TV

‘Longmire’ Staff Writer Tony Tost Thinks You Should Be Watching ‘Longmire’ And He’d Like To Tell You Why

Recently we received an email from Tony Tost, a writer on A&E’s Longmire and an Uproxx reader, asking us for an opportunity to appeal to our readers to watch the show, a Western-y crime drama that stars Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips. We decided to oblige him. If you like what he has to say, the first two seasons of Longmire are currently available for streaming on Netflix and season three of the show kicks off on Monday night. And with that, take it away, Tony…

I write for a TV show called Longmire, a moody A&E crime drama set in a sort of Wyoming-of-the-mind, where the mythic West and the modern West blur together. Last year on this site, Dan Seitz called Longmire “a cross between a noir and an unreconstruct-ed modern Western about grown men struggling with their emotional inadequacies and unfin-ished business.”

We’ll take it.

On the surface, Longmire is a modern cowboys and Indians story with a weekly mystery to be solved. But it’s also more than that. The good folks here at Uproxx think we’re one of those shows that’s much better than people think.

I think one reason Longmire might exceed expectations is that we are perhaps the least cynical cop show you’ll come across. We embrace the procedural beats of our show because we love telling good mysteries and digging up the hidden Wyoming worlds those mysteries lead us into. We dig the serialized beats because we’re addicted to putting the fantastic characters Craig Johnson created in his Longmire novels into corners so we can watch them fight their way out.

Our show is overseen by a trio of executive producers: Greer Shephard, Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny. Longmire is their creature. It’s no exaggeration to say that they’re concurrently working on six or seven episodes at a time. They are our intrepid captains; equal parts artist, head coach, and CEO. The earnestness of the show is the direct product of the trio’s shared mindset.

But what gets on screen is also pretty collaborative. And often feels like alchemy. Created by lots of strong-willed, creative individuals who are chasing personal visions that end up cohering into an identifiable, consistent style unique to our show.

Though we’re the highest rated scripted show to ever air on A&E — our second season landed among the top ten most watched cable shows last year — I think we might be flying under the radar of the TV-obsessive crowd.

Uproxx was cool enough to offer me some space to introduce Longmire to the TV-obsessed types that frequent the site. I thought the best way to do so would be to survey some of the people involved in making Longmire about the key inspirations informing their work on the show. One of the operating metaphors of this show is the idea of “the storm.” I kind of see our cast and crew’s divergent creative inspirations as the hidden pressures behind the visible storm, seldom seen but always felt.

Below are the responses I got to the question: “What artist or work of art has influenced your work on Longmire?”

* * *

John Coveny (writer, co-creator, executive producer):

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Yes, of course, Newman and Redford were brilliant. But the brilliance started on the page with the words of William Goldman. Even his action lines made me jealous. So human, and connected, and yet, unexpected. That’s what we try to bring to Longmire—humanity that surprises you and takes you on a ride across all kinds of emotions.

Butch and Sundance made me feel like a man, even as a kid. You could be tough but have a sense of humor. You could live a thrilling life, but life could end in heartbreak. You can try to run from your past actions, but you know you’ll have to deal with them someday. And when that day comes, you won’t act like some superhero. You’ll act like two best friends thinking you got one last chance, going out together, running for the horses—blinded by hope, and brought down by your own flaws.

Week in week out, we try to put the right words in the right places so they ring true to the head, the heart and the soul, just like William Goldman. I can only hope there is a fat kid sitting too close to the t.v. (like I did), finding meaning in the words and actions of Walt Longmire, and say-ing to himself (like I do today), “I wish I was him.”

* * *

Katee Sackhoff (Vic Moretti):

My influences for Vic have been ever changing since the first day I welcomed her into my life. It started out as one of my best friends Melissa Marsala, a spicy Sicilian From Long Island who taught me so much about life. She was always the smartest most opinionated person in every room and the first one to stand up for the people she loved and the things she believed in. (Kin-da perfect Vic to be honest.)

