Season three of "Justified" kicks off next week on the FX Network, and it's the best drama the winter schedule has to offer. It's a show that has managed to make Timothy Olyphant the star he always deserved to be and significantly raise the profile of several of Hollywood's best character actors, many of whom have been toiling away in bit parts for decades. It's clear that showrunner Graham Yost -- who also wrote for "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" -- has a keen appreciation for underappreciated acting talent.
Before the season kicks off, I thought we'd take a closer look at many of the show's fine cast members. Before we do, however, here are a few interesting tidbits on the show itself: It's set in Kentucky, but it's filmed in California (although, the pilot episode was filmed in Western Pennsylvania). Timothy Olyphant's character, Raylan Givens, is based on a character from two Elmore Leonard novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap. Leonard also wrote a short story centered on Givens, "Fire in the Hole," which became the basis for the pilot episode of "Justified." In fact, "Fire in the Hole" was the first working title of the show; at one point, it was also called "Lawman" before they settled on the title they have now. Oh, and the brilliant theme song comes from a group of musicians called Gangstagrass, which combine bluegrass and rap. This is the long version of the song.
1. Timothy Olyphant was a nationally ranked competitive swimmer in high school and continued to swim through college at USC, where he graduated with a degree in fine arts. His first big break came as the lead in a stage production of David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries (What?). At one point, Olyphant was also considered for the role of Tony Stark in Iron Man. Olyphant served as an on-air, unpaid sports commentator for an L.A. radio show through 2009. He's also been married to his (seldom photographed) college sweetheart for 20 years (they have 3 children together); that's her over there on the right.
2. Natalie Zea's (Winona Hawkins) first big break came as a soap actress on Passions, where she replaced Liza Huber, who then replaced Zea two years later. They look nothing alike. You may also know her from "Dirty Sexy Money," and stints on both "Californiacation" and Hung." She was ranked #80 in Maxim's top 100 in 2008, for good reason.
Her longtime partner, since her Passions days, is Travis Schuldt, who many may recognize as the meek boyfriend of Sarah Chalke's character in "Scrubs."
3. Walton Giggons (Boyd Crowder) is an Oscar winner. He starred in and produced an Oscar-winning short film called "The Accountant" that inspired the Drive-By Trucker's song, "Sinkhole." While he was on "The Shield," Walton's wife -- who suffered from depression -- committed suicide by jumping off a Los Angeles' building.
Goggins also starred in this awesome Ram Trucks commercial.
4. In 1991, Jeremy Davies, who plays Dickie Bennett (and who you may remember as Daniel Faraday in "Lost"), starred in this Suburu commercial in which he compared the car to a punk rock song. It basically launched his career.
5. Margo Martindale, who played one of the 10 Best Single Season villains in the history of television, began her career in a series of Downy Fabric Softener commercials in the late 70s and early 80s as the "foot tickler." She was apparently very recognized. I cannot for the life of me find either a video or even an image from any of the spots, however. She was also a looker back in the day; she was crowned Ms. Jacksonville (Texas) during her senior year in high school. Also, the real Mags, the woman with whom her character was based, lived to be 101 years old. Martindale also originated the role of Truvy in Steel Magnolias when it was an off-Broadway play (Dolly Parton played Truvy in the film).
Oh, and Margo gives one hell of an Emmy Speech.
She totally made Olyphant cry.
6. Neal McDonough, who has basically been in everything (most notably, perhaps, "Band Of Brothers" and Minority Report) is set to play one of the big bads in season three, a Detroit mobster in a sharp suit who comes to Kentucky with visions of becoming a crimelord. He was also a cast member of "Boomtown," the brilliant but canceled show that "Justified's" showrunner, Graham Yost, wrote and produced. McDonough plays a lot of villains, but in real life, he's very Catholic. He voices Jesus in "The Truth & Life Dramatized audio New Testament Bible," a 22-hour celebrity-voiced, fully dramatized audio New Testament. He was fired from another show called "Scoundrels" because he refused to do sex scenes, citing his Catholic faith. McDonough also played Lt. Hawk in Star Trek: First Contact, a character that was supposed to be the first openly gay character in the Star Trek universe, but all references to his sexuality were subsequently omitted. It's too bad; he would've been a great gay character.
7. You may have little or no memory of this, but Joelle Carter -- who plays Ava Crowder -- was in the opening sex scene of American Pie 2, the one where Jim's Dad walks in on Jim having sex in his college dorm.