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'Justified' postmortem: Garret Dillahunt talks about complex bad guys and Walker's sense of loyalty

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Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler Alert! Garret Dillahunt, who plays Ty Walker on FX’s Justified, joined us to talk about the seventh episode of the final season and how Walker’s odds of survival are slowly diminishing. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, you might want to stop reading right about now…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talk to me a bit about how you understand Walker and his role in the whole legal weed/criminal enterprise. He was kind of presented as the Big Bad for this season, up until Markham comes in.

GARRET DILLAHUNT: I don’t know if he was presented as the main guy, but I can certainly see how some people would jump to that conclusion. I thought he was cool, and if you want me to summarize him, he’s an ex-military sort of emissary for Avery Markham, sent to procure land in Harlan. Markham has a history there, which I think is why he’s so intent on buying up land there and making his business work and grow there. But even in the legal pot business… you know, here in the States, pot can be legal by state law, but it’s still not legal federally, so they can’t put their money in federal banks. That’s a big problem. They make a lot of money, but where do you store it? Well, they have to protect it themselves, so that’s where his security team comes in, to guard the money. It puts us on the criminal side of the business, and puts Raylan and his team on our ass. And the fact that we have a whole bunch of money just sitting in a safe puts the criminals on our ass. We’re kind of caught in the middle. What I like about Walker is that he doesn’t take anybody lightly. He’s a very capable adversary for both Raylan and Boyd. What we wanted to avoid was the stereotypical bad guy who comes to town, sort of looking down his nose at the yokels. That’s a dynamic that’s been seen ad nauseam in television. So hopefully we’ve set him up as a bad enough dude so that it’s even more impressive when someone else takes him down.

Justified seems to have always created really compelling, complex bad guys. Is that something that drew you to the role? How did you end up playing Walker?

Oh absolutely. I thought that ever since Mags [Bennett, played by Margo Martindale in season 2], that character–that was an Emmy-winning turn–that they really do right by their guests. But I’ve wanted to be on the show for a long time. Every time I would run into Tim Olyphant at some kind of Fox gathering–because FX is a Fox network, my show was a Fox show–he’d always say, “I’m trying to get you on my show.” But my show, Raising Hope, shot at the same time, so it just never worked out. I guess–thankfully? Is that the right word?–my show was canceled [laughs] and I finally had some time on my hands. So I shot Tim a text and said I’m available, and he went to the writers and they thought it was a good idea, thankfully.

That’s serendipitous timing, considering you come in for a season where someone as huge and magnetic as Sam Elliott is going to be part of your character’s world.

I think I skated in under the wire there, with it being the last season. I knew they were going to do some kind of big blowout. They’ve got regulars here who have worked really hard over the past six seasons to make the show what it is, and that’s who they’ve got to take care of first, give them a proper sendoff. But every year on Justified they need their adversaries, so here we are.

You mentioned Walker as someone who doesn’t take anyone lightly. Is this group of criminals particularly dangerous because they don’t look down on the people of Harlan, because they have someone like Markham who understands the place.

I don’t know, but I hope so. I don’t know if the audience is taking them as more threatening than any other one they’ve had. I just kind of play the character I’m given, or Givens—sorry, bad pun [laughs]—but I hope they are. I think Raylan had an interesting point the last episode; he said something like “these boys might know killing, but they don’t know crime.” That’s an interesting thought. Sam and I both talked for a while about… Sam doesn’t play the bad guy. He had to really be talked into this, and I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that. I think, personally, he’s killing it. He’s a real slimy dude, and really scary. But we were also concerned about portraying veterans as just a bunch of crazy dudes with PTSD who kill anybody for the right price. So we tried very hard to make it about these particular guys. And even among them, there’s some honor among thieves. You know, Walker did not want to go kill Choo-Choo.

It was really unclear whether he was going to do it, or whether it was just an empty threat to get Choo-Choo back on their side. I think that empathy is how you get around what you mentioned in terms of the shaky ground portraying veterans as just kind of crazy.

I think there’s a danger sometimes in the generalities that can be on TV, and they try to be real specific on this show, which I think makes it attractive and unique. I like that it’s unclear what Walker would have done. Is he just lying, saying he wasn’t going to do it just because they got ambushed? Or was the plan that Choo-Choo is too loose a canon, and the noose is starting to tighten here, so we need to clean house? I think he would have liked it if that gunfight had turned out another way.

Is Walker’s loyalty to these men, the camaraderie they share as military men, keeping him in a dangerous situation that he should maybe get out of? Is he too loyal?

