The same, but different: adjustment and accumulation in television performance

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


For the performer, the television drama series offers an opportunity to explore and inhabit a character for a greater length of time than on film, for multiple hours and possibly over several years. For the audience, the television drama series permits a familiarity with certain performers and their gestures, ways of speaking and moving. For both viewer and performer, then, television enables an intimate engagement with a character, one that supports more expanded detail of embodiment and interpretation. Through close attention to its case study, this chapter will explore the particular possibilities granted performance by the serial nature of television drama, focusing on the way these conditions can foster intensified familiarity with a performer’s style and a focusing of their range.

Timothy Olyphant is a US actor who has worked in both film and television, but has received particular acclaim and success in two major drama series: Deadwood (HBO, 2004-2006) and Justified (FX, 2010-2015). In both Olyphant plays a law man (a town Sheriff and US Marshall respectively), and although the series are set in different time periods and regions, there are strong similarities between the characters. Olyphant utilises parallel gestures, facial and vocal expressions, and ways of walking, his performance operating within a particularly narrow range in his portrayals of these characters. Through close attention to Olyphant’s performance in both series, I would like to challenge the accepted notion of good acting being associated with a wide range, suggesting instead that such a restricted range allows for a refined rather than limited style. Moreover, I will argue that the nuance of such modifications are noticeable specifically because they are presented through the medium of television, as repeated contact over several years allows the performer’s fine-tuning of their style and enables the appreciation of this by the viewer. Olyphant’s performances on television are successful precisely because of the nuanced approach made possible through the accumulation of time spent in particular roles; he is able to intensify his expressivity.

University of Stirling research seminar
Period2 Oct 2016


  • Television performance
  • Television drama
  • Television style
  • Justified
  • Deadwood