Justified Creator Graham Yost on Season 4

January 8, 2013

Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens. Photo credit: FX

Based on a character from Elmore Leonard‘s novels, Justified has given us one of the coolest characters on TV in Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. We had the pleasure of talking to series creator, Graham Yost, about where season four will take Raylan and our other Justified favorites, Boyd (Walton Goggins), Ava (Joelle Carter), Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) and Winona (Natalie Zea).

Season four of Justified premieres Tuesday, January 08, 2013 at 10 p.m. on FX.

Yost himself is moonlighting this year as an Executive Producer of new FX series, The Americans, premiering Wednesday, January 30 at 10 p.m.

How much time has passed in between seasons?
Graham Yost: We don’t actually specify but we’re looking at about three months.

At the end of Season three, Raylan was a little down on his luck. His father shot blindly at man in a hat in order to protect Boyd. Winona had left him. What kind of a place is he going to be at in the beginning of Season four?
GY: He’s not in a bad place. It’s interesting. That was our whole goal last year, to get Raylan to that point [of being a little down on his luck]. The thing with Arlo and where Boyd kind of… weaseled out of a jail term for murder and with Ava, [Raylan’s] old girlfriend. When we pick them up three months later, in his mind, he’s pretty much put Arlo past him. You know Raylan let go of Arlo years ago, he just keeps getting these rude reminders. He’s a little bit off his stride because he’s concerned about a child coming and he gets involved with something that he really shouldn’t, which is tracking down an out of state bail jumper, which is not something marshals are supposed to do. But it’s just that he’s trying to make some extra cash by working for a bail bondswoman out of Knoxville. And that starts something that almost gets him into serious trouble.

So he’s going to do some moonlighting?
GY: Just for that episode. We always love to play with Raylan occasionally going off and doing something on his own, which is something that Elmore established in his books. In a big chunk of Pronto, he’s going off to Italy to look for Harry Arno. And in Riding the Rap he’s looking for Harry Arno again – goes to his house with his new girlfriend. It’s not really a marshal’s case. He just likes to take off and use his marshal skills to do other things. We’ve got a little bit of Raylan doing that, especially in the first four episodes.

Speaking of the books and Elmore Leonard, what was it about the character of Raylan that made you want to create an entire television series around him?
GY: There is one little bit in the novella, Fire in the Hole, that when I got to it, I went OK, that’s a guy for a TV series. That’s a hero. That’s someone you want to watch for a long time. When I adapted it for the pilot, I essentially just transcribed it. Raylan’s visiting Ava, who he hasn’t seen in a long time and she kisses him on the lips – that’s going to be interesting. But anyway, she’s going up to take a shower. She’s in the house, and Dewey Crowe comes in. And Raylan says you don’t come into someone’s house without knocking and asking permission. And Dewey says, I’ll go out and I’m coming back in. Dewey goes out and gets a shotgun and Raylan comes out and he doesn’t pull his gun. I like a guy who can stop and say, wait a second, let me tell you how this goes, and basically talks Dewey Crowe into giving up his shotgun. I loved that. I just thought that is a cool character.

You mentioned the word hero. He always comes across as a hero, even when he’s doing slightly antiheroic things.
GY: Part of our goal is to, a few times a season – and we don’t really lay out when it’s going to happen – but it’s fun for us and fun for Tim and fun for the audience when Raylan loses his cool. There aren’t many things that push that button, but they do exist. It’s fun going to those.

The bad guys on this show are so much fun. What do we have to look forward to in regards to villains in Season four?
GY: You know, we’ve got a big, rogue’s gallery of villains coming down the pike. There’s this guy Jody on the first episode and then there’s this ex-martial arts fighter who comes in for a few episodes. We’ve got a new bad guy from Theo Tonin’s crew who pops up in the fifth. That’s just part of our fun is every week coming up with bad guys. In terms of a big bad guy — we all talked about this — we didn’t want the show to be the big bad guy of the year show. It’s a trap that you get into and the problem is that you continue to try to outdo yourself and top yourself, and then you start to lose any grounding. The expectations become focused on that.

This season, instead what we’re doing – as I said, there is no shortage of bad guys – but it’s more of a mystery story. Something happens in the opening scene of the season. Something we’ve never done before which is we flashback to an occurrence 30 years ago of a parachutist [who’s parachute doesn’t work properly] and he hits pavement in front of a house somewhere in Kentucky and is instantly killed. And out of the bag he’s carrying pops a brick of cocaine. That will be the spirit [of the season]… a mystery about that bag and about the man and his identity. And that’s something that has echoes to the present day and that all really kicks off the first episode. It sort of forms the big story of the season.

