Walton Goggins would never say the relationship between his "Justified" character, Boyd Crowder, and Timothy Olyphant's U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens fuels the hit FX series.
"That's an interesting question," he told me last week. "That would be real tough for me to answer and to do it with humility because ... I wouldn't want to come off as arrogant by pretending to know the answer to that question.
"But I certainly hope so. I think you have these two men who are very similar, yet they're very, very different and at the end of the day people enjoy when they meet."
Then he put me on the spot: "What do you think?"
The answer, for me, is a resounding yes. No matter how many villains you line up against Raylan, Boyd remains the sharpest thorn in his side—and the most compelling reason to watch.
An early scene in the Season 3 premiere (9 p.m. Jan. 17, FX; 4 stars) backs up my theory. Raylan has called Boyd into the marshals' office to ask if Boyd took the marijuana stash that belonged to dearly departed criminal matriarch Mags Bennett, but Boyd is being cagey as ever. The conversation drips with country-fried courteousness as each tries to learn what the other knows.
Their complex relationship is built on mutual respect and a little bit of love, but also on distrust and skepticism. Boyd and Raylan are old friends, of course, but they're also on opposite sides of the law. You really couldn't say that one is good and the other evil, because they've both done heroic and reprehensible things. (And continue to do so this season.)
That murky morality smothers the world of "Justified."
Goggins, who earned an Emmy nomination last year for playing Boyd, talked more about Season 3, Boyd's new swagger and how he just celebrated his son's first birthday.
Last year when we talked your son had just been born. Did he turn 1 yet? (See interview here)
January 1st. And we made it! Hot damn, I haven't been as proud of anything I've ever done in my life man.
Congrats. When talked you said that Boyd sees himself for the first time last season. I was wondering what you think he saw and how he sees himself now.
I think he sees himself for really who he is and I think last season for Boyd was about coming to terms with who he is and being OK with that regardless of where the chips may fall. "This is who I am." That's a real journey for an actor to be able to participate in a character's life who is in transition and arrives to a place where he's comfortable. It was a difficult road for him to get there. I think it's the first time he's ever experienced that in his life.
Boyd has a great speech I think in the "Devil You Know" episode where he's talking to Devil and he says, "Which Boyd Crowder am I being asked to follow?" And Boyd says, "What if I told you I was the man who recruited you in that church and I also told you I was the man who got shot, who found God, who betrayed his father and I was the man who killed men and gotten a whole bunch of men killed." And he says, "I can't discard my past anymore than these tattoos." Does he see himself as all those things?
I don't think that he is always so truthful with himself and that was a very truthful moment. It's rare that you get to glimpse that with Boyd, that kind of honesty. I think that the roadmap of his life is tattooed on his body—from the swastika to the JC [Jesus Christ], which is above the bullet hole. I think he's come to terms with all of it and it's like, "Well, I can't run from that past, but I'm not that person anymore, and that helped me get to where I am."
I think that's the evolution of humanity. We can only transcend by truly coming to terms with where we come from. That's what I felt Boyd was saying in that moment. He's not saying I'm a racist or I'm a born-again Christian. He is saying I'm all of it, everything; I've worn all of those coats to get to this moment right here just to shed them.
You ask some deep questions man. This may require a glass of wine.
That's what I need watching the show! So this season he is sort of getting the gang back together; he has some real goals.
He has some recruiting to do. Don't you think? [Laughs.] I mean his band of outlaws is pretty thin, but I think that for Boyd this season is about putting in a foundation and finding that cornerstone on which to build his empire. Hopefully once he gets to his empire it will be earned and not something that comes easy. He's starting from the ground up and he's a CEO of a criminal corporation and he's never been that as a real leader, a real player before. So his attitude has changed, his behavior changes. Everything changes. He has his swagger back, but it's a different swagger.
How would you describe his new swagger?
I think he will find humor in the strangest of places and he will find sadness in the strangest of places. He is still a showman, but his audience has heard all of his homilies, so now he's forced to motivate people in a different way, in an authentic way, in a real way.
And speaking of the whole criminal enterprise thing, he has a lot of competition this year.
He has a lot of competition, man. Yeah, a lot of competition and a few mouths to feed, you know?
After last season, which was so praised, did you guys worry at the beginning when you started filming this season how you'd top last season?
