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) will start to unravel 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 (Joe 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, actor Walton Goggins talked about where Boyd’s head is at this season, getting to play his character’s sense of humor a bit more, if being a crime boss is more than he bargained for, how much of a thorn in Boyd’s side Preacher Billy will be, what Ron Eldard is bringing to the show this season, how actively involved he is with the show and character development, that his approach, as an actor, is different with each season, and how grateful he is to be on such a quality show. He also talked about his very memorable guest spot as Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy, and the possibility of the character returning, looking for roles that he feels he can bring something to that will enhance the writer or director’s vision, and that fans love to chat with him about his work. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
WALTON GOGGINS: For a fellow like Boyd, he understands that there’s going to be a price to be paid for eating this dinner, and for living this life. At the end of last season, he thought that his time had come. For him, it had just come a little too early because he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the love of his life (Ava Crowder). And as fate would have it, gratefully for this couple, he was spared at the last minute and someone else took the blame for it. So this season, I think he’s working very, very hard to get his ducks in a row, for a very specific reason. I won’t tell you what that reason is, but it will be revealed, over the course of the show. Boyd has an endgame, and I think it’s worthy of working as hard as he’s working.
Last season, Boyd was a bit more serious because he had to spend a lot of time trying to get his crew together and figuring out what he wanted to do. Is it refreshing to have more of his sense of humor back, this season?
GOGGINS: Yeah, and now is the season for that to happen. We really wanted to get back to his ironic, pessimistic sense of humor. It’s really Elmore Leonard’s sense of humor. It’s the way that he constructs humor and infuses his narratives with humor. Hopefully, it’s delivered in a way where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh, but you laugh because you are supposed to laugh. We’ve had a really good time with that, so far this season. Boyd is having a good time. Some of it is a little hard, but for the most part, he’s having a really good time.
GOGGINS: Well, I think that it’s both. There’s a dual response to that question. One of my favorites lines that Boyd had, in the first episode of the season, and it’s one of my favorite lines that he’s uttered in his fourth-year incarnation, was, “I’m a criminal.” He just says it. It’s three words. If somebody has that clarity about who they are, as a person, there’s only really one way to go. Well, maybe there’s two ways to go. Either you continue to be a criminal, or you try to segueway out of being a criminal. But for right now, I think Boyd is grateful and has worked very hard to finally rise to the top of the heap in Harlan County. Unfortunately, when you’re the king of the hill, there’s really only one way to go, and that’s down. We’ll see how that plays out, over the course of the season. But, I think it’s a little more responsibility and fiduciary responsibility than he anticipated. Nonetheless, he’s a wiley guy. He has an endgame in mind and he’s working very hard, this season, to achieve that.
With everyone seemingly hooked on Jesus this season, will that continue to be a thorn in Boyd’s side, or will he be able to use that to his advantage, in some way?
GOGGINS: When they first pitched this idea and Graham [Yost] wrote that first episode, what intrigued me about it, more than anything, was Boyd’s fear of going into church. There’s one scene in the second episode where he’s snappy with everyone, including Ava, and he says, “I don’t like churches.” He has a reason for that. He feels, on one level, like he was misled or misguided, or that God turned his back on him. He feels like a hypocrite. He feels a lot of different things. So, the religious aspect of the show will really make Boyd question where he’s come from and how he views the institution. It will hopefully solidify his idea, one way or the other, about which direction he’s going to go. I think those are larger themes that play into where we would like to take the show, ultimately, and what Boyd has to say about life, through the culmination of all his experiences. That’s a very good question.
GOGGINS: For someone who feels the way about religion that Boyd does, to say, “I’m going to take on the role of the devil,” and not to bat an eye. He says, “If that’s what you need me to be, then that’s what I’m going to be. Whatever you need me to be, to continue on your journey, then that’s what I’ll be. This can be easy, or it can be very hard.” His most effective sword is his words. It’s his ability to converse. He is very well read and very well spoken. That comes from his own tenacious attitude and behavior. He schooled himself.
What’s it been like to add Ron Eldard into the mix, this season, and have a little bit of Boyd’s past come into it, as well?
GOGGINS: I love it! It’s textured Boyd in a way that I hadn’t anticipated, and I saw a side of Boyd that I’d never seen before. I didn’t know that it was going to come out that way. In the scenes with Ron, you get the sense that Boyd was a different person, at one particular time. While he was the same, he interacted with people differently and he made true friendships, under duress, the way that people do. Ron’s energy is very different than Harlan County, and the character that he plays, Colton, is a fish out of water, in our community. It’s been so nice to juxtapose Boyd’s interactions with Colton to Boyd’s interactions with Ava or Cousin Johnny or Raylan, for that matter. It’s a whole other side to Boyd, and it’s a more gentle side to Boyd. Boyd talks to Colton confidentially, in a way that he doesn’t talk to any other man on the show. That, to me, is really exciting.
