Justified is one of the best shows on television these days, and that is due in no small part to the work of Walton Goggins. Goggins was in the pilot and there was talk that his character – Boyd Crowder – would be killed off, a “one and done.” But in crafting the show they realized they could have some fun with him, and though Goggins was also shooting Predators, they managed to work him in to the first season, with his journey taking over the last couple episodes. And now Goggins is a supporting player for the entirety of Season Two, which is now airing on FX on Wednesdays at 10pm.
Goggins was wary of returning to television –as he says below – because of the seven years he put in on The Shield. His Shane Vendrell was revealed to be the heart and the central tragedy of the show. His work on The Shield is such that it’s fair to say he created one of television’s most indelible characters. And now with Justified he’s on his way to having two of the best characters put to the small screen. If this interview is fawning, it’s only because everyone in our group was a huge fan, and it was funny to see the women with us melting around him. Timothy Olyphant plays his role like walking sex, but Goggins definitely has his fanbase. Goggins proved to be a great interview, and at the end told us that we asked better questions than the New York Times. I’ll take it.
Your character is what absolutely sold me on this show. He’s one of the most fascinating characters on television right now. Does he know what he’s doing? Does he know if he’s on the path to redemption or not?
WALTON GOGGINS: No pressure on that answer. You know what I think that he…I don’t think that he’s ever taken the time to be introspective, to self-reflect. Last season was evidence of that. I think he started off in the pilot being one guy, and with that near death experience he went running in the opposite direction. Doing the same thing but finding God as a motivation for kind of repeating the same actions. And I think it’s only in the second season that Boyd – for the first time in his life – has looked at himself. Looked at what fuels him as a human being, and looked at his faults as a person, and in some ways has spent forty days in the desert. I think that he will emerge from this fully aware of who he is as a person – and be okay with it. It’s at the end of episode three with the throwing of that guy out of the car – it was very cathartic for him. He needed to grieve in that way, and it kind of manifested through this physical action of hurting another person, unfortunately. Because I think he was so hurt.
So is it going to be about integrating those two sides?
Yeah, I think that that’s very perceptive on your part. It is going to be about sort of integrating those two sides and coming to grips with who he is and not looking at his faults as demons, but rather as assets. And I don’t think that he will be a man on either end of the spectrum anymore, but he will be a man in balance, in the center.
While you were doing that scene, the intensity in your eyes, is there anything that you did to prepare when you had Kyle in the headlock and driving down the road? You were just so conflicted but at the same time you wanted to hurt that man.
Yeah, I think as an actor the most important thing that you can do is live in your imagination. Kind of take yourself out of the equation and not look at as I am an actor playing a character.
So you try and embody Boyd?
I think so yeah. You just kind of turn yourself over to an imaginary set of circumstances.
Do you have any hand in deciding what kind of literature he’s reading?
I did in this last one, I picked that book “Of Human Bondage.”. It’s funny I didn’t really think about it at the time, but, I just had a son, I just had a baby boy, and his middle name is Somerset, after my favorite writer, and it coincided with “Of Human Bondage” written by W. Somerset Maugham. But for me it was about the title, because I think it kind of accurately reflects where Boyd’s been. I think he’s felt like he’s been in human bondage. So going back to the scene that precipitated the truck, for me was very, very important. Because I’m from the South and I don’t like the way that Southerners have been stereotyped as token racists and token idiots. You know if you’re slow and you’re racist, then your obviously playing a southern character and I don’t buy that, I wanted this guy to be very, very smart. I also wanted to pull back the curtain on racism, for me, and from Boyd’s perspective. I think he was able to do that in episode number three with two lines. When he’s approached by Mike’s character and he says “I kill Jews too” and Boyd says “I’ve never killed a Jew, in fact I’ve never met a Jew in my life.” I think that says a lot about how racism – at its core – is based on ignorance. Boyd was smart enough and has always been smart enough to know that but he was finally able to articulate that.
Yeah, you can see his wisdom slowly unfolding, you see little bits and pieces, especially when I saw when he was reading Of Human Bondage, that’s just like another depth of his character that you are slowly starting to see.
