NPR

Timothy Olyphant: Laying Down 'Justified' Laws

Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, a present-day U.S. marshal with Wild West inclinations on the FX series Justified. (FX)

This interview was originally broadcast on March 28, 2011. Justified begins its third season next week.

Timothy Olyphant plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens on the FX series Justified.

In the first season's opening episode, Givens was based in Miami. But after forcing a drug dealer into a showdown — and then shooting him — the loose-cannon lawman was transferred back to his backwoods Kentucky hometown, where his job puts him on the trail of childhood friends who are now on the other side of the law.

"The thing that's very attractive about the character is the moral code of it all," Olyphant tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I always go back to that scene in the first episode, where Raylan told a guy that you don't walk into someone's house unless you're invited — and at the same time, he gave somebody 24 hours to get out of town or he'd kill him. That to me says everything you'd need to know about the guy."

Olyphant also starred in the HBO series Deadwood as Western sheriff Seth Bullock. His film credits include Gone in 60 Seconds, The Broken Hearts Club and A Life Less Ordinary.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. The second season of the TV series "Justified," based on a story by Elmore Leonard, was released last week on DVD and Blu-Ray, and season three begins next Tuesday on the FX cable network.

Our guests today are two stars from that entertaining, often unpredictable TV series: Timothy Olyphant, who stars as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins, who plays Raylan's childhood friend and lifelong adversary Boyd Crowder.

We'll hear from Walton Goggins in the second half of the show; but first, let's listen back to Terry's interview with Timothy Olyphant, recorded last year. In the HBO series "Deadwood," Olyphant starred as Seth Bullock, the sheriff of a lawless mining town. And now in "Justified," he's done more years of great work portraying a character that was wonderfully written from the very start.

In the series premiere, Raylan Givens was a deputy U.S. Marshal based in Miami, but after forcing a drug dealer into a showdown and then shooting him, Givens was exiled to his hometown in Harlan County, Kentucky, where he's been based ever since.

Because it's home, he knows a lot of the people, including some of the people he ends up going after, like the white supremacists, the meth makers and the Oxy dealers.

Let's start with a scene from season two of "Justified." Olyphant's character, Raylan Givens, is pursuing a sex offender and catches up with him at a gas station. While acting like he's filling up his car, Givens takes the gas hose, aims it at the suspect, drenching him in gasoline. The sex offender pulls out his gun, aims it at Givens, and Givens warns him it would be unwise to fire the weapon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "JUSTIFIED")

BILLY MILLER: (As James Earl Dean) What the hell? That's it now.

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm just gonna ask you one question: Do you know how a firearm works?

MILLER: (As James Earl Dean) What?

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) The key word in firearm is fire. When the pin hits the cap, it makes the charge explode, meaning there's a spark, which should be of some concern to a man soaked in gasoline.

MILLER: (As Dean) That's (BEEP). That spark's so far away from the gasoline.

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) You didn't finish school, did you, Mr. Dean? It's not the liquid that burns, it's the fumes. Now, look, normally, I would've just shot you myself the second you pulled, but I am doing my level best to avoid the paperwork and the self-recrimination that comes with it. The lord knows you're the kind that makes it worth it more.

(As Givens) Come on, Jimmy, can't we just try to end this without you turning yourself into the human torch?

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

That's Billy Miller, along with my guest, Timothy Olyphant, in a scene from "Justified." Timothy Olyphant, welcome to FRESH AIR, pleasure to have you here.

OLYPHANT: It's a pleasure being here. Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: So I thought of this scene just the other day, when I was filling up my car with gas, and it overflowed onto my shoes.

OLYPHANT: Uh-oh.

GROSS: And I was wondering: Is it true that it's not the liquid, it's the fumes that catch on fire?

OLYPHANT: It is the fumes.

GROSS: So that was truth that you were speaking?

OLYPHANT: You know, I had an electrician over at my house the other day telling me about my generator, saying if you ever are using your generator, should there be an emergency, and it runs out of gas, don't just fill it back up with gas because it's hot, and the fumes can catch on fire, and you have a big problem.

GROSS: Oh, okay.

OLYPHANT: And I thought: You know what? I should've known that because I believe I said that on my television show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: That it's the fumes.

GROSS: Now, when you're dealing with a villain of any sort on the show, you're not only great with the, you know, the witty retort, you also have this incredible ability with your eyes to stare the person down, do not blink - to literally not blink, or to stare in disbelief when they say something to you that you're going to try to not acknowledge how inappropriate it is.

