Portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, Raylan Givens is the protagonist of the FX neo-Western crime drama series ‘Justified’ (2010-2015) and its limited series follow-up ‘Justified: City Primeval.’ Raylan is the quintessential example of an ideal American lawman. He is perpetually seen with a cowboy hat on his head and seems to possess a natural gift of recognizing the true intention of people. He is an exceptional shooter with a handgun and an expert in the first draw, which connects him to the lawmen of the 19th century. In ‘Justified,’ he is about 40 years old and can be brash and angry. Raylan is in his 50s in the sequel, and even though his age and experience might have tempered down his anger, it still simmers deep within him. If you are wondering whether Raylan is based on a real US Marshal, this is what you need to know.
Is Raylan Givens Based on a Real US Marshal?
No, Raylan is not based on a real US Marshal. The original series is based on the characters created by American novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard, with the show heavily drawing from the short story ‘Fire in the Hole’ (the phrase also serves as the title for the series premiere). Leonard mentioned that he came up with the first name of the character after meeting a young man who had the same name. He was attending a book distributor convention sponsored by Western Merchandisers in Amarillo, Texas, in June 1991 and serving as the guest speaker at a sales conference luncheon when he met a young man named Raylan Davis sitting beside him on the dais. Leonard didn’t even hear the surname but realized that he wanted to use Raylan in his works and asked for permission from the younger man, which he evidently got.
Raylan first appears in Leonard’s novels ‘Pronto’ (1993) and ‘Riding the Rap’ (1995). In the former book, he is described as thin, rangy, and about 40 years old, which also accurately describes Olyphant’s rendition of the character. He is originally from Harlan County, Kentucky. In the books, Raylan served in the US Marines before becoming a US Marshal. Before Olyphant, James LeGros portrayed Raylan in the 1997 telefilm adaptation of ‘Pronto.’
When the FX series was in development, one of the concerns that Leonard voiced revolved around Raylan’s hat, which he claimed the telefilm didn’t get it right. Even though the hat in the FX series isn’t completely accurate, Leonard loved Olyphant’s depiction of Raylan. “I think their [the actors’] accents are perfect. Timothy is so good-looking I had my apprehensions about him,” he told The Daily Beast. “But when I saw him in the pilot, I thought he was perfect. Walton Goggins [who plays Boyd Crowder] is younger than the Boyd I created, but that’s OK. He is Boyd. And I really like Natalie Zea, who plays Winona.”
Although the FX series differs significantly from the source material as it progresses, Raylan’s origin is more or less the same in both. Raylan is working for the US Marshal’s office in Miami, Florida, when he kills Tommy Bucks (mobster in the short story; cartel member in the show), prompting his superiors to send him back to Kentucky until things settle down.
Reflecting on his character, Olyphant told Esquire magazine, “ There is a level of professionalism that runs through a lot of Elmore’s work, that really is about what Elmore was like, that I think Raylan possesses to some degree, even as he’s been a little loose about the way he handled things and the trouble he’s gotten himself into. He’s not careless and he takes his job seriously. He takes things like being a man of your word and certain ways you treat people — I think those are things that are very attractive about the character.”