'Justified': Walton Goggins on the return to a violent Boyd (and why Boyd was resurrected after the pilot)

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Image Credit: Kurt Iswarienko/FX

“I don’t believe a goddamn thing you say, but I sure do enjoy watching you say it.” That’s how Walton Goggins remembers the great Elmore Leonard breaking the ice after he sheepishly introduced himself to the author at a party during Justified‘s first season as the man who plays Boyd Crowder, TV’s most eloquent badass. “It just made me howl,” Goggins says.

It’s fitting then that Justified‘s Jan. 7 season 5 premiere — which begins with a 90-second tribute to Leonard, who died last August — marks a return to the Boyd of the pilot. The season picks up roughly three months after his fiancée Ava (Joelle Carter) was busted moving Delroy’s body and she’s still in jail, impatiently awaiting her case to be assigned a judge so Boyd can get to threatening him. Problems with the heroin pipeline will quickly send Boyd and Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns, now a series regular) to Detroit. And after selling Audrey’s to Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) for a pretty penny, Boyd will eventually have to deal with Dewey’s interloping cousin Darryl Crowe Jr. (Michael Rapaport), the season’s Big Bad, who leads his Florida swamp family to Harlan after Raylan vanquishes their latest moneymaker in Miami.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It was executive producer Graham Yost who said we’ll be seeing a return to the Boyd of the pilot. Is that how you see it?

WALTON GOGGINS: Yeah. I mean, minus the swastika. It’s interesting: Maybe two, three episodes [into filming season 5], I was having a conversation with my wife, and I said, “I’m just feeling an extraordinary amount of anxiety,” like in my personal life. “I feel alone. I feel suspicious of people. I don’t know really what’s going on with me. I feel short-tempered…” She said, “Walton, it’s Boyd.” And I said, “Oh my God, you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what it is.” I’ve been really close to it, and Boyd is in a situation this year where everything is unfamiliar. The one thing that tethers him is locked away, and he’s powerless to get her out. The people who Boyd is interfacing with this year, I don’t have a lot of history with: I don’t have my cousin Johnny. Boyd and Wynn Duffy have never had a partnership before. I’m not around Raylan, and Arlo’s gone. He doesn’t trust anyone, and he’s cornered, and that loss of control is coming out in very violent ways that are not well thought out for a man who thinks about everything. It scares me because I knew this side of him was always there, but I just never looked in that part of the mirror, and now I really am.

We talked in late October after your second appearance as Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy had aired, and you said you’d just shot a night scene for Justified that was going to change the way you viewed Boyd from now on. That scene is in the premiere?

It’s the final scene of the episode. Then to follow that up, with the same actor in a different set of circumstances, I did something [in another episode] that I’ve never experienced as an actor before. I’ve seen a lot of violence on television, and it’s not the violence that interests me as an actor or as a viewer — it is the motivations behind the violence. Boyd’s motivations were so dark, and in some ways, they were necessary, but the way he delivered them was so unnecessary, but it’s how he felt. Adam Arkin directed that episode, and when he said, “Action!,” this thing happened — it was like a slow-moving freight train that will not stop before it crushes everything. And again, I’m changed. It’s happening a lot [this season], so I’m excited.

As we’re sitting here talking [in late November], you’re about to go film another night scene. Are we going to see Boyd more out and about in season 5?

Boyd’s been inside in his bar for a while, and we talked with the writers at the beginning of the season about him needing to be outside more. I have a pretty good idea of where I think Graham [Yost, the showrunner] is going to take it, and returning to the hills and hollers of Harlan County would not surprise me. I think for a character like Boyd Crowder, you need that. I don’t know how he will meet his end — if he will meet his end — but whether you like him or not, sixty years from now in the fictional county that we’ve created, people will talk about this guy and the things that he did. Whether he will be a hero or a villain, I don’t think any of us know at this point.

Hearing you talk about Boyd’s fate reminds me of the fact that Boyd was supposed to die at the end of the 2010 pilot, just like he dies at the end of the Elmore Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole.” You didn’t know he’d live when you shot the pilot, right?