So do you think of your eyes as being one of your tools? And how conscious are you of how you use your eyes when playing a character who literally does stare people down?

OLYPHANT: I try not to be conscious of any of it. When usually, that's not a good place to be. If I'm really aware of what I'm doing, it's not good. I more or less try to make the other person do all the work, and I'm really just trusting that process, you know.

GROSS: What does that mean, you're trying to get the other person to do all the work?

OLYPHANT: Well, once somebody calls action, you know, the place to be for me is out of my head. You know, that's the last place I want to be. So you're just working off the other person. You're just working off of them. You're - whatever you're doing, you're doing for them, because of them, you know. It's always about the other.

And so everything should come from that, and then, you know, when they - when someone calls cut, if I can remember everything the other person did, then I'm fine. Does that make sense?

GROSS: I think so. What did you do...?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: Come on, you know what I'm saying. Right? If I'm aware of everything I did, then it's - then I'm not doing - I'm not very good at my job.

GROSS: Right.

OLYPHANT: But if I can remember everything Margo did, if I'm in a scene with Margot, and when they call cut, I think to myself oh, when you did that thing with there, where you put that down, you didn't do that before; if I caught those moments, then I'm ready to move on. You know what I mean?

GROSS: What did you do to get to know your character or the region that "Justified" is set in, which is Harlan County, Kentucky?

OLYPHANT: Well, I read a lot. I mean, I read - first and foremost, I read the Elmore books. You know, we had a short story and two novels, and I read them all many times and continue to kind of read them and comb through them.

And then since then, he's told me to check out a book called "Stinking Creek." He said, you should read that. He said, it's something I read before I wrote the story. So I read those things. You know, I watched the documentary about Harlan, that wonderful, famous documentary. I did...

GROSS: About coalminers in Harlan County. "Harlan County U.S.A."

OLYPHANT: Yeah, "Harlan County, U.S.A." I listened to it, actually, before I watched it and then, you know, worked with the dialect coach. Well, I love the dialect, and it was just so fun.

GROSS: What do you love about the dialect?

OLYPHANT: I don't know. Someone told me there's no difference between pin and pen, there's just pin and pin. And that just cracks me up. I haven't heard it before. So I was like: There you go. There's something to sink your teeth into.

GROSS: So I think it's really important in a series to have a great opening scene, which you had in "Justified." And I want to play that scene. So you're a deputy U.S. federal marshal working in Miami at this point, and you've given a guy from a drug cartel 24 hours to leave town.

With just a couple of minutes remaining in that deadline, you find him sitting at a table in an oceanside hotel restaurant. You tell him he has two minutes left to leave town. He invites you to eat with him. Then you remind him that time is running out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "JUSTIFIED")

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) One minute.

PETER GREENE: (As Thomas Buckley) A second ago, you said two minutes. What's going on here?

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) Time flies, huh?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENE: (As Thomas Buckley) You, you're a character. I was telling my friends this morning how yesterday you come to me, and: You don't get out of town in 24 hours, I'm going to shoot you on sight. Come on, what is that? They thought it was a joke. They started laughing.

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) You tell them about the man you killed or why you did it? Because I found nothing funny in that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: (As Buckley) Maybe I should've killed you, huh? Maybe I made a mistake.

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) Well, we all have regrets.

GREENE: (As Buckley) Cut me a little slack here, okay? Does nothing count that I let you live?

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) No, I'm giving you the same consideration right now. You can get up and go, 30 seconds.

GREENE: (As Buckley) So, what are you gonna do? In front of all these people, you're gonna pull out a gun and you're gonna shoot an unarmed man?

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) You're unarmed, huh?

GREENE: (As Buckley) Hey, you got eyes. You see a piece on me?

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) Twenty seconds.

GREENE: (As Buckley) Okay.

OLYPHANT: (As Givens) Ten.

GREENE: (As Buckley) You know what, seriously? You come, and you interrupt my meal. You won't eat with me. This is bull (BEEP). This is supreme bull (BEEP).

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

GROSS: So what was the opening scene from "Justified," which my guest, Timothy Olyphant and Peter Greene.

Okay, so for our listeners who couldn't see that, the drug guy pulls his gun first, but you're quicker, and you shoot him. Of course, in that scene, in Miami, you're wearing your Stetson hat, your white Stetson hat, which you almost always wear. Why is that so important to the character?

