On FX’s Justified, actors Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts play Deputy Marshal Rachel Brooks and Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson, respectively. Populated with dirty politicians, hidden fortunes, a mysterious man named Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) and an enterprising and lethal criminal from the Motor City (Neal McDonough), things are heating up for the law enforcement in Harlan, in Season 3 of the critically acclaimed, tightly written and expertly acted drama series.
While at the TCA Winter Press Tour, co-stars Erica Tazel and Jacob Pitts sat down with Collider for this exclusive interview about the journey their characters take this season, the new threats in Harlan, what has most surprised them about their characters, and how this show has spoiled them, when it comes to other work. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ERICA TAZEL: We’re back in the daily grind of what we do in the office, assisting each other or not, or being sent on other duties that we, unfortunately, don’t get to see on the show. We’re just back up to regular old marshal duties.
JACOB PITTS: There’s the same sassy banter between Tim and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant). That’s really all I have to say about it.
What new threats are you facing this season, now that Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) and most of her kin are gone?
PITTS: The main threat seems to come from Robert Quarles, who’s played by Neal McDonough. He’s a criminal, but he stands in for some corporate raider. His attire is very much a business suite, and his style sounds like a Pan-American newscaster type of voice. He’s terrifying, upper middle class who’s come to kill us all. He’s the main threat. And then, there’s a character named Ellstin Limehouse, played by Mykelti Williamson, who is certainly imposing and has his own strengths, and leads up a black community, called Noble’s Holler, which was founded by newly freed slaves after the Civil War, that we haven’t heard of, until this point. That’s a part of Harlan. Limehouse has his own agenda and his own priorities. He could be a threat, but I wouldn’t say he’s inherently evil, like Robert Quarles.
TAZEL: It’s fun when we get to actually work with them. I didn’t have an opportunity to see Neal McDonough’s work as Robert Quarles. It was just a character on the page until we all got together and screened the first episode. I thought, “Oh, that’s the character.” It’s fun when we definitely get to work with them, but when we don’t, it’s nice to experience those characters with the rest of the world. It’s fun, in that way. Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman) is still my favorite. I love Dewey.
PITTS: Yeah, he’s been with us since day one.
Since there seems to be no shortage of bad people in Harlan, what do you think it is about this kind of landscape that allows for so much criminal behavior?
TAZEL: Part of it is that there is some political corruption. One of Mags’ sons was the sheriff, so there were some allowances that were made. There were some things that he did not “see.” I think that’s part of it, as well.
PITTS: I don’t know what allows for it in our world because I don’t know how much it relates to the real world. But, I do know quite a few real world places where the line between the criminals and authorities seems to be quite blurred, which allows for a lot of criminal behavior.
PITTS: I have no idea anymore. I don’t know. I really can’t say.
TAZEL: Because she’s so serious and seems so very black and white about the work, when we found out about the sister and the brother-in-law in Season 2 and how that all shook down, I decided, at least for awhile, to explore what would happen to her, if the job is her lifeline. That is the thing that’s keeping her from sinking into a very deep hole of depression and grief. It’s the thing that she has to get up for, every day. She has to brush her teeth, she has to wash her hair, she has to put on some clothes, and she has to go to work and be responsible for something, outside of herself.
PITTS: That’s a very addictive take on it.
TAZEL: Yeah. So, that’s how I’ve justified the love of the work and the seriousness regarding it. In a way, it’s a lifeline and it’s keeping her afloat right now.
After playing these characters for three seasons now, has anything most surprised you about them and who they are?
PITTS: When I started, I’d done pilots before that never went anywhere, and in doing them, I came up with very specific character choices that, during filming, became immobile. They became a problem for me, trying new things. So, for this one, I thought, “I’m not going to do anything that I can’t suss out from the scripts that I read.” I wouldn’t really add or detail anything, just to try to be freer, as a performer. But, in the first season, there was nothing really of significance added, so I really had no idea who he was. And then, at the end of the first season, I had to ask (executive producer) Graham [Yost], “Where is he from ‘cause I don’t know?” I kind of have a southern background in my family and when I get around people from the south, I get into a drawl. I had met Graham doing this mini-series called The Pacific, and he said, “Jacob, I just really wanted Hoosier,” who was the character I played in that. I was like, “I wish you had told me that ‘cause that has a whole demeanor and accent. That guy is fully formed, in my mind. I wish I had known that, the first season, ‘cause I would have gone in with that. That was a big surprise.
TAZEL: I’m waiting for Rachel to surprise me. I feel like I’m a little bit ahead of her. I know what she’s going to do, or I can assume what she’s going to do, in a situation. I’m actually waiting for that moment where she says or does something completely out of character, in terms of what I think she would say. I’m ready for her to dive a little bit into the grey, as well. We’ve gotten to see Art’s (Nick Searcy) grey a little bit now. I think that’s when I’ll be surprised ‘cause that could mean anything for a character like her.
Is there anything they’d give you that you wouldn’t accept?
TAZEL: At this point, we’re definitely still in the discovery and exploration stage. I’ve actually already had that moment. I had a different experience coming into the show than Jacob did. He didn’t do character stuff, but I was like, “I need to figure out who this woman is, and I have four lines to do it.” I came in with stuff that I thought would be of a person that would say these lines the way that she said some of the things, especially in the early drafts of the pilot. I had the same experience where I’d get a script and it would make sense, based upon things that I’d decided about her. It’s a constant shape-shifting. And then, finally I said, “What happens if I throw all of that out at the door and start all over again?” And then, I got lost and said, “Okay, let me bring some of this back,” which resulted in the backstory with the brother-in-law, just as an exercise to give myself something to re-anchor. I never had any expectation that would end up in an episode. That was just something that I gave myself to re-anchor myself. It’s a back-and-forth of that creation. It’s not as cut and dry and as colorful as characters like Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and even Ava (Joelle Carter), where you have Elmore Leonard’s story as source material. We’re not in that. So, we’re still exploring and searching and digging, hoping to find a bone somewhere down there that will give us some information.
TAZEL: It wasn’t, for me. Initially, that’s what attracted me to the process. I come from theater, and that’s a situation where you have the blueprint in front of you. To have an opportunity to work like this seemed like a good idea because I had never done it before. It’s a way to stay open and keep yourself on your toes and, in my case, completely out of my comfort zone.
PITTS: I was straight-up offered it, and there’s nothing more flattering than that. And, it was good. It was the first offer that I thought was good, ever.
TAZEL: He’s a rock star. I had to go through the heinous process of reading, and reading again, and reading again, and wondering and waiting.
PITTS: And I just have to decide how dismissive I’m going to be, in my negotiations.
Has this show totally spoiled you, when it comes to other work?
PITTS: It’s incredibly spoiling. I just a couple scripts for auditions and I look at them and go, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know what I usually say? Do you know the caliber of stuff I usually do?” It’s really at the top of its game, across the board, in any medium.
TAZEL: They do a brilliant job with the recurring cast. You can tell that they have a great time writing for those characters and developing those characters. And then, the actors end up having the time of their life. That’s always nice.
Justified airs Tuesday nights on FX.