Developed by Graham Yost and starring Timothy Olyphant, Justified is based on the works of crime novelist Elmore Leonard. As Season 2 ended the Bennett family’s hold over Harlan County and marked the return of Raylan’s (Olyphant) old nemesis/friend Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) to the criminal life, Season 3 picked up with him finding out that he and his crew aren’t the only ones making a play to rule the Harlan underworld. Now, Raylan finds himself dealing with a pregnant ex-wife (Natalie Zea) while facing off against dirty politicians, a mysterious man named Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), and an enterprising criminal from the Motor City (Neal McDonough).
While at the TCA Winter Press Tour, showrunner/executive producer/writer Graham Yost talked to Collider for this exclusive interview about where this season is headed, how the new criminal element will affect things, that he’s hoping to get Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) and Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) on as guest stars since they’re both big fans of the show, the pressure of not repeating yourself while living up to what fans expect, and how far ahead they plan out where things are going with the story. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: What can you say about where things are headed, for the rest of Season 3?
GRAHAM YOST: John Landgraf has always said, “Satisfy the audience at the end of the season, but leave some questions dangling,” so we had a couple of big questions to explore, the biggest being Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Winona (Natalie Zea), and then also Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Ava (Joelle Carter). So, we knew we wanted to go at that. The other thing was, “Okay, we had this big bad guy antagonist with Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), so how do we fill that vacuum.”
So, we filled that, but also remembered that Boyd is now stepping up. The goal of this series is to never lose focus on the fact that the central relationship is Boyd and Raylan, and we wanted to bring that more to the fore, this year.
And then, I’m always looking for something thematic to hang a season on. Season 2 was feud. This year, it’s crossing the line. We’ll see various characters, at various points, crossing the line. What is the cost of that, and what does that tell us about them? You’ll see Boyd, Ava and Raylan cross the line. Where is that line for Raylan? That’s something that we wanted to explore.
Was this rise to criminal kingpin for Boyd Crowder something that always seemed inevitable, or did that possibility present itself, along the way?
YOST: It presented itself last year. It wasn’t inevitable. But, when you look back, you say, “Well, of course.” There was putting him in conflict with his father, in Season 1, and then he was on this religious moral crusade, in a very violent version of it. Then, there was the cost to him, of how that played out, with all those men killed and his father ending up being killed. So, we knew we had Boyd in a very low place, at the beginning of Season 2, and we also knew that we wanted to get Boyd back to being Boyd. He wasn’t going to be a good guy. He’s just not. That’s not who Boyd is. He had to have self-acceptance of, “This is who I am. This is what I will do. I will try to do this better than my dad did it.” And, once we hit on that in the second season, we knew where we were going with Boyd.
YOST: She’s not Lady Macbeth, but she is a little bit. No one sees themself as the villain in their story. He’s the hero of the Boyd story. Instead of Lady Macbeth, it’s more that she’s the good woman behind the good man.
Do you find it strange that they seem to have the most normal relationship in Harlan?
YOST: Yes, and we wanted to play with that. They have a solid relationship.
With a character like Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies), was it one of those things where, unless you send a character off in a body bag, they’ll come into play again, at some point?
YOST: Yeah, kind of. Last season, we thought about bringing Sheriff Hunter back. Brent Sexton had just been wonderful in Season 1. We just loved him and toyed about bringing him back in the second season, or have Raylan go see him to get some information. That just didn’t work out, but it’s nice to know that that character exists and, if something happens, we can keep that in mind. We brought back Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever) for a little appearance. It’s my dream for the series that, every year, we check in with Loretta, a couple of times, to see how she’s doing.
YOST: At the end of the second season, we were heading toward more conflict between Raylan and Boyd, and yet, into the mix comes Quarles (Neal McDonough). As you’ll see the season develop, Quarles is someone that everyone can agree to hate. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. We’re interested in that, and how Raylan and Boyd are brought together in a shared animosity for this guy. That’s the fun of an outsider coming into anything, especially when he’s flamboyant, violent, smart and twisted. That’s fun to play with.
Was it also important to bring in the Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) character to show another element in this area that hasn’t been explored before?
YOST: Yes. I felt that the African American criminals we’ve had on Justified have been all Lexington based, and it was all a little bit of that generic southern urban feel. I thought, “Well, what about rural?” So, we did research and found out that there are these little towns and little hamlets that are predominantly African American, in Harlan. We were like, “Okay, what’s the history? How did that happen?” It wasn’t just racial segregation. It was about recruiting people to work in the mines, from the share croppers in the deep south. And then, we also found out about this community of emancipated slaves and their descendants, and how it stayed protected and isolated, up until about the ‘60s. So, we based Noble’s Holler, Limehouse’s enclave, on that.
