I spoke with Jacob Pitts about his role as Tim Gutterson on Justified. If you ask anyone about Justified, generally their only gripe is that the show uses Jacob Pitts and the gorgeous Erica Tazel too sparingly. I happen to agree with those brilliant folks. That being said, Jacob was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me about the show and his impressive bio. Make sure you take the time to read his official bio on the Justified site. It’s hilarious. He also has a challenge for those of you looking to send him fan letters. Jacob is a pretty unique gentleman. This season of Justified has been incredible. Do not miss a single episode. Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10 on FX.
Lena: I loved you in EuroTrip. People must yell Cooper at you all the time?
Jacob Pitts: Oh, thank you. No, not nearly enough. It’s mostly people thinking that we went to high school together or college, or something like that.
Lena: I keep on waiting for Robot Man to show up on Justified. They could just show one of Tim’s nightmares and have Robot Man in it for the EuroTrip fans.
Jacob Pitts: Travis Wester, who played Jaime, showed up in the first season. Tim is just watching EuroTrip in the nightmare. I think Tim would probably be a massive EuroTrip fan.
Lena: Definitely. I have to ask you about your Justified bio. I like what you did with it. Everyone else has a typical straightforward one but your bio is funny and I would like to believe that most of it is true, especially the whoring around at karaoke bars.
Jacob Pitts: Well, thank you. It’s all true. I have always wanted to write something like that. Everyone has this notion of integrity and upstandingness in this business and I don’t think it really exists, so you might as well make it fun.
Lena: I’m surprised you haven’t guest starred on The League. (Jeff Schaffer was one of the writers of EuroTrip.)
Jacob Pitts: Me too, Jeff Schaffer.
Lena: We really don’t know a lot about Tim’s personal life. Raylan is always the one with all the girls. When is Tim going to find love?
Jacob Pitts: Oh, I don’t know. I’m very shy talking about who Tim is. I think he’s too old and too young at the same time. That’s my tagline for him. I think he’s incredibly capable professionally, when it comes to life and death- he’s the knowingest person in the room. When it comes to everything in between he’s kind of clueless. Beyond that, I have very definite ideas about him, but I really think part of his appeal is that you don’t know very much about him. The audience can plug in whatever ideas they have of their own, and I think it’s best to defer to that, however much you can. I don’t know. I always go back to years ago, when I was really in to The Beatles and listening to The White Album and there is a song on it called “Julia.” It was particularly haunting for me and the lyrics were kind of creepy. “Seashell eyes, windy smile”. It was as if John Lennon was singing about this witch casting a spell over him or he was constantly drawn to her and at the same time she was incredibly destructive. This was all just swishing around in my psyche- I hadn’t quite put it together- and then I read an article somewhere where John Lennon said the song was about his dead mom. So then I would listen to “Julia” and all I think about is that it’s John Lennon’s dead mom. It’s no longer my mystery witch thing, it’s no longer my song- it’s just John Lennon’s Dead Mom song. Which is alright, I guess, and maybe I can reclaim a bit of it for myself at this point, but I think there comes a point where you can talk the mystery out of things. And I think any ideas the audience has about Tim are just as valid as mine, spoken or unspoken.
Lena: If Tim had to confide in Art or Raylan whom would he choose?
Jacob Pitts: I think it would depend on what he was confiding. I think it would depend on whether he really wanted it to get out anyway. I don’t know. I think if you’re asking who he trusts more at the end of the day it’s probably Art.
Lena: How come Justified hasn’t been featured at Comic-Con?
Jacob Pitts: I dunno. It seems like our fan base does tilt towards the obsessive-compulsive area of things.
Lena: Definitely. When I put out for questions for you, you had a few marriage proposals sent your way.
Jacob Pitts: Really? I wish I had a witty answer to that. I don’t. I just have a grandiose answer that I don’t really mean. Yes to all, of course. Let’s start a cult or a convention, or some kind of way-out desert family.
Lena: You don’t have a Twitter or Facebook account?
Jacob Pitts: No, I don’t. People have written me and I write back, if it’s an actual letter. You can put that out there. I’ve only ever declined to answer one person, out of about a dozen. And that person was obviously crazy. Or at least way crazier than the average person who writes to their favorite fictional character. You can get to me through the production, care of FX, Justified? I don’t know. I owe you a letter if you can track it down. This’ll be fun.
Lena: So, last week we finally got to see Tim in action. I’m always complaining that we don’t get enough Tim and Rachel (Erica Tazel) time on the show.
