Interviews

Interview: ‘Justified’ star Jacob Pitts on Butch and Sundance, Scrabble, and comic book movies.

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FX’s hit drama Justified is currently in its fifth season, and while leading man Timothy Olyphant may be the face of the series, supporting cast member Jacob Pitts has evolved into a favorite among fans. As Deputy US Marshal Tim Gutterson, an expert marksman with an extensive military background, Pitts has infused the role with his own dry sense of humor and sardonic wit, resulting in a character that often delivers some of the show’s most memorable moments.

We were lucky enough to catch Jacob during a break in his shooting schedule to talk about his work on the show, as well as his opinions on superhero movies and which comic book characters he might like to portray. Enjoy.

[Note: portions of this interview can be heard in Episode #51 of the Drinks and Discourse podcast]

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Watching this week’s episode, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. We hadn’t seen Gutterson yet this season, so it was nice to see him back in action.

Thanks, man.

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At the end of Season Four, you had a pretty significant character arc. What was it like for you, to portray a more serious side to Gutterson?

Fraught with insecurity and fear. But you push through it, and hopefully we wound up with something good. I’ve learned, in doing interviews, the less I say the better it does. But I’ll try to be a bit more verbose for you.

Going forward with the current season, will we see any more of Gutterson’s past, or any more development of his character? 

Well, we’re shooting the eleventh episode next week, I’d say I have some pretty good moments in that. Other than that, I think you’ve probably just seen my big episode this season.

You’re killing me, man.

I appreciate that. You have no idea how much it tickles me to hear people say that.

I’ve always thought Gutterson was one of the more interesting characters on the show, because there’s so little known about his back story. 

Yeah, I think he’s got sort of a Wolverine kind of appeal to him, in that it’s probably best, the more of him they keep in the shadows. It kind of ruined Wolverine once they started explaining everything about him. And I’m talking to Nerd Repository – my references aren’t being lost, are they?

No, of course not. I’m actually kind of surprised to hear you’re a comic book guy.

Yeah, we wanna keep it Barry Windsor Smith, Weapon X era. We don’t need to add in this new Origins nonsense.

Justified: Jacob Pitts as Tim Gutterson. CR: Robert Zukerman / FX

As part of your process of getting into the right mindset for the role, do you create your own backstory for the characters you portray? In your mind, what happened to Gutterson prior to joining the Marshal Service?

War, and all that entails. I don’t have anything specific, in terms of what he’s gone through. I read a lot of war memoirs – Vietnam, mostly – and tried to get a sense of the edge of existence that he was forged under. As a matter of fact, when we started doing the show, all you knew of him in the pilot episode is that he takes these guys out in the back of a truck, during the climax.

Nothing was written about a military background or anything, and I just thought “well, naturally, if he’s the trusted go-to marksman, he must have some kind of military background.” Or else he’s the All County Squirrel Hunt winner or something. And now, in retrospect, I think I might like to go with the squirrel hunting angle.

Graham Yost said “well, why don’t we give him a military background.” And then I went on YouTube, and there was this documentary released years ago about Vietnam war crimes, called Winter Soldier. And they’ve got guys who were testifying about war crimes during Vietnam, and you watch guys just kind of falling apart at the realization of what they’ve done, or you watch guys completely recalling what they’ve done with almost a total disconnect.

There was a modern version of the Winter Soldier hearings for Iraq and Afghanistan, and there was a guy who was interviewed during those with a beard and long hair… he looked like a frat guy during senior year who had just discovered Phish. But he was a former Marine and he told this story about shooting a man outside of his house in Iraq, and he was just kind of breaking apart telling this story, relating who he was in the circumstances he was in. And I said to Graham, “why don’t we have Gutterson as a long-haired, hippie-type sniper working for the Marshals?”

And Graham said “why don’t we bring him to that point? Why don’t we start him off back from war, clean-shaven and everything, and then comes to a fuller realization of his experience over the course of the series.” I hope I didn’t just blow the ending, but I think we’ve veered way off that course.

I feel like we probably would’ve seen some of that by now.

