Emmy Watch: 'Justified' star Walton Goggins talks playing an outlaw betrayed, in love

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.

Walton Goggins has made a name for himself playing the bad guy. When he phoned EW earlier this week to talk about the two scenes we’re hoping nab him his second Emmy nomination for his always interesting performance as Justified‘s eloquent Kentucky outlaw Boyd Crowder, he was at a loss for words to explain the project he’s currently shooting: Quentin Tarantino’s slavery-era revenge western Django Unchained. “I will be really interested to see how people respond to this,” Goggins said, laughing at the understatement. He plays Billy Crash, the “Mandingo trainer extraordinaire” for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, a deranged plantation owner who forces his toughest slaves to fight to the death. “I have literally spent the last five days of my life doing something that is so far outside my liberal worldview that it’s kinda hard for me to reconcile what has transpired. You’ll know what I mean when you see the movie,” he said. But he’s loving it. “I love simple dramatic stories, and I love when those stories are infused with humor — a dark humor, a very grounded humor.” And that, of course, brings us back to Justified.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first: When I talked to Graham Yost [exec producer of Justified] for an upcoming Emmy Watch item advocating for the show to break into the Best Drama category this year, he said there’d be dancing if that happens. He agreed to get you to clog on-camera for us. Are you in?
WALTON GOGGINS: (Laughs) Alright, alright. If the show gets nominated, I will clog for EW.com. You have my word. I may have to generate my own video. I may have to be in control of the shot and the lighting, but I promise you will have something you can upload to the site.

Excellent. Now, let’s talk about landing you another nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Tell us about the scene in the episode “The Devil You Know” when Boyd kills Devil (Kevin Rankin) for betraying him by joining forces with carpetbagger mobster Quarles (Neal McDonough).
People have written about it in ways that it kind of reminds the audience that Boyd is a bad man. On one hand, I agree, and on the other, I take issue simply because Boyd killed a man who was there to kill him. Boyd took no pleasure in that experience whatsoever. It broke his heart because he had to kill a person that he cared a great deal about, even though their worldviews had long since parted ways. You can’t leave someone like that alive in the perimeters of this outlaw world. Devil walks in full of this bravado and confidence thinking that he had pulled the wool over a very smart man’s eyes, and he was sure that it was going to end with him walking out of that room. What I got off on so much as an actor is that the first three-quarters of the scene really put Boyd in a very, very weak position. It’s the first time, at least on paper, that Boyd appears to be back on his heels, and in trouble, and there is no escape for him. It was important to do it that way — that was the only way that it really could be played to allow Devil to make the decision for himself. [Boyd's basically saying] “I am your friend. I can find it within myself to forgive you if you, having all the power, at least in your mind, decide not to use it. Then we can talk about it.” Boyd just asks him over and over again. But Devil decided that he was going to have to pay for the betrayal that he was committing. This isn’t an actor trying to justify his character’s actions. It really isn’t. As an outsider looking at the scene, to me, that’s a benevolent leader… in a perverted sorta way. (Laughs) To me, it’s very a benevolent way of taking another man’s life.

After shooting Devil in the chest, Boyd crouches by him while Devil’s trying to find his breath and blood runs out of his mouth, and says, “Devil I was lucky, I made it back. Son, you ain’t gonna make it back. You want some help with the pain?” Devil nods. “Close your eyes, son,” Boyd says. Then he fires a mercy shot to Devil’s head. Was that second shot always in the script?
It was. There on the day, I told Kevin, “This is going to transcend a man killing another man if we do it with love. [As Boyd], I ask your permission, and I empathize and have compassion for your pain because I’ve been in the place that you’re in. I know what it’s like to almost meet your maker [when Raylan shot Boyd in the series' pilot], and I don’t do it on my own. I ask you if you want me to do it. And then you say, ‘Yes.’ It’s your decision to meet your maker, and you get to call the final shot.” It’s so beautiful when you give the power over to the victim (Laughs) to make that decision. It was a kinda silent communication that spoke to the history of these two men and the rules that they played by. And Boyd, in a similar situation, I think would ask for the same thing. Who knows if that will ever happen over the course of the show. I wouldn’t be surprised if it bookends.

The second scene we need to discuss is the one in the episode right after that, “Thick as Mud,” when Boyd fears his crew doesn’t stand a chance against Quarles, and Ava (Joelle Carter) goes to him for a romantic scene — comparing bullet wound scars.
First and foremost, it speaks to what writers are able to do, and the talent of showrunners and their staffs to enrich a story at a moment’s notice. That scene was not in the original script. The episode was finished, and it was about three minutes too light. Graham and [fellow EP] Fred Golan had a conversation. They were like, “What story haven’t we serviced in awhile? What do we need right now in order to get us where we want to go?” And it was a scene between Ava and Boyd. They called and told me about it, and Graham said, “Fred, you write it.” Fred wrote it in, I think, probably 20 minutes. It blew my mind because of its austerity, because of how simple it is, because of its exploration of love born out of violence and two people who as imperfect as they are have found perfection in the company of each other. It brought tears to my eyes. It made me cry because it was so tender from two people who historically are probably not very tender-hearted. (Laughs) They didn’t have parents that fostered that kindness and gentle quality that we as 21st century parents try to instill in our own children. I just thought it was so beautiful.

In some ways, a ring on a finger becomes insignificant in our world when you can show, I have a bullet wound, you have a bullet wound. This is the life that we lived, and this is who we are, and I’m standing beside you until the end of your days and in turn, I will stand beside you at the end of yours. If you watch what Joelle did in that scene, she makes this gesture only because she sees Boyd in a way that she’s never seen him before. She sees Boyd afraid. Boyd, in that moment, doesn’t have all the answers, and he’s lost his way. And it’s so subtle. It’s just a look, it’s a couple of lines, and he just sees the writing on the wall, and he doesn’t know how to erase the inevitable outcome of the situation that he’s in. And she steps in and just reminds him that you’re not in this alone, and I’m here with you. If you take that conversation and put it in the context of one partner just lost a parent, one just got diagnosed with cancer, whatever it is, we, as people in relationships, want to give and to receive that kind of support from our spouse. But in Harlan County, in the world of Boyd and Ava, that support comes with, “You can kill them (Laughs) and I’m gonna be right here beside you. And if they kill you, they kill me.” It’s just beautiful. Not only was it written in 20 minutes the day before we shot it, it was tacked on. [Episode director] Adam Arkin came back in, and it took all of 15 minutes to shoot that scene. When you’re faced with the constraints of schedule and budget, sometimes you can be most creative with those perimeters. I think that scene speaks to that. It was the perfect scene for me in that way, taking into consideration everyone’s contribution to it.

It’s amazing how far Boyd and Ava have come in three seasons.
I know some tent pole issues that we’re going to be dealing with going forward, and we still have a lot of story to go. That’s what I’m so grateful for. We’re still going up the hill.

You’ll start shooting season 4 in October?
To be on a show that evokes this sort of fall feeling, and you’re doing it up in some of the prettiest places in Los Angeles that remind you no, we’re surrounded by nature… I have the greatest life going. I’m so grateful. I am so grateful. And now, I’m about to go hurt some people on a Quentin Tarantino movie. (Laughs) Life ain’t bad.

While those two scenes are unfortunately unavailable to embed, here’s another of our favorites with more insight into Boyd Crowder — and U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) kicking his ass a bit.

Read more:
More Emmy Watch interviews
‘Justified’ season finale postmortem: EP Graham Yost dissects ‘Slaughterhouse,’ and teases season 4

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