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Thoughts on 'Justified' from Executive Producer Graham Yost and Author Elmore Leonard

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 26th 2011 2:15PM
Raylan Givens fans are in for something of a dry spell. Now that the second season of FX's outstanding 'Justified' is over, we'll likely have to wait until early 2012 to see the U.S. Marshall again. The good news is that we'll also get a new Raylan Givens novel, appropriately titled 'Raylan,' from Elmore Leonard early next year.

At the Peabody Awards ceremony on Monday, Leonard spoke about the show -- the first television adaptation of his work to have both staying power and critical acclaim -- and I also sat down to talk with Graham Yost, the show's creator and executive producer, about what transpired in season 2 and where the show might go in season 3.

There are no spoilers as such in what's below, but it sounds as though the stories of Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and fellow Harlan, Kentucky native Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) will be even more deeply intertwined going forward.

"Our feeling is that we've spent all this time" complicating the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, Yost said. "We've kept Boyd and Raylan kind of apart. Their lives would cross, but you know, what could put them in a collision course again? Because there is something incredibly powerful about their relationship and the notion of friendship and being there for each other, oddly enough."

Before we get to the transcript of my conversation with Yost, I thought I'd share a few remarks that Leonard made at a Monday Peabody Awards reception at the Paley Center for the Media in New York.

Leonard said that he was really pleased with the way that 'Fire in the Hole,' the novella about Raylan returning to Kentucky, turned out when he finished it in 2000.

"This was a character who had been in a couple of books, and I thought I could go with him for a while," the novelist said. "Then I saw him on screen and I couldn't believe it. He acted exactly the way I saw him when I wrote it on the page. So that was the beginning and now I get excited about it."

He added, to laughter from the audience, "I'm an executive producer, but I'm not doing anything." (I wouldn't say that's technically true, given that Leonard invented Raylan and also got story credits on two season 2 episodes).

Leonard praised not only the accents and the acting on 'Justified,' but the show's seven-person writing staff.

"There are scenes in subsequent episodes that I think, 'My God, that's better than I could have written, copying myself,'" Leonard said. The writers are "all sounding better than me."

Below is my interview with Yost, in which we post-mortem season 2 a bit and talk about where things might go in season 3. I also mention an actor I think would be perfect for the show

Maureen Ryan: So were you surprised to win a Peabody?
Graham Yost: Yeah, I honestly was. [The Peabodys don't designate] any categories, but I think they always keep a little room open for stuff that they think is just [entertaining] and so in that respect we're incredibly flattered, but I was surprised. When 'Boomtown' won [a Peabody], I really didn't know much about the Peabodys. I'd heard of it. But you know, 'Boomtown' was like, "We are a quality show," and with 'Justified,' we feel like we're a quality show, but there is no quest to be an important show, if you know what I mean. We're not trying to make a statement. The whole purpose from the beginning is to make people go, "What are they going to do next?" You know, "Wow, I loved it when..."

And so that's ... that's Elmore. When you read an Elmore Leonard book, you're not thinking, "This is a really deep insight." Of course, you can still get those, but you're just going, "Wow, this is really fun."

We talked at the start of the season, and I was really interested in where it was going to go, but whatever expectations, I had you just blew them right out of the water.
I think I told you watch Mags, and watch the girl [Loretta].

You did, you were so right. I don't want to get too ahead of the game here, but when do you go into production? Are you back in the writers' room?
We'll start writing again in the middle of July and start shooting in early October.

So was the tank basically empty when season 2 was over, or did you already have ideas before season 2 was over in terms of where it would lead in season 3?
You know, we've always got two stories, we've got Raylan and then there is Boyd, so we knew that this season was about getting Boyd back to being a criminal again. His soul was crushed. His heart was broken at the beginning of the season, he was a broken man. Can he become unbroken? And then we had our twists and surprises along the way and we also linked him up with Ava. The whole goal of the second season for Boyd was [getting him to that place]. Well, now we've got him there and what do we do? So we have ideas for Boyd, and how does that fit with whatever we can think of for Raylan?