You guys get it!
I love the show.
In the pilot episode, when he’s blowing up the Church, that’s just money?
Yeah, I think that’s just money.
Versus hatred with the skinheads…?
Well I mean he’s a Svengali, you know. He’s a showman, and Boyd, the old Boyd needed a stage, on which to perform. The marquee changed, but the show didn’t. It was a different message, but “hey look at me, look at me.” You know, and now the man, that hopefully we’re trying to architect, is not saying “look at me, because I want to be seen,” but “listen to me, because I have something worth saying” and that’s a big difference. It’s a really big difference.
One of the most interesting things watching the first season the first time is wonder how much of Boyd is telling the truth after the conversion – and then one of the fun things about watching it a second time is seeing the through line. When did they let you know where your character was going to end up?
Well we talked about that from the very beginning to be quite honest with you. I didn’t know… they kept it a secret as to the depths of Boyd’s loss with those 18 men being killed. But we talked about, and I think I was able to kind of keep it a secret – and the writers picked up on it and just ran with it. Ambiguity is Boyd’s weapon of choice. You know, you can never really know where he stands, and that’s his power, and I think he understands that. He certainly utilized that as possible in season one. So…
It was a beautiful line you walked.
Thank you man.
We were in the position of the Timothy Olyphant character as the viewer, you just felt like you had to know what was going on with guy because they have a very intimate relationship.
Very intimate relationship, yeah.
It seems like that relationship has been constantly changing since the beginning of the series. Can you talk about how that relationship has evolved? They really kind of need each other.
I think they do, I think you know it would be hard for Rayland to exist without Boyd and Boyd certainly could not exist without Rayland. Especially in the dynamics of the show and they way that it’s been set up. For me what’s so interesting is that it’s about two guys from the same milieu who took two completely different paths. And they[re both very smart, Rayland is a very smart guy.
Are they different sides of the same coin?
I think so. Graham likened it to Boyd is a dark mirror of Rayland and I think that’s just simply because Boyd in some ways just didn’t have the courage to leave. To get out. And he certainly didn’t have a role model pushing him in that direction and Rayland did with his aunt Helen. I would love to have seen, and in my imagination I think about had Boyd gotten out, would he have wound up at film school, would he be at NYU and what kind of movie would Boyd make? So I mean I like to think about it in those terms and whenever Rayland is together with Boyd what’s so exiting about it to me is that it’s an intellectual sparring. You know it’s conversations that center around ambiguity and you never know really what the other person means, but you get the feeling that Boyd and Rayland know what the other person means.
Is that Boyd’s advantage in a sense, that intellectually… I mean Rayland could probably take him physically but…
Would you assume that buddy? I don’t know, maybe not.
But it is sort of an intellectual thing?
I think so, yeah.
At what point during the pilot did they decide to keep your character alive, because I understand that originally your character was going to die.
You know we…It was a nice invitation to kind of come and play and to be back on my network. I say that, my network, as if they’ll have me – FX, they’re like family to me.
We all love The Shield.
Thank you, thank you very much.
One of the greatest endings to a television show in television history.
Fuckin hard man – really hard.
Going back and watching season one, the basketball episode where you kidnap the guy and its all light and fun, and you think “I know where this is going.”
Yeah, this is going to get dark. He accused me in living in the valley man! Get the fuck out of here – c’mon!
Did you have some reticence to coming back?
I did, I had a lot of reticence to coming back because it was so close you know? In television years it was only I don’t know maybe nine months between airings or showings, or maybe it was a year. I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to sully my reputation with the FX audience and I didn’t want to sully in my own mind, my own self centered mind the legacy that I feel that Shane has with fans. And I am only saying this because of the fans that have approached me and have engaged in conversation about how they felt about him. And I didn’t want to kind of just shit on that. You know that’s a bad choice of words, but yeah, I didn’t want to spoil that for them. I’m very respectful of the audience. Especially of the conversations with people that I have happened to find myself in. It’s a lot to ask a family or a person to let you into their home for an hour a week. I mean that’s asking a lot…
Because the dynamic from season one to now, and the way Boyd’s character has evolved it’s mesmerizing. So how did you modulate your performance?