Yeah, we would’ve seen a little bit by now, I think it’s safe to say that’s no longer the plan. But that’s kind of where it started, so in terms of backstory that you can chew on, there’s that. Again, like I said, I really think if there’s an appeal to the character, it’s in everybody’s ability to kind of plug in their own ideas of who he is.

You mentioned this documentary about war crimes, and people being disconnected from the things they’ve done. There was a documentary about a similar subject that came out last year, called The Act of Killing. Did you see it?

jacob pitts interview 06I’ve been aware of it, but I haven’t seen it. I’ve done a fair amount of reading and watching and talking and kind of being around trauma to a certain degree in the last few years, either with this role or just in life, and sometimes when you see something like that, you’re like “oh, that’s really interesting… but I’m gonna sit this one out.”

Understandable. Your career actually started out on the comedic side of things, doing Strangers with Candy – and I apologize for this, I didn’t make this connection until I was putting together my notes – but I never realized you played Cooper in Eurotrip.

How dare you.

I know! I love that movie, but the version of you that I’m most familiar with is the complete badass you play on Justified. What was it like transitioning from comedy to drama?

Just a haircut and some pushups. I don’t know, there’s not been a moment in my career that hasn’t been driven by fear and fraught with insecurity. I shouldn’t say that, but that goes a lot into it. Eurotrip was a big movie, or at least at the time it was, to me – going overseas, seeing people you grew up watching, getting to work with them. I was 23 years old, and I think on a certain level I was terrified.

And then doing this show, I’ve got more experience and everything and I’m more comfortable on a set, but I’m playing somebody who… I just thought of this great line, and I’d like to try it out. My natural masculinity falls somewhere between Crispin Glover, and Crispin Glover when he’s angry. So playing somebody like Tim Gutterson is a challenge in that we’ve got guys on set who are actually former Special Forces, former Mossad, working the cameras and doing sound, and they’re the ones who are looking down a lens, as they used to look down a scope, at you to see if you’re being accurate and how you’re pulling it off.

So you just feel like a total fake. You feel like a kid who was just flown in from his high school production who won some kind of contest. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m just miserable and neurotic all the time. It’s a lot of fun, but I don’t know what the transition is like. I’ll tell you when I’m sitting pretty and feeling good about it.

Jumping back to this week’s episode, I really enjoyed watching Gutterson and Boyd play Scrabble, particularly since the Boyd character has such an extensive vocabulary.

That scene was a lot of fun, because in the original script, I had a line like “You got any board games?” And then on the day, when we did that, I said “You got any board games? I’ll kick your ass at Scrabble.” I don’t know what take they used, I haven’t seen it yet.

But then we got excited – what if, when Raylan comes back, we’re playing Scrabble? That wasn’t originally there, on the day, so production rushed to get a Scrabble board, and we rushed to figure out who was gonna have what words. I don’t know what words were on the board, I think “ameliorate” was on there [for Boyd], and then I would put “gas,” and then he would put… I don’t know what else, but we had a lot of fun doing that.

And then as Raylan came back and found us playing Scrabble, I got even more into riffing on the game, and that’s where they had to say to me “alright, enough. We actually have a whole plot to follow, you can’t just do your Scrabble jokes.”

I always like hearing stories about scenes that weren’t scripted and just came about organically. I think those are often some of the more interesting scenes.

It’s amazing to be on a set where they actually do that. I’m probably incredibly spoiled and really take it for granted, how open they are. I catch myself thinking every now and then, “if this was any other show, I probably wouldn’t even be thinking this way when I approach a scene.”

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Everyone in the office seems to relate to Raylan in a different way. How do you see the relationship between Gutterson and Raylan?

A very un-earned Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid kind of thing. I don’t think we’ve really seen time for that bond to form, like it probably formed between Butch and Sundance, but it’s fun to play that. And I think these two guys probably, at this point, recognize that they share a kind of depraved, cynical world view – at least when it comes to the ability of human beings to be shitty to one another and to profit off one another.

