Boyd Crowder is no stranger to working in darkness, but he’s not all that accustomed to having his back against the wall 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately for Boyd, that’s his exact situation in the new season of Justified, the acclaimed FX drama about U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens’ relationship with hometown Harlan County, a hive of scum and villainy that puts Mos Eisley to shame.
As his career takes dangerous new turns, Boyd finds himself forced to operate at a higher level — and based on last night’s Season 5 premiere, it looks like he might not be up to the challenge.
To learn more, Spinoff Online spoke with actor Walton Goggins about Boyd’s journey over the course of the fifth season of Justified, the fate of his relationship with jailed wife Ava, and much more.
Spinoff Online: Walton, I’ve been itching for Justified to return for a while now, and I’m happy to say, the season premiere delivered on very high expectations. What’s the mood been like on set and around the show? How are you and everybody else feeling about the material of Season 5 thus far?
Walton Goggins: We’re very excited about Season 5 — that, in and of itself, should be an indicator of how excited we are. We live a life of impermanence as artists, so to be on Season 5 of anything is a miracle. Now, with the passing of our father figure, Elmore Leonard, we all feel an extra bit of motivation to really get [the show] right, and to at least carry our small piece of Elmore Leonard and play it forward as far as we can. To that end, I think we’ve accomplished that, at least in my own mind.
Justified excels at leading viewers down obvious paths — right before it takes a sharp left, drops down through a trap door, hops in a car and runs you over. It’s a show that messes with expectations and goes in directions you never anticipated. Few characters represent that aspect of the show better than Boyd, given all the various versions we’ve seen of him throughout the seasons. Do you still feel like Boyd is changing? Are you discovering new aspects of the character this year?
More so than ever before, to be quite honest with you. I’m in the thick of experiencing what it’s like to be Boyd Crowder unhinged. This is a person who, more often than not, spends large parts of his day thinking about things. He’s a thinker and a philosopher, and this season, more so than any other prior season, and maybe more so than any other time in his life, he’s reacting to things. He’s not proactive. He’s cornered. He’s impotent, because the love of his life is incarcerated. He’s powerless in the face of that institutional incarceration. For him, he’s reacting the way that an animal would react when they’re cornered.
He even said as much during the season premiere, right after he beats Lee Paxton’s skull in, and Lee’s wife walks in on the carnage. Boyd tells her, “Normally I’m not a violent man, but my back’s against the wall.”
Yeah, and I knew that part of him was there, but it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the past four years. To see it, and to come up against it in episode one and to see how it’s playing out throughout Season 5 … I’ll never see Boyd Crowder the same again. He’s changed dramatically, and in my mind, he’s a victim of his own doing. He’s a victim of circumstances that were created by him.
Season 4 ended on a very low note for Boyd and Ava, even though, by and large, it was a pretty romantic season for the two of them, what with getting engaged and buying the new house. How different is the dynamic between Boyd and Ava this season, now that Ava is behind bars?
I’ve said this before: Boyd Crowder was not able to break the glass ceiling, socially or economically speaking. Since that wasn’t ultimately the case, that glass ceiling will at least take some of his bullets. That’s how it’s playing out in the season. It was very difficult to get the scenes with Ava and Boyd right this year, because it’s so limited. For the most part, it’s only a scene per episode. How do you advance this love story with those kinds of limitations? What we came up with, I think, is very organic. It’s just a matter of looking at the frustrations of incarceration and its effects on these two people. Ava is literally in jail, and Boyd is metaphorically in his own jail. Emotions run high and stress is ubiquitous. It’s going to play itself out in ways that were surprising even to me.
A lot of characters on Justified have been spotted wearing orange in their time — Boyd has been behind bars, Arlo died in prison, Dewey spent a lot of time incarcerated — but it’s a new color for Ava. She’s been kept down many times in her life, but now she’s trapped inside of a literal prison. It’s a really interesting place for the character. What can you say about Joelle Carter’s work as Ava this season, and what she’s doing with that material?