Absolutely, I mean absolutely. I think [creator and showrunner] Graham [Yost] set the tone: You don't top last season for us. You don't try to do that. You just try to move in a different direction and hopefully people will follow and not play the same music over and over again, but have chords that people find familiar. You move in a different direction.
I learned that on "The Shield" really early on from Michael [Chiklis]; you never try to top the year before and you just try to be honest from year to year. By going down that road I don't feel like there was one weak season in "The Shield," personally. I felt like it just got better and better, and not because the actors were better or the writing was better, but because there was more water under the bridge for the audience in regards to these characters. The audience was more invested. I think that's where we hope not to fail—keeping the audience wanting to tune to see these people and their struggles.
Margo [Martindale]—Mags Bennett in this world is a big hole to fill and they need two big actors to fill Mags Bennett. They've reached out to Mykelti Williamson [playing Ellstin Limehouse]and Neal McDonough [playing Detroit mobster Robert Quarles]. I think we've stopped the hemorrhaging. We've stopped the water and are shoring up the dam. But we're really just trying to do the best we can every single week and hopefully people like it.
I loved how different these baddies are from Mags, and that the show reveals just ever so much about them each episode. Just enough juicy detail to make us want to learn more.
Yeah, yeah, that's right. And you have Raylan on one side of the law and Boyd on the other side of the law and it will wear a fellow out just running interference between those two. Then you throw two other people in the mix, somebody is going to get hurt.
Again this year is Raylan and Boyd seem to be on opposite sides, but it looks like maybe they're going to be on the same side at times.
You know history trumps everything.
Have you seen the teasers?
I have. Yeah, I have. I think they did a really nice job with that. I think the FX publicity department is so good and have been so good for so long. The campaign that they did for "American Horror Story" was wonderful. That's a group of people that are so talented. It's such a competitive industry just to get your product out there and to pique people's interest. I'm glad it's not my responsibility. So I'm really proud of these guys at FX and what they do.
The Raylan-Boyd dynamic is still my favorite part of the series, and yes I do feel it's the center of the show. And I love that the season opens with the two of you facing off. And to learn that Boyd was just screwing with Raylan to get into jail so he could get to Dickie Bennett was clever. Boyd is a smart one.
Boyd's a smart one; that's got to be the name of your article, "Boyd is a Smart One."
Boyd says he's not going to work with outsiders and there is going to be no whores and no mistakes and all that stuff. Is he still sort of the gentleman gangster?
I think he is the gentleman gangster, but I'll be ripping off Graham when I say this: This season is about crossing lines and doing things that you said you wouldn't. Everyone is going to have a line to cross and that's really interesting to me and for Boyd in particular in how that's going to play out.
So he even crosses lines that he sort of talks about?
I think so. Without giving anything away I think yeah, yeah.
It's never an easy thing for Boyd to kill someone, is it?
Even somebody who doesn't necessarily like?
Are Boyd and Ava going to become a modern day Bonnie and Clyde?
Yeah, man. [Laughs.] There is a love scene that is coming up—I say a love scene—it is so touching and tender and so weird that it blew my mind when I read it and I'm really, really excited about it and what that means and how people will react to that.
I love that she took the frying pan to Devil.
Me too man. Me too. Don't disrespect my woman. She is a woman in her own right.
Don't mess with Ava.
That's what's so great about this show and so great about so many shows on television right now. From "Boardwalk Empire" to "Mad Men" to "Breaking Bad," you're morally conflicted [by the characters]. You may not like what Boyd does, but how can you not like a man who has a moral code and a respect for women and is in love with a woman and treats her with such kindness? He has a capacity to be so good and a capacity to be so bad simultaneously. And isn't that all of us? How many times do we as human beings swing between those two extremes in our thoughts?
Boyd and Raylan, are they ever going to be able to sit down without trying to get something from each other?
God I hope so. I was speaking to a writer and I said Boyd and Raylan are friends and the writer said that's funny because Tim says Raylan and Boyd are enemies. I think maybe that's why I enjoy working with Tim so much. We've never talked about it really, but he thinks we're enemies and I think we're friends and maybe that's why I have a such a good time and he has such a good time in those scenes.
You and I talked about that last season.
That's right. It was you.
Congrats on the Emmy nomination. Well deserved.
Thanks man. Thank you. Thank you. That was quite the day, yeah, quite the month actually. It was something I'll never forget.