Spoilers for last night’s season finale of Justified follow below.
Boyd Crowder was a great many things—criminal, villain, outlaw, preacher, lover, enemy, friend. But perhaps more than anything else, he was Harlan County’s great survivor. If the gospel according to Elmore Leonard had followed to the letter, Boyd (Walton Goggins) would have died in Justified‘s very first episode. Instead, Boyd made it to the show’s very last. He survived two bullets to the chest, one from each of his soulmates: Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter). He also endured countless attempts on his life, innumerable betrayals and a litany of would-be Harlan County kings. Those imposters all ended up dead, and even though Boyd didn’t fulfill his dream of opening up a Dairy Queen, he did escape Harlan with his life.
Much of the credit for Boyd and his legacy goes to Justified‘s creator, Graham Yost, but it was Walton Goggins’ portrayal of the Kentucky crime lord that compelled Yost to keep Goggins around beyond the pilot and straight through to the show’s very last scene.TIME spoke with Goggins about the show coming to an end, the possibility of a Boyd-centric spinoff and the actor’s upcoming projects.
TIME: How does it feel now that the show is finally ending—or, how did it feel when it ended for you?
Walton Goggins: You know, it was much harder than I anticipated. I’ve been through this once with The Shield and I knew relatively what I was in store for, and then the day came, the last week came, and I was actually going back and forth between “The Hateful Eight,” and the movie, and the show. And I thought, “Well, I’m going to be fine,” and then the moment came—the realization came that morning, on my last morning—that this was it. It was the last time I’m going to be buttoning my shirt all the way to the top and speaking the way the Boyd Crowder speaks.
Needless to say, we saved the last scene that Raylan and Boyd have together—that Tim [Olyphant] and I had together for the last day—and I just almost couldn’t get through it.
It was very, very difficult and we tried to stay in this very Zen place, and when it was over, I just broke down. And there happened to be a 100 people from both networks—Sony and FX—and a lot of good people who worked very, very hard behind the monitor, on hand to watch this scene happen, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. It was a real cathartic experience I think for everyone. But it was sad, and then thankfully, right after that, they did them out of order. I got to do Boyd Crowder on a high note, which was him and the prison sanctuary.
I got to go out on Boyd Crowder and preach it. I think literally the last words I said as Boyd Crowder were, “I got the wind in my face!” [Laughs]
Yeah, so it was. As it turned out, it was a great high to end on and then it was—you know… But I’m doing better today and getting some proper perspective on the experience and I suppose it’s kind of a delayed grieving process because I’m working on something else right now, and it’ll catch up with me sometime later on this summer.
At this point, every fan of the show is more or less aware that Boyd was initially supposed to die in that very first episode. But instead he made it all the way to the very last scene of the final episode and didn’t die at all. Was that something that you had hoped for, or had you thought at all about that, as you were going through the process of the final season?
You know I have had my designs on the ending that I wanted for Boyd, for a number of years. And I pitched it to Graham [Yost] for the end of Season 3. I saw it and it was this beautiful trajectory, and I thought it was a fitting way to end this journey that I had hoped to continue on. And it ended with a bullet for Boyd. I think in some ways it would have been easier for me, as an actor, to let him go knowing that he was dead and gone, and I wouldn’t have to think about what he’s doing every day.
But circumstances dictated the ending that we have, and at the beginning of the season, Graham set me down with the other producers on the show, and we talked about it and we said, “Well, you know, what if nobody dies? It would be very, very painful for people to see Boyd actually die.” I agreed with that and I think that Graham made the right decision, although he put Boyd through hell over the last five episodes, and Boyd crossed lines that were so far outside of his own moral compass that it was very difficult.
The penultimate episode when they asked me to kill Shea Whigham’s character, a working class hero—I had a real hard time with it, because that is who Boyd represents, that’s who he speaks up for when he speaks publicly and that man’s issues are the issues that he fights for. I can’t just arbitrarily commit that act, because that’s a psychopath, and Boyd Crowder is not a psychopath. He’s an outlaw, he’s a villain. I get that. But he also has a moral code, and the people that he’s killed in this show up until this point—aside from the pilot [episode]—were people that were trying to kill him.
And in the outlaw world, you’re given permission to do that. So they agreed, and we wrote that stuff for Boyd to say, and I really believe that that’s what he believed at that time. He’s so angry and bitter and hurt that it allowed for us to reach his absolute bottom, and it didn’t even happen with that. It really happened with what Ava says to him when he asks the only question that he wants to know the answer to before he died, which is, “Why?” And she says, “I just did what I thought that you would do.” There is no greater recipe for sobriety than the only person you trust and love in the world telling you that.