OLYPHANT: The hat?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

OLYPHANT: I'm not sure it is, you know, but it looks kind of cool. And, you know, I think there's - you know, what I liked in the book was there was a spirit of Raylan putting on the hat and oftentimes a blue suit because it thought - he thought the occasion kind of called for it.

It felt a little bit like he was aware that it was a uniform. And I think he thinks of himself as a bit of a - as an old-fashioned lawman. He likes to compare himself to the men from back when.

And I think it was used really well in the books, and I think with the show, you know, it's kind of - maybe it's a bit overused, but I think it's pretty cool at the end of the day.

GROSS: I think it works. It makes the character look more iconic because he's wearing it more in the Western tradition.

OLYPHANT: The hat's kind of cool. But, you know, every time I see Elmore, he's like: Don't be afraid to lose the hat. You know, it's - a gust of wind could pick up and just blow it away, and you'd never see it again.

GROSS: Is that good for you? Like, you don't have to hold on to it. Your character can survive without the hat.

OLYPHANT: You know, what I liked about when he told me that, or what I took from it, right or wrong, was the - I thought he was saying, you know, don't be beholden to this thing that everybody's talking about. It's like - I think what you're saying, I think that trust that the character and the stories and those other things are, in the end of the day, more important than the silly hat.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Timothy Olyphant, the star of the FX series "Justified." He was also in the series "Damages" and was one of the stars of the HBO series "Deadwood." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guest is Timothy Olyphant, and he plays a federal marshal in the FX series "Justified." He also was one of the stars of the HBO series "Deadwood," a Western that was set in a really dirty mining town.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: You played a sheriff in Montana who like hangs a man and then leaves town with his partner, with the intention of starting a hardware store in this mining town, Deadwood, and ends up becoming the sheriff.

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

GROSS: And I'm thinking, like, who would want to go to this town to start a new life? Like, of all the places you'd want to go to, why would go to this, like, horrible, dirty mining town with all these, like, crude, filthy, nasty, violent men there?

OLYPHANT: It was a good show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: That's why we went there, because we thought it would make good television. Yeah, I - you know, I don't know. I know that, you know, one of the wonderful things about that whole show was those were real people that those characters were based on, and that's what the guy did.

And I imagine that, you know, opportunity; it was an opportunity to go and make a living and move west. So, I think for that character, he - you know, there was a feeling that he was going to try to start over, walk away from this other life.

GROSS: Get away from the violence.

OLYPHANT: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So how did you get the part on "Deadwood"?

OLYPHANT: Sometimes, people aren't as consciously aware of their decisions as they should be. That I auditioned for. I met with - it started with a meeting with David Milch, and Walter Hill was in the room, as well.

GROSS: David Milch was the creator of the series, and Walter Hill was the film director who directed the first episode of "Deadwood."

OLYPHANT: Exactly, yes. So I went and met with David and sat down with David and Walter. I really didn't say much. I kind of went in there with the plan of I'd just listen and see if I could just fool these people into thinking I was this guy. So David talked on and on. I just stared at him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: And it totally - it completely worked. You know, I was told afterwards he was a bit nervous about the whole meeting and a bit intimidated by it, and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in doing the show.

My wife and I got a good laugh out of the whole thing. But I did go in and read for the executives at HBO. I went in and read what I think was the opening scene of the first episode.

GROSS: I love what you said about the audition because your character in "Deadwood" and your character in "Justified" are both so good at that unblinking stare, that unbacking-down stare. And you did that in the audition. That's great.

OLYPHANT: Yeah, and to be quite honest with you, it's not something I think I've - I think I'm better at it at this point in my life than I was. But I've always sort of admired and respected one's ability to be comfortable with other people's discomfort or, you know, their being comfortable making other people uncomfortable.

GROSS: So what did you have to learn for the role, like riding a horse? Did you know how to do that?

OLYPHANT: For "Deadwood," yeah, I did have to learn to ride. Milch had all these rodeo guys I think on his personal payroll. They were around. Some of them became characters on the show, guys who were bull riders and rode broncos in the '70s and the '80s. And I think he met one of them and thought, well, this is the kind of guy that would inhabit a town like Deadwood.

