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

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


For the performer, the television drama series offers an opportunity to inhabit a character for a greater length of time than on film, for hours and possibly over several years. For the audience, the television drama series permits a familiarity with certain performers, their style and gestures, ways of speaking and moving. Through close attention to its case study, this paper will explore the particular possibilities granted performance by the serial nature of television drama and in doing so, seek to highlight the value of a restricted acting range in counterpoint to the emphasis placed on achievement through transformation that so often dominates popular appreciations of performance (especially in film).
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 series 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. In his performances Olyphant utilises parallel gestures, facial and vocal expressions, and ways of walking - a restricted performance range within which there are subtle differences and changes adapted for use with each character. The refinement of such modifications is noticeable precisely because they are presented through the medium of television, that repeated contact over several years allows the performer’s fine-tuning of their style and enables the appreciation of this by the viewer. This paper seeks to highlight both the expressive achievement of such performative textuality as well as the evaluative challenges it brings.
PeriodMar 2018
Event titleScreen, Media and Cinema Studies annual conference
Event typeConference
LocationToronto, CanadaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • television
  • performance
  • acting