Through the years it has been sprinkled with other influences, like the perfect blend of chemis-try, love, pain, and duty that we see between Bones and Booth on the show Bones.

Also: watching old Clint Eastwood movies. There’s a respect I’ve gained for Walt and his quiet strength that I didn’t necessarily understand in the beginning.

I also draw a lot from music. Music is such a huge part of my life and I find that no matter what the emotional intent of a scene there is always a song that perfectly reflects the moment in time you are attempting to create, and the feeling you want the audience to take away from it.

* * *

Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear):

Obviously, Craig Johnson’s Longmire books are a constant inspiration and the fact that Craig keeps writing them continues to build on the back story. His collection of short stories Stay Calm, Have Courage and Wait for Signs (for which I wrote the forward) spoke much to the hu-mor and humanity of the characters.

Strangely enough, just listening to the radio can inspire. There’s a line in Bastille’s song “Pompeii” that reminds me of this season…”Oh, where do we begin, the rubble or our sins?” Things were left in a bit of a shambles last season and it was certainly the result of our charac-ters’ past actions.

Met Tommy Lee Jones while he was filming The Homesman in Las Vegas, NM at the same time we were there. His performance in No Country For Old Men (also shot in a number of Longmire locations) reminds me of the baggage that Henry carries. A desire to see justice served but a growing disillusion with the darkness.

The books The Prophet by Kahlil Ghibran and The Alchemist by Paulo Cohello remind me of Henry’s journey to maintain his place in the world and his spiritual center though random events and external forces conspire to move him from his path.

The Lakota saying, “The true warrior walks humbly upon the earth.”

My trip to Lame Deer reservation that reminds me of the real lives of the Cheyenne people, the beauty of the land and the quiet dignity with which they commune with it.

* * *

Bailey Chase (Branch Connally):

There is a scene from Breaking Bad that had a strong impact on me between Gus Fring and Walter White. Walter is complaining and Gus tells him what it is to be a man. Branch has had a similar epiphany in season three. This season I also had a Rolling Stones song I wanted to sing while brewing some peyote tea but the Executive Producers didn’t respond.

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Hunt Baldwin (writer, co-creator, executive producer):

The younger me could never have imagined writing something like Longmire. That ambitious, arrogant 20-something me was committed to “adventurous writing.” Stuff that thumbed its nose at old stodgy conventions. I loved books that felt new and sophisticated. Books about ideas that you’d be proud to read on the subway and would mark you as a forward-thinking modern per-son. But in 1993, after years of immersing myself in big, thick ambitious novels — I loved high-concept or high-style writers like Thomas Pynchon, Martin Amis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez — my dad turned me on to Legends of the Fall by a writer named Jim Harrison.

It was like entering an alternate universe. Harrison wrote about the west. Or the Upper Peninsu-la of Michigan. Rural, underpopulated places where things could be hard but where the natural world was still an important part of life. His novels were so short, they were called novellas. He wrote simply and clearly, but he wrote beautifully. The characters in his books spoke less, and with different rhythms than the urban sophisticates I was used to. He wrote about people and places that I had ignored for most of my life. And it opened my mind to a whole world — the American West — that I hadn’t really paid much attention to before.

He even made me want to take up fly-fishing.

* * *

David Shephard (composer):

Longmire is an American Western with this tough, Indie-Rock soul of a score. If I listen too much to the bands that inspired the sound for the show — bands like The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — I’ll get so excited I’ll want to run hard at every cue. And, if I did that, I’d really be in trouble. When it comes to scoring, restraint is most often more effective.

What I’ve found inspires me the most in creating the music for the show is the story-insight the Executive Producers offer from episode to episode. For instance, when I receive a new episode to score, the Producers will say something like, “this is our Great Train Robbery episode,” or “this is our Ghost Story.” Those comments evoke a vivid world of ideas that I can draw from to create an individual sound for the story. This process gives a compelling musical quality to each episode and makes the scoring process creatively exciting.

