Developed by Graham Yost and based on the works of crime novelist Elmore Leonard, the hit FX drama series Justified has proven itself to be one of the strongest written and best acted shows on television. One of the new additions for Season 3 has been actor Mykelti Williamson, as the mysterious Limehouse, a man who knows enough secrets to make almost everyone in Harlan uncomfortable.
During this recent interview about his role on the show, Mykelti Williamson talked about not knowing whether or not he’ll be returning next season, the fun of being kept in the dark about where things are going, what he thinks of his character, how much he enjoys watching the show as a viewer, his favorite scene in the finale, and that he keeps a character Bible of his own potential storylines that he hopes to suggest, should he return. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Mykelti Williamson: I have no idea. I still don’t know. The way we closed out this last season, which we just finished a couple weeks ago, I don’t know. They leave it up in the air, which is fun. It’s interesting. But, I couldn’t tell you. The way it was done, nobody knows anything. I’ll be surprised to see it. It’s a la Hitchcock, when Hitchcock would give certain actors certain scenes, and then other actors other scenes, and they never really knew what was going on. It’s like that. It’s in that vein, but it’s cool.
How much were you told about Limehouse when you signed on to play the role, and how different did he turn out to be from what you expected?
Williamson: I knew what Graham [Yost] wanted to accomplish, and I think we got really, really, really close. I think we achieved everything that Graham saw in the Limehouse character. He’s a banker. He’s not really a bad guy, but not really a good guy. He’s whatever he has to be, which means that he’s all of the above, if necessary. But, the Limehouse I prefer is the one that walks on the dark side. That’s why I keep him on the dark side, a little bit more. I think you have to have an element of darkness present, at all times, to give it the credibility that he will go complete dark side. I like this character a lot. It’s creepy. I was in the aisle in the grocery store, a couple weeks ago, and this woman saw me and recognized me and left the aisle. It was hysterical. I was like, “Wow, it’s working!”
Williamson: I’m surprised, every single day. There’s a team of writers and everyone has a different contribution, which helps to build this pyramid. There are things that I see on the page and I go, “Oh, my god, I never thought about that,” and that’s great. I’m surprised, every single day that I go to work. One of our producer/directors, Don Kurt, is one of those men who’s cut from the same cloth as Michael Mann or Jon Avnet, who scares the hell out of actors because you don’t know what’s going to come out of this man’s mind, and it’s always a challenge to try to achieve it or elevate what he throws at you. So, Don Kurt has a lot to do with it, too.
Was that desire to keep Limehouse drawn to the dark side something that was established, from the beginning, or was that something you brought to it?
Williamson: Well, the good thing about being on a show like Justified is that you stick to the premise, but not necessarily every single word that’s on the page. We don’t have anal, insecure writers. It’s free-flowing. It’s like training in martial arts. You know what the format is and what the style is, and then you adapt the style to your instrument and you make it work. That’s what it’s like, working on Justified. It’s like training with a Jujitsu master. It’s wonderful. I love it.
Williamson: As you watch the season unfold, you’ll realize that Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) has met a very formidable foe, unlike any other foe he’s come up against, in the past, and it makes him scratch his own head. You’re also going to see Raylan in situations you’ve never seen him in. Justifiably so, you’re going to be really upset at some things you see, coming down the pike. That’s really all I can tell you without giving it away. Just stay tuned. There’s some things that I don’t even know are going down, and I can’t wait to see it.
Do you enjoy watching the show, as a viewer?
Williamson: Absolutely! This past month, I would say that 80% of the scenes were written right on the set because we all had ideas. Tim Olyphant is the kind of guy where that producer title he has is not just a vanity title. That cat works hard, man. He works so hard. He’s got great ideas. He’s always got a brilliant contribution. He throws things at you and you just have to pick something. So, actors who read the script when it was sent to them, when they see the show, they don’t know what was done in someone else’s scene because it’s all different. It’s fun for all of us because it’s never just like you thought it was going to be. It’s always different. I’m always surprised by the Limehouse effect and how he effects other characters, like Boyd Crowder, for example. I’ve been watching this show for a couple of years, before I was invited to come on, and I always hoped I’d be invited. But, when I was invited, it scared the hell out of me because I love the show and I don’t want to be the guy that screws it up. So, it was terrifying. But, being there with those guys, there were no egos. Everybody checks their ego at the door and they just grind and get it done. Walton [Goggins] is one of those actors who is so fascinating to watch. He surprises me, in the scenes that he’s in with me. I’m surprised, all the time.
Williamson: My favorite character on television is Raylan Givens, Tim’s character. That’s the coolest damn character on TV. I would switch hats with that dude, anytime. I’m serious. But, he’s also got a very hard job. The way he does that, it’s like the new school Clint Eastwood. He’s a bad-ass and I love it.
Do you have a favorite scene from this season?
Williamson: Not a favorite. I have several favorites. There’s a scene coming up in Episode 13 that’s the big showdown scene. I won’t even tell you who’s in it, but it’s a hot mess, and that’s one of my favorites. Things appear to go in one direction, and then someone makes a decision and it just changes everything and all hell breaks loose. Nobody knows who’s left standing. I love that, man. That’s really cool.
If you come back for another season, is there anything you’d like to see Limehouse do?