And so he invited that guy to go get a - round up a bunch of his buddies and move them out to California and just hang out. And I learned - those are the guys that would take me riding. So I'd go ride with all these ex-rodeo dudes around the hills of - you know, out there by Griffith Park and stuff.

And I learned how to ride, and I learned a lot of really bad jokes. That was the deal. It was kind of fun.

GROSS: What was the set for "Deadwood" like? Because the town that "Deadwood" is set in is just so grimy, like, ugly, mean.

OLYPHANT: I love that set. I mean, that was one of the greatest sets I've ever been on. The whole thing was just very alive. I mean, it was just - it was a working set. I mean, unlike - you know, it's very hard to come across that kind of a situation, where the fact that it was such a self-contained world and that everything was available at our disposal really at any given moment, it allowed David to - it's not fair to say he was winging it. I often use that word.

But, I mean, he's such the - he's writing everything at the last minute. He's writing everything the day before. You know, you're getting your pages, you know, 5 p.m., 6 p.m., you're getting pages, lots of them, that will shoot the following day.

You know, it wasn't uncommon for him to be on the set in a rehearsal and, you know, he'd, you know, all of a sudden ask: You know, are the Chinese here? Do we have any Chi - it would be great if we had some Chinese for this scene.

And then, you know, the ADs are scrambling on the phone: David, we can have the Chinese here within the next three hours. Perfect. Do we have anything else we can shoot until then? Yes, you know, we could shoot the scene down at Bullock's house. Anna will be here in a few minutes. Perfect. Let's flip that, and we're going to go down the street and shoot that scene now. I'm going to rewrite this scene. It'll be ready in three hours when the Chinese arrive.

And, you know, it felt like a perfect storm of - the set allowed him to kind of work that way without the challenges of being - you know, we don't have this on "Justified." On "Justified," we're driving all around Southern California trying to find a location that we can call Kentucky. And it makes it much more difficult every time you kind of throw a wrench into things.

BIANCULLI: Timothy Olyphant, speaking to Terry Gross last March. He stars in the FX series "Justified," which returns for season three next Tuesday. We'll continue their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's 2011 interview with actor Timothy Olyphant. He plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens on the FX series "Justified", which begins its third season next Tuesday.

When I left off, they were talking about his role in the series "Deadwood," which ran on HBO from 2004 to 2006. He played Seth Bullock, the sheriff of a lawless mining town in South Dakota in the 1870s.

GROSS: Let's hear a scene from "Deadwood," and this is a scene with you and Ian McShane. He played Al Swearengen, who ran a saloon and brothel and was one of the meanest, most unethical man you'd ever want to meet. So in this scene you're talking to Swearengen and you're talking about a widow's claim to a gold mine. You, Sheriff Bullock, suspect that Swearengen is going to try to cheat her out of her claim. So you start the conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEADWOOD")

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) I'm here to talk about Mrs. Garrett.

IAN MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) Who planted her husband this morning?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) I wrote a man about coming to assay her claim but he can't make it.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) Plenty of local alternatives.

(as Seth Bullock) I want you to nominate someone.

(as Al Swearengen) Do you?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) So, if any way his work was mistaken, I'd be coming after you.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) You would?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) Yeah.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) Well, since I got nothing to do with the (bleep) venture, what if I decline to make the (bleep) recommendation?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) Then you better hope whoever I find does his job right because I'm still holding you accountable.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) I ain't involved. E.B. Farnum offered on her claim.

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) Farnum's your water boy, and I know what you've been trying to do to her.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) So, here you come in, all nobility, threatening me with a dire result if the property that widow's husband thought worthless and wanted sold turns out not to be pinched down.

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) You and I know how it is, Mr. Swearengen.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) How what is?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) She gets a square shake or I come for you.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) What if I come for you? You ready for that?

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) I guess I better be.

MCSHANE: (as Al Swearengen) Then close your (bleep) store because being ready for me will take care of your waking hours and you better have someone to hand the task off to when you close your (bleep) eyes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLYPHANT: (as Seth Bullock) We understand each other.

GROSS: Well, one of the many great scenes from "Deadwood." Timothy Olyphant, my guest, along with Ian McShane.

It must've been fun working opposite Ian McShane. I mean, he played such a really hot character. Like he's really overheated all the time and you're like so cool, so you were great foils for each other. Can you talk a little bit about working off of him in scenes like that?

