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‘Justified’ role a ‘power’ trip for Second City’s John Kapelos
By Donald Liebenson/For Sun-Times Media
It did not take John Kapelos long to make an impression on “Justified,” the hit FX series based on novels by Elmore Leonard.
Introduced as a menacing, silent henchman near the end of last season, his character Picker is now an integral part of the action that centers on U.S. Marshall Raylan Givins (Timothy Olyphant) and career criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
“When we came up with the character of Picker, I was told by casting’s Cami Patton that John Kapelos was available and that we would, in Cami’s words, ‘be lucky to have him,’ ” said “Justified” creator and showrunner Graham Yost in an email. “She was right. John can do that thing that fits snugly in the pocket of what we call ‘Elmore’s World’: he can be smart, funny, real and scary, all in one scene. So we kept on giving him scenes.”
Picker is a killer role for Kapelos; there is a “Justified” Wiki page notching the body count of characters he’s dispatched. “The motivations and themes [on the show] are pretty stark,” he observed in a phone interview. “You’re trying to save your life, get drugs, make sure the deal is going down correctly. A lot of the scenes have to do with power and control. Sometimes it’s just saving your ass and whatever that entails.”
In “Justified’s” world, characters can suddenly and shockingly meet untimely ends. When Kapelos gets a script, does he skip ahead to see if he has survived the episode? “Are you kidding?” he laughed. “That’s the first thing I do. Once I can breathe a sigh of relief, I move on and read the rest of the script.’”
In his more than 30-year career, Kapelos has seamlessly transitioned between comedic and dramatic roles, a facility he developed at Second City and and his five-year stint on its mainstage. He has resisted being stereotyped and instead focused on building a body of work whose foundation is based on the Second City ethos of playing every character, no matter how big or small, to the top of his intelligence, whether, in Kapelos’ case, it be a former high school BMOC-turned-janitor in “The Breakfast Club,” a hapless businessman hiring a corrupt cop to kill his parents in “Internal Affairs,” or a suspiciously sniffing attorney on “Seinfeld.”
Whatever Picker’s fate, it has given Kapelos yet another indelible character that gets him recognized. “I’m sitting outside of Ralph’s [an L.A. grocery],” he said. “Every time I go in that store, guys [who work there] yell out, “Is Crowder going to kill you, man?’ ”