this is a character he’d like to play and explore for a few years. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did this show come about for you?
ROBERT TAYLOR: Well, it was interesting. What happens, these days, is that when it’s pilot season in the States, they send the briefs to other places. They don’t just look in Los Angeles now. Sure, they look in New York and Chicago and other places, but they also look in Australia, Scandinavia, the UK and maybe even New Zealand. They send stuff down, and this one came through. I just looked at it and loved Walt [Longmire] and thought he was a really interesting guy. I thought maybe I could pull that off and wanted to try.
By virtue of the fact that you’re not here, it’s easier, in a way. I just got a buddy with a camera and sat down and did it, and he sent it to another guy who’s good with computers. It went through my manager in Australia, who sent it to the States. There are no extraneous forces or undue influence. It’s just something you hopefully connect with when you do it. Personally, I think that’s the best shot you’ve got because there’s no one in the room to say, “Do this,” or “Do that.” You just do it and, if you connect with things, people can hopefully see that. They know when there’s a connection.
So, we sent it over, and then I forgot about it. I remember, after a month or so, I thought, “Oh, I never heard back. Oh, well, that happens all the time.” And then, that day, I got a call and they said, “They want you to go to L.A. and do another audition.” I came over here and did it, and went home again. I’ve done that kind of thing before. I came over for the lead on another show, two or three years back, but that whole show went belly up. That’s the way I like to audition. I prefer to do it privately and secretly. I’ve sent stuff to London, and then flown there. One time, I flew over there and went in the room for the final audition and they said, “Congratulations, you’ve got the job!” I said, “When do I start?” They said, “Monday.” I said, “Well, you could have told me! I’ve gotta go home.” So, I did the trip three times, in a week. It’s a 24-hour trip, so that was 72 hours in the air, in a week.
Were you actively looking to do American television?
TAYLOR: I’d done it before, years ago. I came through here, over 20 years ago, on my way from London to Australia. My agent in London hooked me up with someone here, who sent me out for an audition for the lead in a pilot and I got the job. The pilot was really stupid and didn’t get picked up, but it was fun. I’m not very good at sitting around, so I just went home and continued living. But, whatever. It’s funny ‘cause my agent and manager back home, who is the same guy with two hats, was always saying, “You should do American TV,” and I could never quite understand why. But, I just loved this show. I love the people working on it, I love the character, I love all the characters, I love where they’re going with it, I love where we’re shooting it, and I’m the right age to play this guy. I wanted to get this job, so I probably tried a bit harder.
What sets Longmire apart from other shows of this type?
TAYLOR: The show has a certain lyricism, which reflects the setting and the people there. I find it interesting. When you’ve got big sky, big places and less people, people act differently and treat each other differently. It’s tangible. It’s not just a concept. I grew up in the country and then moved to the city, and there is a tangible difference. It’s interesting because it’s the same dilemmas, but it’s different.
What was it about Walt Longmire that specifically appealed to you?
TAYLOR: Well, he’s decent, he’s restrained, he’s old school, he’s not demonstrative. He’s the kind of man I like. It’s what you do when no one is watching you, how honest you are and how you carry yourself. In a modern world, he’s got one foot in both camps and he’s torn. He’s lost his wife, and he truly loved his wife. He’s completely lost without her. He just sits on all of that emotion and buries it, so it’s trying to force its way out. With people of that generation, that upbringing and that world, that’s what they do. I just identify with people like that. I love the stoicism, and I love people who get on with it and do it and don’t make a big deal of it. I just really like Walt. He’s going to have to deal with stuff. He’s going to fall in a heap, but that’s the journey. That’s the fun. We’ll see what happens and how that affects his life and how he treats people. And, I get to wear a nice hat, too.
Do you enjoy getting to balance the procedural crime element of this show with the character development?
TAYLOR: That’s what strings it all together, but you really get to meet the people and live with them and see how they are with each other, in their little world. It’s a huge landscape, but it’s a tiny little world, really. That’s important, and it does make it different. It’s not just about the crime and the procedure, which we’ve all seen. People do it very well, but it can become just another version of something. I think this has got its own world and its own pace, and I like it.
How do you see the relationship between Walt and his daughter (Cassidy Freeman)?
TAYLOR: The problem is that not dealing with the death of his wife affects the relationship with his daughter. I think he adores his daughter, but there’s something missing from that puzzle, and that’s mom. It’s a whole new world. I don’t know if Walt would be around, if it wasn’t for his daughter and this sense of duty he has to his community, to do the right thing. I think he just wants to be left alone to drink beer and read books. He’d just wonder off into the forest, which wouldn’t be too bad. He’s lost the love of his life and it’s just completely gutted him. But, because he’s this stoic character, he soldiers on. Whether that’s healthy or not, we’ll find out. He does struggle to deal with his daughter because his daughter is on to him. She’s like, “Come on, dad, get with the program! Snap out of it!” They have different personalities. I don’t know where that’s all headed, but we’ll see. It will be interesting to see what happens.
How will his working relationships develop?
TAYLOR: We’ll see. There’s the competition with Branch (Bailey Chase), who’s a young guy. Walt has respect for him and what he does, but he’s not sure he’s ready for the job yet, and he’s not sure if he cares. Walt has probably got a bit of an ego, buried there somewhere, like everyone. There’s an interesting dynamic there.
And Walt’s other deputy, Vic (Katee Sackhoff), has come from a different world and things operate at a different pace. There’s a bit more give-and-take here because we know all these people. These are our neighbors and our associates. We don’t just work with them. We see everybody. A lot of the other characters in the show, that haven’t been introduced yet, will be in there a lot. We see them, every day. Vic is struggling with her husband. I don’t know where that’s going to go either.
And then, there’s Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips), who’s like a touchstone for Walt. He represents what’s right and what’s decent, and the whole Native American situation and the different layers and levels. Henry is very, very important to the show. Walt has enormous respect for him, and Henry understands Walt. He knows what Walt is going through and he knows what he needs, which is probably just some simple stuff like a bit of company, a few beers and some female company.
And the young deputy is just a delightful character. Walt loves Ferg (Adam Bartley), but he’d never tell him that. How they’re all going to mesh together, we’ll see. I don’t know. It’s quite lyrical and gentle, but the stakes can really ramp up. There’s a lot of competing interests and different kinds of mind-sets. Walt is trying to stitch it all together and keep everyone on the straight and narrow, and deal with his own stuff. We’ll see.
Is this a character that you could really see yourself playing for a number of seasons?
TAYLOR: Oh, I’d like to. I’d like to take him as far as we can take him. I’d really like to do that. I just think he’s an interesting guy. He’s the end of a generation, in a way. He’s a solid individual who is totally community-minded and would help anyone stand on their own two feet and get things done. People in the country are like that because they have to be. They were bred like that. I’d like to ride him off into the sunset, but not too early. I think that’s where he’s heading, into the sunset.
Longmire airs on Sunday nights on A&E, starting on June 3rd.