Interview: 'Justified' creator Graham Yost
When I do interviews at press tour, my goal is just to get them published before the next season of the show in question debuts. It can be tricky, sometimes, when the show isn't coming back for a long time. For example, I spent about 15 minutes chatting with "Justified" creator Graham Yost at tour back in August, but the new season isn't scheduled to debut until February. So I sat on it for a while as I focused on more pressing subjects, and then even more things got in the way, etc., etc., until I recently saw a tweet from an FX publicist who had just watched a rough cut of the season two premiere and I realized it might be past time to publish a review done the day before Yost got back in the writers room to start crafting that episode and all the ones that will follow.
Because Yost was still a day away from that first meeting, there aren't a lot of details about season two, and even the few that are there probably don't qualify as spoiler-ish, since Yost said at various points that plans could change if one of his staffers had a better idea. So we mainly focused on leftover business from the first season, including the soul-searching done by Timothy Olyphant's trigger-happy US Marshal Raylan Givens, the expansion of Walton Goggin's role as Bible-thumping meth dealer Boyd Crowder, etc.
At what point did you realize that Boyd was going to be of more value to you than just re-creating (the Elmore Leonard short story) "Fire in the Hole"?
In a way, I could say the first day on the set watching Walton. But we still killed him off in the pilot as first shot, but when we decided to bring him back I would say one of the first scenes in the next episode when Raylan talks to Boyd and he’s in the hospital, I think we knew then. And then I think that as we evolved, this whole notion of him having a cause of trying to rid Harlan County of meth-amphetamine became something. It was bringing these two guys against each other, but also I knew from a fairly early point on that I wanted them on the same side of a gunfight in the last episode. And I thought if we could earn that that would be a great episode.
So now, he’s already gone through his God phase. He seems to have lost his faith already. What can you tell me about what role Boyd will play in the series next year?
We don’t know yet. We just started in the writers room today, but I think he’ll probably find another cause. I don’t know if he’ll feel God is motivating him. He might feel that he’s abandoned God and God has abandoned him. He may regain his faith. He may regain a deeper faith at some point but at this point he is, as he says, he is lost.
When we talked back In January (for a feature on Elmore Leonard), I asked you about the challenge of writing a character in Raylan who, at least in the pilot, is good at everything and always knows what’s going on. And you said, "What we’ll do is we’ll break them down," and you did that. But you did that to a point and then it seemed in the last couple of episodes that the plot kind of took over and maybe Raylan wasn’t examining himself quite as much.
No he wasn’t, except that I would say in the last episode. My favorite scene of the whole year is the scene that Fred Golan wrote in the finale between Raylan and Arlo - when Arlo says, "How long have you known?" and he says, "Oh Arlo, I think I’ve always known." That’s my favorite line of the year. My favorite bit performance of the year and that’s him - I don’t know if that’s him examining himself as much as it him kind of acknowledging himself.
There was some debate on my site about this, the self-examination that Raylan was going through in the middle portion of the year, was he ever really questioning the need for violence or was it just...
Where did the violence come from?
Yeah, or the consequences of it, maybe?
I don’t even know if he’s entirely come to terms with it. That’s an interesting question. I’ll bring that to the writer’s room. I don’t know if he’s entirely (done it). There’s a moment in that last episode when Boyd says, "I guess this is all my fault." And Raylan says, "Oh, I don’t know. I think me shooting Tommy Bucks had something to do with it." You know, that he understands that. There’s also a moment in an earlier episode - the one where Arlo gets kidnapped by the sheriff - where Boyd is doing some psycho-analyzing of Raylan, saying, "You know, you always try to protect your mother and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. You’ve got a blind spot." And Raylan says, "I’m not unaware of my motivations in life." You know, he’s not unaware, but he’s someone who’s like, "Okay, that’s just kind of a given. I understand that. I’m not stupid. But I’m still going to do what I’ve got to do. It’s my code and I’m going to live by it."
Yeah, because he went though that portion of the season where he was going out of his way to not have to pull his gun. And then in the last episode circumstances mean that he’s a killing machine again.
Well the thing about Raylan - first, we’re doing a television show, so it’s fun to have him in a shootout. He’ll pull his gun if he has to, but in every one of those circumstances, if you look at it, he always gives the person the choice. You know, it’s always their choice. And whether it’s a shootout in the motel room in the last episode or it’s the two guys from the dentist episode who were coming at him and separating and stuff and he says, "Don’t do this; It’s not going to go well for you guys." And they all think they’re better than Raylan and they’re not.
So having gone through a bit of introspection, and going up against his father and against Boyd, how do you top that for season 2 or what do you do for season 2 in terms of character?
I think it would be a mistake to try and top it, but I think the trick is going to be something that’s different that is equally compelling. And I can’t say exactly what that is but again, Raylan understanding the ramifications of what he does. The effects of that. Having to live with these things. And also a big part of the story is at a certain point, Raylan realized he wasn’t going to leave Kentucky. But he hasn't really embraced being in Kentucky. Then we get to that point where he says, "I’m home." And that might be a good goal for the season. But I’ll tell you I go in tomorrow and if a writer comes up with something better, we’ll do that.
Okay. And now Winona has left Gary, or Gary has left Winona.
Yeah, they’re separated. We don’t know what’s going to happen with that. We know that Raylan and Winona will always love each other and always hate each other. And that they desperately want to be together and can’t. And so, you know, if they get back together we’ll see why they shouldn’t be together.
I mean there were some people who viewed the night they had in the motel room is basically just she takes the ring off and it’s like "My marriage is on pause."
It’s a time-out. Yeah, they you know…they love to have sex with each other, you know? They really do.
Rachel and Tim kind of vanished late in the year and someone said basically like you had them for a limited number of episodes and you used them up too soon.
We used up Erica too soon. We’ve got her for the whole season this year.
And it was also when we get down into Harlan in those last stories, it was more just about Raylan. You know even Art pulled back to a certain degree, but we want to do more with them this season. And find out interesting things about them. Elmore (Leonard) is really tickled about Rachel.
And you had some great guest stars. Steven Root was fantastic; basically you got to do "Maximum Bob" in a way that I’m sure pleased Elmore more than the ABC show.
Could be, yeah.
Yeah. And you also brought in a bunch of Olyphant's "Deadwood" co-stars.
Yes, we did.
Was that by coincidence or design?
By coincidence, but it counted. So when the idea of Brent Sexton came up to play the Sheriff, someone said, "Well he was on 'Deadwood' and he was really good." W.Earl Brown, you know, he did some “Deadwood” stuff and he was really good... Anyone coming off of “Deadwood” has a good housekeeping seal of approval.
Well, you know there’s a fellow by the name of McShane who I think might make a very good villain for Raylan at some point.
But right now he’s arch bishop Waleran on "Pillars of the Earth."
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com