And you're still in that process of working that out.
We're still in that process.

Elmore has got a new Raylan novel coming out this year, so have you hung that up and stripped it for parts yet, as you say?
Yes, well we just got the last [section of the novel, which is called 'Raylan']. It's roughly in thirds and we had read the first two parts, and we used the town meeting about mining from the second part [in season 2 of 'Justified']. He had Purvis who was a plot farmer with two sons Dickie and Coover. We turned that into Mags and added a son, Doyle, and created the family feud and went on from there, but he had Loretta in his story. He had someone like McCready who gets caught in a foot trap and that stuff, but we came up with the [some other elements of that story].

Now we've got the third section and there is stuff in there we'll use. We have to look at it, and there is also something from his first section that we didn't use last year and we'll take a run at that again.

You have a very high-class problem, in that you have to follow the Mags story. You have to follow the Bennett story. Does that fact cause you dark nights of the soul?
Sure. Yeah, I won't lie. We know that we don't want to just have another bad family.

Is there going to be another Harlan story though?
Well, Boyd is a Harlan story. Our feeling is that we've spent all this time [building stories for Boyd and Raylan]. We've kept Boyd and Raylan kind of apart. Their lives would cross, but you know, what could put them in a collision course again? Because there is something incredibly powerful about their relationship and the notion of friendship and being there for each other, oddly enough.

For season 3, do you want to bring in another new character to be an antagonist, someone charismatic like Mags? Are you going to try to go to that well again?
I don't know. I don't know. An old friend of mine, Clyde Philips did the first four seasons of Dexter and that was very much [his way of working].

The good seasons.
[laughs] That's what he'd tell you. But you know, [on 'Dexter'] there was the Ice Cream Truck Killer and there was Trinity Killer and so on. He really wanted that unity, where each season was a book, and we want that too, but does that mean we're going to have that singular bad guy who Raylan is going to be after? I don't know.

You left Dickie alive. Was that a conscious choice in terms of future stories?
Yeah, I mean, we love Jeremy. We thought he was doing amazing work and he is a fun character and he is just really an interesting character. There were many ways we could go. It was also we just didn't want to kill them all. That would have felt kind of...

Yeah, it would have been a little too many bodies.

Loretta or Dickie, could they appear in season 3?
I don't know what we'll do with Loretta. When you start thinking down the road, I'd like to see Loretta at 16, 17, [I'd like to] be away from her and have her come back and have the audience go, "That was Loretta. Our little girl is all grown up!" But we'll see, because she is so good and she had a blast. She is not allowed to watch the show.

I would hope not.

But she had a blast.

She was phenomenal and Margo -- I can't say enough good things about her. She had that ability that Tim and Walton have -- that ability to turn on a dime. With Margo as Mags, there's just that unbelievable range and subtlety and charisma, I'm just such a fan.
Yeah. Tim has always done great work and I think that the writing [improved in season 2] too -- we found the show better. But I don't think 'Justified' would have gotten the attention it has received for its second year if it were not for Margo, and so to kill off Mags was very difficult, but even she admitted -- we were at a function last week -- that it was better this way. It was better to [to be able to] look at it and say, "That's the thing."

Well, it was so hard to lose her, but it's truthful that way. There are really interesting themes at work here, and there are questions like, Can you be forgiving? Can you change? Can people change? Mags actually made an enormous sacrifice so that her family could have the possibility of change and have a different future. It felt very truthful, and I was almost mad at you for killing her, but then I was like "All right, it works, damn it."
Well, that's the thing. We had to be truthful to who these characters were, what really made sense for them. Because if we had put her in prison and she is conniving and she breaks out, it's like, it's not [right].

What do you feel like you've learned this season that you want to do again? What did you learn about the show, when it comes to the characters or even the production -- are there things you want to do more of or less of?
I feel like we're pretty much in the pocket production-wise. We just have to control costs a little bit. We ran a little bit over, not crazy over, but we have to keep our eye on that. Story-wise, we'll just see how the story emerges.

