Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Justified‘s season 5 premiere, “A Murder of Crowes,” stop reading now. As he’ll do throughout the season, executive producer Graham Yost — who cowrote the episode, directed by Michael Dinner, with EP Fred Golan — takes us inside the writers room.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As the writers convened for season 5, you began to talk about the things you wanted to do before the series ends its run (currently planned for six seasons). In addition to spending more time with Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), you wanted to pay tribute to the Crowe clan.
GRAHAM YOST: Just because you don’t see any family name that pops up more throughout Elmore [Leonard]’s work. He just liked the idea of this multigenerational widespread crime family. They’re very dangerous, and they’re almost smart enough to get away with it. And that’s the characteristic of most of Elmore’s bad guys: They’ve got a pretty good plan, some kind of sharp angle, but ultimately, it probably doesn’t work out so well for them. We came up with this Florida branch that is not Dale Crowe Jr., because he was used in a couple of books that we don’t have the rights to and there’s not much detail on him anyway. So we came up with our own character, Darryl Crowe Jr. [played by Michael Rapaport], and invented a mythology for him.
Having a family also harkens back to season 2 with the Bennetts.
Listen, we’ll all on this show live in the shadow of the Bennetts because that really worked well for us. So, we have to try to figure out how to do it in a different way and have it mean something else. Part of the inspiration of going with the Crowes was that we had a lot of fun in the second episode last year with the Truth family. That was inspired to a degree by the documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. The Bennetts were a little different. First of all, the Bennetts were for generations ensconced in Eastern Kentucky. The Crowes are interlopers, sort of invasive, and so we wanted to play with that as well.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning with the courtroom scene in front of the honorable judge played once again by Stephen Root. I loved the slo-mo shot when Dewey realized he’d been awarded $300,000 for his season 3 kidnapping/kidney troubles and history with Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), but my first takeaway was that Raylan’s hair is back to its optimum length for season 5. Was that a consideration?
[Laughs] No, we didn’t even discuss it. Tim was just like, “Yeah, let’s cut it shorter.” Fred Golan wrote that scene and it stayed pretty close from the first draft on. It was just a fun, fun scene. We just thought it was a good way to start off the season — let everyone know Dewey’s back, and here we go.
Dewey buys Audrey’s, naturally, and Wade Messer (James Le Gros) is working as his bartender. That line, “Hey, Raylan…can I get you a blowjob or somethin'” — so good.
Okay, that was a line Fred and I really went back and forth on. It was pitched by either Tim or Michael, and we thought it was just kinda too on the nose, but let’s shoot it, we can always cut around it. It ended up really landing. There was a day on the set later on when we wanted to get a cake for James Le Gros, and we tried to get a cake from Costco with the words, “Can I get you a blowjob?” on it. And they wouldn’t do it. So the caterers had to write on it themselves. I totally understand why Costco would not want to be doing a cake with that written on it.
Who did you make ask Costco whether they’d do it, Graham?
You know, some poor person starting out in the business, I’m sure.
Fred came up with the idea for Dewey to be playing naked Marco Polo with prostitutes in an above ground pool when Raylan finds him to ask about his Florida cousins’ whereabouts. Damon told me he was not asked if he’d do nudity, it was just in the script when he got it and he knew it’d be funnier that way, so he was cool with it. I was on set for EW’s Winter TV preview issue and saw a scene in episode 4 being shot in which AJ Buckley [who plays nutjob muscle Danny Crowe] isn’t wearing pants.
One of the themes of this season is naked male buttocks. Listen, Damon is just totally game. He’ll have questions like anyone in the cast, just like, “Why is Dewey doing this?” “What if Dewey said that?” And we really respect that because he brings so much to Dewey. We wouldn’t be building a season around him if we didn’t love him. We’re having a lot of fun with him this season.
His weapon being engraved.
“It’s a common name.” I know.
Dewey wanted Raylan to apologize to him, and Raylan did it right away. I loved that because you weren’t expecting it.