Williamson: I have a whole character Bible of potential storylines, but I won’t share them with anybody because sometimes you can get ahead of yourself.
Are those storylines you came up with?
Williamson: Every day. We listen to them, and they listen to us. We throw stuff at them, and they go, “Whoa!” And then, it’s on the page and you go, “Okay, now I have to make it work.” At first, it was just in your head, but now it involves cameras moving around and lights and effects, and you have to make it work.
What are some of the differences between work that you’ve done previously and being on Justified?
Williamson: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to work with the people that I want to work with, so I’ve been able to avoid the high drama people that don’t have a lot of talent, but they have a lot of stuff going on around them that draws the press like flies. I’ve been able to stay away from guys and girls like that, and work with just really genuinely talented people. Justified is different for me, in the fact that I never know what to expect when I go to work. Even though I have the script and I’ve learned the lines, driving to work, I always get butterflies in my stomach from the anticipation. Tim Olyphant is a machine. He never stops thinking and being creative. You can learn a scene, but on your way to work, you know that it’s not going to be the same. You just know that, and you’re wondering how it’s going to change and how it’s going to be different, and you’ve got to learn it really fast because we’re runnin’ and gunnin’, man. This show moves so quick. That’s fun and exhilarating. But, this location is so far. It’s literally 100 miles away from my doorstep. From my driveway to where I park at work is 100 miles, exactly. Sometimes it’s 100.3, but it’s always about 100 miles to get to work. It’s cool. It’s a lot more fun. Plus, people haven’t seen me play a dark character like this as often. That’s rare. They’re used to seeing me as the guy from Forrest Gump, Bubba Blue, and this is definitely not Bubba.
Williamson: It’s hard to get into character in traffic, in L.A. All L.A. traffic does is piss you off, and I try not to bring anger to the work. I just try to bring darkness to the work. The beauty of the characters on Justified is that all the human beings that are written are all flawed. Even with the good guys, you see darkness surface. With the dark guys, you see their humanity, every now and then. You get a peek into their humanity and you go, “Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy?” He’s a bad guy, but you just got a chance to see that you do still have things in common with that person, as far as humanity is concerned. I love the writing on this show, and I’m so happy it’s done and I didn’t screw it up this year.
Is there anyone that you based this character on?
Williamson: No. Graham Yost came to me with some research and some information on a real person who was like this Limehouse guy. He was a banker. He hid the money for the white criminals, in the black holler, because the white criminals knew that nobody would dare try to go in the black holler at night and steal their money, so this guy had it. Graham came up with the name Limehouse because of a legendary person who used to entrap black people into slavery, and he was black himself. His name was Limehouse, and he would hire farm workers, but they would never, ever be able to get back home because of him. So, he’s a collage and a combination of those different people that Graham Yost knew about, and some people that I grew up with and that I didn’t like very much.
Williamson: Neal is like a brother to me. We love each other. We did Boomtown together. So, when Graham called us and told us that he was going to pit us against one another, we’re always trying to one-up each other anyway, on the golf course or whatever it is we’re doing. It’s really fun to go at it with McDonough, all the time, every single day, because I know he’s trying to out think me, and I’m definitely trying to set his behind on fire, so I see flames coming out of his back pockets. So, we’re after each other every day, and it’s a lot of fun. And he loves what he’s doing. He loves being crazy. He just gets tickled sometimes and starts giggling.
For you, as an actor, what is it that you hope the audience sees behind the darkness of Limehouse? Are you drawing on parts of yourself to find that humanity in him?
Williamson: Well, my approach is that I go to prisons and visit inmates and just talk to them about life and choices, and I use my choices, as an actor, to talk to them about choices in life. One of the things that I find a lot of the guys behind bars have in common is that we perceive them as bad guys, but when you talk to them, that’s somebody’s son and somebody’s grandson. Most of those guys just lost it for about 20 seconds. If you think about that, and how much your life changes from losing it for 20 seconds, it puts everything in perspective. They don’t walk around as bad guys, but they are human beings and they sometimes make a decision to do something really bad. They’re all trying to right a wrong. They feel like they’ve been wronged, somehow. That’s all these characters on Justified do. They feel like they’ve been wronged, whether they’re right or wrong, and then they just take the situation into their own hands and you’ve got a bad guy.
Williamson: Yeah. The essence of the character is that he simply wants to be left alone. He cut a deal with Mags (Margo Martindale), that she would keep drugs and everything out of his community, if he would do some banking for her, and keep her records and her money straight, and protect it from anybody getting ahold of it until she called on it. But, once the Mags equation was no longer subsistant, now the whole world is falling apart, around this man. He’s really pissed off with Mags for killing herself because now he’s got to deal with all these people he never had to deal with before, and he simply wants to be left the hell alone. That’s what he does what he does. Losing Mags opened up this whole world to all these crazy people.
What does Limehouse think of Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies)?
Williamson: Limehouse doesn’t like Dickie Bennett. He thinks he’s a fool. He thinks he’s dangerous. He doesn’t really think he’s Mags son, anyway, because of rumors that are floating around in the black holler. Limehouse just despises this guy, and wants him to go away. He doesn’t want to kill him, but he wants somebody else to do it. He just wants Dickie gone ‘cause he just thinks Dickie is a complete fool and a screw-up.
Justified airs on Tuesday nights on FX.