[FX president] John Landgraf said to me in the first season, do more standalone episodes at the beginning and then really feather in and then build to your serialized story for the last run [of episodes], and we did that again this year, but our first episode [of season 2] set up our arc for the season, the Bennetts. The murder of McCready became our original sin for the season. The girl, all of those things, we set that in motion and then we'd go away for a little bit and then come back and I think we would probably do that again if we could.

So Raylan is going to be a father, right?
Well, Winona's pregnant. Is she lying? Is she going to lose the child? I don't know.

Are they going to be living at Glencoe and he'll be teaching at the U.S. Marshal's Academy next season? I don't see that happening.
Probably not, but you know, life is complicated.

One last thing, and forgive me for pitching you on a casting idea, but how about Jackie Earl Haley for season 3?
He is great and 'Human Target' is done.

Yeah, 'Human Target' got cancelled and I must admit, when that show went away, I began to immediately agitate online to get him on 'Justified.' So now I'm just throwing that out there for you.
He is fantastic. That is a good point.

One last 'Justified' anecdote: A fellow Peabody board member mentioned on Monday that the show's star, Timothy Olyphant, had told her that he'd promised give Yost a nice present (I believe it was an iPad) if Raylan killed no more than three people in season 2, and that he was pleased that certain deaths were dropped in order to reduce Raylan's body count. Later, when that alleged quota came up in conversation with Yost, he laughed and said that while he didn't recall an exact number being set, there was an effort to have Raylan kill fewer people this season. And he's yet to get the gadget from Olyphant.

For my previous interview with Yost, look here. For my pieces on season 2 of 'Justified,' look here, here and here.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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JEH would be great on Justified. I could see him as a bounty-hunter or some other borderline good/bad guy. He plays those types very well.

Yost's comments about Winona make me nervous. I mean, there's enough Winona hate out there without saying she might be lying about being pregnant. Now, losing the baby is something else, which I could see if they don't want to go that way with the story...but she's already *got* Raylan. Why would she need to lie?

I really, really hate writers and showrunners. LOL. Is it January yet?

May 28 2011 at 5:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Christian louboutin

Please listen to Maureen and get Jackie Earl Haley on there. What a great pairing that would be.


May 27 2011 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Josh Kim

Maureen, why haven't you done a review of The Killing yet?

May 27 2011 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

JEH is a great actor, but as a villain his particular brand of violent creepiness would be too close to Wynn Duffy. I think he'd be better as an ultra-competent marshal. That way he'd put Raylan (who, lets face it, is a pretty terrible marshal) on the back foot and there'd be great stories to be had with JEH going after Boyd in a way Raylan wouldn't or couldn't bring himself to.

May 27 2011 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Thomas

Please listen to Maureen and get Jackie Earl Haley on there. What a great pairing that would be.

May 26 2011 at 7:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Awesome interview and show. Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent idea. I had heard through other sources that Elmore Leonard wasn't as fond of the show as portrayed because most of the material written about Raylan had him in Florida. Thanks for sticking a pin in that! I like that fact that they have built up the Raylan/Boyd relationship in Harlan and I think they have plenty more stories to tell there. It's really a shame that Mags had to go so soon, she was an intriguing villain. Hoping they bring Jeremy Davies back for a little revenge...

May 26 2011 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

I just keep getting more and more impressed with 'Justified' -- it's not flawless but any measure, but in the *cough* patchy list of Elmore Leonard adaptations the DVDs can go on the same shelf as 'Get Shorty', 'Out of Sight' or 'Jackie Brown' with no special pleading. That's a very high compliment.

May 26 2011 at 2:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You are a genius. JEH would be a great addition to the cast. Admittedly he'd probably be great anywhere. I'd love to see him do some guest appearances on Fringe or Supernatural.

That reminds me, do you have a season wrapup article for Supernatural yet?

May 26 2011 at 2:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SinisterInfant's comment

Oh, he'd be great on SPN or Fringe too! JEH just adds awesomeness to whatever he does.

Supernatural finale piece is here, thanks for asking:


May 26 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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