Set in Absaroka county, Wyoming, American crime drama Longmire casts Australian actor Robert Taylor (known to fans of BBC1’s late-90s drama Ballykissangel as Father Vincent Sheahan) in the title role of Walt Longmire, a taciturn sheriff (with a drawling country accent) who is attempting to pull his life together following the loss of his wife.
Longmire’s deputy, Branch Connally (Bailey Chase), is running against him for the post of Sheriff, while his department’s relationship with the Native American police force on the nearby Reservation remains on a knife-edge. But the Sheriff can rely on his new East-Coast deputy Vic Moretti (Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff) and bartender and Reservation insider Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips).
We talked to Taylor about his enigmatic character and the crime drama with a change of pace…
For UK viewers new to the show and to those who didn’t catch the first episode on Sunday, what’s Longmire all about?
“I guess it’s about a bunch of people in a small town in Wyoming: beautiful country, big sky country and snow-capped mountains. It’s about this sheriff who has lost his wife recently. It was one of those marriages where they were joined at the hip and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. He doesn’t want to deal with it. He wants to be left alone, but life goes on. Obviously, he’s still the sheriff and there’s stuff that he’s got to deal with. He’s gonna be running that show and he’s struggling with it all, drinking too much. He wants to sit in the woods really and be left alone.”
What sets it apart from other crime dramas?
“It’s kind of languid and almost meandering. It’s not a frenetic pace. It kind of suits the landscape. It’s more to do with the people and what’s happening to them than the crimes, necessarily. Most of the crimes are to do with the Indians on the reservation. It’s very sensitive — a lot of the stuff that’s going on. It’s rooted in the culture. It’s not just black and white. There’s not a lot of gunfire, not a lot of fighting and no car chases.”
What attracted you to Longmire?
“Well they wanted me, so that was pretty attractive. I got the job, which always helps. There’s free food every day. I just love the character. I thought he was an interesting guy. I just wanted to get the role, so I tried a little harder in the screen test, I guess? I just liked the character and I liked the landscape. I love New Mexico. I’ve been out here a few times, 20 years ago, and loved it. I wanted to come back and I was lucky enough to get the job. So, here we are.”
Longmire has been renewed for a second series in the US, when will filming on that begin?
“We’re here. We’re going to start shooting Monday. Yeah, so we’re just doing all the preparation. We got pretty good numbers (last series) and we’re back. Now we just got to try not to mess it up.”
Will the episodes still be shot in the same format?
“Yeah, but it’s going to be a little more character-based, which is what the producers always wanted to do. There’s a crime, but it’s not central. It’s just a tool and moves the action forward. It enables you to discover things about the characters. That’s what makes it interesting for me, anyway. I hope people like it.”
You’ve had quite an extensive career. How has this role been different from your other roles in the past?
“The show’s called Longmire. If I mess it up, we’re all in trouble. So there’s a responsibility. I’ve played leads before in series and movies, but this one is a new show. I enjoy that type of pressure. I find it hard to do small roles sometimes. I just love the character. I think he’s a really interesting guy and he’s his own man. He’s just a bit different from most other characters you come across. If he didn’t have his daughter, he’d just go up in the woods with a book, probably a copy of Dante’s Inferno, a bottle of whiskey, a rifle and never come back. He’s a bit of a loner and I like that.”
Do you think you’re similar to Walt at all?
“I don’t know. I look a lot like him that’s for sure. We’re kind of the same height. Yeah. Maybe. I’d like to think so, but I haven’t had many people shooting at me. Maybe there are some similarities, but that’s for other people to say.”
Walt seems to have a bit of an aversion to technology. He doesn’t have a cell phone when we’re first introduced to him.
“Well, that’s the manifestation of his personality. He’s old school, but he’s not this cliché techno-phobe. He just doesn’t really want it. He can recognize the value in it. He drives a truck. He doesn’t ride a horse or walk. I guess he doesn’t want to be available all the time. I’ve got a radio in the truck I can use if I have to. You can get a hold of him if you need him for business or for work. He’s not interested in talking about stuff and he doesn’t need to talk about stuff. I find that refreshing and that’s what I like about him.”
Do you have a favourite scene from the series?
“Probably lots of scenes. I had some fun with a bear. You have a bear coming up. Rolling the truck was pretty good fun. I like the scene with the mom that lost her husband, because I lost my wife. I like that scene, because that’s where he actually said what he was feeling. He was trying to help somebody. And that’s what he feels all the time. He doesn’t like talking about it. He became a more sensitive person after he lost his wife. I was able to show some empathy for somebody.”
How does Walt feel about Branch (one of the deputies) running against him for sheriff?
“Well as you’re asking me this question, I’m sitting in Bailey’s (the actor who plays Branch Connally) truck in a car wash. He’s outside with the car wash gun, spraying the window and I’m just sitting here. I’m glad it’s just water coming out at me that’s for sure. I think he’s a little affronted — he just doesn’t think he’s ready for the job. If he thought he was, I think he’d say, ‘Dude, you can have it man.’ Other stuff happens with Branch as the series goes on. I can’t tell you that or that would ruin it. It just pulls him out of his slumber a little bit. I think he’s gets reinvested in the job. He does like the job. He feels it’s his duty to serve.”
You were in some BBC shows a while back. Are you a fan of British television?
“I’ve played the leads in two British TV series. I’ve done a bunch of mini-series. Everybody in Australia is a bit in awe of BBC. I’ve worked for there and that was a great experience. I think cable TV in the United States is amazing right now. It’s reinvented television really. What’s going on in the states with some of these cable shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men is amazing stuff.”
Are there any British shows you watch now? Or what show can’t you miss?
“I can miss any show. I seriously don’t turn on the TV while I’m here, because I just don’t have time. My girlfriend watches Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. I enjoy the subtlety. It’s almost Jacobian — there’s so little happening, but so much going on.
“The one I really like is The Hour. That’s my favourite British or English show at the moment. I think it’s an amazing, fantastic show. My favourite one here [in America] is Breaking Bad, by a mile.”
Do you have a TV guilty pleasure?
“Oh yeah! Reality shows. I’ll watch them, but I won’t tell anyone I’ll watch them. I remember when the first British Big Brother was on. I watched that Nasty Nick. I never watched it since, but I watched the first one. I was mesmerized. Don’t tell anyone!”
Longmire is on Sundays at 9pm on TCM