Cassidy Freeman (Cady Longmire):

There’s a scene in the season finale of the 1st season that can only be best described as my freak out scene. I believe the actual stage direction in the script was “Cady goes ape-shit.”

It’s the scene where I confront my Dad about not telling me that my mother was murdered rather than passing away from cancer. Every actor approaches emotionally challenging scenes differ-ently—and don’t get excited because I’m not going to tell you my secret—but I will divulge that music oftentimes reinforces my emotional preparation. (Don’t tell my acting teacher…he’d say that was cheating).

I was preparing for the scene on my way back from performing in the Isle of Wight festival in England with my band. I had many hours on boats, trains and planes to listen to my ipod on shuffle. Sometimes artists show up when you’re shuffling that you have no idea how they got on your ipod. Sarah Jaffe’s album Suburban Nature came to my rescue. Particularly track 2: “Stay With Me” and track 4: “Better Than Nothing.”

For whatever reason, this album spoke to me in regards to this scene. I could feel in her voice what I needed to get to a scary and vulnerable place.

* * *

Sarah Nicole Jones (writer):

As a writer, the blank page can sometimes be daunting sight. The blinking cursor at the top of scene 1 can be a taunting little bastard. In order to combat this enemy, I always follow the same ritual. Before I sit down to write a new episode of Longmire, I watch the remake of 3:10 to Yu-ma. Now, normally, I’m opposed to remakes. We were raised on the classics in my house. John Ford was the gospel and John Wayne was God. In fact, when I first heard they were remaking Delmer Daves’ iconic western, I was ready to cry sacrilege. But then I watched it, and found a particular moment that has gotten me through many a script this season…

For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of watching, 3:10 to Yuma depicts a down-on-his-luck farmer, Dan Evans, who is tasked with transporting a murderous outlaw, Ben Wade, across the dangerous terrain 1870’s Arizona. If Evans succeeds in getting Wade on the prison train at 3:10 in Yuma, he will earn the money he needs to save his farm. After escaping death countless times on the journey, Evans and Wade arrive in Yuma, only to find that the town is overrun with Wade’s gang. What’s more, is that the local lawmen refuse to help transport Wade, out of fear and bribery. The question falls to Evans, do you run and live, or do stay and finish this suicide mission? Evans decides that, despite the risk of certain death, he will honor his word and get Wade on the train. As he is about to depart on his fateful task, Evans turns to his son (a teenag-er, who sees his father as a pathetic failure) and Evans says, “I want you to remember… your father walked Ben Wade to the station when no one else would.”

To me, that line is the definition of who Walt is. Walt constantly encounters some of the worst qualities of humanity – violence, greed, jealousy, rage, etc. And in seeing all these things, Walt could very easily let the darkness consume him. Or, he could take the easy way out: ignore the problems, run away from them…but no. Why? Because he has to do right thing to do. Because he couldn’t live with himself if he failed to rise to a challenge just because it was hard, or dan-gerous, or painful to endure.

So whenever I find myself staring at the blank abyss of a blank page, I just always try to re-member that line. I just remember who Walt is – he’s the man who walks Ben Wade to the sta-tion when no one else will.

* * *

Adam Bartley (Ferg):

Coach Taylor: “Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”

This quote from the Friday Night Lights pilot runs in my veins. “We will all fall.” Playing a char-acter who has done nothing but underwhelm most of his life (academically, career wise, with women, to his father) I find myself tapping into the my beloved coach Taylor’s words to push the Ferg further. We’re not alone in our struggle. We ALL fall. What we have is so special and it can be taken from us. Don’t waste a second. Put the fear behind us and go kick some Absaroka ass. Ferg’s struggle to believe in himself and rise above expectations from himself and others is a universal plight. We all connect to it. This scene from Friday Night Lights has helped me lace up my boots, dig for courage, fight the fear of failure, and rise to the mountain top whence “action” is prompted to say “FERG ON.”

