Not only is Walton Goggins doing a bang-up job portraying the unpredictable Boyd Crowder on the FX hit Justified [Wednesdays, 10/9C], he is clearly delighted to be doing promotion for the show.
I had the chance to take part in a conference call Q&A with Goggins earlier this week [my third such opportunity]. Despite a glitch that obscured part of the opening question, the session was great fun – Goggins was as thoughtful, articulate and engaging as ever. Such is his enthusiasm that it is easy to believe that he would enjoy going on about the show, and Boyd, for hours – instead of the mere half hour we usually get with him.
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Walton Goggins: First and foremost, let me thank everybody, all you journalists, for coming out today and being on this call. I appreciate it greatly. I didn’t hear the first part of your question, Brittany, but I did hear the last so I’ll address that and hopefully I’ll answer your question.
I think that Boyd is continually changing. I think that from the pilot to episode two was a big swing in a completely different direction. Then from Season One to Season Two is an even bigger swing. I think that if you look at the trajectory of Boyd Crowder and you think about kind of this Svengali, kind of this showman in the pilot episode. Then this near-death experience and this religious conversion and the ambiguous kind of nature of that conversion, only to be revealed at the end of Season One that he did truly believe in God.
In some ways that was his answer so that when we come into Season Two having that foundation rocked to its core, I think what you found is a man who is not even searching for meaning. He’s searching for the absence of meaning. He’s just trying to wander and be aimless for a while. I think we, as human beings, find a character like that sympathetic. I think that with that type of vulnerability that Boyd is feeling this season that you’re going to get an opportunity, as you already have through these five episodes to kind of see who this guy is. You’re looking behind the curtain; you’re getting to see behind the façade.
It’s really interesting to me because I didn’t really know who he was. It’s still a mystery to me. I’m still kind of figuring it out every single day. This season, at the beginning, I think what Graham and the writers and myself tried to do is to take a man who lived in the extremes only to thread a needle, to come out the other side and maybe find a man in balance. What will a Boyd Crowder in balance look like? I don’t know.
This season, Boyd has done something we haven’t seen from him before and that’s that he’s shown himself equally capable of being at peace in a domestic situation or turning tables on those three mine-robbers who would have killed him. He even gave them a chance to make a different choice. What is it about Boyd that makes him not merely equally comfortable with both peaceful and dangerous situations, but capable of enjoying both equally?
Goggins: I think it’s been a journey of self-discovery for him this season. He’s in the process of figuring that out. I don’t want to give it away now, but coming up in three or four episodes, you’re basically going to see what Boyd has taken away from this introspective, this journey within. He’s going to be able to articulate this in a way that Boyd would articulate this, in a poetic way. He’s going to just lay it all out there. Like having taken the time and looked at life from all these different angles, this is what I walk away with. It’s beautiful and in some ways, I think for the audience, hopefully you’ll really understand this guy and not just feel sympathy for him, but you’ll kind of understand it from a birds-eye point of view and you’ll see kind of his worldview laid out in a way that makes sense.
As a quick follow-up, when Boyd actually gave those three the chance to make a different choice, that suggested that Boyd has developed, even more, a peculiar and personal code of behavior. How do you think he has developed this?
Goggins: It’s interesting that you say that. I was about to say that his moral compass does not always point north by a larger society’s standard, but there is a moral code there and it is shifting. Whereas before he probably would have shot all three of those men point-blank, he did give them an opportunity to make the decision for themselves. I think that had they decided not to go against Boyd that Boyd would have honored his word and gone through with the robbery. It’s interesting how his moral code has changed from the beginning of Season One.
I think that what you’re going to see, hopefully, what will inform that moral code more than anything and allow him to find a place in the middle is love. I think you’re seeing that burgeoning relationship happening now between him and Ava—I think I’m okay to say that. At the end of the day, what may be Boyd’s salvation is love. A moral code infused with that kind of love, to Boyd, is even more complex than believing in Jesus or any other escapade he’s found himself in or on.
You mentioned briefly the relationship with Ava Crowder, played by Joelle Carter, who’s fantastic—
Goggins: Fantastic, I can’t say that enough. She’s a wonderful moment-to-moment actress and the scenes that we have together I just so look forward to.
I think it’s remarkable how the relationship between Boyd and Ava has changed. If you were to show a scene of Boyd standing on a porch from like last week compared to a scene of them together in the first couple episodes of the previous season you would think, “What’s going on here? This is an alternate universe. Fringe is having its effect on the series.” How have you negotiated how your characters are doing this? It still seems like there’s something just barely bubbling under the surface of Boyd and that maybe Ava has kind of come to terms with that. I’m just wondering what your process was between you and Joelle.
