One wouldn’t think that the least populated county in the nation’s least populated state would be fertile ground for a weekly crime drama. But “Longmire,” A&E Network’s engrossing new ode to frontier justice, uses its sparse setting to great effect while not skimping out on the whodunits.
Based on Craig Johnson’s popular Walt Longmire mystery novels, “Longmire,” premiering Sunday, June 3, finds the titular sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka County in a truly dark place. He’s still grieving the loss of his wife and has pretty much checked out emotionally, not really being present for his job and largely avoiding his grown daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman). He goes through the motions, despite the efforts of longtime friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) to break him out of his funk. The situation is not helped when Walt learns one of his deputies — the fabulously named Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) — is planning to run against him for sheriff.
Viewers might not recognize the man playing Walt, but they probably will identify with him. Robert Taylor is a journeyman actor who has had leading roles in his native Australia but is making his biggest splash in the States with “Longmire.” With his scratchy baritone and weathered features, he looks as though he were custom-made to play the archetypal role of a modern American cowboy.
“I just liked the guy. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a beer with,” Taylor tells Zap2it. “He’s old-school, not too technically savvy, and I certainly responded to that, being a bit of a Luddite myself. He’s out in this huge landscape on his own a lot, and he’s pretty comfortable in his own company. He’s pretty self-sufficient, and I was pretty attracted to that, this world and those kinds of people.”
Even though he grew up on the other side of the globe, Taylor says it was in an area very similar to Wyoming, and he can relate to how such a place shapes the people who live there.
“Those kind of places engender something in people; they create a quality in people and the way they treat each other,” he says. “It’s languid; there’s room to breathe. I didn’t feel like it was something I hadn’t experienced. I’ve been around those kinds of people a lot.”
But it’s not all strong and silent types in “Longmire.” Take Victoria “Vic” Moretti, Walt’s right-hand deputy. She’s a street-wise Philadelphia transplant who worked homicide for six years before following her husband out to the badlands. It’s a much more earthbound role for Katee Sackhoff, who rose to fame as the tough-as-nails Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica,” but Vic’s attitude will please her devoted fan base.
“Vic would go in guns blazing every time, and that’s how she handles things because it’s worked for her,” Sackhoff says. “Walt goes in and puts the gun down and walks in empty-handed and talks it out. Vic’s like, ‘Um, really? You’re going to talk about it? Can we shoot him? It would just make things so much easier; there’s less paperwork if we could just shoot him.’ “
It’s all a lot to take in for Johnson, who likens seeing his books turned into a TV series to “having one of your houseplants start talking to you.”
Overall Johnson says he’s very pleased with the results — and with the leading man.
“I think they did the right thing [casting him], because you look at Robert, and you get this feeling that you’ve seen him somewhere before. … It’s that fresh quality, that unknown quality that they were looking for, but he still settles right into the character just like a well-worn glove. He does a magnificent job.”