The Light from the TV Shows: Executive Producer John Coveny talks A&E’s “Longmire”

If you haven’t been watching A&E’s new series “Longmire,” you’ve been missing out on arguably the best original drama on the network…and in case you think that might be damning it with faint praise, I’ll go ahead and up the ante and suggest that it’s one of the best new dramas of 2012. With a tone that places it somewhere between FX’s “Justified” and CBS’s “Jesse Stone” movies, “Longmire” has the modern-day-western elements of the former but the pace of the latter, resulting in a series that isn’t afraid to take its time to get to where it’s going. I was fortunate enough to speak with “Longmire” executive producer John Coveny about the series wrapping its first season, prepping for its second, and how much more of the supporting cast we’ll get to see when the show comes back for its sophomore year.

Bullz-Eye: Season 1 of Longmire is just getting ready to wrap up. How have you enjoyed working on the show thus far? Do you feel like you’ve gotten a handle on these televised adventures of Walt Longmire?

John Coveny: I feel like we do. I’ve said this before, but when I come home, I’ve said, “I’ve never been more tired or more proud in my life.” [Laughs.] Just as far as what we’re creating, that kind of crazy creative alchemy that shows have, with the crew and cast, the writers and editors, the studio and the network, all seem to be on the same page. Or, by virtue of the experience of seeing a couple of episodes, they’ve gotten on the same page. We’re all making the same show, I guess you’d say, and we’re all ready proud of it. And we’re looking forward to ramping back up for Season 2. We like being kind of the unknown show that people are starting to discover. It’s a nice place to be right now.

BE: When you got the word that Season 2 was a go, was it a case where you went, “Well, I knew this was going to happen because I knew we were doing that well,” or did you breathe a sigh of relief and go, “Oh, thank God”?

JC: Well, it actually was “thank God.” [Laughs.] But with a little bit of anger underneath. Because, y’know, you see the ratings, and…I’m actually not a Deadline Hollywood reader every day. I go there probably every other day. But every day you hear about shows getting picked up, different networks, different ratings. But I’m not kidding you, the executive producers were all hanging out, going, “This show got picked up, that show got picked up, what’s up with us? I hope we get a chance! Maybe next week.” And literally, after we got an email from one of the actors saying, “What’s the deal? This show got picked up. Why not us?” 30 minutes later the assistant came in with Greer (Shepherd), myself, and Hunt Baldwin, and said, “Guys, we’re going again. We got picked up!” So we got into our car, and…well, because of where we film “Longmire,” we drove an hour and a half to location, where all the actors where doing their thing, and I bought two quarts of Busch Beer. And when we had a break in the action, we shook up some beer champaign-style, sprayed in the air, said, “Season 2 is on the way!” It was a great day. You could see on people’s faces that…they weren’t out of it. What I mean is, when you’re in the middle of location in the middle of New Mexico and driving hundreds of miles a week to shoot the show, it wears on people. But everyone stepped up and really loved the show, they put that effort forward, and I think that’s why it got picked up. Everyone’s effort really pushed the show into a very special territory.

BE: When I talked to Lou Diamond Phillips a few weeks ago, I told him that one of the things I find most enjoyable and surprising about the show is that it’s allowed to go at its own pace. It’s not rapid-fire. It’s ambling.

JC: It is. And isn’t that fantastic? I mean, I’d say we intentionally set out to do that, to set a different pace in the show, because we’d worked on other shows at various places. We worked on “The Closer” for seven years, which had its own pace and tone and a very strong set of characters. And when we did this show, we just thought to make a show that… [Hesitates.] I loved the LA Times review that said, “People don’t banter, they speak.” We just kind of made people talk the way people talk and made people want to get a little twitchy, almost. Like, “What’s gonna happen?” But what I find is that people don’t want to rush by the beauty, y’know? Or rush by those moments. You can tell a lot with silence. You can tell a lot by a person’s expression, by standing still. We wanted to make room for that. And A&E came around to that kind of philosophy, and it seems to be working.

BE: I hate to keep going back to Lou, but, seriously, I just talked to him, and…

JC: [Laughs.] No, no, Lou’s fantastic. LDP. You’ve gotta say LDP.

BE: Well, LDP was talking about how, for the first season of the show, he was reasonably resigned to “Longmire” being used to kind of introduce Robert Taylor to American audiences. Do you have a plan for Henry Standing Bear to be a bigger part of Season 2?

JC: Oh, completely. In fact, one of the things I’m most proud about the show is…having been on a procedural show before or an ensemble cast with a main set of characters, sometimes these second, third, fourth, or fifth characters are resigned to the fact that they say, “A guy was out walking his dog and found a body.” Like, that’s their life. But one thing I think you can look at in this season of “Longmire” is that everyone has had their moments in the show that kind of hints at the depth that their character can be, and what we want to do is wrap up that stuff. Yes, the show is about Longmire, but it’s also about the world around him. And Henry Standing Bear is going to have a lot to do. As is everybody in the cast. But, yeah, LDP is too good to keep on the sidelines. We’ve got to give him the ball. People have been responding to him. Earlier this season, we had an episode…well, even as far back as the pilot, people were just so excited to see LDP back on the screen. And in a new way. We’ve embraced who he is as an actor, and he’s really embraced the…almost the spiritual side of this role. I think we always knew he would, but he’s gone leaps and bounds above what people know him for. The whole cast is great, but you talk about LDP, he’s pretty special.

BE: It’s good to know that you’ll be spreading the wealth in Season 2.

JC: Yeah, I mean, we certainly met Walt Longmire pretty deeply. We met Vic Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), who’s more than just a deputy sidekick. She’s a sparring partner. And she’s got a marriage that she’s got to deal with, a past that we hinted at and then developed a bit in Episode 1.7. And Henry Standing Bear, he’s got a long history with Walt, since they were six years old, and that’ll be developed more, too. And you’ve got The Ferg (Adam Bartley), and you’ve got Bailey Chase, who plays Branch Connally. He’s not the typical villain. What’s been fun about seeing the comments on him is that people are, like, “Oh, my God! He’s not an asshole!” [Laughs.] That’s always the toughest person to get. People kind of lean toward those villain tendencies in their head, but they see the character come to life and they realize that Branch is a little more complex than that. That’s been a nice surprise for people.