We got the show’s creator Graham Yost to take the deep dive and tell us what to expect in the new season of Justified, the FX show in which Timothy Olyphant plays supremely badass U.S. marshal Raylan Givens. To bring you up to speed: there’s a baby on the way, a new pair of bad guys in town, and a brewing Cain-Abel dynamic with a frenemy. Here’s how Yost plans to deal with it all:
GQ: Raylan is such a steady lead character, he doesn’t necessarily do inner turmoil. Do you ever yearn to give him a spiraling emotional breakdown?
Yost: You know what, I’m gonna go back, when you asked me my favorite scene from season two, I’m going to change that to show you just how wrong you are! [laughs] It’s one of the scenes towards the end of “Reckoning”. He’s finally caught Dickie Bennett, who murdered his beloved Aunt Helen, and he drives Dickie into the woods and we very self-consciously modeled it on Miller’s Crossing. He’s taking to Dickie, and he’s going to kill him. And what Tim did in that scene when he tells Dickie what Aunt Helen meant to him, and then you realize he’s not going to kill him because of her, that’s my favorite of the season. And that is inner turmoil. But the thing is, you can’t do it too much. Because Raylan is not that guy. He is self-aware, but he’s not gonna broadcast it. There’s a great line in the first season where he says to Boyd, “I am not unaware of my motivations in life.” But it’s just not something he wants to [pause] explore.
GQ: There’s a flip side to that, with the prospect of Raylan becoming a father this season. How did you approach that storyline? It seems like you’ve had some fun with it.
Yost: We did, you’ll see later in the season that we go further into it. It’s one of the themes of the season.
GQ: Do you have a favorite character to write on the show?
Yost: Raylan and Boyd are up there, obviously, but Art’s really fun to write. Nick Searcy does such great work. They all do. Boyd has a color to his diction that allows us to—and we’ve got to be careful, we don’t want to get too ornate—but he enjoys crafting his words. He enjoys giving a speech. That’s something we found in Harlan, and you can find it anywhere in the world: People love to tell stories in a particular way. We love Boyd doing that. Now Raylan and his sly humor and his take on life where he professes not to care about anything, but he always finds a reason to do the right thing, that’s also fun to write, too.
GQ: How about Ava Crowder—she’s evolved and devolved quite a bit. Did you always know you were going to keep her in the story?
Yost: No, you know, Joelle [Carter] is doing such great work. When we came up with the idea of her pairing up with Boyd we knew it was a reach, we knew it was tough, and we were afraid that we would get a groan from the audience, so we took our time doing it. And I think we earned it. We maybe didn’t do it perfectly, but we did it in an unobjectionable way. And they did great work getting us there. And the things they did in the scenes, like when Boyd revealed he killed these guys and foiled this mine robbery, but he’s got some money for her, they just did fantastic work in that. There’s another scene in “Brother’s Keeper” where they decide to go to a party and he says “Put on something pretty,” and he says it offscreen and we just see the look on her face. Once we hit on that, that it would be a goal, then we felt in the third season what we wanted to create is Bonnie and Clyde. But Bonnie and Clyde without the weird sexual stuff. And it’s funny, we saw the first episode from this season with an audience the other night and when she hits Devil with the frying pan, there’s this audible cheer from the women, which, as a married man, frankly frightens me. Does my wife want to hit me with a frying pan? Probably! Joelle looks great with a shotgun in her hands. That’s the sort of thing we want to get into with her. But also, don’t be gratuitous about it.
GQ: There’s a little Lady MacBeth happening with her.
Yost: There is. She’s all the way on board with the criminal enterprise. This is the life she’s chosen, this is the man she’s chosen. Part of Ava’s arc has been that her whole life she thought her destiny was to get out of Harlan. Then she learned that that was, in fact, not her destiny. So she’s embracing this darker side in the romantic view of the criminal life. So it feels earned with her and real. And it doesn’t feel desperate or pathetic. It’s like, “This is a good way to make money. And hell with it, it’s exciting.”
GQ: Tell me about Carla Gugino joining the show. Her character’s name is Karen Goodall. Is this a nod to another Leonard creation, Karen Sisco?
Yost: My joke is “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” [laughs] We didn’t want to tread into legal problems because of who owns the rights to that character. But we knew that she had a lot of fun playing a Marshall on Sisco and she enjoyed kicking ass. She loves the repartee and the spirit and the fact that you can get into meaty scenes and then kick ass again. And she’d worked with Tim in the past. She’s doing a play, so we had a time constraint, so we had to get her in in our second episode.
GQ: Last year, in an interview you said that you were not on a quest to make an “important show.” But it does feel like the show has become important to its audience in a specific way. At first it seems like a rollicking crime show, where you can enjoy self-contained episodes, but in the second season it does feel like it morphed. The Mags character really brought a gravitas to it. Is that something you’ve discussed or has it been natural?
Yost: It’s been natural. The goal is really to create an entertaining show. My dream is for people to be thinking, I can’t wait to see what those crazy people on Justified are cooking up this week and enjoy that Elmore world. If it has any more import than that, you can’t say its accidental, but its not the intent. If that comes, it comes from Tim, who labors so hard noting up every script and outline, the writers, the other actors. We don’t want to see something we’ve seen before, or if we do, we want to make an homage instead of ripping something off. What more can we find out? What else can be going on here? Any import is we’ve manged to do some justice to Elmore’s legacy.