Goggins: It’s a great question. I worked really hard with the writers and with Joelle to set this relationship up in a way that we feel like we’ve earned it so that when it happens, if it does happen—and I won’t give you a definitive answer one way or the other, but—if it happens, you will be ready for it. You will think that we’ve earned it because we’ve taken our time with it. I think for any kind of courting process especially in a town like Harlan, which in my estimation, in my opinion, is suspended in time. Even though we have cell phones and things from the 21st century, it really is of another place in time and courting means something and ways to go about that mean something. We worked really hard to do it slowly and to do it over time so that when we do get there we feel like we’ve earned it.
Some of the most interesting conversations we had at the beginning of the season this year, for me as an actor and a collaborator, revolved around Boyd as a romantic guy. How would Boyd kind of go about really courting a woman? I said, “Let’s do things different.” He has to come at this from a completely different angle because in his art, Boyd is a poet. He’s an intellectual and even though he’s many, many other things—you can use a lot of adjectives to describe him—a poet is one of them. Graham had decided to put him in that room reading a book and we talked about the book. As it turns out, I really wanted this book, Of Human Bondage, because I thought it accurately reflected where he was in his life and it was written by my favorite author, Somerset Maugham, which is the name of my son, believe it or not.
So it was just a slow process about how do we earn this; how do we make it different than the rest of television. Hopefully we’ve done our job. Hopefully you’ll want to see them hook up by the time they do.
I’m really loving watching the transformation and thanks so much for sharing a bit of your craft with us.
Goggins: I’ll just say one other thing. It’s interesting for a man like Boyd—and I touched on this a minute ago. I know I’m being a little long-winded with these answers, I just so enjoy talking to the people that articulate questions—for a guy like Boyd, if he were to find—I mean, how ironic and how satisfying would it be that if at the end of this man’s journey, what brought him peace was a true understanding of love. Maybe he is in the process of experiencing an emotion that he’s never experienced before. Just like in Season One with God and just like in this season with wandering and wanting to go to the bottom of the hole—and not just a well. He wanted to go to the bottom of the well; that wasn’t deep enough so he went to the bottom of a mineshaft—only to kind of come out of it and come into the light and that light be love. What does that look like for a guy as twisted and strange as Boyd Crowder? It’s wonderful, man. Every … day is a surprise for me, very lucky.
My question for you was I always thought your character was an intellectual and that deep down Raylan knows this and he respects you because of that and knows your capabilities deep down. My question is your character seems to use a scalpel to navigate like a moral landmine whereas Mags Bennett uses a sledgehammer. I was wondering if you could give us some insight as to how Boyd is going to navigate Mags Bennett the rest of these episodes.
Goggins: I don’t know how much of that I can really go into, but to use an Obama metaphor, the difference between using a sledgehammer and using a scalpel, maybe that’s kind of what you said. Boyd really kind of uses a scalpel when he approaches people and like you said, Mags uses that sledgehammer. Hopefully, Boyd will be able to do it in a way that is truthful. If you watch him, if you watch the way that he manipulates situations, 80% of what he says is truthful. I think he’s an honorable guy in his way; he’s a thief among thieves. I think that once the Bennetts and the Crowders really kind of get together, you’re going to see that play out in a couple of different directions. One may be upfront and the other may not. How about that for some suspense?
My follow-up is does Boyd Crowder like Mags Bennett?
Goggins: I think Boyd Crowder respects Mags Bennett. I don’t know whether or not he likes Mags Bennett. I think he respects her.
Boyd Crowder like[s] Raylan?
Goggins: I think Boyd Crowder very much likes Raylan. I’ve heard Tim say in a couple of interviews that he doesn’t think that they’re friends, Raylan and Boyd. I would fervently disagree at least from Boyd’s point-of-view and that’s the only point-of-view I can really speak from. I think that he sincerely values the relationship that he has with Raylan.
When we first got the scripts this year, we got number one and number two and Boyd wasn’t in number one except at the very end. There’s a conversation that we have in number two, early on, right after we leave the mine. At the beginning of that conversation, Raylan states kind of why he’s there. I was talking to Graham and talking to Tim about it and I said once you say that this is the look—and maybe it’s not written here, but I’m going to tell you this is what Boyd’s feeling and that is, “Really, that’s all you came to talk to me about, man? That’s what our relationship means to you after like 18 men have been summarily executed and you haven’t seen me since that night two or three months ago and that’s the only thing that you’re here to talk about?” There was this disappointment on Boyd’s face that I think really kind of infused their relationship for the first five episodes. This is so wonderful as an actor to kind of find that moment, kind of find those moments that, while they’re not overt, they’re certainly not explored on a surface level, you really kind of feel—they fill in the layers. I think that if Boyd can get hurt by Raylan, than Boyd really cares for Raylan.
Your character has changed and developed so much. How far in advance do you find out things that are going to happen to your character and do you like to know?
