Justified Q&A: Creator Graham Yost Talks Bad Guys and Life After Mags

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The third season of FX's Justified premiered last night, and the series picked up right where it left off—both in story and in quality—at the end of its stellar second season. "The Gunfighter" introduced us to at least one of the new season's new bad guys (Neal McDonough's slick Quarles) and caught us up on some of Raylan Givens' (Timothy Olyphant) fractured and complicated relationships.

To get more details on what's in store for Season 3 and what happened in the premiere, I spoke with series creator Graham Yost (Boomtown, Band of Brothers), who was just as excited to discuss Justified as I was.


The premiere episode featured some violent moments, and Timothy Olyphant has said in interviews that we can expect even more. Why did you decide to ramp up the carnage in Season 3?

You know, honestly we didnʼt, and thatʼs the horrible thing about this world of Justified, is that weʼve been consciously trying to not have Raylan kill people, and then youʼd turn around and you realize, yeah, but Quarles kills two people and Fletcher Nix kills two people, and itʼs like yeeeee! So we kind of took our eye off that ball. I mean, listen, we needed a bad guy for that episode who Raylan could beat. And that guy we needed to show was really, really bad.

Thatʼs why Fletcher Nix killed the watch dealer and the pizza guy. And we saw the episode with an audience and killing the watch guy was bad, but when he killed the pizza guy, that just made him—you just wanted him to get shot. And then we also needed to set up a bad guy for the season, and so Quarles did what Quarles does. I think that Timʼs right in some respects, thereʼs some episodes that are pretty crazy, but Raylanʼs not out there shootinʼ bad guys as much. He shoots Fletcher Nix but he shoots him in the shoulder. Anyway, the body count of Raylanʼs hand is down, but that doesnʼt mean that itʼs a violence-free show, thatʼs for sure.


Does that sort of violence surrounding Raylan have any effect on him as an expectant father?

Um, it does. I would say that it has an effect on Winona. I donʼt want to tip too much, but you know, it certainly is going to give her pause, although you donʼt see that at first.


In my first viewing of the episode, I didn't connect Boyd's early fight with Raylan as purposeful. But my smarter girlfriend pointed out to me that he did it on purpose to get closer to Dickie, who shot Ava. Is Boyd really that crazy, that he would intentionally pick a fight with Raylan to get thrown in jail so he could get revenge on Dickie?

And Iʼm so glad she picked up on that, cuz itʼs funny. We talked to some people who saw it live on Tuesday night [at the premiere], thatʼs the biggest sort of focus group type-thing we had. It was, you know, friends, family, and some critics, but most people didnʼt pick up on that. But some people did. And all I can say is you gotta watch Episode 2.


But Raylan? Couldnʼt he have chosen someone other than a Marshal as an unwitting accomplice in his plan for revenge?

Well, who else would give him the pleasure? Thereʼs nothing that would give Boyd more pleasure than to hit Raylan in the face.


Okay, now it makes sense. Speaking of Dickie, how are you going to use him this year? I love Jeremy Davies, and Dickie was one of my favorite characters last season.

How ʻbout his hair this year? I think that was entirely his choice, Iʼm not sure if it was the hair team on Justified. Itʼs just like insane hair. Jeremy is going to be in about something in the range of seven episodes in the season, something like that.


The relationship between Art and Raylan has really changed, and Raylan seems to have hit a wall in regaining Art's trust. He almost seems like heʼs just given up on it.

Well, our interpretation—and we may be wrong, because Iʼve heard questions similar to this that make me think we were wrong—but it was our intention at the end of last season, when Art showed up and saved Raylanʼs life with Tim—we presume that it was Tim Gutterson who fired the kill shot on Doyle. That while everything is not, you know, hunky dory between them, Art has shown that he will step beyond his own grievances toward Raylan in that he is still, after all, a fellow Marshal and a dear friend. So we wanted to go back to a little bit more of the friendliness at the beginning of this season. But you will see in the second episode, you will see a side of Art that lets Raylan see him in a different light, and then hopefully the audience understands why Art has tolerated Raylan for so long.


You just mentioned Tim; I love how he can go toe-to-toe with Raylan. I love the dialogue about him doing the pee-pee dance. I'm wondering if he'll be used more, because he's great. Is he going to get a bigger arc?

Gutterson gets a little more play this season. Itʼs always one of those things where we get some episodes in and itʼs like, "Oh God, we havenʼt used Tim or Rachel enough." But itʼs tough when youʼve got the guy in the hat on the poster. [He] is the focus of the show. And in Boyd weʼve got the guy down in Harlan whoʼs robbing people. So, Iʼd say thatʼs one of the biggest struggles we have on the show, is trying to make sure that we serve Tim and Rachel enough. And we probably donʼt. But anyway, Tim does have a story this season. It has to do with his relationship with Raylan, and youʼll see that.


I guess having too many great characters is a good problem to have.