Jacob Pitts: Yeah, it’s nice to hear that. I’m afraid that this past episode was probably my biggest one. What action it was indeed. I’m very happy and proud about the Scrabble bit. I improvised a line about Scrabble on the day, somebody said that we should get a Scrabble board and that was enough to get me going. I just thought that it would be funny for him to say “I’ll kick your ass at Scrabble” because Boyd is so verbose and Tim had no idea what he was getting himself into. Once Raylan came back, I kept trying to put Scrabble jokes into the scene. Like saying to Raylan, petulantly “P-A-X? The hell is that? Is that a word?” It really was not appropriate. I can’t remember what the scene was but I know that it was a bit more intense than a game of Scrabble. They had to tell me to stop with the jokes.
Lena: I was going to ask you about that. That was definitely a Christmas card moment – Tim and Boyd playing Scrabble. Dare I ask who won?
Jacob Pitts: I’m sure Boyd did. With some fucked up pre-Latin word, or something like that.
Lena: Can you talk about filming the scene where Tim and Raylan jump on the car?
Jacob Pitts: It was fun to have that moment where Tim was pretty terrified. I don’t want to interpret why Tim is afraid. The writers continue to be smarter than I give them credit for, which is smarter than me, which I don’t delve out often. God, I’m a prick.
Lena: Can you talk about working with the cast?
Jacob Pitts: It’s great. We shot a scene yesterday where I was able to watch Walton at work for the first lengthy amount of time that I’ve ever done. Just watch him go through his lines and say his thoughts out loud. He would go through his whole process in front of everyone. I think it made everyone far more receptive to what he was trying to get across or feel more included in the first place, more invested. Easier to win friends and influence enemies that way, I think. Think I’ll give that a shot instead of being so damn precious about it.
Lena: There is some great writing on the show.
Jacob Pitts: There is. The horrible thing about television in general, or at least working as an actor on television, is that you are constantly dumbing down your thought process, your work ethic- because television’s pretty dumb for the most part. When you get a great show like this you have to (or at least I have learned again and again) play it at the top of your intelligence and not actively try to undervalue things. A lot of television is just an imitation of other iconic material, mostly movies, and decisions are made out of something “being cool,” not out of a complexity of character or building towards a consistent plot, which is the case with Justified. You just learn to undervalue your material, which is a bad, bad habit.
Lena: You guys lost Elmore Leonard last year.
Jacob Pitts: I never got to meet the man, but he was a charmer by all accounts.
Lena: Can you talk about Tim’s relationship with Raylan?
Jacob Pitts: I’d like to lead into that by talking about my relationship with Timothy Olyphant, as I sit here in my trailer having just shot a scene with him today. He’s really a way better actor than I am, that fucker. Everything he does is so much more thoughtful and nuanced. Being in a scene with him, every time I’ve been able to play a scene with him, I learn something more about how to approach acting, both in general and just on film. Whether I retain that for the next time I get to work is another question entirely. There is a lot of stuff to learn with Walton, what happened yesterday. I was hoping this would lead into Tim’s relationship with Raylan. Tim and Raylan I figure have a lot in common in terms of their cynical outlook on humanity and people’s natural inclination to be animals. I think they are bonded in that distrust. I think they are maybe looking over each other’s shoulder a little bit at this point, if only for who’s going to cover whose ass and what the other might owe them after the deal goes down. That’s about as close as they get.
Lena: At least Art sent Tim out to keep an eye on Raylan.
Jacob Pitts: If Art sends Gutterson out to keep an eye on Raylan it might just as much be in Gutterson’s interest to be around Raylan just so he can get currency, in terms of Raylan doing him a favor later on. And lord knows probably nothing is more exciting in that office than being sent out with that psycho.
Lena: At least when we do get some Tim time they don’t waste it because he has some of the best lines in the show. Do you have some favorites?
Jacob Pitts: I’d like to take this opportunity to brag and say that my favorite lines were ones that I had come up with because why wouldn’t they be? In season two where Raylan says he’s going to ditch Tim and I say: “I love this shit. This shit makes me hard.” That was mine. There is a scene in season four where Nelson, the joke of our office, was saying – “How about that- Raylan wished me a happy birthday.” Tim says, “Jesus Christ, Nelson I’m sorry I forgot your birthday.” That was mine. Another episode in season four when Raylan asked me if I wasn’t too old to be reading fantasy books and I said, “I don’t know, I was probably too young to be blowing the heads off of Taliban but I guess it all evens out.” That was mine. I’d like to brag about those. At the same time, my favorite dialog that I’ve ever had was probably the stuff with Ron Eldard in “Decoy” when we circled the wagons and we get on the phone. That’s probably the favorite that I’ve ever had, in anything- which I had nothing to do with and I believe that it was all Graham Yost who wrote that- “broken shoelace” and all. So there you go.