No. No, no, no. No. No. I died. I took a bullet to the heart and I was done. We filmed the pilot in, maybe, May, and they had their edit, and [FX president] John Landgraf and Graham were showing it around, and they looked at it, and they thought, “Well, I don’t know, man. I don’t know if we can kill this guy.” Partly because of the chemistry — I just so enjoy working with Tim, and I think he feels the same about me. But the other part is what having Boyd there does for Raylan. What is this story about these two people that came from a very similar set of circumstances, but one went this way and one went the other way, and yet, they’re more similar than either one of them cares to admit. That’s really interesting. When you’re making a show about a small town in America, with that comes a lot of history, and what better way to serve the protagonist than to have a person that has known him since the beginning and knows his secrets, knows him that intimately. They did their testing, and they talked about it, and they came back and said, “Would you stay?”, and I jumped at the chance. I just wanted to know where the story went as much as they did. So it was very organic: Tim saying, “Let’s see what happens to these two people,” and it was intriguing enough to me that I couldn’t say no, and I’m the better man for it…. One of the greatest things that I will take away from this experience will not be what I see on television, but what I read in [Leonard's 2012] book Raylan. It’s one thing to bring a character back on television, and while Elmore has done that before in his literature, it’s another thing to bring a character back on the written page. I get to give that book to my son someday, and say, “He brought Boyd Crowder back because of the show and because he liked him,” and that means more to me than pretty much any compliment you could give me.

Graham has said the writers are planning for the show to end after six seasons. Is that what you had in mind?

I think we all feel that way, and we don’t want to stay too long at the party. More importantly, I think from my conversations with Graham, and Tim’s conversations with him, that’s really the amount of time we need to tell this story the way that we want to tell it with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Graham and I were at dinner in New York one night, just the two of us, and he said, “l look at Justified as a two chapter book: The first three years is the first chapter, and now the last three years is the second chapter.” It’s a book that I’m as excited to read as the people who watch the show.

Before the series ends, the writers wanted to spend more time with Dewey Crowe. We know he buys Audrey’s from Boyd at the start of season 5. Does that mean you’ll get more scenes with Damon?

I think Boyd is going to get a fair price for Audrey’s. Boyd is not above taking from his closest friends. There’s friendship, and then there’s business. But yeah, it gives me an opportunity, which I’m so excited about, to work with Damon Herriman. He’s such an incredible actor. I met him for the first time at an airport in Detroit when we were flying through Detroit on our way to Pittsburgh [to film the pilot]. He’s this good-looking, kind of quasi-intellectual Australian, and he came up and introduced himself to me. He said, “Hi. I’m Damon. I’m playing Dewey Crowe.” Literally, the first thing I thought was, “Oh, I f–ked up. I made the wrong decision. This is the wrong show. If they’re getting an Australian to play this cat that I’m reading…” And the very first day, the very first word out of Dewey’s mouth, I just said, “No, man. You made the right decision.” He is just unbelievable, and so yes, we get to interface in a real kind of meaningful way going forward, and he’s one of our all-stars this season. I think what I loved so much about The Shield is what I love so much about Justified: In The Shield, there was a precinct that we were policing and it gave Shawn [Ryan, the creator] and the writers a real opportunity to have people come back through the Barn and to be arrested, and then re-arrested, and for us to build these relationships that took seven years for their story to be told. The same thing in Harlan County.

I love that Jere Burns is a regular this season. Graham said that Wynn Duffy probably sees himself as Boyd’s superior while Boyd might see them more as partners. Will that cause friction?

Yeah. It’s been quite the process. Jere and I talked about it a lot: It’s like, well how does this work? How do we enter a room? “I think that you have to enter a room first. I mean, you’re the man. You’re the man until you’re not the man, and when you’re not the man, things going to change. But we’re on kind of equal footing now.” And it’s like, “If we’re in my bar, then I’m going to sit in the seat, but if we’re in your Winnebego…” He has Mikey, his man, and I have my man, Jimmy, so where does your guy sit? It’s been a real learning curve for both of us to try to get this right, but I think we’ve done a good job.

Let’s go back to Boyd and Ava. Boyd’s waiting to find out who the judge is on her case.

Yeah.

That does not sound good to me.

No.

But Boyd does get to visit Ava, so we will see the occasional scene between you and Joelle?

I wish there were conjugal visits, but no. [Laughs] We do get to visit, and we get to talk. I miss doing scenes with Joelle selfishly, but I’m really grateful for the scenes that we have together. To plan out an arc for these two people over the course of this season with the limited time they’re together is a real challenge. Hopefully things will change and we’ll get to see more of each other, but I think you have to wait and find that out…. I walk this line between trying to be honest and then kind of withholding. I don’t tell my wife anything. I didn’t tell her about what Shane did in the last frame of The Shield — for a year and a half, I sat on that information. I like having that experience watching the other actors on the show because I’m a fan of the show, so I don’t want to rob anybody else from having that.

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To read more about Justified and 67 other new and returning shows, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now. Keep looking for more Justified scoop here on Inside TV leading up to the Jan. 7 season premiere.

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