Robert Taylor: Arresting as TV Lawman ‘Longmire’

by | May 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM | Longmire

Robert Taylor in "Longmire" (Photo: Ursula Coyote/A&E)

By FRAZIER MOORE

NEW YORK (AP) — You may not recognize Robert Taylor as anyone other than the title character he plays on the crime drama “Longmire.” But he’s no newcomer.

“I’ve been working pretty solidly for a long time,” says Taylor, with a wry throwaway: “Not that anyone would notice, you know what I mean?”

But not that he appears to be complaining.

“It’s been my goal to work as much as possible, and be as unknown as possible,” he insists.

Unknown-ness for the 50-year-old actor may be threatened as “Longmire” begins its second season Monday at 10 p.m. EDT on A&E, where he stars alongside Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Lou Diamond Phillips.

Taylor impressed viewers last summer as Sheriff Walt Longmire, who polices the Big Sky sprawl of Absaroka County, Wyo., with a devotion that’s steadfast, laconic and sadder-but-wiser (he mourns the recent death of his wife). He is rangy and grizzled at an age where he can still whip most opponents in a fight, but knows to spare himself that kind of strain whenever he can.

“With young people, it’s how brassy and flashy can you be,” says Taylor, explaining his portrayal. “But you get a bit older, it’s about how restrained can you be. You have to feel it all, think it all, but you don’t have to play it — it’s just gotta be there, and if the story’s good and the script’s good, people will see it.”

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They’ll see it on “Longmire.” Then again, they may not know it’s acting. The portrayal of Sheriff Longmire yields an enormously appealing and relatable character, while Taylor disappears into the role.

It’s a role he clearly identifies with. He arrives for an interview at a fussy Manhattan restaurant clad in a denim shirt, jeans and boots. Very Longmire. And while his broad shoulders don’t bear the weight of Longmire’s world, his voice isn’t noticeably different, issuing from somewhere deep as it gathers a rich nasal timbre and a Western twang — which is surprising, since Taylor is Australian. (Where’s his Aussie accent? “It comes and goes, mate,” he replies, for a moment channeling Crocodile Dundee.)

“I’ve always loved the (American) West,” he goes on. “I grew up in wide-open spaces, but they didn’t have the romantic history of the West. It was more just misery.”

He was born in Melbourne, but when his parents split up, he went to live with his aunt and uncle in a Western Australian mining town.

As a teen he worked in the mines. Then he took off, with the idea of somehow mirroring the artists and adventurers from his mother’s Bohemian side of the family, most of whom he only knew from mesmerizing tales.

“The desire was there, eating away, to do something different,” he recalls. “But I had no clue how.”

Among his many odd jobs as he sought an answer was working on an oil rig, where he took a fall.

“I just busted a bunch of bones,” he says with a laugh. “It’s all right. I was young.”

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But by then he was ready for something with a future.

He got wind of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, which now counts among its alumni Frances O’Connor and Hugh Jackman. With no idea how, he prepared two auditions and got in.

He was transformed by this exotic, artistic culture.

“It was so foreign to me, so unusual and strange to be talking about things that I had never spoken about to anybody,” he marvels. “I just soaked it up.”

When he graduated, he scuffed out a living in Sydney, then Melbourne, as an actor, resolving not to rely on any backup job.

“I decided I’m gonna make my living from this, or I’m not doing it,” he says. “The last time I had a job that wasn’t an acting job was ’88, and I’m quite proud of that.”

Among his credits: He was Agent Jones in “The Matrix” and appeared in the 2000 thriller “Vertical Limit,” as well as NBC’s 2005 “Hercules” film and the BBC series “Ballykissangel.” He has done lots of Australian television and films.

Typically, he was surprised when he landed the “Longmire” job. He first auditioned by sending a tape to Los Angeles from Melbourne — and figured the role would go to a better-known contender.

Filming resumed for this season in March in Santa Fe, N.M., which, with surrounding territory, substitutes for Wyoming.

“That’s another reason I wanted the job,” says Taylor. “I’d been to New Mexico three or four times before, and loved it.”

On one of those visits he bought a silver belt buckle with a Hopi Indian design of a bear claw.

“I’ve worn it pretty much every day of my life since then,” he says, and does this day. So does Walt Longmire on every episode.

And they have yet more in common. Echoing Longmire’s resistance to modern gadgets and fads, Taylor, after silencing his cellphone upon his arrival, proudly pointed out its ancient, clamshell vintage.

“People say, ‘You got that (crappy) old phone!’ But I GOT a phone! That’s SOMEthing, right?”

Facebook is another modern thing that leaves him cold. Someone else maintains his “Longmire” Facebook page.

“Not for me,” declares Taylor. “But I was never comfortable doing all that self-promoting. I’m just happy to be working. I’m in a great show and I like the people I’m working with and I can pay my bills. I’m lucky.”

But with a little more self-promotion, a bit higher profile, wouldn’t Taylor maybe gain the clout to win even bigger future roles?

“That would be interesting,” he says, humoring his questioner. “But I kind of like not being that guy.”

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