GOGGINS: No, both Tim [Olyphant] and I are very actively involved in continually discovering who these characters are and the directions they go and the episodes themselves. Graham [Yost] has invited us to the table, and the writers seek our council, as much as we seek theirs. We, very much, take an active role in the evolution of who we are, as characters on the show. I want to know everything because I want to help shape and mold that. It’s the first time, really, other than making my own movies, that I’ve participated in a story, in this way, certainly in television. It’s very freeing, and Graham trusts both Tim and I because it’s not coming from ego. It’s coming from a place of serving the story. I think we would all agree that it takes a village, every week, to try, on some level, to emulate Elmore Leonard and to also add, in this platform, a certain amount of heart and serialized storytelling and Southern gothic storytelling to make it as rich as possible.
Has there ever been anything that you’ve suggested for Boyd that the writers just said, “No way!” to?
GOGGINS: Some things, but very rarely. What I tend to do is add to what they’ve already done. They do the heavy lifting, and I’m able to come in and do my flourishes. There are certain things that they’ve said no to, but for the most part, we really see eye-to-eye on all of it. It’s rare when you collaborate with someone as intimately as all the writers and actors do, on this show. We see tings the same way. It’s just a matter of having this beautiful piece of stone, and Graham and the writers chip away at it until it’s a beautiful figure. And then, both Tim and I can come in and polish it, so that it’s really coming from Boyd’s point of view.
GOGGINS: I’ve never had the same approach. I can’t use the word easy or hard. It’s just different. You just approach it as heartfelt and as earnestly as you can, you be as sensitive to the material as you possibly can, you keep the goal of the story in the foremost part of your mind, and then you just go for it. So, I’m continually being challenged by the situations that Boyd finds himself in. In this season, in particular, it’s the first time he’s really been in control, so he’s not playing second fiddle to some other entity in Harlan County. Those are different muscles that you have to work, and it’s really exciting.
Are you ever able to take a step back and realize how special and rare it is to not only have one of the greatest characters on TV, but also to be on a show that’s consistently great, every season?
GOGGINS: I really appreciate you saying that. The answer to that question is yes. I take those times to step back and look at it, daily. Right when we’re in the middle of it, I stop, more often than not, and think about, “This is the fourth year I get to say these words, and I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be afforded that opportunity.” I’ve benefited greatly by my tenure on The Shield because I knew, the second season, and Michael Chiklis really helped me see that you’re never cavalier with success because it can go away just as quickly as it came. It’s something to be revered and supported and cared for. I think all of us on the show have that attitude. We’re just grateful that people like it. But, it requires a lot of work, and we all put in a lot of work. It feels good, at the end of the day. It feels really good.
You had the greatest guest spot ever, on Sons of Anarchy.
GOGGINS: Thank you very much.
GOGGINS: When we set out on the day, I’d worked with my hair a little bit and had an idea for it. We wanted her to be very feminine and, for some reason, I wanted to go with short hair. But, I was wrong. We started the process of putting on the prosthetics, and then she really came to life. Then, we put on the dress and the heels, and I looked at myself in the mirror and fell in love with her. I was like, “Oh, my god, this is either going to sink or it’s going to fly. I have no idea which.” It was just the opportunity of a lifetime. I did not know, when we set out to do it, that Venus would mean that much to me. I’ve had a lot of conversations about it with my friends, and it’s been interesting to hear where they want the character to go. I won’t say any more than that.
I think everybody wants to see her again.
GOGGINS: Oh, good! Okay, well, I think you will.
When you look at possible projects, is it really more about the quality for you, as opposed to the size of the role?
GOGGINS: You know, I got in this business to work with really good directors and to work on really good material. I’m wise enough to know that, at this point in my career, I can’t choose everything that I want to do. I don’t have those choices. But, I can choose the things that I don’t want to do. It’s never the size of the role, for me. It’s what I can do with it, and that’s preeminent to me. That usurps everything. If it’s something that speaks to me and I feel like I can, in some ways, help facilitate a director’s vision or a writer’s vision, then I’m all in.
Having been a part of so many great projects now, is there one that fans approach you about, most often?
GOGGINS: You know, I’m at a place in my career that is like having a child that’s two years old. They’re independent, but you can still hold ‘em and nuzzle ‘em and be close to them. I’m at that place, in my career, where I’m able to do a lot of things that I love to do, yet when I’m approached on the street, people aren’t timid or shy about it. They feel like they have a right to talk to me, and they talk about everything. They talk about The Shield, or they talk about Justified, or they’ll talk about a movie. More often than not, I have an opportunity to have a long, engaged conversation with them, and it’s really fantastic. It’s the sweet spot, in doing what we do for a living. I still live my life the way that I want to live it, and people are very respectful of my space, but they also want to chat, and I quite like chatting. I really enjoy what I do, and I’m very grateful to be given an opportunity to do it. That’s one thing that people can say about me.
Justified airs on Tuesday nights on FX.