Q & A: Justified’s Walton Goggins: Boyd is “mysterious to me as well. I’m trying to make sense of it a word at a time”

On the FX show, Justified, Walton Goggins plays the mysterious Boyd Crowder, friend and adversary to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).

Just how mysterious is Crowder? Goggins doesn’t even know where the character is going. “I’m trying to make sense of it a word at a time,” he says.

In this interview, Goggins talks about how Crowder has grown, if he likes to know what is going to happen to his character and more!

In the first season your character was the antagonist, but in the second season, we’re almost pulling for him. I’m curious what you think about the transition  your character makes between seasons and if you feel that he’s become a more sympathetic character.

Walton Goggins: 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 and you think about kind of this Svengali, kind of this showman in the pilot episode.  Then 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.

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 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.

I think it’s remarkable how the relationship between Boyd and Ava has changed.  It still seems like there’s something just barely bubbling under the surface of Boyd and that maybe Ava has kind of come to terms with that.  I’m just wondering what your process was between you and Joelle.

Walton Goggins: It’s a great question.  I worked really hard with the writers and with Joelle to set this relationship up in a way that we feel like we’ve earned it so that when it happens, if it does happen—and I won’t give you a definitive answer one way or the other, but—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.  I think for any kind of courting process especially in a town like Harlan, which in my estimation, in my opinion, is suspended in time.  Even though we have cell phones and things from the 21st century, it really is of another place in time and courting means something and ways to go about that mean something.  We worked really hard to do it slowly and to do it over time so that when we do get there we feel like we’ve earned 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 art, Boyd is a poet.  He’s an intellectual and even though he’s many, many other things—you can use a lot of adjectives to describe him—a poet is one of them.  Graham had decided to put him in that room reading a book and we talked about the book.  As it turns out, I really wanted this book, Of Human Bondage, because I thought it accurately reflected where he was in his life and it was written by my favorite author, Somerset Maugham, which is the name of my son, believe it or not.

So 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.

How far in advance do you find out things that are going to happen to your character and do you like to know?

Walton Goggins: On The Shield, we never knew.  We never knew anything, like literally until the day before we started shooting we would get the script.  It would be these crazy situations that they would put us in.  They really kept us in the dark.  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, I think, 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 they’re talking on the porch and it started off as really kind of a small scene just to establish the guy’s coming.  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 you never know, but that’s kind of our process and I like it.

You’ve been talking about how Boyd is kind of ambiguous and mysterious.  When you’re playing that, are there times when they tell you, “Boyd’s actually thinking this, but make it so the audience can’t tell,” or is he mysterious to you as well.

Walton Goggins: He’s mysterious to me as well, but they leave that part of it up to me.  They give me the diving board and they say, “Jump.”  Sometimes it’s from a low board and sometimes it’s from a high board.  I think that for a person like Boyd, a person as smart as Boyd, he understands that his strength comes in ambiguity.  What’s been his albatross is his ambiguity to himself, but what may be ultimately his salvation and his ultimate strength is him being truthful with himself and truthful to a couple of people around him.  It’s been very interesting just to play and to figure out, but he’s still—yes, a mystery to me, for sure.  I’m trying to make sense of it a word at a time.

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