Based on the works of crime novelist Elmore Leonard and developed for television by showrunner Graham Yost, the FX drama series Justified is back for Season 4. This time around, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is unraveling the mystery of a more than 30-year-old cold case that connects back to his criminal father’s (Raymond J. Barry) bad dealings, while Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) finds his grip on Harlan County loosening due to a preacher (Joseph Mazzello) with a talent for manipulation that rivals his own. The show also stars Nick Searcy, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel and Joelle Carter.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer/writer Graham Yost talked about where things are headed this season, how this year’s theme is one of “the future,” where the idea of exploring the cold case came from, how difficult it’s been to keep Raylan from just killing Boyd, just how much interaction those two characters will have this season, what Patton Oswalt has brought to the character of Constable Bob, his desire to still get Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) on the show, that he sees the show going for six seasons, and that his endgame changes, every year. He also talked about being an executive producer on the newest FX drama series The Americans, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
GRAHAM YOST: I was talking to Joelle [Carter] about that and I started to say something, but said, “Oh, god, this sounds like the same thing I was saying last year.” But, I think the theme of the series is “crossing the line.” This year, in particular, I think the words I can boil it down to are “the future.” What Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) wants to do for the future is embodied in his child. For Ava (Joelle Carter) and Boyd (Walton Goggins), it’s their future together. Raylan did something in the first episode that could get him get kicked out of the Marshal service. Not that he hasn’t done a lot of things that could get him kicked out of the Marshal service, but in our world, him acting as a bounty hunter is not something they can do, but he’s doing it because he’s trying to make money. He has a kid coming. And then, there are the things that Boyd and Ava will do, not only because of the future they want, but the fear of that being snatched away from them. Something happens in Episode 4 that sets a lot of things in motion.
How much fun has it been to have Raylan out of his comfort zone and working as a bounty hunter?
YOST: He can’t shoot them. He can’t hurt them too much. It was fun writing that. How does he get a guy out of a car, who’s got a gun? It came out of the writers’ room to shoot the air bag. We looked it up on YouTube and found that it actually works.
Where did the idea of exploring the cold case come from, as an element to bring in this season?
YOST: I’ve been pitching the Bluegrass Conspiracy, which is the nickname for the original case that suggested this, for a bunch of seasons. It was a story I’d heard, when I’d been in West Virginia for a weekend, 30 years ago, and it had always fascinated me. The reality was that a guy inside his house heard a thump, went outside and found someone in his yard whose parachute hadn’t worked. I thought, “That’s just crazy! Can we open a season with that?” And we went back and forth about whether or not to do it, but then Michael Dinner prevailed and said, “Yeah, we need to do it.” So, I’m thankful to him. I just liked that story. In the writers’ room, we thought we were pretty much done with Arlo when he got carted off to jail, at the end of the third season. He tells Raylan that he was willing to shoot a law enforcement officer in a hat, in order to save Boyd, and he didn’t know if it was Raylan or not. So, we were done with Arlo (Raymond J. Barry). But then, this story presented itself and it was like, “Wow, maybe there’s someplace else to go, and we think we’ve found someplace else to go.”
YOST: They don’t bring them together, and yet it does. But, that’s all I’ll say. I’ll be mysterious on that one. There is stuff that happens this season, between the two of them. They’re fun to write for.
Knowing that Boyd Crowder is such a great character, is it difficult to always come up with some new angle for him, to where he’s not ever too far, to the point that you wonder why Raylan hasn’t killed him yet?
YOST: Yes. Our Marshal advisor, Charlie Almanza, said that his Marshal friends have said to him, “Do Raylan and Boyd have an agreement, or something? Is Raylan dirty because he should have put Boyd away, a long time ago?” In our world, Raylan is letting him slide, but we can only do that for so long. This season is a critical moment in the series, between them. That’s all I’ll say about that. At least, that’s the plan.
Was it very intentional to show the parallel between Raylan and his father, at a time when he’s becoming a father himself and he has to figure out how not to take the same path?
YOST: Yeah, exactly. If Raylan is looking to the future, he’s got fears about the past. Who am I? Am I going to be like him? A lot of the stuff he does is kind of Arlo-y. A lot of his bad-ass stuff comes from Arlo. And you will find out a little bit more about his mother this season, what he gets from her and what he would want to have from her.
Where is the relationship going, that Raylan is having with the bartender?
YOST: One of the things that I looked at and discussed with the network and the writers was that I wanted to try to design this season in three chunks, this year. It didn’t entirely turn out that way, but there certainly is a first chunk. There’s story of Boyd and Preacher Billy, and the affect of that, but then it kicks off something else. And then, there’s Raylan and Lindsey (Jenn Lyon) and trying to get that money. That’s the first four episodes.
Because Boyd has had his own religious and moral crusade, was that part of the idea behind the conflict with Preacher Billy (Joseph Mazzello)?
YOST: Yes. That was about, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have Boyd confronted with someone who’s a true believer, and what does that bring up in him?” There are feelings that there’s something missing in him, almost an envy that this guy has his faith and that Boyd no longer has it, and there’s anger, regret and remorse, over how that whole thing ended, at the end of Season 1, with the death of all his men at the hands of his father. Those were fun things for Walton to play.
YOST: The sister plays a big part, and there are other things down the road that we’re looking at. I don’t want to give too much away. There’s stuff that happens that’s very critical for how the season goes.
How much direct interaction will Raylan and Boyd have this season?
YOST: Raylan and Boyd don’t meet this season until the 5th episode, and then they meet big.
