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'Justified' postmortem: Walton Goggins talks Boyd's worst fears and his obsession with Raylan

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James Minchin/FX

Spoiler alert! Walton Goggins, who plays the eloquent but deadly Boyd Crowder on FX’s Justified, joined us to talk about the ninth episode of the season and Boyd’s worst fears. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, you might want to stop reading right about now…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we dive into “Burned,” I wonder, do you see Boyd as an inherently bad guy, or is he more a victim of circumstance? It seems like this season has been drawing parallels between Raylan and Boyd and suggesting they could have ended up in either role.

Walton Goggins: Yeah, I firmly believe that. I don’t see Boyd as an inherently bad person. I see him as a person who does bad things. We’re talking in this specific fictional world, not in the world in which we live, because I would judge him very differently if he were my neighbor. I see him, in this world, as a person who’s a victim of his circumstances, a product of his environment. He was raised in a very violent environment. That’s the world he knows. This is not about a guy who wants to stay a criminal. For three or four years now, for all the changes Boyd has gone through, he has reached a place where he has found redemption and love. But that’s not enough, and he wants to be in love and a respected member of the community; he wants to give back, he wants to be an upstanding entrepreneur, someone who is a pillar of the community. But for someone as violent as Boyd, he doesn’t do it the way you or I would do it, through starting at the bottom and working your way up to the top. He’s a person who just wants to take it.

Is that his fatal flaw then, that he’s not able to see that perhaps his loyalty to Ava and Harlan is the biggest threat to keeping him alive?

Yeah, I think that could be. I think it’s also his blind hatred of Raylan, his jealousy and envy of Raylan’s status. Raylan made a different choice; he went one way and Boyd went another way. For Boyd’s own ego, he wants to beat Raylan Givens, and he feels he can have his cake and eat it, too. That kind of greed and obsession will be his downfall.

That’s something I started picking up on more in recent episodes, that Boyd keeps Ava around in part because he cares for her, but also because he wants to have one up on Raylan.

And you can say the same thing about Raylan Givens. Why is he keeping her around? He’s putting her in the cross hairs, and to what end? Just to get me. Raylan’s obsession with me is just as detrimental to him as my obsession is with him. That is the thing that will be each other’s undoing. Either they will learn and grow from that, or they will pay the ultimate price.

In this episode, Zachariah tries to kill Boyd. Does the fact that Boyd would even originally seek out the help of someone like Zachariah, someone he has a tumultuous history with, suggest that maybe Boyd is more desperate than he’s ever been?

Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. But, to his endgame, he’s willing to take risks that he would never have taken before in order to get out and beat his nemesis. That and the fact that he comes into the episode…what I loved about this episode so much is that, at the end of the last episode, he makes that offer to Ava, where he says you can stick with me and I’ll deliver you to the Promised Land. And he means that, and she chooses to stay, so for me, what’s so beautiful for me about the beginning of this episode is that he’s back on solid ground in this relationship. He thinks he knows every wall in a dark room, and it turns out he has no idea. Up until the moment…and I hope that they left this in there, because it was an improv, but there was one point where he’s sitting there looking at this fuse kind of coming down from the ceiling, which would be the floor of the safe, and he yells, “kiss my ass, Raylan Givens,” because he’s about to win. And not two minutes after that, he’s chained up to a f–king post, man, in a mine! Nothing scares Boyd—not jail, a knife to his throat or his gut, his time in the service—nothing scares that dude more than two things: dying in a mine, and the loss of love. It’s almost like, if he didn’t start the episode feeling how he felt about Ava, he might just be okay with dying in that mine.

I’m not trying to blow too much smoke here, but the way you make Boyd seem so scared, so afraid to die in that mine, is absolutely gut wrenching to watch. As audience members, I think we sympathize with Boyd to an extent throughout the series. Ultimately though, we don’t want him to win, but in that moment, I really didn’t want him to die that way.

Good! Because we went out on a limb, man. That’s the thing about Boyd Crowder, getting into his skin every day; I never know how he’s going to react to situations. It’s uncharted territory, almost from episode to episode, for me as an actor. In conversation back and forth with the writers, I said, you don’t understand, this is the scariest moment he’s ever experienced in his life. Thank you for saying that; I’m happy to hear that it worked out. And then he goes from that to the end of the episode where he f–king flings Ava across the room! Hopefully at the end of that conversation you see the effect that experience had on him; he was right up to the edge of doing something that he swore he would never do, which is physically abuse a woman, which hopefully gives Ava the catalyst to do the things that she needs to do. Boyd is despondent; he has lost.