OLYPHANT: It was amazing. He was amazing. Just listening to that I'm reminded how much I learned on that set. It's really striking actually listening to it. As far as Ian's concerned, he, I just love him. He was great to work with. He's a good friend and I really took so much away from that experience. He was so at ease and so relaxed and such a professional that he, you know, you saw the - he's like a little kid, you know, playing with the props and playing with the language and it was a, you know, he never lost the sense of fun - the fun of it all.

I feel like it was, I wasn't operating at that same level. I don't think I was. I think I was overwhelmed or going through the motions in a way that I was less committed - fully committed to the work or to what, you know, relying on, you know, people telling me what thinking about what I'm supposed to do or what's expected or, and so in a way you're just battling fear. You know, you're acting defensively, you know. And I think that's the thing now that I can, you know, I've learned from those guys.

GROSS: You know what I find interesting? There's so many actors now who are in action films or maybe a Western like "Deadwood" or where so many actors have to learn how to shoot a gun and carry a gun...

OLYPHANT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...because they're playing cops or private eyes or bad guys or cowboys or whatever. And I think it's just so odd, you know what I mean, that to be an actor now, unless you're in like a little independent film - and even in some of those - you're going to have to learn how to shoot. That's true of you, right?

OLYPHANT: Well, yeah. Of course, it is. Why is that odd? Is that not what that's been making drama go for - isn't that what everything's always been about? I mean, right, wasn't I mean what were they doing in the theater a hundred years ago? They were learning how to sword fight and stuff, weren't they? I mean...

GROSS: Absolutely. Yeah.

OLYPHANT: I mean this is the stuff that we want to kind of play out and try to get a handle on.

GROSS: So being around guns a lot in your acting career, has that made you think about guns in real life at all?

OLYPHANT: I don't feel it's changed my point of view about them at all. I more or less still feel the same. I'd rather not have them around and at the same time, there's always moments where you think, I wish I had a gun.

GROSS: Do you think that?

OLYPHANT: Yeah, doesn't everybody think that?

GROSS: I don't think I think that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: Every now and then you don't think to yourself, I wish I had a gun? You don't think to yourself like in some sort of - or if not a gun, aren't there moments where you think I don't know.

GROSS: I'm the kind of person who thinks I really wish I could defend my point of view more forcefully or...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I wish I could've told that person off. I wish - I don't usually feel like I wish I had a gun.

OLYPHANT: Uh-huh. Well, I guess there lies the difference between you and I.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OLYPHANT: I think that, too. Don't, I really am. I'm with you. I sometimes think I wish I could have better represented my point of view more forcefully and whatnot. And then I think and when that didn't work I wish I had a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Right. Okay.

OLYPHANT: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: Timothy Olyphant, who stars as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the FX series "Justified." "Justified" returns for season three on Tuesday.

Let's listen to a scene from the season opener. Raylan has summoned Boyd Crowder, his old friend and adversary to the marshal's office to discuss an ongoing investigation. Raylan is looking for a possible stash of cash left behind by Mags Bennett, the former Harlan County down-home drug kingpin, who was played so well last season by Margot Martindale. And Boyd, played by Walton Goggins, is looking for something too - trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JUSTIFIED")

WALTON GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) So was I right not to wear my suit?

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) Well, we really don't have a strict dress code.

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) Oh, it just occurred to me that Raylan Givens invites me up to Lexington, chances are I might find myself in front of the judge before the day is out.

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) Why? Did you do something you shouldn't have?

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) Well, that's a pretty low bar, Raylan.

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) Now, Trooper Tom Bergen op there in your world, he says within a day of Mags' killing herself, all her marijuana draw and (bleep) got cleaned out.

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) Well, I wasn't aware that marijuana interdiction fell under the marshal's purview.

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) He also said that the floorboards in the sheds had been torn up, ceilings pulled down, walls opened up like someone was looking for something, which does fall under the marshal's purview - recovered ill gotten gains. Mags' banks account has been seized, along with her property, but there's still a sizable amount of money in there...

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) How sizable, Raylan?

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) Well, over $10.

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) Well, now, if I found that kind of money I'd be in Mexico by now.

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) Boyd, I've been to Mexico. I don't think you'd like it.

GOGGINS: (as Boyd Crowder) How so?

OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens) There's a lot of Mexicans.

BIANCULLI: That's Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins as Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder in next weeks heard season premiere of the FX series "Justified."

Up next, we talk with Walton Goggins. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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