Ah, it’s just fantastic, man. She’s such a good actor. You think about where we’ve come, where this relationship has come, from the first time they met in season one, in the pilot, to now. She was literally standing there with a shotgun ready to kill Boyd, and now she would kill for him. Boyd not only believes that, he’s in the process of doing it. What Joelle is tasked with this year, what she’s given the opportunity to do, is extraordinary. It doesn’t happen often in an actor’s life to be given this rich material, episode after episode after episode, and she knocks it out of the park. Ava, who is normally a very strong woman, will become frightened and cornered, the way that Boyd is. I won’t say too much beyond that, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s good, and she’s good.
Boyd’s personal life is in jeopardy, and his professional endeavors aren’t going so well, either.
He’s surrounded by people he doesn’t know. He’s in a world he’s never been in before. He’s suspect of everyone. No one is to be trusted. That takes up a lot of energy, having to defend every single border. It takes up a lot of resources. In some ways, one is a distraction for the other, whether it’s Ava being incarcerated, or his own business affairs outside of his relationship. Both are informing how he acts in both worlds. He’s not up to the task. He’s becoming unwound. He’s unraveling. Again, for a man like Boyd Crowder, that’s very dangerous territory. I mean, he’s only killed two people in four seasons —
Is that right? Only two?
He’s only killed two people in four seasons: one in the pilot, and then Devil [in Season 3]. That’s it. I will not tell you the number, but suffice it to say, there will be many, many more than that by Episode 6 [of the fifth season]. It’s a direct result of what’s going on internally.
Justified has never shied away from violence, but in the premiere alone, I lost track of how many people were shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to near-death. Do you feel like the violence has been amped up this season?
Absolutely, yeah. It’s organic to the world we’re living in. You know, this show isn’t a straight-up drama, and it’s also not a straight-up comedy. It’s Elmore Leonard. If he’s anything, he’s cool. We’re able to go back and forth between worlds and tones, all the while trying to keep our feet firmly planted in Elmore’s imagination — which is not an easy thing to do, scene after scene. It’s very difficult to do. But we’re different from any other show on television, and I don’t mean that as a good or bad thing. It’s just the nature of the story we’re personally telling, where we are with the characters on the show and what we’re going through, my character in particular. There’s a season for everything, and this is the season for violence, as it pertains to Boyd Crowder. He’s impotent, again, and cornered. He’s reacting the way an animal reacts when cornered: They will bite you.
Given Boyd’s current headspace, and given his attitude toward Raylan last season, I really can’t wait to see what happens when these two get in the same room together this season.
Their relationship has changed so much over the course of the show. Something happened last year that never happened in the history of their relationship, when Boyd said, “I don’t like you, Raylan.” Boyd isn’t a liar. More often than not, Boyd speaks the truth. He may color that truth a certain way depending on what he’s selling, but if you really look at the things that come out of his mouth, more often than not, they’re not lies. When he says something, he means it. It has taken four seasons, and all of their encounters, for Boyd to get to that place. I think you’ll be surprised to see what happens to their relationship this season. There’s a rhythm to what their relationship was, where it currently is, and there are thoughts about where it needs to be when the show ends. Taking that all into consideration, I think it might surprise you where their relationship is headed this season.
We talked about how Justified is different from other shows on television, in that it has its violence and drama and comedy in equal measure. I feel like that combination is on full display through Dewey Crowe and his family, the “big bads” of the season. Dewey is usually the butt of the joke, what with his four kidneys. But just in the premiere, it’s clear that his cousin Darryl is a pretty dangerous guy. In a way, it almost feels like the Crowes represent the different sides of Justified: They’re dangerous as hell and funny as hell at the same time.
Yeah, I think so. I think Dewey Crowe is as Elmore Leonard as any character on our show. He embodies all of it. Yet, his journey is organic. You’ll see a person who ultimately gets tired being the butt of the joke, and do things (in a Dewey Crowe way) that any person would do when that happens in their life. He changes. Damon Herriman, the actor who plays Dewey — he’s Australian, man. He’s an extraordinary actor, an unbelievable actor. My stuff with him, and his stuff in general this season, is unbelievable work. It’s unbelievable that he’s able to do that time and time again.
But really, it’s the same with everyone on the show. If you look at everyone, we’re all criminals. We’re all on the take. We all want something. The thing that unites us all, more than anything, is that we’re all misfits. Justified is the land of misfits and failed endeavors and schemes that don’t ultimately work out.
Justified airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.