The Season 5 premiere of "Justified" begins with a 90-second tribute to the late Elmore Leonard, whose colorful crime writings inspired the FX drama. But it's really the season itself, which starts off as one of the best in the series, that's the most fitting nod to the works of Leonard, who died last August.
The dialogue is so good that you'll hit rewind just to hear it again, the storytelling is terrific, and the characters are so richly developed that they transcend the stereotypes they'd seem like on lesser shows. Season 5 finds Timothy Olyphant's U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in an unusually playful mood, even while dealing with the Crowe family: Harlan resident Dewey (the wonderful, scene-stealing Damon Herriman) and his trouble-stirring Florida cousin Daryl (Michael Rapaport).
Jere Burns's Wynn Duffy has become a welcome series regular this season; Patton Oswalt's Constable Bob will pop up down the road; and then there's Harlan crime lord Boyd Crowder (Walt Goggins), whose world has been turned upside down by the incarceration of fiancée Ava.
Goggins, "The Shield" alumnus who has deserved an Emmy for each season of his performance as the complicated Boyd, talked to Yahoo TV about the unhappy, out-of-control, violent place in which Boyd finds himself this season, about how he sees Season 5 as the real beginning of what may be a "tragic fate" for Boyd, about his return as "Sons of Anarchy" transsexual prostitute Venus Van Dam, and about his upcoming guest appearance on "Community."
Season 5 is the first season of "Justified" since Elmore Leonard passed away. Do you feel an extra bit of pressure, an extra bit of enthusiasm maybe, for people to see this and celebrate the tone, the spirit of his work?
I don't know about pressure. I certainly am as motivated as I've ever been to honor that legacy and our little corner of it. We're a very small part of what Elmore Leonard accomplished in his life, but we do have a part of it. We take it very seriously. I take it very seriously. Everybody is working very, very hard, and we all feel him there. There is a chair that sits by the monitor that says "Elmore Leonard." It is a chair that is placed in front of the monitor every single day.
I remember seeing it for the first time, because it's never been there before. … I just had chills when I saw it. It's as if that chair, in some ways, represents him sitting there, watching. I remember not having a place to sit one day in particular, because my chair was somewhere else, and I really wanted to sit. I was tired. I just looked at it, and I looked at it. I had avoided sitting in it for the first month or so. On this particular day, I just asked him. I said, "Man, is it OK? Can I grace this chair and know that I'm just a visitor here?" I got my permission. It was a real special moment. It was a real special connection with the man who is the genesis for this ride that I've been on.
From the story lines to the characters, like the Crowes, to that trademark "Justified" dialogue, this season feels especially true to the spirit of Elmore Leonard storytelling.
I feel that way, too. The first episode, which Michael Dinner directed, it was a very hard episode to film. It took a long time and many rewrites to get it right and to really capture this tone. Going through these incarnations and the discussions that I had with [series creator Graham Yost] and [executive producer] Fred Golan, who were the writers of this episode, we really settled on, "What if this is the worst day of Boyd's life, outside of Ava going to prison?" It's just a sh-tty day. We just put him in these scenarios where his patience is tested time and time again. It starts off on a high. It starts off with Boyd talking to Ava and him saying, "I have it all under control. You will get out of here very soon." [By] that evening, he has no dope, and his ear's been shot. It's all downhill from there, to the point, at the end of the story, where he does something so outside of his character, which is to react instead of be proactive. I think it reveals the true, lesser side of Boyd's nature, which is, when cornered, with no options, he will f--king bite.
You and Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan, are very collaborative with developing your characters. Were you looking forward to playing Boyd in this state?
That was really scary for me as an actor. I knew that place existed in the mirror, when I dressed as Boyd Crowder and I'm looking at myself, but it's something that I've put way in the back of my mind. If you think about it, Boyd Crowder's only killed two people in four years. That's it. And he shot somebody at the mine, but that was after that person was going to die anyway, and that's it. He's already killed how many people by the end of the first three episodes [of Season 5]? I won't tell you how many people he's killed by the end of the first six episodes, but suffice it to say, this is a man who is impotent at the moment. He is used to being in charge and used to being in control of the situation, and he has lost control. He is denied the very thing that gives him purpose, and that is his relationship with Ava.
Is Boyd more upset by Ava's absence or his guilt about her being in jail?
I think it's a combination of both. I think he should feel guilty, because it's his fault. Even though he articulates it in a way — [there's] a conversation that Boyd has with Ava — he sees it a couple of different ways. When no one else is looking, he knows that this is his fault.
Ava and Boyd are each other's whole world, but there's a scene in "The Kids Aren't All Right," Episode 2, where they're openly frustrated with each other. Is that a temporary thing or something that will continue to play out through the season?
I think it's something that's going to pop up again throughout the season. It's certainly not every scene; it's a very, very limited exposure. How do we tell that story? What is the arc of that story and their relationship? How do we tell that story when we only get one shot at it? How do we tell that story with one scene in every episode? Joelle [Carter], who plays Ava Crowder, and I had a lot of discussions about it. Graham and I and all the writers had many different discussions about, what is this scene? Where are you, mentally at this part of the process, and at this part of the process, and at this part of the process? When does it bleed over into the situation, the jail? When does Boyd Crowder lose it with Ava? Because he's losing it with everyone else.