Are you aware of how much people want to see the two of them together?
YOST: Yes, but we also want to tantalize [the viewers]. If you do it too much, then it wears out its welcome. There’s only so many versions of that scene that we can do. But, there will always be Boyd and Raylan scenes, as long as the series is on. That’s the plan.
What inspired Ron Eldard’s character, Colton, this season? Did you want to explore Boyd’s past a bit, through that relationship?
YOST: It was a little bit of that. We’ve also always had a problem where Boyd is undermanned. We just didn’t have enough people for him to accomplish bigger things. There was the thing, at the end of last season, where you realized that Johnny (David Meunier) had betrayed Boyd to Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), and it almost brought Boyd down. It was certainly responsible for Arlo going away. So, there’s a snake in the grass. There’s Johnny and, even though he said he was done with Limehouse, he’s still a threat. So, we wanted to bring in someone else that Boyd was sure he could trust. All I will say about that is that that has many unintended consequences.
Did it feel very organic for Ava to go down a more vicious path, now that she’s more confident and comfortable with the criminal lifestyle?
YOST: Obviously, taking Boyd into her heart, in the second season, was a big jump. In the third season, she started by saying, “No whores,” but by the latter third of the season, she was running the whorehouse. And then, by the last episode, she was beating a prostitute. That was a cool rung to have for Ava. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “How did I get here?” I don’t think she had that sense of crossing the line until she got on the other side of it. And now, she’s further morally compromised, but there’s all those rationalizations that you can make, in the name of the future. That is a big part of her story, this year. Who knew, when we started this thing? We loved Joelle and we loved Ava, but we didn’t know how far that would go. We didn’t know what else to do with Ava, but she’s so good and the character’s so much fun to write that stuff has suggest itself, and it’s just kept going.
When we spoke for Season 3, I asked if there was anyone you wanted to have guest star on the show, and you said you were hoping to bring Eric Stonestreet and Patton Oswalt on, and now Patton Oswalt is on the show. Was Constable Bob written with him in mind?
YOST: It was done at exactly the same time. We knew that Patton was interested in the show, and we were incredibly interested in getting him on the show, so that was in our mind. At the same time, we came up with this Constable character. As soon as we went into the idea of a cop wannabe, we just thought that Patton is a character who’s a bit of an underdog. He’s incredibly endearing. Like with Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), you can’t ever forget he’s a violent criminal. He’s an idiot and he’s lovable, and we adore him and he’s a goofball, but he’s a violent criminal and he takes himself very seriously. So, that gave us a little bit of a handle on Bob. And then, when Patton did the material, it was clear that, not only did he get it, he got it better than even we did. There is this unpredictable, slightly dangerous edge to him, even though he seems incompetent. It’s perfect for Patton, and he’s having fun.
Is there anyone else you’d like to have on the show?
YOST: We still want to find something for Stonestreet. It’s just hard ‘cause he’s on a series that shoots at the same time. So, we always look at when they have a break (at Modern Family), and how that lines up with what episodes. We did offer him one thing this year, but it just wasn’t right. We tried to get Patton to do something last year, but it just didn’t work out because he was doing a lot of promo for Young Adult. That was great because we ended up finding this role. And I have a feeling that with Stonestreet, we will find the right thing. We had this character in mind that we’d love him to play, but we just haven’t worked that character into the series yet.
YOST: The problem with that is that our shows’ timeline is incredibly compressed. From the pilot to the end of the fourth season, maybe a year will have passed in the story timeline. The problem is like what they had with Walt on Lost, and I never realized it. I was like, “I love Walt! Why did they have him disappear?” So, we’ll see what happens with Kaitlyn. I would be heartbroken, if we didn’t get to have Loretta back on the show, at some point. Working with her, writing for her, her on the set, her family and the whole thing was just one of the great joys of the second season. The fact that we brought her back for even one scene last year was so cool. She’s so good.
Now that you’re four seasons in, do you see how much longer the show can go?
YOST: I’ve talked about it with Tim [Olyphant], John Landgraf, Sony and everyone involved, so it isn’t any family secret or anything. We think six years would be great, if we’re lucky enough to get a fifth season, and then we get a sixth season. We can roughly see six years of stories. We feel like this is the second half of the series.
YOST: It changes, every year. I had an ending last year. I knew how the series was going to end. That’s not what I’m thinking now. I come up with another idea, and then it’s like, “You know what? Maybe not.” We’ve had that with characters where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we’ll kill him off in episode whatever,” but then we get there and it’s like, “Yeah, no, we’re not going to do that. Let’s go this way.”
As if you didn’t already have enough to do, you’re an executive producer on The Americans. What made you want to get involved with that show?
YOST: Honestly, I just grab onto (show creator) Joe Weisberg and ride him as far as I can. He is just such a great guy. He’s become one of my favorite people. I just love Joe. He’s such a great writer. He’s done such a wonderful job on the show that I just wanted to be involved with it. And I’m lucky enough that, in my career right now, people think that attaching my name to something helps it a little bit. I think it maybe gave FX a little sense of calm, but the reality is that Joe did not need my help. He’s just such a strong writer, and I love the world and the stories. I’ve got the best job in television. I get to read scripts for The Americans, before anyone else does.
What is the extent of your involvement on that show?
YOST: I have some involvement with the casting, but mostly it’s reading outlines, giving notes on outlines, giving notes on scripts and giving notes on cuts. Plus, I talk to them about whatever else is going on.
Justified airs on Tuesday nights on FX.