And I think they have similar trust issues, it’s just that Tim Gutterson chooses not to engage with the rest of humanity, whereas Raylan, for whatever reason can’t help it, and can’t help but make it about himself. And now I’m self-conscious, I feel like I’ve given some of my Wolverine-ness away on that last answer.

I read another interview where you talked about your theory that Ralyan is actually Tim’s own version of Tyler Durden. How did you formulate that idea?

I think I was probably on set, sitting in the background. They were doing a whole scene that had consequences and drama and things at stake, and I was coloring at my desk. It was just one of those stray thoughts you have when you’re bored. I think I was about twenty pounds lighter and I was feeling very Edward Norton-ish.

For the record, I would totally watch that show.

Well, that’s what’s happening in my head, so you’re kind of watching it.

Before we wrap things up, you mentioned Barry Windsor Smith and Weapon X earlier. Obviously, you’re a comic book guy. How do you feel about some of the comic book movies we’re seeing now, and is there anything that hasn’t been done yet that you’d like to see?

Here’s a couple of things. My big problem with a lot of the comic book movies is that most of the time, the good guy does not win because he’s smarter, or has a better philosophy, or is just a better human being. He wins because he punches the other guy more. That’s how a lot of these things end, and that’s fine, because that’s fairly representative of comic books, but not the stories you love.

And then in terms of what I haven’t seen done, I would love to see a comic book movie that just starts out and Spider-Man is Spider-Man, that’s not a sequel, and where you don’t have to sit through an hour of how he got to be who he is. Where it’s just five minutes in, and here he is, and then they can make some reference to it later.

Can you imagine how lousy a James Bond movie would be if in every single one we had to sit through an hour of how he got to be a secret agent? I would like to see a “no origin” comic book movie, which ends with some kind of moral victory, as opposed to just a physical one.

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I’m with you on the origins. Everyone already knows who Spider-Man and Batman are, we don’t need to revisit that all the time.

There have been some good [comic book movies] that I’ve liked, it’s not like I don’t. And for the most part, I don’t see too many of them. And now I’m just getting self-conscious. I’m forever a dateless virgin, that’s all my image is going to be now. As far as properties, they’ve been kicking around that Preacher for awhile, right?

Yeah, there’s finally some movement on that. Seth Rogen is rumored to be producing. 

That’s what they say. I’m way too young, but I’d love to play Herr Starr.

Why not play the title role?

I just don’t feel much in common with that guy. I feel more in common with Cassidy, but they’ll probably get a real Irishman to play that role.

Start practicing your accent now.

Oh, I’ll do it. I’ll do Cassidy, or I’ll do Arseface. That’s what I’d feel more comfortable with.

I can’t wait to see how Arseface looks on camera.

Probably a lot like Arseface. Whoever is gonna do that, it’s not gonna matter, they’ll just be lost. They should put Meryl Streep behind that thing, just so she can claim another fucking victory.

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Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10pm, exclusively on FX.

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13 Comments

  1. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks. Hope to bring you more from the JUSTIFIED cast as the season goes on.

      1. That would be great! Thanks.

  2. Great interview, thanks! Love Gutterson so much. Yay, Justified!

    1. Thanks Kylie! Feel free to share the link with other fans, and make sure you check out our podcast to hear some interview clips.

  3. Great to hear that Jacob is smart and funny! I already loved Tim, but this comment was priceless. “My natural masculinity falls somewhere between Crispin Glover, and Crispin Glover when he’s angry.”

  4. Love to hear that he loved the Scrabble scene as much as we did.

  5. Great discussion! Hopefully you guys can have him back after his next big episode… episode 11? Ugh, it kills me too.
    Will you be putting up the entire discussion as a little podcast or we do only get to hear the bits in Episode 51? Thanks!

    1. Unfortunately, the full-length interview will not be posted – but we did discuss the possibility of having him do an episode of the show somewhere down the road. If we can line up everyone’s availability, then we’ll definitely get it done!

      1. Even better! Hope it pans out.

  6. Hi. this is awesome. I loved reading this interview. Im such a fan of Jacob Pitts. Im a little late to the party but did you guys ever post the entire interview? Thanks

    1. This is the entire interview.

  7. Christ he’s adorable.

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