Justified showrunner Graham Yost was the interviewee at Tuesday night’s New York Television Festival creative keynote conversation and offered a few teases for the show’s fourth season, which has been in production for two weeks. The highlights:
• Patton Oswalt, who nabbed a guest spot on the show after revealing he’s a fan, is currently filming his episode: He plays Constable Bob. “There’s this weird thing in Kentucky where each county has one or two constables, and it’s an elected position, but your salary is, like, $2,000 a year. You’ve got to pay for your own car, your own light bar, your own uniform. But what they get to do with that is serve papers,” Yost explained. “And they can charge $60 for serving papers, whereas the State Police has to charge $80. So they undercut the State Police, and that’s how they make money. So we just liked the idea of this sort of cop wannabe, who’s kind of a cop, interacting with Raylan some.”
• Nothing has been penned yet for Emmy winner Jeremy Davies (Dickie Bennett): They have four episodes written and another couple broken. “We don’t know what’s gonna happen with Dickie, nor do we know what’s gonna happen with Dickie’s hair,” Yost said. “In season 3, Jeremy showed up and that was his haircut. He had cut it himself, and we said, ‘Okay, let’s go with that.'” Storywise, Dickie is in prison now. “We may see him,” Yost said. “The feeling with Dickie is you want it to be a big arc, a real chunk, or it could be one episode, but not just a couple.”
• Nothing has been penned yet for the writers’ other favorite character, Dewey Crowe played by Damon Herriman: “We love to have Damon come by once a season at least. We haven’t actually landed on anything this year and we don’t want to force it, but we’ll see,” Yost said.
• Another portion of Elmore Leonard’s 2012 novel Raylan will surface in the series: The kidney-selling business from season 3’s Dewey-centric episode “Thick as Mud” (“Holy s—, you mean I had four kidneys?”) was plucked from Raylan. Another chunk of that book that will be featured in season 4’s sixth episode. “I’m not gonna tell which chunk,” Yost said.
• Last season had pigs, this season has snakes: As with seasons 2 and 3, some writers went to Kentucky for research. “Maybe this year, it would be fun to do something with a real backwoods snake-handling church. That will play a part in the first four episodes,” Yost said. “So [the writers] went to a church. The minister didn’t feel a call that night to pull out the snakes, but there they were in the boxes on the side of the church.”
• Yost still anticipates the series going six seasons: Longer than that, Yost said, they run a greater risk of doing “Elmore light,” which no one wants.
• Yost wrote “everything but porn” when he started out: That includes but is not limited to writing for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Soap Opera Digest and penning a pamphlet for home care of people with catheters sticking out of their chests. He always wanted to write scripts (and has since he was in his late teens). He abbreviated the hilarious story of his big break: “A friend of mine was working at Doubleday, he was playing on the softball team, I went out to watch him play, there was a very cute girl there, I flirted with her, we went on a couple dates, then I found out she was living with a guy. Hmmm,” Yost said. “But then I met the guy, and he and I became friends, and he was an editor working at Nickelodeon on Turkey TV, and I got a job. So that worked out.” He spoke fondly of writing for Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude, and less enthusiastically of his brief stint — 9½ weeks — with Full House. (He quit days before his 10-week probation period expired, at which point he knew he’d be fired because none of his “edgy” jokes were landing.)
• Speed was almost called Minimum Speed. That was Yost’s original title for his film script. A friend had to convince him it would be better if the bus couldn’t go below 50 mph, rather than 20 mph. ” You don’t want the word ‘minimum’ in the title,” he conceded. “Frankly, when they did Speed 2 and the tagline was ‘Cruise Control,’ it’s like, ‘Well, but, cruise control is when you don’t want to pay attention. Cruise control is when you want to listen to the radio.” Yost credits Joss Whedon, who did an uncredited rewrite of the Speed script, with the line “Pop quiz, hotshot.” “Joss did a total dialogue rewrite on that script,” Yost said, adding that he’ll be forever grateful. After multiple drafts by Yost, another writer (who he would not name) was brought in and butchered the script. Yost was brought back on, and then Whedon, who got it in shooting shape. “When I read his draft, I went, ‘Oh, thank god. Oh, he gets it.’ He’s a very funny writer, a very smart writer. So I was very, very lucky,” Yost said.
• Johnny Depp could have starred in Broken Arrow, which Yost also wrote, instead of Christian Slater: “I spent half an hour with Johnny Depp trying to convince him to do it instead of doing Nick of Time,” Yost said. “Nick of Time, I understand, is a very bad movie. I’ve never seen it, but I understand it’s a very bad movie. I cannot honestly tell you that Broken Arrow is a good movie, so I don’t know if he made the wrong choice. But, I gave it my best shot. It’s just this punk from 21 Jump Street. It was like, ‘Ohmygod, I gotta talk to this teen heartthrob.’ Little did I know.”