LOS ANGELES — Timothy Olyphant spent most of his youth training and performing. However, the actor—who is perhaps best known for playing Sheriff Seth Bullock in the HBO series Deadwood—wasn’t working in the world of performing arts he now calls home. Instead, he was a competitive swimmer. His hard work paid off with a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he was once a finalist in the U.S. national championships in the 200-metre individual medley.
In a Los Angeles hotel room, where he has come to talk about the film Catch and Release (which opens in Vancouver next Friday (January 26), he says that when he took up acting he discovered that the race didn’t always go to the swift.
“When I first started auditioning, I found out quickly that, unlike swimming, the fastest person did not win,” Olyphant says. “In sports, the winner is very clear. But it’s not the same when you are up for a part. You can be the guy who blew everyone away, but they could still turn around and say ”˜You’re not the guy we are going with.’ People are opening and closing doors very quickly in show business, and it [getting work] is out of your control. But that is a lesson you learn and then you move on. I enjoy the collaborative relationships and the creative atmosphere, because it’s kind of social in a way. [Director] David Lynch said ”˜Ideas are everywhere,’ and it is true. There are things informing you as an actor all the time, and there are things to work off all the time.”
In Catch and Release, Olyphant moves away from the role of upright, moral sheriff in an 1800s western town to play a TV-commercial director who has a fling with a waitress at his best friend’s funeral. In his next film, Live Free or Die Hard, he gets to play the latest villain to take on Bruce Willis. He says that playing a variety of characters is what makes his job so exciting, something he assumed wouldn’t be the case once he left the stage to work in television and film. He realized he was wrong, he says, when he took a small role opposite Oscar winner Holly Hunter.
“I have been lucky to work consistently and to play a diverse group of characters. That means the world to me, because it is what is fun about acting in film. I started out on stage and loved it, but then I got some film roles and I couldn’t find what was fun about it. It seemed vapid and uninspiring. Then I did a day on A Life Less Ordinary, and Holly Hunter and I were in the middle of a take and a breeze kicked up. She stopped and turned her face into the breeze and her hair blew back. I thought ”˜She is ruining her take.’ Then it occurred to me that she was working off what she was given and she was dialled in to the moment. It was the first time I saw something that was not manufactured. I decided at that moment that being on camera was where I wanted to be.”