Loretta comes to Boyd for some muscle and distribution in setting up the weed business in Harlan. Why doesn’t Boyd just strike a deal with her and work with her? It seems like that would be a lot safer way to make some money than trying to blow through Markham’s vault.

He knows that if he stays, Ava goes to jail. There is no other option for him. The thing that he wants, and the thing that he thinks he wants, are always in conflict with each other. He could have taken that $100,000 and fashioned a life somewhere, doing something on the lam with her. But that’s not his style, that’s not how he conducts himself. He wants to be the man, and his ego tells him that he deserves to be the man. The notion of staying here without Ava is pointless. It’s also that coupled with…Raylan knows I’m coming after that money, and I’m going to go after it and get away, and he’s not going to be able to find me.

Maybe this is parsing out psychology too much, but does Boyd honestly believe that Ava is going to stay loyal to him from here on out, or does he have to believe it because that’s what his whole plan relies on?

I think that he has to believe it. I think that’s one of our greatest flaws as a species: we do not, more often than not, tell ourselves the reality of a situation. We look at the situation we’re in through our own twisted, perverted, self-serving needs. More often than not, in my own experience, that has come back to haunt me, when I’m not completely honest with myself. To be completely honest with yourself, I think it requires one to step outside of one’s emotions, and Boyd’s not capable of doing that. But he will by the time this is all over.

Is Boyd jealous of Loretta at all? It seems that she can accomplish all the things that he couldn’t.

It’s funny that you looked at it that way because for me, and what we were going for anyway, is that it’s the gentle passing of the baton.

Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of respect there.

Yeah, and affection from a fatherly point of view, or like an older brother. It’s like, with Boyd looking at her, saying if I were 18 years old, I would fall in love with you and we would rule, but my time has passed and I want to give you advice about how to conduct yourself and how to accomplish the things that I could never get done. I think there’s a real love and respect there, and that she’s going to have an opportunity to legally do what Boyd had to resort to crime to do.

Was there much discussion about how the scene where Loretta confronts Markham at the Pizza Portal was mirroring or drawing parallels to that amazing Town Hall scene with Mags Bennett from season 2?

Oh yeah, for sure. I think the symmetry there, what’s really nice, is you see a person coming up doing what Boyd did and understanding that she has what it takes, which is to command a room. She has the verbal skills and the audacity to be a leader in that way. The other thing it gave an opportunity to do, for me, and I think for the writers selfishly, is to give the audience a taste of what that Boyd is like. I mean, he’s been so dark for so long, but in that moment, he’s really liked, and he can take over a room. He’s done it so many times over the course of this show and…I won’t tell you how, but I’ll tell you that he gets to do it one more time. But it’s to remind the audience why you like this guy, and why people will like Loretta. They have that gravitas. It was so much fun that day, in that room with Sam [Elliott] and her, getting to vocalize and motivate people in that way. I mean, Boyd’s a populist politician. That’s what he should have done.

I talked to Sam Elliott a couple of weeks back about something similar, in that, how do you humanize these so-called villains? What’s great about Justified is that there’s no mustache-twirling villain; there’s just people doing what they need to do to survive, and some have to resort to more nefarious means than others.

It’s true. I feel that the cops, the Marshals, for my money—and this is me, Walton—they’re shooting fish in a barrel. You keep people impoverished, and they don’t have an opportunity to have an education, and they start life behind the eight ball, what do you expect from them? There will be those that rise above it, but when they’re denied the opportunities that other people have, for generations, what do you expect, socially speaking?

I think that’s one of the more subtle, nuanced points Justified has made throughout its run; that certain power systems are in place that readily exploit class division. How do you expect people to get out from under that? They don’t have any opportunity.

No, they don’t, and that’s exactly what the Marshals are doing in some way and it doesn’t reflect well on them, I don’t think. But then Raylan is able to pick and choose who he wants to save, and that’s Loretta. So you see the other side of it. But what about the rest of us? What is a safety net? What’s it like to be in rural America, and the forgotten places of our country, where economic opportunities have not come? There are a lot of people in this country not living the American Dream. This is much heavier than we really explore on our show, but I think those things are present, whether we intended them to be or not.

Without going too far ahead, where does Boyd go from here? What’s his next move?

I’ll simply say that you have to tune in next week, because it gets very, very complicated. This is a man at the end of his rope, who seemingly has all of the answers, only to make the decision that turns out to be a bad one.