If you’ve yet to get into the crime drama Longmire, you’re missing out. Set in a fictional Wyoming county, the series follows Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor) along with his deputies (Katee Sackhoff, Bailey Chase and Adam Bartley) and best friend (Lou Diamond Phillips), as he works to keep the peace, solve the occasional murder and figure out the conspiracy that killed his wife. Netflix picked up show after it was canceled by A&E and just announced (to fans delight) that it’s been renewed for another season.
Enstars recently chatted with Walt Longmire’s creator, author Craig Johnson, to talk about fan reactions, why people are so drawn to his characters and hear some funny tales from a natural storyteller.
Below is part one of our conversation. Click here to read part two.
Enstars: We're all big fans of Longmire here.
Craig Johnson: Oh, thank you!
In fact, I’ve even started reading the books, which some fans of the shows are surprised to learn about. Isn’t there an anecdote of you wearing a Longmire hat and a fan asked about it and when you explained who you were they had no clue there were books?
I can give you the whole story if you want to hear it.
What happened was, we start every one of the book tours in the Buffalo Bill Museum, which is this magnificent historical museum in Cody [Wyoming] that has just amazing collection of Indian works, art, firearms, all these things that were started up by Buffalo Bill Cody. And we start out there and we head North and we jump on a plane in Billings, Montana...and so we're on our way up there and we stop in to get something to eat, because my wife is traveling with me and it's like traveling with a trained bear. And as long as the bear stay fed it'll all be okay.
So we stop at this little cafe and we're getting something to eat and I'm wearing one of those Absaroka County Sheriff Department ball caps...Now, if you didn't know there was no so such thing Absaroka County, they look very real. So I've got one of those things on. When I'm not wearing a cowboy hat, I'm wearing one of those. And I'm writing a check for lunch and the woman behind the counter said, "Where'd you get that hat?" And she said it real aggressive-like. And I thought, "Oh no, she thinks I'm a real sheriff's deputy and somebody dined and ditched and I'm going to have to chase someone down the main street of, you know, Red Lodge, Montana."
So I pointed at my head and I said, "It's not a real county." And she didn't even pause, she looked at me and said, "The Hell it's not. It's Walt Longmire's county." And I felt like I'd been smacked and go, "Well, I'm Craig Johnson." And she goes, "Oh?" And I go, "The guy that writes the books." And she goes, "What books?" And I said, "The books that the TV show is based off of."
Is that common thing? People are surprised that are Longmire books that the show is based on?
I told Viking/Penguin that when we go on tour that was going to be our motto: "Yes, There are books." We've been on The New York Times’ bestsellers list about five years running, even before the TV show started, but the boy the impact of a television show goes further.
Do you see any particular difference between fans of just the TV show versus fans of the books?
Not really. They're all just really adamant. It's kind of wonderful to see. You know, a lot of these people, the fans of the books and the TV show, they kind of kept the TV show alive. They're responsible for the TV show making that incredibly transition from cable television to Netflix and saving it.
It is kind of crazy that show with such dedicated fan base was canceled in the first place.
It was kind of an unheard of situation: Brand X canceling the highest rated scripted drama that they had. But generally, you know when things get canceled that's it. Probably one of the best quotes I ever heard was one from A Martinez, who plays Nighthorse on the show. I was going back and forth with him on some email and whenever the show got picked up by Netflix, one of the remarks that he made was, "You know, I've been in this business for a number of decades and these executives just hand down these dictates and then the rest of us just live with it." And then he says, "It was kind of nice to see the viewers hand the dictate back up to the executives and say 'No, not this time. Try again.'"
A lot the enthusiasm that these viewers had, that these readers had, trying to keep this alive was just amazing. It was something that's never happened in Hollywood before and I'm not sure it'll ever happen again.
We'll probably never get to hear the song that Roy Rogers would have sung as he kicked down the door of a crack house....this is a different type of world, a more complex world.
Why do you think fans connect so passionately with the Longmire character and series?
I think it's a decency that goes along kindness and a decency that kind of goes along with the show. These characters all kind of come down from Walt. He's a guy who's led by the code, he's kind and cares, and good hearted and decent. And I think people respond to that a little bit.
We kind of went through a period there in the 1960s where everything was all about the anti-hero thing. That did nothing but kind of escalate in the last couple of decades. It's gotten to the point where it's kind of difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. So Walt is kind of throwback to an earlier era. It's not like he's going to be perfect, it's not like he's going to make every decision that's going to be perfect or anything like that. But the fact is that he tries, you know? That he has this code that he lives by. And a lot of people respond to that...that he gets up and tries in the morning. It's kind of like all the rest of us, you know none of us are perfect either, but we still get up in the morning and try and do the right thing. And I think that's a lot of it.
And there's the other aspect you can't ignore, that it is kind of the epic romantic American west. And you don't want to underestimate the power of that. And with this particular show, what's interesting is that it's a contemporary American west. I mean at one point in time, there were over a hundred westerns on Television. And it was the predominant art form in the post-war era...and that big American western has been handed down for generations and the twist for this is that it's a modern west. We'll probably never get to hear the song that Roy Rogers would have sung as he kicked down the door of a crack house. I'm sure that would have been great too, but this is a different type of world, a more complex world.
It’s interesting because there was also Justified, which was another a contemporary western based on previously written work, by Elmore Leonard, with a passionate fan base.
Well, yeah. I think there's a great new urge out there to see these characters that actually, as my grandfather used to describe it, cover the ground you stand on. And I think that's a lot of it. I mean it's the culpability, it's the responsibility. So much these days you see people that are trying to escape culpability and escape responsibility. And these types of characters, they don't do that.
There's actually funny story I have to tell you, since you brought it up. I was at the Tucson book festival and Elmore Leonard was there. And I came in and sat down in the green room. And there were some other people around him and I didn't want to bother him. I love his work, he's absolutely one of my favorite writers, not only a crime fiction writer but a western writer too.
And I'm sitting there at the next table and he looks over and says, "Nice Hat!"…This is just after Justified had just come on and Longmire was in the tube to come on and I said, "Thanks a bunch! Hey, congratulations on your television show. That's a pretty good hat he's hearing there too." And he looks at me and says, "I hate that hat." [Laughs] He said, "It should be like a Stetson Gun Club, more like a modified fedora. It shouldn't be a western cowboy hat. A western cowboy hat, that doesn't make any damn sense at all!" I had no idea I had touched on such a nerve with him!
Read on to part two of our interview with Craig Johnson!