Goggins: On The Shield, we never knew. We never knew anything, like literally until the day before we started shooting we would get the script. It would be these crazy situations that they would put us in. They really kept us in the dark. I know a little more in advance—probably a week-and-a-half in advance, certainly more than I knew on The Shield. I think the reason why is Graham and the writers have invited participation from us because we’re in the heads of these characters. It’s really, I think, productive in this particular situation to seek out that collaboration. We’ve had a really good time and in some ways kind of share ownership over these characters and the situations they kind of find themselves in.
The writers kind of come up with the story and they break the story. They give us some key character arcs that they want to get through over the course of the season. We sit and talk about that. Sometimes we bring them to them and a lot of times, they bring them to us. Once those situations are set up, then the conversation begins about how Boyd would really react in this situation. There’s a scene in episode four, I think, where they’re talking on the porch and it started off as really kind of a small scene just to establish the guy’s coming. I said, “Graham, no there’s gold here and I think if we do it right the audience will just want to sit and listen to Boyd and Ava talk. Let’s experience that scene as if they’ve only done it maybe one time before, but then from there forward we can imagine that every single one they’re out enjoying a cup of coffee together. That really lays the cornerstone for where their relationship might go.” It worked. I think people really liked it. But you never know, but that’s kind of our process and I like it.
I just wanted to ask where would you like to see Boyd’s relationship with Raylan go in the future.
Goggins: I wish I could give you an answer. I don’t know. I have no idea after what happens at the end of this season. I’m not sure. Eventually, these guys are going to have to butt heads in a way that skulls are going to be cracked. I hope that we prolong that day as long as possible. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen between these two.
In some ways, I think they have more in common. They have much more in common than they have not in common. Going forward, I would want to explore that a little bit more because I think we know that Raylan understands that they’re on the opposite sides of the fence. I think there might be a place where Raylan kind of comes to an understanding and admission, maybe, of how similar he is to Boyd—the good side of Boyd, but I don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t wait to see it like you can’t wait to see it.
I meant where would you like to see it go as opposed to where it will actually go.
Goggins: No, I don’t know the answer to that question. I understood that being your question. I don’t know right now. I’m so in this second season and we just wrapped two days ago. I’m satiated with the way it kind of ended up that I haven’t really begun to think about next season and if we get the opportunity to come back. Let’s talk in September and I’ll have an answer for you.
Do you think Boyd could hold his own series? After the last couple episodes, I certainly think so.
Goggins: From your mouth to God’s ear, we’ll see. Yes, you never know.
I just want to say that it is amazing to hear how insightful you are with your character. It’s obvious and apparent how much you care for Boyd and all the work that you put into it shows on the screen. I could listen to you talk about Boyd probably for like three hours.
Goggins: That’s very kind of you to say. I’ll buy lunch—for everybody on the phone call, lunch, you’ve got it.
That would be fantastic. You’ve been answering my questions as you go along so I’ve been trying to figure stuff out, but you’ve just gotten into Twitter, unless there’s somebody pretending to be you.
Goggins: I think it’s somebody maybe pretending to be me. That’s on my to-do-list. I literally had a son two months ago so that’s kind of taking all my attention, as it should be. My wife says, or my fiancé, rather, says, “You have to start Twittering. Here’s the stuff just fill it out.” So yes, I’m afraid that I’ll Twitter after like three glasses of wine and give the whole season away. That’s my only fear.
So this is you or is not you on Twitter right now?
Goggins: No, it’s not me.
Okay, well, someone needs to get on that.
Goggins: Ah, yes, come on.
That just popped up in the last two days. There’s an Olyphant and there’s yours in there, too.
Goggins: Is he smart?
There seems to be personal photos. At least there’s one of you and your wife as the background.
Goggins: Would you ask him to please give me the personal details of my life because sometimes I forget them?
We’ll skip that question because now I can’t ask you that one. I can say that in an upcoming episode we do see Boyd completely out of his element and wearing a suit. Can you tell me a little bit about how it went into what suit it is and how is he going to wear it? I know it’s completely—I mean, they go out and they buy it for him that day. It’s not—
Goggins: Yes, I don’t want to give too much of that away and hopefully you’ll see over the course of that episode and Avnet directed this particular episode where that happens, Jon Avnet. I’m such a big fan of his, but we kind of talked about how does this happen and what does … look like and Patia Prouty, our wardrobe supervisor, we talked about this suit. Well, if it’s going to come from Sears, what would Boyd find in Sears and how would he make it his own? It was a lengthy kind of discussion and hopefully it feels old-timey and kind of appropriate to Boyd.
