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‘Longmire’: There’s a new sheriff in town

Robert Taylor who played villa“The Matrix” stars A E’s new Western series “Longmire” based book series.

Robert Taylor, who played a villain in “The Matrix,” stars in A&E’s new Western series “Longmire,” based on a book series.

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:36AM



Tall, broad-shouldered and sporting gray stubble on his square jaw, Robert Taylor, in boot-cut jeans and a faded denim shirt, looks very much the iconic male of the hardscrabble American West.

But Taylor, who portrays a Wyoming sheriff in “Longmire,” the new A&E series premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday, was born and bred in Australia — a fact, he says, that makes him more like an American than not.

“It’s a similar kind of deal, the outback of Australia and the American West,” says Taylor who, like Walt Longmire, speaks sparely and to the point. “People’s similarities are more striking than the differences. They are very much the same. Open spaces affect the way people treat each other, the pace of life. I certainly responded to it. It’s my kind of pace.”

“Longmire” is based on a series of best-selling novels by Wyoming ranch owner Craig Johnson; As the Crow Flies, the eighth, was published last month. Longmire is an old-fashioned hero driven by a thirst for justice, an anti-CSI lawman who doesn’t carry a cellphone and solves crimes through dogged legwork.

Taylor, a busy actor with international film credentials, was picked to play the unflappable sheriff of fictional Absaroka County in part because American viewers may not know his face. Best known here for his role as Agent Jones in “The Matrix,” he laughs when it’s mentioned, saying, “Maybe. I’m one of three bad guys who all look the same.”

But not having a recognizable face — executive producer Greer Shephard says they were “hoping to find someone who didn’t come to the screen carrying any iconographic baggage from a previous role” — as well as having that “Marlboro man” aura has worked in his favor.

“We wanted Steve McQueen, Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood, because that was the spirit we got out of the books,” says John Coveny, an executive producer who worked with Shephard and Hunt Baldwin, also an executive producer, on TNT’s “The Closer.” Taylor “has a piece of each of those men in him,” Coveny says. “He’s tough, he’s a thinker, has a wry sense of humor. We needed a man you could watch thinking and still find compelling.”

Choosing Taylor works for his creator, as well.

“I’m not John Grisham or Stephen King, so I can’t dictate to Hollywood what they should do and how they should do it,” says Johnson. Nonetheless, he believes the producers “really captured the tone of the books, the feel of the characters and a respect for the place that is Wyoming.”

And he loves Taylor’s Long­mire. “He’s a handsome booger but also looks like he’s got some mileage on him, which I think is important with this type of character,” Johnson says. “He’s not a six-week wonder. This is a guy who’s been out there doing the job for a long time. Robert kind of conveys that.”

Shephard says the show’s big open-spaces setting (it’s set in Wyoming but is filmed in New Mexico) “begets very different types of crime from the crimes you’ll find in urban landscapes. We felt like it was going to give our stories a shot of adrenaline and a type of originality that is no place else.” Sunday’s premiere has Longmire searching for a young girl who goes missing from the reservation.

Western subcultures the show will explore include the Native American experience — Lou Diamond Phillips stars as Longmire’s closest friend, Henry Standing Bear — as well as the rodeo circuit, the methamphetamine culture and Mennonite communities. Adding an dose of urban to the show’s cast is Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Gallactica”), who plays new deputy Vic Moretti, a transplant from back East.

“That’s the beauty of this show,” says Coveny. “There isn’t a modern-day Western on TV, and when you combine it with this crime-world procedural you really have a fresh kind of show to watch. Every director, every kid, every TV or movie fan — you talk about Westerns and their eyes light up because of the expanse of the land, the connection to nature, that primal game you played as kids as cowboys and Indians. It’s all there in this show.”

Gannett News Service



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