Maybe, although he’s top in the situation, other than Markham. I don’t think he’s afraid of Markham physically… but they’ve already killed here in Harlan, they’ve maybe already dug their grave. So he might be getting a little desperate, and it’s about to get real interesting, because now he’s wounded and he needs extraction, he needs backup. If he doesn’t get those things: A) it’s really disappointing, but B) it also makes him very dangerous because he has no one else to watch out for. He has nothing to lose. Either way, it’s bad news.

I think it’s interesting that he calls in for the extraction, which suggests there’s this military-bred trust that they have. But at the same time, Walker isn’t surprised that no one will come for him, right?

I think he knows by the phone call, he doesn’t get the response he needed. It’s kind of a test, and he realizes he’s burned. He doesn’t go where he says he is. He knows that his guys are coming for him, the cops are coming for him, so where does he go? There’s only one place left to go, and we’ll see how that turns out. His odds are rapidly diminishing.

While Walker’s always been an intimidating presence, this episode gives us a gruesome scene where he kills two “hero” paramedics in cold blood. I think there’s desperation there that we haven’t seen from Walker yet.

Yeah, I think there’s that, and it’s also, from a viewer’s standpoint, he’s gone down the rabbit hole. There’s no saving this guy. Clearly there’s a BOLO out for him, and he catches on real quick. He goes a little bit Jason Bourne.

It’s very efficient killing, that’s for sure.

We talked a lot about the movie Red River, one of my favorite old movies. I remember studying that movie and reading about it, and there’s a big ultimate fight at the end between Montgomery Clift and John Wayne. Montgomery Clift is a little fella, and John Wayne was concerned about how they were going to make this fight believable, so they said, “Well, what if we shoot you?” [Laughs] That’s kind of what we did. I don’t know if they remember these conversation, but like, what if we take one arm away from Walker? What happens then? So we try to not use that arm again, and it was fun, trying to figure out how to chamber a round without that hand, or…

Because it’s so unnatural?

Well, it’s unnatural, but it’s something you can see that someone would prepare for. Kind of, “okay, I have to shoot with my left hand now.” That’s what he trained for, so let’s see it.

As much as Walker killing the paramedics is reprehensible, do you think the audience is meant to sympathize with him in some way? I found myself still hoping that Walker would get away.

Well I’m glad. I think everything is a little more complex than black and white, isn’t it? I talk about this with my wife a lot. Like, say, how is someone like Dexter a hero? On a TV show, we’re rooting for the guy, but if he was my next-door neighbor, I’d be like, yeah, you got to come get this guy. I would not stand for in real life what I seem to be willing to tolerate or admire on a television show or a movie. But I did try to play him a little more complex. Like, why is he doing these things? There’s got to be a reason.

So why, to you, is Walker doing these thing?

There’s been a lot of guys that come back [from war], and they’re alright, even if they have some kind of trauma. I remember, I did a play once, Inherit The Wind, on Broadway, with George C. Scott and Charles Durning. And I remember, between shows one day I was going to get some stuff, and I saw Charles in this Barcalounger in his dressing room, and he’s roly-poly with these glasses that magnify his eyes, and I asked him if he needed anything because I was going out, and he said “no, but come on in, talk to me for awhile.” So I talked to him, and he was getting up there, even then. And he had all these, what I thought were bad facelift scares or something, under his chin, I didn’t know. Then he started talking about the war. And here’s this dude, this good-humored, song-and-dance man talking to me about taking the beach in Normandy. He was the sole survivor of his unit, I believe, and he was a POW and had to escape. He did some incredible things to survive and to live, and he’s okay. He doesn’t remember a lot, and doesn’t want to remember a lot, but there he was, a fairly well adjusted adult. Walker didn’t adjust so well. He doesn’t really know what else to do but fight and kill. It’s probably all he’s good at.

And that helps us understand where Walker is coming from, or why he’s maybe made the decisions that he’s made. He’s a fully realized character.

Yeah, they didn’t need to choose it, and that’s the ultimate lesson, I think. Kind of, “I’m sorry those things happened to you, but you don’t get a pass.” It’s still sad, but I think you’re right, they do a really good job about making everyone three-dimensional and actual human beings, not just mustache-twirling bad guys.

Who should Walker be most worried about right now: Raylan catching up to him, Boyd catching up to him, or maybe Markham even finding him?

Well, they’ve put 50 cops on his tail, maybe more. I think that’s probably the primary concern. He’s got to be feeling pretty alone, and all of his “behind enemy lines” training has got to be kicking in.

That’s often what happens on Justified. You’re left alone to figure it out.

Yeah. “Good luck,” click [laughs].