Villain, romantic lead, villain again. Drew Turney tries to keep up with Timothy Olyphant.
If you’d been watching closely in Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary (1996), you’d have seen a man credited only as ‘hitchhiker’. With a distinctive face that’s both handsome and evil and a slight drawl that’s full of both menace and a laid back attitude, Timothy Olyphant could have gone in either direction as his career took off – from romantic lead to nasty career bad guy.
He chose both, as well as everything in between. From a minor character in Scream 2 (1997) to a drug dealer in Go (1999), a detective in overblown Bruckheimer chase remake Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) arthouse drama The Safety of Objects (2001) and perhaps his most charismatic role as a shady porn producer in the surprisingly warm 2004 comedy The Girl Next Door, the only way’s been up for the 39 year old star.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that Olyphant’s career really started to rocket, against two very different foes. The first was the inimitable Bruce Willis, returning after more than a decade as John McLane in Die Hard 4.0. the second was the less than inspiring history of video game adaptations. Olyphant hits our screens in November as the titular character in the film version of the hit Eidos computer game Hitman.
“Knowing nothing about the game when I first got a call offering me this movie based on a video game, I just assumed ‘crap’,” says a tired-sounding Olyphant down the line from his LA home. “That was my knee jerk reaction, probably rightly so given the history. But from what I’ve seen and read the game is really astonishing in its own right. It’s very elegant and cool with an iconic character and the script put aside any concerns I had because if you hadn’t have told me it was based on a video game I wouldn’t have guessed.
“You could tell visually it was going to be very stylised, and any concerns I had quickly went out the window, it was just going to be a good opportunity.”
What’s most intriguing about Olyphant’s career is the number of times he’s played the villain. Contemporaries like Mark Ruffalo or Chris Evans have occasionally slummed it with phoned-in performances in generic good guy roles and Olyphant’s done the same (in 2006 romantic dramedy Catch and Release), but who has the cojones to go up against John McLane?
“I’m very flattered to be given the opportunity and felt fortunate to have a few weeks with Bruce Willis before going off and doing my action film because he was a good guy to watch and learn from.
“You’re just always looking for the best jobs you can get your hands on,” Olyphant says when Filmink asks if he prefers exploring his nasty side. “I’ve been very lucky and had a lot of different roles but I’m not in a position of just picking and choosing so I’m just trying to get my hands on the most interesting thing available. But those roles are often a kick because there’s a lot of room when you play villains.”
Of course, there can’t be much challenge in walking around scowling and shooting people. It’s how the current California governor made his name in the movies, after all. What can an actor possibly bring to a role like that of Agent 47?
“Yes, we had a pretty high head count,” Olyphant agrees, “and that was kind of easy. But what’s great about these kind of jobs from an acting perspective is that you don’t have to do too much for the character because it’s his actions that define him. So the fun is all the other stuff in between – trying to find other angles to look at instead of falling into those clichés.
“I’m sure you’ll roll your eyes because it’s not a selling point but I always kind of looked at it as him having this travelling salesman aspect to his job. He just goes from one place to the next taking people out, and there must be a level of it being like anybody’s job – there’s a bit of monotony to it. Those are the things you try to find so it doesn’t just become a bunch of snarling and killing people.”
After wrapping on Hitman, it’s the first time this anti-everyman’s been out of work for almost a decade. “You’re catching me at home and I’m unemployed,” when Filmink suggest he’s on the cusp of major stardom, “so I’ve been very lucky to work consistently and I’d be more than happy to go on doing that for another ten years, it’s a good way to make a living. There’s a old saying about sex and pizza. When it’s good its good and when it’s bad it’s still pretty good. I find that tends to apply to my job.”