I think so often in this particular season, Boyd is finding himself in situations that he’s never been in before, whether it’s a suit, whether it’s dealing with a business person or whether it’s falling in love or whether it’s trying not to be a criminal. Episode-to-episode literally I would get the script just to repeat myself and say, “How does this work? What does he do here?” It wouldn’t be revealed really until we got there. You’re going to see a suit and you’re going to see him—hopefully uncomfortable in a suit, but then kind of find his way the way that he finds his way into situations and works from the bottom up to understand them.
I spoke to Joelle on Friday and I told her that I thought Boyd and Ava were kind of like one another’s support system, like they don’t have anyone else, but each other. They’re each other’s family. Do you think that with their relationship developing that maybe he’s looking to her for her opinion of him to kind of boost him up to say, “Hey, you’re a good guy. You’re on this road to redemption and I think you’re actually going to make it there?” Or does he just—he doesn’t know, he doesn’t believe in himself yet and he’s looking for someone to do that?
Goggins: Look, if you’re in Alcoholics Anonymous or any other program and you’re trying to get sober, those people become your family and you lean on them. Ava having gone through the tragedy that she went through with Boyd’s brother, of all people, and Boyd having gone through the tragedy that he went through, there’s an intimacy kind of created there through pain and through suffering. I think they are a mutual support system and that will inform this relationship as it progresses. I think that who Boyd is as a person may be a schism that they can’t get over or maybe they can; I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think that who Boyd is will play a part in how this relationship evolves.
I’m curious as viewers and we’re all trying to figure out this sort of ambiguity of where Boyd stands and everybody else seen in the show seems to be in sort of that same spot. Boyd himself doesn’t really betray any kind of frustration that … people not seen what—that he sort of is what he says he is. Do you think underneath there’s any sort of conflict within him that—come on, I’m being true to my word here?
Goggins: As an experiment if nothing else, I think what Graham and the writers were able to do this year—and hopefully what I’ve been able to participate in—is the antithesis of the first season where the audience never bought that Boyd’s spiritual conversion was for real until the end. This season on some level at least with the people that I’ve talked to, the audience believes Boyd, but the rest of the people in Harlan on the show don’t believe Boyd. That’s really interesting because I think that the actions that Boyd may take in the future—there may be a wider margin of forgiveness from the audience if they completely understand this guy.
We’ll see what happens. I think that there are things that Raylan does that are not on par with Boyd, but certainly can be construed as immoral and borderline criminal. That’s really interesting; these two guys are kind of moving closer together and there are things that happen as the season progresses. I don’t know that it was necessarily architected this way from the beginning—I think if just kind of happened—where they found themselves experiencing emotions in different ways, but that were very similar. That’s really cool; when you’re looking at two different people in two different worlds going through the exact same thing and neither one of them really know it about each other. That’s something that I was excited to read so I hope you are excited to watch that.
You don’t feel like there’s a—?
Goggins: A conflict going on within Boyd?
—within Boyd or him just wanting to say, “What do I have to do to convince you people?”
Goggins: Absolutely, I think that’s played out in the first five episodes. I think at the end of the fifth episode last Wednesday night that there was a certain amount of—Boyd had an epiphany. There’s a certain realization on his part that, “Wait a minute, this may indeed be who I am,” but with that acceptance who is that person. It’s not the guy; it’s not the Boyd from episode one and the pilot, Season One. It’s not the guy who found God and then lost God. It’s a guy that he’s just kind of dipping his toes in the water and figuring out who am I. I feel like that’s what Boyd’s been doing since the show began to be quite honest with you.
Goggins: Before you ask your question while everybody else is still on the call, I just want to thank you all again—I know I’ve said it two or three times, but—for participating in this phone call. I’m sure you’ve talked to Tim and some of you have talked to Joelle and Natalie and so on and so forth. We live and die by the support from people like yourselves. I think that FX and basic cable is tantamount to independent cinema.
We make this product for a particular audience. Like Mad Men is made for a particular audience, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, all these shows on cable and basic cable are meant to reach out to a select group of viewers that want to watch it every week, that want to get lost in a book on television. I thank you again for supporting us in this way because without your support, we wouldn’t be here.
You’ve been talking about how Boyd is kind of ambiguous and mysterious. I was just wondering when you’re playing that are there times when they tell you, “Boyd’s actually thinking this, but make it so the audience can’t tell,” or is he mysterious to you as well.
Goggins: He’s mysterious to me as well, but they leave that part of it up to me. They give me the diving board and they say, “Jump.” Sometimes it’s from a low board and sometimes it’s from a high board. I think that for a person like Boyd, a person as smart as Boyd, he understands that his strength comes in ambiguity. What’s been his albatross is his ambiguity to himself, but what may be ultimately his salvation and his ultimate strength is him being truthful with himself and truthful to a couple of people around him. It’s been very interesting just to play and to figure out, but he’s still—yes, a mystery to me, for sure. I’m trying to make sense of it a word at a time.