That was a Tim thing. We went back and forth, because in standard Justified scenes in the past, Raylan would be like, “I’m not givin’ you an apology. You’re an idiot. You’ve done stupid things, and all the trouble you’ve gotten into is your own fault.” Tim just thought, well, what if he apologizes? It’s no sweat. Just do it.
Because he’s just trying to move it along so he gets the information he wants. And then Raylan can grow impatient and say, “I’m gonna shoot your balls off and feed ’em to the squirrels,” which is a slight variation of a great line Pervis Crowe says to Dewey in Elmore’s novel Raylan.
I didn’t even remember that myself, but you can always count on Tim to pull stuff from Raylan.
Raylan shooting the pool as he left, and Dewey yelling for the whores to get a bucket or somethin’.
[Laughs] Raylan’s just kind of a dick, to the bad guys. And that’s his job. It’s not his job to be friends to the bad guys. They’re bad. He likes to f— up their days.
So Raylan goes to Florida and teams up with marshal Gregg Sutter (played by Anchorman‘s David Koechner) to find the Crowes and feed the father storyline for Raylan.
That was the big reason. We thought initially of getting someone who was more sort of matinée idol type, because we were thinking of something later in the season. And that didn’t pan out, and then Tim had the idea of Koechner. I don’t know if they’ve worked together in the past or he just knew him socially, but he just thought he’d be very funny. And, you know, it’s sort of an old tried and true lesson of Hollywood: It’s better to cast someone who is funny and have them do something dramatic than ever try to get a dramatic person to do something funny. So Koechner is just a funny guy, so he can tell a heartwarming story about his life and it just lands. Did I tell you the story about the character name? Gregg Sutter was Elmore’s researcher and dear friend for 30 years. And [naming characters like that] was sort of an Elmore tradition. When I went to [Elmore’s] funeral, I met a guy at the funeral home who asked me if I’d read City Primeval. I said, “Yeah, in fact, I just finished it on the plane flying here.” And he said, “Remember the sleazy lawyer in that?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Elmore named him after me.” Elmore would do that for friends — and people he ran into. I mean, he got the name Raylan from a guy who asked Elmore to sign a book for him at a book fair in Texas.
When I talked to Michael Rapaport about how the role of Darryl Crowe Jr. came to him, he said you guys offered it to him but wanted to make sure the New Yorker could do the Southern accent. He sent you a clip from a tiny indie movie he’d done (2004′s America Brown) and then recorded a monologue he’d made up on his phone. What do you remember about it?
It just felt pretty Elmore-ish and it seemed fitting. We knew he could do it, it was just making sure that we all rested easy.
It’s in episode 3 that we’ll really start seeing the fun contradictions in Darryl Crowe. Tim told me he thinks Michael will steal the season.
It’s just every scene he’s in, it’s really dynamic. I just got off the phone with him this [Jan. 6] morning — he had some questions about a scene in the episode we’re shooting now, which is 508 — and he just completely unprompted said, “You gotta know that having Tim and Walton on the set is such a joy. That these guys extend the hand of friendship and support, and they really want everyone to shine.” A big part of that is you get someone like Rapaport, and he’s naturally gonna shine. But supported by everyone else, he’s given that encouragement to really have fun with it. I knew that Tim and Walton’s reputation was that, but it’s always nice to hear it.
Tell me about creating the character Dilly Crowe (played by Jason Gray-Stanford) — to ultimately have Darryl order brother Danny to kill him.
Dilly didn’t initially have a stutter. That was Tim’s idea. And there is something in Elmore that Tim loves — well, we all love — which is a character doing something stupid just because they get aggravated. So it was a very dumb move on his part to shoot Coast Guard officer Simon Lee [played by Ron Yuan], but that then shows how stupid he is, and dangerous. [Darryl having Dilly killed] establishes the basic contradiction within Darryl, which is he’s all about family — do everything to protect family — even if it means killing one of your brothers. That’s a little bit of Michael Corleone in Godfather II and the killing of Fredo. Less fraught than that, but it’s that kind of thing.
I found that conversation Raylan and Darryl had later — when Darryl said his father, on his deathbed, made him promise to keep the family together — interesting.