Lena: This season of Justified is so good.
Jacob Pitts: It’s a good place to be in terms of what I was saying about Walton and Tim. There’s a lot to learn from. Some people who walk on to that set are entire histories of performance in and of themselves. With John Kapelos, who plays Picker, or Jere Burns- or Mary Steenburgen, who was on set yesterday and backed me down in a scene. That shows you how amateur I am. Some Airborne Ranger. She stands up wearing a housedress and she just gracefully says “no” and I can’t look her in the face. That’s not me acting, that doesn’t even work for my character- that’s just me backing down. I’m on the periphery of that scene, but oh my god, how does one order Mary Steenburgen around and not feel like a punk kid at a school dance or something? I don’t know why my reference towards her is as if I’m at a sock hop in the 50s. I don’t even know what a sock hop is. Yes, you get to witness people like Patton Oswalt, Stephen Root, and Jim Beaver when they make an appearance on the show.
Lena: Was that last episode the most of Tim that we are going to see this season?
Jacob Pitts: Episode seven will be about the same, episode eleven. I get bits that are fun for me to do but I don’t know how much screen time they are going to add up to. I had a stare down with Michael Rappaport that I thought was pretty great but who knows how much of that they are going to wind up using in the final cut.
Lena: It’s so sad that there is only one more season left after this one. How would you like it to end for Tim?
Jacob Pitts: With a lengthy, lengthy monologue.
Lena: Any theories about him or any of the other characters? How would you like to see them end up?
Jacob Pitts: I don’t have any theories. I think swift and sudden death is always…I don’t think it could hurt. There’s always among our Marshal stable a fair amount of safety, so it would be nice to see some of that up for grabs in the final season. All the childish things that you want when you play a character like this- of course like it would be cool if he was in a sniper duel. It would be cool if he had a karaoke episode. I would like to see him just getting high and playing Assassin’s Creed or something.
Lena: It’s a great show and I really can’t speak more highly of the cast.
Jacob Pitts: It’s also part of how everything is changing where movies are becoming television. You have some really interesting contrasts between actors and the context that they are used to being seen in.
Lena: A lot of big actors are doing a lot of television now.
Jacob Pitts: If a movie like The Usual Suspects were made nowadays it wouldn’t be a movie, it would be a television show. Because the movies, all they are are Pacific Rim and basically Pacific Rim. Anything that is based in character, plot, and nuance is going to go right to television.
Lena: I take it you didn’t like Pacific Rim? I didn’t care for it.
Jacob Pitts: I didn’t see it. I don’t really care about it, other than it just seems to epitomize the giant robot spectacle that a night at the movies has become. It’s either that or the award season releases which are shoved at you with such loftiness that they’re just giant robots of a different kind. It all feels so commodified. It’s all about being part of the cultural experience, part of the crowd- or rejecting it. But I don’t want my experience to depend on how it jives with those around me. That’s what makes it MY experience. I want my mystery witch thing. I don’t know. Maybe I should just not worry so much about it.
Lena: Do you have any pets? I love to ask about pets.
Jacob Pitts: Well, I have roommates. Does that count? We lost a wonderful pit bull this past year, sadly. He died. But they got a new one. I say “they” because it wasn’t my decision. I refuse to take responsibility.
Lena: That’s perfect. You can get plenty of practice for your character to not be afraid of them.
Jacob Pitts: That’s right. I’m not at all opposed to dogs. I actually despise them more the smaller they get. I don’t despise them; I just like a bigger dog.
Lena: I’m the same way. Just like my favorite Ron Swanson quote [from Parks and Recreation]: “Any dog under 50lbs. is a cat, and cats are pointless.”
Jacob Pitts: That’s his quote? That’s good.
Lena: Are you done filming for the day?
Jacob Pitts: I don’t know. They just added me to a scene and I don’t think I’m doing anything other than knocking on a door, but I’ll have to stick around for a few hours until they get to it. I’ll probably go harass people in the production office right now. I’ll go flirt and make it way too familiar but no one is going to complain because I outrank them all and that’s how Hollywood works. Sexual harassment by fiat. Now, I realize how creepy that sounds and that sarcasm doesn’t translate very well to print [laughing]. Let’s just make sure that’s a sarcastic statement. Okay? But I am going to go in there and completely waste their time.
Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10 on FX.