If you know good drama, you’ve heard of Walton Goggins. After a successful run on The Shield, he was so good in the pilot for FX’s Justified that he went from intended victim to series regular. Now in season two, his Boyd Crowder has continued to grow, while remaining just as dangerous as ever. As we head into the second half of the season, the incredibly eloquent Goggins was kind enough to sit down for a chat about all things Boyd.
Your character was very much the antagonist of the first season. In season two, Boyd feels like a much more sympathetic character. In your eyes, how much has he changed between seasons?
I think that Boyd is continually changing. I think that from the pilot to episode two was a big swing in a completely different direction. Then from season one to season two is an even bigger swing. I think that if you look at the trajectory of Boyd Crowder, you think about kind of this Svengali, kind of this showman in the pilot episode. Then [there was] this near-death experience and this religious conversion and the ambiguous kind of nature of that conversion, only to be revealed at the end of Season One that he did truly believe in God.
In some ways that was his answer, so that when we come into season two having that foundation rocked to its core, I think what you found is a man who is not even searching for meaning. He’s searching for the absence of meaning. He’s just trying to wander and be aimless for a while. I think we, as human beings, find a character like that sympathetic. I think that with that type of vulnerability that Boyd is feeling this season that you’re going to get an opportunity, as you already have through these five episodes, to kind of see who this guy is. You’re looking behind the curtain; you’re getting to see behind the façade.
It’s really interesting to me because I didn’t really know who he was. It’s still a mystery to me. I’m still kind of figuring it out every single day. This season, at the beginning, I think what Graham [Yost] and the writers and myself tried to do is to take a man who lived in the extremes only to thread a needle, to come out the other side and maybe find a man in balance. What will a Boyd Crowder in balance look like? I don’t know.
One of the things that’s seeming to straighten him out is his relationship with his now ex-sister-in-law, Ava. She’s been a good influence on him. Where might they be headed?
I think that what you’re going to see, hopefully, what will allow him to find a place in the middle is love. I think you’re seeing that burgeoning relationship happening now between him and Ava. At the end of the day, what may be Boyd’s salvation is love. A moral code infused with that kind of love, to Boyd, is even more complex than believing in Jesus or any other escapade he’s found himself in or on.
I worked really hard with the writers and with Joelle [Carter] to set this relationship up in a way that we feel like we’ve earned it so that if it happens, you will be ready for it. You will think that we’ve earned it because we’ve taken our time with it.
Some of the most interesting conversations we had at the beginning of the season this year, for me as an actor and a collaborator, revolved around Boyd as a romantic guy. How would Boyd kind of go about really courting a woman? I said, “Let’s do things different.” He has to come at this from a completely different angle because in his heart, Boyd is a poet. He’s an intellectual, even though he’s many, many other things.
It was just a slow process about how do we earn this; how do we make it different than the rest of television. Hopefully we’ve done our job. Hopefully you’ll want to see them hook up by the time they do. I mean, how ironic and how satisfying would it be that if at the end of this man’s journey, what brought him peace was a true understanding of love? Maybe he is in the process of experiencing an emotion that he’s never experienced before.
And of course he has that ever-thorny, ever-watchable relationship with Raylan. We’ve seen that this season. Raylan seems dead-set against the idea of Boyd being able to change. Where do they stand?
I think Boyd Crowder very much likes Raylan. I’ve heard Tim [Olyphant] say in a couple of interviews that he doesn’t think that they’re friends. I would fervently disagree at least from Boyd’s point of view. I think that he sincerely values the relationship that he has with Raylan.
When we first got the scripts this year, we got number one and number two and Boyd wasn’t in number one except at the very end. There’s a conversation that we have in number two, early on, right after we leave the mine. At the beginning of that conversation, Raylan states kind of why he’s there. I was talking to Graham and talking to Tim about it and I said once you say that, this is the look—and maybe it’s not written here, but I’m going to tell you this is what Boyd’s feeling, and that is, “Really, that’s all you came to talk to me about, man? That’s what our relationship means to you after like eighteen men have been summarily executed and you haven’t seen me since that night two or three months ago and that’s the only thing that you’re here to talk about?” There was this disappointment on Boyd’s face that I think really kind of infused their relationship for the first five episodes.
This is so wonderful as an actor to kind of find those moments that, while they’re not overt, they’re certainly not explored on a surface level, you really kind of feel [that] they fill in the layers. I think that if Boyd can get hurt by Raylan, then Boyd really cares for Raylan.
Eventually, these guys are going to have to butt heads in a way that skulls are going to be cracked. I hope that we prolong that day as long as possible. I have no idea. I can’t wait to see it like you can’t wait to see it.
Which leads to the question of how much do you know about where your character is headed? You’ve mentioned before that you didn’t know a lot on The Shield.
I know a little more in advance—probably a week and a half in advance, certainly more than I knew on The Shield. I think the reason why is Graham and the writers have invited participation from us because we’re in the heads of these characters. It’s really productive in this particular situation to seek out that collaboration. We’ve had a really good time and in some ways kind of share ownership over these characters and the situations they kind of find themselves in.
The writers kind of come up with the story and they break the story. They give us some key character arcs that they want to get through over the course of the season. We sit and talk about that. Sometimes we bring them to them and a lot of times, they bring them to us. Once those situations are set up, then the conversation begins about how Boyd would really react in this situation.
There’s a scene in episode four, I think, where [Boyd and Ava are] talking on the porch and it started off as really kind of a small scene. I said, “Graham, no there’s gold here and I think if we do it right the audience will just want to sit and listen to Boyd and Ava talk. Let’s experience that scene as if they’ve only done it maybe one time before, but then from there forward we can imagine that every single one they’re out enjoying a cup of coffee together. That really lays the cornerstone for where their relationship might go.” It worked. I think people really liked it. But that’s our process.
My thanks to Walton Goggins for this interview. Be sure to tune in to Justified every Wednesday at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.