Well we had long conversations before I signed on to do the pilot and I just wanted Boyd to be smart, and I didn’t want him to be a racist, even though he says all of those horrible things in the pilot. So we were able to, per Tim (Olyphant’s) suggestion, Tim points it out and says “I don’t really think you believe everything that your saying.” And that was kind of a big saving grace for Boyd and allowed him to be as flamboyant as he wanted to be, because the audience would find out that he really wasn’t this guy. And that was it, it was just kind of a one off, and I was doing a movie at the time when they called and the audience really liked the chemistry between Tim and I. I had a pilot that my partner and I has sold to AMC that wound up not getting picked up and they said “do you want to come and play? You want to join the show?” So they accommodated this movie I was doing and I said yes immediately because I just wanted to see where this character Boyd Crowder could go, and where this relationship between Boyd and Rayland could go.
Is there a connection to the characters of Boyd and Shane?
No, I don’t see a correlation at all. You know if Shane was funny it came from pessimism and it was by accident. Boyd when he’s funny, he’s purposefully funny and he has a very specific sense of humor. Shane, was a very loyal person, but he, more often than not, showed up in the room thirty seconds too late, and he’s just spending his time trying to play catch up. Whereas Boyd is so far ahead of the curve, he’s architecting the room.
How do you play stupid?
I think that’s just me. Walton Goggins. It’s a stretch to play Boyd. No, I don’t know how you play stupid, you just…I mean how do you play a rapist? How do you play a loving father? How do you play a man who just lost his grandparent? It’s just all in your imagination. It’s just playing pretend. It’s no more complicated than that really.
By the end of season one there seemed to be a trust developing between Boyd and Rayland – is that something that is continuing, or is Rayland still hesitant?
Well you know it’s “keep your friends close, and your enemy’s closer.” And I don’t know that Tim would agree with this, but I think that there is a deep, deep bond between these two men and I think that below the surface there is a long lasting friendship. That’s certainly what I base my imagination on. That these people are friends and that at the end of the day, Rayland Givens could call and I’d be right there. It’s kind of like that, it’s this love/hate relationship.
Is Boyd the hero of his own story? Is he sort of the Robin Hood in his own mind?
I think he was at a time. I think now he’s writing a new chapter in his book and he doesn’t necessarily believe the narrative that he’s been writing up to this point. So I think it changes. I don’t think the world, from Boyd’s point of view, will revolve around him.
You called him a dark mirror, but in a lot of ways Rayland is himself a dark mirror himself. I mean for him its “the Rayland show” he just ends up winning more often. In some ways of course it’s a matter of choices, but also it’s luck.
Do you guys talk about that? Do you talk about how that is going to carry through he show? Do you talk with the writers?
Yes, yeah, both Tim and I do. Tim has many conversations with the creators, about his story and then I kind of have autonomy with Boyd. And we spend a lot of time talking about it. I mean upwards of twenty conversations sometimes. There’s a scene that we’re gonna do tonight that’s been rewritten ten different times. No one’s ever right and no one’s ever wrong. Everyone just wants to be specific. As specific as possible based on the history of these two people. And I think that we have something really good to work with tonight that will propel the story forward and will propel their relationship forward.
Was it kind of nice to have some fresh blood come in this season with Jeremy Davies?
Ah shit yeah, I mean I was a big fan of Jeremy’s, I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and Margo, I mean she’s just a journeyman woman. I mean she’s a pro and working with her is like putting butter on toast. I mean it just spreads. “I’m working with Margo Martindale!” And it’s nice to see someone at Margo’s age – that’s been around for so long – get a role that is so in her wheelhouse. And people know that she can do it – but to see her do it, it’s very special.
Do you guys have much interaction?
You know you’ve got to wait and see, got to wait and see.
This is the start of my coverage of Justified, I will have interviews running all week with the cast (including Jeremy Davies and Margo Martindale). Justified airs on FX every Wednesday at 10 PM.