(Below is a bottle of iron supplement pills I purchased whilst filming the pilot and tooling around with Katee Sackhoff at the local drugstore in “Durant.”)

Every season the Sheriff and I embark on our yearly pilgrimage we call “the drive.” It’s become tradition, barring schedules. But one we cherish. The drive must take place at night. It must be following a wrap in filming Longmire scenes in Las Vegas, NM…destination Santa Fe. I must be driving 10 mph under the limit while Rob continues to yell: “SLOW DOWN” regardless. “WE’RE IN NO RUSH.” The drive must include cigars, stolen crafty snacks, and a stop at a lone gas station half way through the drive in the middle of nowhere illuminated by a large simple sign that exclaims “GAS.” We must stop at this gas station that once saved us (me really) from murder by sheriff for not refueling the tank before departure S1. We must stop at this station and turn up Johnny Cash as loud as it will go as we dance around the car screaming “I fell into a burning ring of fire” to the top of our lungs like vengeful savages celebrating our pain and conquest. The flames getting higher and higher and higher. Walt, Ferg, Rob, Adam, and the wild New Mexico starry sky.

* * *

Tony Tost (writer):

Before joining Longmire as a writer, I was a poet and academic. The best thing I wrote in this prior life was a book about Johnny Cash’s first American Recordings album for the 33 1/3 series. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was an ideal training ground for Longmire.

My favorite scenes to write for this show are essentially duets, usually between Walt and some bad character: Walt warning a corrupt social worker that the mythical Dog Soldier is coming for her, or Walt switching identities with a Contrary Warrior in order to allow a confession, or Walt telling Vic’s stalker the story of Achilles and Hector to warn the man to leave town while he still can.

For me, in scenes like these, Walt isn’t just conversing with a bad person. He’s also conversing with the troublesome elements in his own soul. My hope is that this underlying kinship between Walt’s flawed nobility and some outer darkness gives an intimacy and immediacy to these scenes. “We men are wretched things,” he tells Vic’s stalker. At some level, such a confronta-tion is also a self-reckoning.

This kinship between dark and light also rhymes pretty heavily with my understanding of The Man in Black: sin and redemption, love and hate, good and evil, killer and believer. Lots of art-ists try to appropriate Cash’s thematic dualities, but very few are able to believably express how these apparent dualities are in fact connected.

It’s one thing to write out a stark duality in words. It’s another thing to embody it in your very be-ing.

Sometimes, writing Walt Longmire scenes for Robert Taylor feels like writing songs for Johnny Cash himself. The deep baritone, the sturdy moral compass, the strangely bookish machismo, the hint of a barely contained wildness: it’s all there in Rob’s performance of the Sheriff.

In that way, my job’s easy: I just have to provide the words. And not too many of them.

When Rick Rubin produced Johnny Cash’s comeback album, the smartest thing he did was strip away the backing band, the strings, the pretty backup voices. When you’re chasing the truth, less is usually more. On that first (and best) American Recordings album, Rubin knew his job was to put Cash in a room with just his voice, his guitar and his demons. And then to get out of the way.

When writing scenes for Walt, I try to do something similar. Give the scene as few words and action lines as possible and just let Robert Taylor’s voice and face and inner fire do all the truth chasing for me.

* * *

Louanne Stephens (Ruby):

My feisty, strong women are based on life, not art. Based on my cool, country relatives from Odell, Texas. I grew up in the city of Fort Worth but often visited my dad and mom’s tiny hometown. Where I knew Mary Tom, Sammie Lou, Ada Belle, Etta Mae, Cora, and many more wonderful women. Smart. Self-contained. Industrious. Religious. Talented.

I heard about my great grandmother. And my great great grandmother, Texanna Holloway.

They are all buried in the little Bell Cemetery near Odell. I was there last week. Four generations of women I admire.

* * *

If you’re interested, our first two seasons are streaming on Netflix. Our third season begins air-ing on June 2nd and will be airing all this summer on Monday nights at 10 pm on A&E. Here’s the season one trailer below…

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