Is this going to have an effect in Harlan County also?
GY: Yes, very much. It’s a really a Harlan story and as we’ll find out pretty quickly it involves Arlo. We thought maybe we were done with Arlo at the end of last season and then we came up with this story and said no, better call [the actor who plays Arlo] Ray Barry, get him back in action.

Will Arlo be in jail?
GY: Oh, yes. Arlo is in prison for murder.

Should we expect him to be in jail the entire season?
GY: Oh, yeah. He doesn’t think so, but you’ll see.

You always say you wish there was more screen time for Rachel and Tim. Will we see more of them this season?
GY: We will see more of them. I want to spend more time with both Rachel (Erica Tazel) and Tim (Jacob Pitts) but it’s tough when we have Raylan and Boyd and Ava and then the bad guys. But we have come up with a few things for both Rachel and Tim, and Art (Nick Searcy), that will give us more time with them this season.

The characters on this show are all so great. Everybody loves Boyd, especially. What a great character. And Walton Goggins is amazing.
GY: That character would not be possible without Walton and the show wouldn’t be on the air without Tim. We are incredibly blessed.

One of the best parts of the show is watching Tim and Walton in action together. Everyone lives for those moments.
GY: A little spoiler alert there. We don’t want to wear out the welcome of Raylan going to see Boyd. We’ve done the scene so many times – [Raylan] going to get information, rough him [up a bit], find something. What we’re doing this season is letting them have their own stories that don’t cross for the first four episodes. When they cross in the fifth episode, that’s the first time they see each other in the season. From that point on, they’re both trying to accomplish the same thing, but they are not on the same side. They’re very much opposed. Our goal for the season is to really heat up that antagonism to a level that we’ve not yet reached before.

How was Walton cast? Did he and Tim know each other? Was it instant chemistry when the two met?
GY: They didn’t know each other. It was mostly a suggestion from FX. They loved Walton from his work on The Shield as Shane. We approached him and he was concerned because Boyd Crowder is originally introduced as a white supremacist. He didn’t want to play this racist southern stereotype, so Tim talked to him and then I talked to him, we convinced him that that’s just something that Boyd was playing because he was just using it as a way to get people to rob banks for him.

Then he came in and there’s a couple scenes where — I’m trying to remember the shooting order, as opposed to what it is in the script — but I guess the really big scene we did that I saw [the chemistry] between the two of them was after Raylan’s dragged Boyd in for a lineup and Boyd has skated on the lineup. Then Boyd says [to Raylan] – he basically turns the threat that Raylan used on Tommy Bucks back on Raylan, which is I’ll give you 24 hours and then I’m coming for you. And Raylan says, now you’re talking. Just watching that scene it was perfectly obvious that these guys were fantastic together. And then there was the big scene in the church, which in the story occurs earlier, but was shot after. That was just the confirmation that they were wonderful. You probably know that in the original script and the way we shot [the pilot] Boyd died. But there was an outcry from anyone and everyone who saw it. “No, don’t let him die!” And we had him live.

What’s your inspiration for the villains – the characters and the stories?
GY: I meet people like these every day. No, I don’t. It’s just from imagination and it’s from – you get into the mindset of Elmore’s world. He got the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Book Awards right before Thanksgiving. In his introduction they said, “In Elmore’s world, death stalks the land disguised as money.” That’s first and foremost. These bad guys always want something and it’s simple – nine times out of ten it’s money. Maybe [there’s a bit of] revenge in there, but mostly it’s just money, so that makes it pretty simple. The next thing is they all are not as smart as they think they are. But they are smart and they’re smart enough that they can have an interesting conversation, but they really overestimate their intelligence.

Then you try to find some quirks, some peculiarity, something that might seem interesting for a character that might only appear in a few scenes. With a character like Quarles last season it was really a matter of let’s go deeper. Let’s find out more about him. Why is he the way he is? With Mags in season two that was pretty clear right from the beginning, she was looking to the future and trying to protect her family. Everything she did had that motivation. She was ruthless, but she would have never described herself as that. She would have described herself as tough. It’s Elmore’s world and we’re just trying to muddle through as best we can.

As an Elmore Leonard fan, it had to be a great feeling when you found out that he likes the show.
GY: Yes, I like to say that the three best reviews we’ve received are, [counting down from three], third is that the people in the Marshal’s service get a kick out of the show. They have a sense of humor. They don’t officially, of course. Number two, the people in Harlan get a kick out of the show. But the most important review we’ve ever received is that Elmore Leonard gets a kick out of the show.