Having this proven track record of amazing guest stars for season-long stories, is it easier to get amazing actors to sign on?
YOST: George Clooney was begging to be on this show. No. It’s not easier. It’s still basic cable. We don’t pay a lot of money. You do it because you’re going to have fun, and I suppose that might make it easier. We’ve toyed with the idea of stunt casting in the past, to try to get someone big in, but the closest is getting Carla [Gugino] into this season. We’re also really interested in who the coolest actor is. We didn’t write Mags for Margo. We wrote Mags and then cast it, and Margo just jumped off the screen. We didn’t write Quarles and Limehouse for Neal and Ti, but as we were crafting the characters, I thought of them.
It would be nice if we got more people. We hear things. Someone will say that they love the show and would love to be on it. We’ve been trying, since the end of the first season, to figure out a way to get Eric Stonestreet on the show. He’s a fan, and we had a part, but we just couldn’t work his schedule out. That was the part that Pruitt Taylor Vince plays in the third episode, and was so spectacular that I’m fine with the way it worked out. But, we’ll always try to find a place for Stonestreet.
And, Patton Oswalt wrote a very beautiful little thing, in tribute to Margo, in the New York Times magazine. He likes the show as well. With him launching Young Adult, he was just unavailable. And the problem is, once you get towards the end of the season, there’s no room for guest characters because it’s then all about our serialized story.
Once you have a character like Mags Bennett, that everybody loved, does that give you extra pressure, going into the next season, to figure out where it goes from there?
YOST: Sure, it does. I would say that, if there hadn’t been Mags and Margo, and it had just been, “We love the show,” and there hadn’t been so much focus on her and that part, we would have felt a different kind of pressure. But, the way that pressure manifested itself for us was, “Okay, we can’t do that again, so let’s not try because then we would just be repeating ourselves. Let’s not get Sigourney Weaver in to be the bad woman of the year.” Although, that would be fantastic and, if she ever reads this, I would be happy to make that happen. We knew each other in New York, years ago. So, then you become conscious of, “Well, we don’t want to repeat ourselves, and yet we do need to satisfy the audience who’s shown they like this.” It’s a balancing act.
YOST: I can’t tell you what’s in store, but I would tell you to pay attention to them, and pay attention to Arlo’s behavior and what happens there. We do have an arc in mind, for the two of them.
Winona has always been very reckless in her behavior, so how will her pregnancy change that?
YOST: It has a huge impact and it makes her relationship with Raylan even more charged. They’re getting along better than we’ve ever seen them get along. We’ve got places that we’re heading for, but I can’t say one way or the other. That’s the problem with doing a serialized show. Part of the fun is seeing it unfold.
How far ahead do you plan things out? Do you play the main arc, and then fill in the details?
YOST: Yeah, we plan the main arc for the season. We think to the seasons ahead, but we started in our writing this year in the middle of July. As we started to talk about what the season could be, we were also talking about Season 4. It’s about, “What do we want to do this year, that could set up another year?” Once we then get rolling in August, on breaking Season 3, we forget about Season 4.
Now, as we’re heading towards the end of this season, we’re getting back into thinking about that again. Where do we want to go? What’s the undiscovered country that we still have to explore? There can be just little, faint inklings of how the series could end, but that’s just too far down the road.
In terms of the season, after a certain point, the map gets really indistinct, but we have targets. I knew that, in Episode 11, there’s going to be a robbery and something to do with that. We toyed around with this and that, and then it just gelled into what it’s going to be, but that goal for that episode remained intact. We had an outline for our fourth episode, and Tim read it and said, “I really think this should be two episodes,” so we split it, which was great because we had already broken part of a story and were one episode further down the line.
Over the seasons, how much do the characters surprise you, as you go?
YOST: It’s not as though they have such a life of their own that they’re telling us what to do. But, as we see stuff with them, we go, “We want more of that!” Between Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) and Raylan, we found that there was this really interesting antagonism, and this spark and flintiness, that we just wanted to have more of and see where we could go with it. What could be an interesting resolve of that? Similarly, we wanted to show a different side to Art (Nick Searcy), so that’s what we did in our second episode. It didn’t really surprise us, but it was gratifying that we were able to make it work.
Justified airs on Tuesday nights on FX.