Um, yeah. Listen, in Elmoreʼs original story there are no other deputies, just Art and Raylan, and some unnamed deputies in the background. And I understand why he did that. We thought that we needed deputies for the sake of the story going forward, and so I donʼt regret that. And working with Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel is a joy. But there are a lot of mouths to feed in that respect. Especially when youʼre doing Elmore Leonardʼs show, you want to spend a lot of time with the bad guys. So thatʼs where, if we had more than 13 episodes—it would be so hard to do more than 13—but you can see in a network show if theyʼre doing 22, you can afford to have more time spent with the other members, the other characters in the story.


Thereʼs always a possibility for a spin-off! Iʼd watch Harlan County Investigative Service: Tim and Rachel.

I would too.


Personally, I liked Season 2 more than Season 1. What's your take on how those two seasons were different? What did you learn from Season 1 that went into Season 2, and then how did you apply that to Season 3?

You know, Season 1 we were still finding out what the show was, and yet we were also operating under certain marching orders from [FX president] John Landgraf about, "Letʼs start the series with more standalone episodes, letʼs phase in the serialized elements, and end it more on that." We did that again in Season 2, the difference was when we introduced Mags Bennett, the Margo Martindale character. We introduced her big in the first episode, and so once we established that, then we could step off it for a while, and we did our pregnant fugitive episode, and the geriatric fugitive episode. We could do these other things, but we were always continuing that big story. And that was the biggest difference.

Now, the other thing that happened is we cast Margo Martindale, plus Jeremy Davies, plus Joel Lyle Taylor, plus Brad Henke, and then the person who I think gets overlooked because of her age, Kaitlyn Dever as Loretta. And when you get people like that as your guest cast, that just drew us back to that story a lot, because we just loved writing for them. So itʼs not so much that we learned anything as it was, we just naturally got, "Okay letʼs have another scene with Mags," you know, because Margo was just so compelling. Or the girl, or the brothers.

And going into Season 3, the question is, "Can we top that?" Probably not. "Can we match it?" Well, not if we do the same thing. Thatʼll just feel like weʼre repeating ourselves. So letʼs come up with something that is satisfying but is different. And thatʼs what we hope weʼve done.


And you did make a big splash with Nealʼs character, Quarles. Is he going to walk a sort of similar path to Margoʼs?

Well, in that a big part of the season will be about him. Absolutely. And how he comes in conflict with Raylan, how he comes in conflict with Boyd. And then thereʼs the other new character, this character Ellstin Limehouse, played by Mykelti Williamson, who makes his first appearance at the end of the second episode. And heʼs, by intent, a much more enigmatic, mysterious, character.


There doesnʼt seem to be a single wasted word in each script. Thatʼs probably my favorite thing about the show. Everything that comes out of anyoneʼs mouth is important and itʼs very entertaining. Whatʼs the writing process like, do you go over each script until itʼs perfect? Or do you imagine Elmoreʼs looking over your shoulder?

Well we imagine Elmoreʼs looking over our shoulder, or, not even looking over our shoulder, but that heʼs standing down the path and saying, “This way.” And so weʼre always trying to go into his world and imagine how he would approach a character, or a scene, or a development, or an arc, or a story. And then itʼs like any show: We do draft after draft after draft. And once Tim gets involved, he gives a lot of notes and then he works very closely with the writer of the episode, whether thatʼs me, or Fred Golan, or Ben Cavell, or Taylor Elmore, or Dave Andron, or any of our new writers, heʼll work very closely with them. And frankly, theyʼll be rewriting right up until the director says, “Cut.” And, you know, especially in scenes between Tim and the other cast, theyʼll try it different ways. What if we moved these lines around? What if we added this? And Iʼm not very precious about that. My feeling is that these people, in the third year, not only do they know their own characters, they know Elmore Leonard.

And they know how the rhythms work, and they know what the words are like. Especially with characters like Raylan and Boyd, who are very agile with their mouths, in what they say. You could just get Walton [Goggins], and you could stop him at any point and you can say, “Give me 30 seconds on 'volleyball' as Boyd Crowder sees it.” And he would do something. [Yost imitates Boyd:] “This noble conquest...” You know, “over a net...” I donʼt know what he would do, but he would find it. So it really is a big team effort.


In the premiere, after having sex with a pregnant Winona, Raylan said it was like a newborn getting poked in the forehead. I was dying with laughter, and I wanted to let you know that youʼre a sick man.

Oh thank God! Thank God. Listen, we saw it with the audience—some people got it and realized he was telling a joke, and other people werenʼt sure. It is one of my old favorite jokes so I threw it in there. Iʼm a disgusting man, but itʼs funny. Raylan can get away with it. If you look like Tim and youʼre lying in bed with someone as beautiful as Natalie, you can get away with a coarse joke like that.


Exactly. Well, thank you very much for your time! Do you have anything else you want to tease about Season 3?

You know, just watch for what happens when you cross a line in life. You know, you say, “Iʼm never gonna do this.” Well, letʼs see if you can hold to that. And letʼs see what happens if you cross that line. And I think thatʼs one of the themes weʼre looking at.


Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX.


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