It’s the self-mythologizing that we all do, but in particular these bad guys, which is, “My daddy said this.” “Yeah, your daddy died when he flipped an airboat. Don’t bullish-t me.” But that’s the story that Darryl likes to tell himself, as well as other people.
We met Wendy Crowe (Alicia Witt), the reformed sister who’s now a paralegal with a tramp stamp tattoo.
I think that was Tim’s idea. Again, the contradiction — here’s this someone coming in who’s all business and lawyerly and then you see tramp stamp. Okay. That becomes interesting. Alicia is smart and beautiful and could do the accent and is funny. Her name came up on a list, and I thought absolutely, let’s go that way.
The way Wendy wrecked the car when Elvis Manuel Machado (played by Amaury Nolasco), the Cuban associate Darryl Crowe was turning on, took her hostage established that she’s pretty badass. She can get out of situations.
That was the whole point of that — she is resourceful.
And the name Elvis Manuel Machado?
I swear to God I Googled “popular male Cuban names” and for some reason up came Elvis Manuel, and I just thought okay, we’re gonna use that.
The shooting of Elvis’ tiny boat as he tried to sail to Cuba was a nice callback to Dewey’s pool.
Then it just became a question of, should that be the end of the scene? Or do we go to guns coming out and Elvis getting shot? We debated that. We wanted more punctuation, so we went the way we did.
The whole idea of Raylan not wanting to visit his baby girl, who’s living with Winona (Natalie Zea) in Florida — that comes down to what Koechner’s character said: It’s because it’d be too hard to leave?
I think that’s where Raylan is torn this season.
Last question on Raylan: Him mentioning Dewey’s settlement money in front of Darryl’s consigliere Jean Baptiste (Edi Gathegi) — totally unintentional?
Man, there was a looooot of discussion about that: How much is Raylan screwing with Dewey? How much does he sort of set everything in motion because he’s kinda pissed off at Dewey? How much is it just something that just comes out? We went for the it’s just something that he mentions without trying to purposely mess up Dewey’s life, and then Boyd’s, and then his own. That’s one of the great things we get to do: We’ve got a hero, who is a hero — he’s not an anti-hero — but he screws up occasionally.
NEXT PAGE: A return to the Boyd of the pilot
Let’s talk about the man propping up the other half of the show: Boyd (played by Walton Goggins). We see him visit a frustrated Ava (Joelle Carter) in jail with her lawyer, Billy “Wildman” Geist (played by Don McManus), and making the lawyer wear headphones so he doesn’t hear them talking.
Someone had said that maybe there was something in a Breaking Bad episode where a lawyer had to put on headphones, and so we shied away from it briefly, and then just figured, “Oh what the hell, let’s just do it.” And then it was just a debate over what music he was going to be listening to. I think it’s an opera. We thought anything else would kind of be distracting and wouldn’t give us specificity as a character. We just thought that was a little different.
The scene on the bridge, when Boyd learned there’s a problem with the heroin pipeline and got his ear shot — setting up that this is going to be a violent season.
The bandage on the ear eventually goes and the ear heals up fine. This is Justified, after all, where people recover quickly from gunshot wounds and get out of jail quickly. But we wanted to show that this is a tough, tough time for Boyd Crowder, both with work and with Ava.
Boyd has a new man in his crew, Carl (played by Justin Welborn).
We just felt we needed Boyd to have another henchman. We went back and forth — were Carl and Jimmy related? We’d think about that. And then eh, we don’t really need to put that in. Part of it was also that Jesse Luken, who plays Jimmy, also has a role on [the upcoming CW show] Star-Crossed, so we knew that we would have trouble getting him for every episode, and we always need Boyd to have another backwoods sh-tkicker who’s good and is one of those guys who fits well into our world.
It’s good to know Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) remains a women’s tennis fan.
I think that was Jere’s idea back in, I can’t even remember what season, but that’s just his thing: Wynn watches women’s tennis, and so we just like to refer to that whenever possible. I looked up, okay, when’s the episode showing? When’s the Australian Open? Okay. Who’s a really good women’s tennis player who isn’t Sharapova? So that’s why I went with Azarenka.
