Craig Johnson Talks to MysteryPeople

From the desk (or dark, dusty alley) of MysterPeople’s Scott Montgomery:

One of our most popular mystery authors, Craig Johnson, is working with A&E as they develop his Sheriff Walt Longmire series into a show. The pilot begins shooting in at the end of April in Las Vegas, which is filling in for Absoroka County, Wyoming, where the books take place.

The Hard Word Book Club will be discussing Dark Horse by Craig on Wednesday, April 27th. Craig will be calling in from the set to talk to the group about the book, the series, and the pilot.

Craig recently shared the casting news and his thoughts on the undertaking with us:

'Hell is Empty' is the latest installment in Craig Johson' Walt Longmire series, on sale June 2.

“I guess this is the big moment a lot of people have been waiting for—we have a pretty damn fine cast for Warner Horizon and A&E’s television pilot, Longmire. Filming of the pilot, (which has to test well before the network picks it up to be aired, so it’s not time to uncross your fingers just yet) begins in late April down in the Las Vegas/Taos/Santa Fe area of New Mexico, since it was deemed that Wyoming’s weather was too unstable for shooting a series and had too much snow to appear to be spring.

It’s pretty much been a Cinderella story all along with Emmy-winning Greer Shephard (The Closer, Nip/Tuck, Trust Me) and Mike Robin (The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles, Nip/Tuck, NYPD Blue) executive producing and John Coveny (The Closer, Trust Me)and Hunt Baldwin (The Closer, Trust Me), writing the script and also executive producing. People keep asking me why my experiences have been so different from almost everybody else’s, and my response remains the same—it’s the people you’re working with, you either trust them or you don’t. From the get go, I was aware that there were probably going to be changes in the Absaroka County of my books and the one that hopefully makes it to TV. I knew it was a collaborative effort and what works in some mediums might not work in others. The first revelation on that front was when they told me that they wanted to make Walt a little younger.

“Why?”

They nodded their heads apologetically. “Because if the show runs for ten years, we really don’t want Vic doing all of Walt and Henry’s leg work.”

I had a hard time arguing with that.

Other changes are moving Cady back to Wyoming so that she could have more interaction with her Dad; besides, most actresses don’t want to sign a long-term contract just to talk on the answering machine.
They changed Turk’s name to Branch because Turk sounds too much like Ferg when spoken out loud.

That was the majority of it.

The changes are no where near major—I’d call them infinitesimal and certainly were made for good reasons—and, of course, the stories will be different, picking up and borrowing chunks of the novels, but following their own tales because of the amount of stories they need to tell and the time constraints in which to tell them. If the series gets picked up, then they’ll need about a dozen stories for the first season alone (let alone the ten years we’re hoping for), and I, gentle reader, have only written seven books. They don’t want to serialize either as it has been proven that series that have a beginning, a middle, and an end in each episode do better; of course, this doesn’t mean that the characters lives don’t have complications. Just like the books.

There will be more characters cast down the road (don’t look for Lucien, Dorothy, or Dog in the pilot), but I wanted to get this out to you guys so you could be a part of the thing as it develops.

There is not a perfect world where the A&E series is going to line up precisely with the image in my or your heads, but boy this crew has been killing themselves in an attempt to get it right, even going so far as to hire my good buddy Marcus Red Thunder along with me as a creative consultants on the set. Why? Because they love the books; they love the characters, the place, and what the novels have to say.

I hope you’ll appreciate the hard work they’ve done on my behalf and yours.

And now, drum roll, please…

Chris Chulack (Southland, ER) is an Emmy award winning director who is directing the pilot episode, so the future of Longmire pretty much rests on his shoulders–no problem, Chris has broad, Panavision shoulders. With the success of just about everything he lays his hands on, it was quite a coup to have him come onboard. He’s sharp as a razor and has an incredible cinematic sense. The first time I sat my hat down he asked why it was brim up—he was already seeing shots in his head. I like him, he’s a regular guy, and I think that might be the highest praise I know how to give.

I’m proud to present Robert Taylor (Matrix, Vertical Limit) as Sheriff Walt Longmire. I have to admit that I’d resigned myself to the fact that they weren’t going to come up with anyone with whom I wasn’t going to have reservations, but they did. I stood there in my kitchen watching Robert’s audition for Walt and was just stunned. He IS Walt. Tall, rangy and you can see the wheels turning behind his face. I have to admit it was kind of like having a potted plant in your house for eight years and suddenly it starts talking to you. Even Judy approves of him as a television version of me—you know, taller, more handsome, and with a better voice.

Lou Diamond Phillips (Young Guns, La Bamba) is Henry Standing Bear. There’s been a lot of buzz about the casting out there in Hollywood , and a lot of it about the Native roles so we knew we had to have somebody of Indian heritage. All I can think of when they cast Lou was that I forwarded the photo to Marcus Red Thunder and his response was, ‘Aaaalright, he even looks Cheyenne ’. We knew the man chosen for Henry was going to have to be a strong performer who would match up well with Robert, and nobody in Hollywood has a stronger and better reputation than LDP, as he’s referred to in the blogs. He is Henry.

Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, 24) is Vic Moretti. My webmaster says we just got the geek-boy demographic with this one–I think we got the rancher one as well. I went back through a few of her performances as Starbuck and more importantly her interviews online and about died laughing—she’s got quite a mouth on her and a Vic attitude. She IS Vic. The executive crew had a hard time with this one; trying to find a young woman who was sexy but still looked like she could put you in a reverse-wristlock and plant your face on the hood of your car. I truly think they did it.”

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