Jeremy Davies was a fan of Justified, when he decided to contact the people who made it. That fandom plays off when you’re a well respected character actor coming off a stretch of Lost. Davies is one of “those” guys for a lot of people as he’s had a couple lead roles (like Spanking the Monkey or in Helter Skelter), but he’s also the coward in Saving Private Ryan, and has done supporting turns for people like Steven Soderbergh, Lars Von Trier, Wim Wenders and Jan de Bont.
In season two of Justified, Davies plays Dickie Bennett, the son of Mags (Margo Martindale) and brother of sheriff Doyle (Joseph Lyle Taylor). Mags has been running her empire that just deals in marijuana, but Dickie has proven to be more enterprising – or at least interested in dealing Meth. My group was on set for a scene in episode twelve where the situation was getting heated. There was some yelling, and it was a confrontation between all members of the Bennett clan. Shortly thereafter we talked to the soft-spoken and pretty sharp Davies. He was done for the day, but polite enough to give us a few minutes.
The scene you just were just shooting, it looked like you and Margo (Martindale) were going at it.
JEREMY DAVIES: Yeah, did you see that? Oh, it’s a great pleasure to get beaten by Margo Martindale.
It seems between this and your character in Lost you tend to play these roles that have mother issues – you can bring it all the way back to Spanking the Monkey. What is it that attracts you about these sorts of roles?
I think Orson Welles said “you’re the ornithologist, I’m the bird.” I see the parallel that you’re trying to draw there, but getting anywhere in this business is like winning the interplanetary lottery. It’s not a matter of me selecting these roles; it’s just what comes down. And generally in drama what it comes down to is parent issues.
Did you research anything in particular to prepare for being Dickie?
No, I’ve been a fierce fan of Elmore Leonard’s since I was born. That alone is fantastic, I feel like he’s DNA deep for me. I grew up without television – I guess that’s blasphemous to say now – so I read far too much, and certainly revered Leonard for a long time, so that certainly helped. But beyond that? No, not really.
Does it ever get confusing which leg to limp or do you wear something that helps you kind of remember?
Yeah, I paint one leg one color. (laughs)
Do you wear a knee brace to know which one to limp down on?
I’m going to write that down, actually. No, it hasn’t been any trouble so far.
Did you do any work on the accent at all, or did you just kinda come in?
I have actually lived so many different places growing up – if I have grown up – and I’ve gone all over the states, so I have a real mongrel quality.
Yeah. So I have this strange mix and it kinda comes easy.
Did you attune it to Margo at all?
No, but she’s Texas by way of Tennesse… Actually years ago I did a film with Jodie Foster and she set me up with a dialect coach in North Carolina, Julie Adams, really brilliant, and she was just a huge help and it stayed with me. Nick Searcy, by the way, horribly gifted guy? He was in Nell – the film that I was in.
Have you had any scenes with Nick Searcy?
I’ve had none, sad to say. My kingdom for one cartwheel through Nick’s scenes.
Did you look at the first season of the show to get the tone of this?
Yeah. Absolutely . I actually chased this down, I sent word to Graham (Yost) through my manager after I saw the first season – actually before it was even over. Because I’m a big believer in just supporting , having a supportive community in this business , which is so cut-throat and competitive. I know him, he knows people I know. I just sent word that it was an incredibly well made show, and I’d love to – if anything ever came up, just keep me in mind. And – against his better judgment – he remembered that, and six months later…
How early on was this?
This was before the first season ended.
Was there an episode that got you?
I don’t remember one in particular, because they’re collectively all just consistently. This writing… I was just drawn to it because I grew up without TV and just read so much. If there is anything, if there is any pattern – for the ornithologists – I’m drawn to more literary films, that feel a little more literary, does that make sense even though they’re completely different mediums, and the strength of a novel is completely different than the strength of a film?
Well, Margo said she thinks of this like a five month film. Is that how you treat this?
Yeah, absolutely, it does, which is why I had an instinct early on to at least put in a good word to Graham and say hurrah, and congratulations.
Did they make you an offer, did you go in to read?
No, again against his better judgment they made me an offer.
I think it’s his good judgment.
Well, bless you.
Graham comes from the world of film, and so many of the actors, including yourself, Timothy Olyphant, have such a great film career going, do you think that ups the level of the acting on the show that so many people are from the film world, and it’s done sort of like a film?
I think there are really fine brilliant actors – again, you can’t control where you end up. Whether it raises your game by having experience in film.. I think there’s TV, Lost for example, it’s a marathon, and such incredible writing, there are a number of high quality shows that can make you feel like you’re on a film set.
We’re also at this point now where television is doing things that are so interesting, or just as interesting as cinema, sometimes more. Television used to be a ghetto, but now with Mad Men, Community, Lost, The Wire.
Absolutely The Wire.
Oh, you’re a Wire person?
Absolutely, that’s the best
I think of something Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads said about the Talking Heads. He said “I always feel like when I meet a fan of the Talking Heads we’d be friends because you’re a fan of Talking Heads” and I feel that way about The Wire, it’s like “You like The Wire?”
We’re friends. Absolutely.
In last week’s episode you said you weren’t afraid of Frankford, and the Dixie Mafia, so are we going to see that come to a head?
Could be, honestly, I don’t know how much I can tell you without being shot by a sniper.
But it looks like you’re gearing up for something big in these last couple of episodes.
Yeah, a lot of reversals and revelations or sure, let me put it that way.
Did Raylan inflict the wound that has you limping?
I defer to my lawyer. I don’t know how specific I can get, but very possibly.
When you’re working on this character, are there any other literary references you’re using as templates?
For this? Gosh, I mean Faulkner, maybe, you can go down the line.
Is it more of an instinctual process for you?
Well, I think what I’m getting at is I’m drawn to these great writers, I guess everybody is, there’s something about Elmore… I don’t know if you know but the writers were given bracelets by Graham that say “What Would Elmore Do?”so you feel this frequency, there’s something about those rhythms. I can’t tell you the pleasure you get as an actor from really quality writing. Not just the particular words, but the architecture of the scenes, there’s a point A, point B that you get to.
So at that point are you just riding that wave?
Yeah, it’s in a lot of ways it’s such consistently high quality work that it makes my job really, really easy.
Do you have an Elmore Leonard book you go back to or love?
I’m kind of partial to Out of Sight – friends of mine made that film, and I’m happy for that, I know a lot about how that came together, Freaky Deaky, down the line, but I should probably say I’m partial to the short story on which this is based.
Well, you’ve got decades of material.
Justified airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on FX. Watch it if you haven’t.