There will come a place — at least I hope we've earned it, and I feel like we've earned it — that even surprised me. I felt, "Wow, that's really interesting." When they come back around, and the way that it happens, it's like, "See, baby? I told you." It's done in a way that was different. I think it was kind of outside of the way most of these things are done. I'm pretty excited about it.
[Related: Kurt Sutter on the 'Sons of Anarchy' Finale]
This TV season has already been a busy one for you. Had you and Kurt Sutter planned from the beginning that you would return to "Sons of Anarchy" to unfold the backstory of Venus Van Dam?
Yeah, we talked about it at great length. We both agreed that we had to bring her back. Kurt fell in love with her as much as I did. We said, if we bring her back, we have to go against the expectations of the audience, and we have to fill her out three dimensionally, to understand the world from her point of view. I loved what he did with that, and how he was able to walk the line between still retaining her humor and her dignity in the face of such childhood horrors. I can't think of anything worse than asking a person to deny who they really are. I could never imagine saying that, and for Venus that was her reality. Against all of those odds, Venus became the person that she is, and she's a light in the world. I'm really happy with how it turned out, although I haven't seen it. I haven't seen the final episode.
Yeah, I'm so selfish about these things, more often than not. For me, I was there and I experienced it, and it was so satisfying to me. Venus and her relationship with Jax, and with her mom, and all the different characters, Tig. I didn't want to sully that or spoil that by watching it and bringing even the littlest bit of a critical eye. In my mind, it's as pure as the day we filmed it, and I'll probably leave it that way.
Do you typically not watch yourself on film? Do you watch "Justified"?
I've watched "Justified," yeah. I watched [each episode] one time. I've only ever seen "The Shield" one time. Every episode just once. I know I'll watch it again with my son, and I'll watch it again with Michael [Chiklis] and with Kenny [Johnson] when I'm older. I'm kind of saving it all for that.
That series finale is going to crush you.
I hope so. I hope it's as good as I remember.
It remains one of the best TV series finales ever.
Thank you, honey, for saying that. I'm excited for the last frame of "Justified." I can wait, and I'm happily, happily waiting, but for me as an actor, if it's what I think it's going to be, what we've talked about, I can't wait to participate in that.
[Related: The 22 Best and Worst TV Series Finales Ever]
Graham has said he thinks the show will end after Season 6. So, you all have an idea in mind for how you'd like everything to wrap up?
Oh, absolutely. I don't think you can go on a journey without having some idea, in the ballpark, of how you would like to see it end. We started talking about the ending of "The Shield" while we were filming the pilot. … We three — Kenny, and Michael, and I — and Dave Rees Snell, we were talking about how this all ends for these guys.
Was it what you had envisioned, at all?
No, no, no, it was so far removed from what I had anticipated. ["Justified"] may do the same thing, but I have a pretty good idea because I'm so heavily involved with Boyd. I have a relatively good idea about where I think it will end, but it could very well miss that mark a little on either side, too, which is exciting.
What do you still wonder about Boyd? What do you still want to explore about Boyd?
Where he has come in his journey, and all of the incarnations of his experience, because they've been so vastly different from season to season. Right now he's in a place that he's never been before, and that is really out of control. He's surrounded by people that he doesn't know. He doesn't trust them, he has no history with them, and that's scary. It's a scary place to be for a man like Boyd Crowder. We'll see what ultimately happens, but I'm in the thick of artistic bliss right now. I'm really having a good time. If you look at the evolution of these shows, all of them, good times only last for so long. You're continually changing, or you're not growing, and the show is not evolving. Looking back on "The Shield" — and my experience on "The Shield" is the only thing that I have, personally, to compare it to, that seven year journey — all the laughs between the strike team really ended after Season 2, Season 3. From there, it became an animal that eats itself. We became cannibals, just eating each other slowly, death by a thousand paper cuts.
Boyd's journey will be much more solo than that, and his descent into the inevitability of his tragic fate. We're in a process now, and I know where I think it's going to go at the end of this season. As I've said in other interviews, love is this great redeemer, but love, more often than not, is maybe the thing that unravels him the most. It's best for a man like Boyd Crowder not to care about anything in the world, because once you start caring about something in the world, then you become a part of the world, and you have something to really lose. When you have something to lose, and you're a man like Boyd Crowder, as evidenced this season, that's a very dangerous thing.
Another part of your busy TV season includes a guest appearance in the "Cooperative Polygraphy" episode of "Community" on Jan. 16. Who is your character?
I think it's all in the name, "Mr. Stone." He's a real conduit for these characters to see themselves for who they really are. It's very dry, and very smart. I think the button on the whole episode will no longer be in the name, but it will be "Mr. Stone Unhinged."
Were you a fan of the show? Is it how this came about?
A huge fan of the show. When they reached out and asked me to participate, I almost said no just out of anxiety. … I didn't want to f--k up my participation in the show because I enjoy it so much. Then I read the episode, and there was just no way that I couldn't do it. It's one of the smartest things on TV. From Joel McHale on down, everybody involved, they're just so good at what they do. I hope I did a good job. I sure did have a good time doing it.
Watch a preview:
"Justified" Season 5 premieres Jan. 7 at 10 p.m. on FX.