Boyd and Wynn went to Detroit. I loved that they had to send their IDs up in a bucket before they could climb the stairs and see Sammy Tonin (Max Perlich).
I just liked the idea of a building that was shut down. It was modeled after a particular block of public housing units that I did a quick research on, and they’ve since been torn down. But it’s sort of like Cabrini-Green in Chicago. At a certain point, they realize this is maybe not the best way to have low-income housing. So just that idea of Sammy Tonin holing up in a place like that I thought was cool. And if nothing was working, then yeah, a bucket on a rope.
Is there any story behind the dolls Boyd and Wynn noticed?
That’s just me. I just thought, what would be weird to see in the background, where you just see something and go, “What is that? What does that mean?”
What does it mean, Graham?
It doesn’t really mean anything. If I really had balls, I wouldn’t have referred to it at all. It just would have been in the background. That’s what David Lynch would do. He would just leave it be a question. But the thing I enjoyed was, “Yeah, that was last week.” That struck me as something fun.
The blood splatter on Boyd and Wynn when Picker (John Kapelos) shot Sammy as part of his deal with the Canadians, who want to sever ties with Sammy — wow.
Boyd barely gets a chance to wipe it off and then there’s more on him. It’s a fairly bloody episode.
With Sammy dead, will we see the return of Theo Tonin (Adam Arkin) this season?
That falls under the category of I’m not telling you.
I liked seeing Boyd and Wynn kick ass together.
I don’t know if we’ll really see more of that. I think the thing you want to keep your eye on is the deal they make with Picker at the end — that Picker is gonna help them make a connection to Mexico. I call the theme of the season, “Let the Right One In.” Not that they’re vampires, but just that notion that you ally with someone because they can help you and then it ends up being a real problem.
Let’s talk about the Canadians — Scott Fenton (played by Dave Foley) and Al Sura (played by Will Sasso). I died.
They’re named after friends of mine from high school. Neither of whom did turn out to be international drug kingpins. In doing research, we found that the two routes for heroin into the United States are through Canada and through Mexico, basically. So we just thought, okay, Detroit, right across the river from Windsor, let’s have Canadians be the big bad guys and just have some fun with that. You will see Will Sasso’s character again a couple of times. Dave Foley, that’s the only time we’ll see his character. I was insistent that we cast real Canadians. Dave couldn’t do it at first. We actually had Tom Green, who was gonna do it. And then he had a conflict, and then Dave’s conflict opened up, so he came on board. Dave and I had worked sort of tangentially — I don’t think we ever saw each other on the set — but he was on From the Earth to the Moon. And, you know, we’re Canadians, and all Canadians know each other so…
Boyd learned that Ava’s case has been assigned the honest judge. He went to Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson) to try to bribe him for help with the judge. Then Paxton made him beg and said that he’d get Ava off if Boyd says he killed Delroy and forced Ava to move the body. We’ve talked before about how hard it was for Walton to sit there in that scene during last season’s swinger party episode while the Clover Hillers got the upper hand on Boyd. What feedback did you get this time?
It was tough for Walton, but the difference is this time he gets to beat the sh-t out of the guy [Laughs] so he could get past it. And yet, it’s a little bit like Dilly shooting the Coast Guard guy. A little bit like Darryl having Danny kill Dilly. Boyd beating the sh-t out of Paxton was not the smartest move: If Paxton dies, he’s got a statement saying that Ava moved the body, so Ava’s kinda screwed. But he couldn’t help it.
Mara (Karolina Wydra), Paxton’s Latvian doctor trophy wife, witnessed Boyd doing it, and she offered to say it was a burglar if he pays her off.
That is such an Elmore character: The beautiful woman who is smart, and is in a jam, and what she’ll do to survive. We just felt that it fit, and it gave us someplace to go.
He could have just killed her, too.
He could have. That’s the decision he makes, and you’ll see a little in episode 2 what happens because of that, and more follows.