'Justified' Postmortem: Graham Yost Talks 'Cash Game,' Sam Elliott, and a Twist Straight Out of Harlan

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Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens
Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched this week's episode of Justified, "Cash Game" — written by Dave Andron and VJ Boyd and directed by Dean Parisot — stop reading now. As he'll do throughout the season, showrunner Graham Yost takes Yahoo TV inside the writers' room.

During our premiere postmortem, you said there was something the show's writers discovered on their pre-season trip to Harlan that you could tell us about after this second episode. Let's start there. What was it?
What happens at the end of the episode? They figure out something about the pizza place. There is a place in Harlan that is called the Portal, and when they were there on this research trip this summer, they went there. It didn't look quite as fancy as ours does, but it's got a big-ass vault in it. And the thing is with big vaults — you'll see there's something in the fourth episode related to the vault — they're too heavy to move and too expensive to dismantle because they're so solid and they're built to withstand people trying to break into them. So often with a building like that, they will just leave the vault in there.

So there is a place in Harlan called the Portal, which is a pizza restaurant with a big-ass bank vault in it. Combine that with when the locations team was looking around near Santa Clarita, where we shoot [Justified], for a place where they could have something that looks like a pizza restaurant that has a vault in it, they found a place that was a bank that was being turned into a pizza restaurant. Apparently, that is a trend that is sweeping America — old banks with vaults being turned into pizza restaurants. When we found out that there was this unused vault in the middle of Harlan we thought, "That's where they'll put the money." What they do in Colorado in the legal weed business is, there are vaults in warehouses and they've got 24-hour security — they can't put the money in banks, so they have to have private vaults. So that's where it all came from. Then the people in Harlan said we could use the name.

Related: 'Justified' Postmortem: Graham Yost Talks Premiere Shocker

We met a couple of new guys working with Ty Walker (Garret Dillahunt). What was the inspiration for Choo-Choo and casting Duke Davis Roberts, an accomplished MMA fighter? He's great.
We came up with the idea of just a really big guy who'd been damaged in the war. Then we got him, and it was just one of those things of reports coming back from the set, and you watch dailies, and look at a cut scene and go, "Oh, he's great. He's really doing something really interesting." He's very new to this business, but if you can do comedy — you get the timing, you get the joke — it's just huge. It was basically in the first scene between him and Raylan outside his car, when Raylan pulls him over. We just knew we had something.

The "I'm not following you" exchange, when Raylan couldn't tell if Choo-Choo was saying he hadn't been tailing him or that he didn't understand Raylan.
It became a little who's on first. His name, really, started as Mundo, and then Tim [Olyphant] got really tickled by the idea of people calling him Choo-Choo. It becomes a whole question as to why people call him that, and you'll see that over the course of the next few episodes.

We're also introduced to Seabass. He and Choo-Choo have history together in the military. Seabass seems to be the smart one.
Exactly: Walker is in charge, but Seabass is the smart one and Choo-Choo's the less smart one. We got Scott Grimes, who's an old Band of Brothers friend. He's just really funny and it's very believable — he knows how to carry a weapon and walk the walk.

The most anticipated debut this episode was, of course, Sam Elliott (who plays Avery Markham, the former business partner of Katherine Hale's dead husband and her current lover). He's back in Kentucky and clearly doesn't tolerate disloyalty. Sam's said he's been a fan of the show. How did his casting come about?
FX took us all out for lunch [last Thursday], which was very nice, and one of the guys said, "Is this the first time you thought of going after Sam? And how did this happen?" It's funny, just trying to peel back the history. We're pretty sure we went after him a few times but he just wasn't available. Then, I think, we found out that he liked the show, and so it was a Hail Mary-final season-let's see if we can get him. We had to talk through the part with him and tell him where we were going with it and what we wanted, and he was intrigued. Like Mary [Steenburgen], he was interested in playing a villain.

Related: 'Justified' Star Damon Herriman on That Ending (and Turtle-Dog's Origin Story)

The writers are very collaborative with actors when they want to add little touches to their characters. I remember you saying Mykelti Williamson had an idea for Limehouse's teeth. Any interesting discussions with Sam?
He didn't have a mustache — did we want him to grow one? And we just decided no. Then questions about how he would dress and the usual deal. With Sam, we wanted to go something sort of Western classical, someone who'd been living in Colorado for quite some time, shorter hair. What he brings to it is just an incredible intensity. It was VJ and Dave's idea to introduce him in this episode. When you read it on the page, you don't know who the guy is, you just see someone's in bed with Katherine Hale and you don't know what that means. You find out in the next episode that he's basically the Big Bad for the season. Of course, when you cast Sam Elliott, and he's in a scene in bed with Mary Steenburgen, you know that it's a big deal.

Does Ty have bad allergies? Is that something Garret suggested?
Tim was talking about him blowing his nose in the scene with Calhoun [played by Brad Leland], and Tim said something to the effect of when he's in a scene with Garret, he always feels like he's along for the ride because he enjoys it so much. Garret comes up with really interesting and specific takes on things so that it's just fun for him. I think it was fun for everyone to play with him.

Was Calhoun (the realtor whose ledger and papers Boyd scored in the bank heist instead of the cash he was after) inspired by a character in Elmore Leonard's Raylan books? He feels a litle Harry Arno-ish.
There's a little bit of Harry Arno in there, but it was just our vision of a realtor. We've taken a lot of shots at realtors over the years, especially with Gary Hawkins [Winona's late ex, played by William Ragsdale] and now with Calhoun. That's one of our traditions.

Related: 'Justified' Season Premiere Review: Say Goodbye to a Bad Guy

Boyd and Raylan met for the first time this season when Boyd arrived outside Calhoun's office thinking he was going to exchange Calhoun's files (which we learned document a client's shady dealings) for cash.
We knew it'd be the first time they were going to cross, and we just wanted them both to be probing each other — both knowing what's going on but not saying it, kind of dancing around it. Raylan doesn't want to get him yet. Raylan can pull him in for having that stolen property, but they'll just add that to the RICO list and let him go until they can get him for something big.

How does that meeting change Boyd's objective?
The goal is to rip off money from someone, but then, as we find out in the next episode... you'll see. If there is money, it's probably in a place guarded my mercenaries with a vault.

Boyd knowing that Raylan wants to get to Florida and see his daughter makes me nervous.
Be nervous.

But Boyd would never hurt the baby or Winona, right? Right, Graham?
It's a short flight from Lexington down to Miami Beach. That baby can't move fast. No. I will tell you this: We threatened Winona and the child's lives at the end of Season 4, and we said, "Well. We've done that, and we can never do that again."

We're seriously afraid for Ava this episode: Boyd hid the stolen documents in her shed to test her. She had to think on her feet when he confronted her about them before she could return them.
We liked the idea that Ava's answer to being caught with this stuff was to go on the offensive. We think, "Wow, man, she's handling this great. She's totally on board with Raylan" — and then at the end, she gives Boyd the Pizza Portal information.

Last question: Boyd's guy found Dewey's necklace and put it on a taxidermy squirrel in the bar for decoration. That will come back into play, yes?
As Chekhov said, "A blood-spattered gator teeth necklace that is found in the first act is instrumental in the third." We'll get down the road and you'll see that does not go unseen again. There are times when we'll just do stuff like that because we have no idea how it's going to pay off but we're just banking it just in case.

Click the photo below to launch the gallery of our picks for the funniest Justified moments in the first five seasons.

Justified airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.