Do you think Raylan is intimidated by anyone? He gets himself into all of these crazy situations that he doesn’t seem to need to be in, but he seems to thrive on. Does he ever feel fear when he’s faced with any of this?
GY: I think he feels fear more for other people. I think he was afraid for Loretta in the second season when Coover kidnapped her and was going to dump her down a mineshaft. I think he felt fear for Ava when she was grabbed at the end of the first season. But in terms of his own safety… our goal is to try to explore that a little bit this year, toward the end of the season.

He is about to be a father, so –
GY: Oh, I think he’s afraid of that.

He’s maybe got to start thinking about living his life differently because he’s now got a child to take care of.
GY: Exactly. Yes.

How much are we going to see Winona this season?
GY: Not a lot, but enough to remind everybody that she is part of the world and that she has a singular ability in the world to not only speak the truth to Raylan and call him out on stuff, but get him to open up just a smidgeon. It’s no accident that we decided that the last scene of the season last year, Raylan would go talk to Winona about what happened. She is the closest thing that he has to a true confidant and that always gives me some hope. At least Raylan’s got someone he can talk to. There’s no question that she is the most important person in his life. But that said, because Winona is out of the day-to-day picture and they’re no longer together as a couple, one of the things that we also wanted to explore with Raylan this year is his uncanny ability to get involved with the wrong women, one after another. Maybe not the wrong women, but there’s always something that makes it problematic. He hasn’t found that nice little schoolmarm to settle down with him. That’s never going to be Raylan.

Is there still a possibility for the relationship of Raylan and Winona at some point?
GY: Not this season. And it’s only going to get worse, so I don’t know down the road.

Some of the fans seemed to have taken not so good of a liking to the character of Winona. What are your thoughts on that?
GY: If you’ve got a hero, no one wants the character who’s going to say, oh Hero, don’t go be a hero. That’s a difficult thing [for the audience to accept] and part of why we did what we did last year was to really kind of restore Winona because I think people liked her in first season. I think in the second season when she stole the money at then at the end of the season begged Raylan not to go save Loretta, those were certainly negative strokes against her. So at the beginning of the third season we decided let’s just have them having a great time. She’s there in the motel for the shooting of Fletcher The Icepick Nicks, and she’s scared but she doesn’t really bat an eye. And then of course we find out, well no, she’s already decided to leave him. She just wanted to make sure he was back on his feet and then she’s gone, and it makes sense. And then she comes back and gets the gun out of her old house and saves his ass there. So, part of our job last year was to rehabilitate Winona so that people could see she’s not wrong. And she’s smart enough to get away from him. At least for now.

Is there a specific woman in Raylan’s storyline this season?
GY: Where we pick up he’s still canoodling with Lindsey the bartender. That will take an interesting path over the first four episodes.

Will there be someone else after that?
GY: Yeah, for an episode here, an episode there. There are things we’re looking at. But to sum it up – when you’ve got Tim Olyphant playing Raylan Givens there’s always going to be ladies in his life. Otherwise, you’re an idiot. He’s so attractive. We have to have as much fun with that as we can.

Will we see Dewey Crowe again?
GY: If we go beyond this season we will see Dewey Crowe again. We probably won’t see him this season. My apologies. We love Damon [Harriman who plays Dewey] and we love Dewey Crowe. Our feeling with Dewey is we don’t want to do something to just serve a plot point. We like to come up with a story for Dewey. The second season we had the episode where he pretends to be Raylan. We loved that. We loved in the third season when he thinks he’s got his kidney stolen. We laugh when we think of Dewey and he’s really fun to write.

One of the funniest lines last season was, “I have four kidneys!” It was just –
GY: I know. [Laughs] That was a line that came up in the room and did not die. I’m glad it made it into the final cut.

Will Winona have the baby this season?
GY: She’s not going to have the baby this season. We were planning on it. The way the story took us and how the timeline compressed, it doesn’t look like we’ll have time for that. If we’re given a subsequent season or two, yes, [she’ll have the baby]. We might do it off-screen rather than having Natalie have spray bottle sweat on her and having to make funny noises.

I’m sure she would pull that off wonderfully if she had to.
GY: Oh, she would do a great job. And she might want to do it. She might say, I’m only coming back if you let me do a birthing scene, and if that’s the case we would gladly do it.