TV Preview: 'Closer' Team Brings 'Longmire' To The Screen
A&E launches its series adaptation of the popular western-mystery novels on June 3.
Robert Taylor stars as Walt Longmire in A&E's new series.
After enjoying a long stretch of success with The Closer, the prime time drama that kept him and partner John Coveny gainfully employed for the better part of seven years, writer-producer Hunt Baldwin is eager to impress audiences with his latest cable-TV project: Longmire, the modern-day western set to kick off a 10-episode run June 3 on the A&E Network.
But he and Coveny are walking into this new territory with their eyes wide open, acutely aware that their latest show will be subjected to close scrutiny by the most demanding critics imaginable: The many faithful fans of the Craig Johnson mystery novels that are the producers’ source material.
“That’s something we take seriously,” Baldwin said while calling from a location near Santa Fe that is doubling for the Wyoming setting of Johnson’s books. “We want to make sure they’re happy.
“But at the same time,” he quickly added, “we recognize that our Longmire series is sort of a parallel universe to the books. There’s no way in a TV series, where we have an hour at a time, unless every season would be devoted to just one novel – there’s just no way we can be 100 percent faithful, just because of the difference in forms.
“What we’re trying our best to do is to really stay true to the spirit of the characters and the spirit of the world that Craig Johnson has created. The details of people’s lives and their backstories sort of change necessarily for us in some cases. My hope is – and my expectation is – that people are going to recognize the common DNA in both the books and the series. But at the same time, they’ll quickly recognize that they’re not intended to be the same thing. We’re not doing a literal reproduction of Craig’s stories.”
For the benefit of those who tuned in late: Walt Longmire, the central figure in Johnson’s novels, is the seasoned sheriff of a small town in contemporary Wyoming. As portrayed by Robert Taylor in the A&E series, he’s a taciturn professional who relies on well-honed instincts and deeply trusted allies – including a female deputy recently transplanted from Philadelphia (Katee Sackhoff) and long-time best friend Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) while investigating dark deeds and violent crime.
As Baldwin sees it, “Our greatest asset in staying faithful to the books really is Robert Taylor – our Walt Longmire. We searched pretty hard to cast this character. And as soon as Robert walked through the door, we could see that he’d really, really embody the guy.”
“Some of it, I admit, is really superficial. I mean, finally, here was a guy who walked into the room who was just a big bear of a man, with this deep subwoofer of a voice. His physical presence alone told us, ‘OK, this guy’s in the ballpark.’
“But once he began to read the scenes, he caught on to the character’s soulfulness and quiet humor. One of the key things we found so hard to find for someone playing Walt Longmire was humility. And Robert is not a guy who comes in with a lot of swagger, or tries to charm his way through a scene as soon as he walks into the room.
“He’s like someone in the Gary Cooper mold. He is deeply humble and respectful of other people – but at the same time, he has so much power and confidence. That’s an unusual mix.”
Better still, it’s a mix that appealed to someone who might be considered the series’ most demanding viewer.
“Throughout the production – but especially during the early going, while we were developing the pilot, we worked very closely with Craig Johnson,” Baldwin said. “He was a great resource for us, and answered a lot of questions for us.
“And when he came out to the set while we were shooting the pilot, his reaction to seeing his character made real gave us a lot of confidence that we were on the right track.
“Because he really felt that we’d found the right guy.”