And there was such a start contrast between that final scene between Boyd and Raylan in the Bennett barn and how angry Boyd was, and then the scene in the prison four where the Boyd who obviously has a lot of affection for Raylan comes through.
Yeah, and you know he’s always loved Raylan. He loves him. Deeply. Sometimes I think more than probably Raylan loves him, or Raylan would ever admit.
Boyd’s the dude who wears his emotions on his sleeve for the most part. He’s a buttoned-down guy but he will tell you how he feels and where you stand: “If you cross me I’m going to kill you.” That’s it. But if you are an intellectual equal and we have dug coal together and we’ve had all these life experiences—then there’s a real affection there. There’s a levity, a lightness to Boyd that I did not anticipate when we sat down to do that last day in the chapel and then our last scene together. I realized that morning when I was getting my stuff on and I was walking in to rehearse, that it is through incarceration, through being at the whims of another person’s schedule and another person dictating the rhythms of Boyd’s day that he had probably more freedom than he’s had in a very long time. I would imagine he slept for the first two years and then finally kind of came out of this dark, morose hole and only to really be able to look at what he did, and to atone for it.
Even with the revelation of Ava’s death—at least to him— and the sadness that came from that news, he didn’t want Raylan to leave, and when he asks, “You have to go?” we know Boyd didn’t want him to go. And Raylan gives Boyd the only things things that he ever really wanted from Raylan, which is that an acknowledgment that Boyd loved Ava and that our friendship wasn’t just adversarial, but that it was rooted in the life experiences that we had growing up, all going back to working in the mines. Then Raylan says, “Because we dug coal together.” That is a metaphor for the life that they had led.
I always really enjoyed the end of Season 1, which had a similar tone.
There’s that scene where Raylan has every reason in the world to stop Boyd or to shoot him or prevent him from driving away. But I thought it was really gratifying to see it come full circle and end on a scene like that after so many seasons of the two of them ending a year on different sides of the spectrum.
Yeah, it was a very, very small needle to thread, and I was so grateful that Graham decided to keep Boyd alive to have that scene. I think I can speak for Tim and fans of the show when I say this that the scenes between these two men, between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder and the actors playing them mind you, were so rich and they were so nuanced and they were so many things over these years that to have it end with a six-page conversation, maybe it was always supposed to be that.
Obviously you spent a lot of your time over the course of the last six seasons with the two of them, Tim and Joelle [Carter]. Is there anyone you didn’t have a chance to work with as much as you might have liked?
Jeremy [Davies], you know, Dickie Bennett? He’s such a wonderful actor. Neil McDonough, who played Quarles. That was so, so much fun. I enjoyed obviously Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale) so much. I enjoyed Sam [Ellliott] from the season. But the one actor that I wish to God I had had more scenes with, and I’m damn happy with the one scene that we did have together is Garret Dillahunt. I have been a fan of Garrett’s for such a long time. I think he’s just one of the best in my generation and I wish that there was reason to have had more of an exchange with him because he just brings it, and so that’s one big one.
Is it sad for you that you won’t have a chance to play Boyd again? Where does he rank for you amongst the characters that you’ve played over the course of your career?
I am sad, yeah. I think that’s an appropriate word. Sad. I don’t have any regrets. There’s nothing that I would have done differently. I feel like I did it on my terms and he’s someone that I’m very, very close to and I’m very proud of. But I felt like it was time to go, that we had left no stone unturned in his evolution as a fictional character from the imagination of Elmore Leonard.
So while I’m sad, I am simultaneously relieved because it was a lot of weight to carry around for the last three years. You know that’s the thing about television in the 21st century, man, this era of TV. If you are one of the lucky few who get an opportunity to tell a 78 or 84 or 96-hour movie, after Season 3, it’s all going to be difficult from there. That’s just how it happens. Insert drama here. There’s still fun and games to be had, but if you’re telling a drama for today’s audience, you can bet some shit’s going to hit the fan. Those are long days, and I enjoy them immensely, but it’s time to lay them down. I’m still going to button shirt up to the top from time to time, and I’m still going to slip in his accent whenever I want to piss my wife off or drive her crazy. But yeah, I’m coming to terms with this being over.
And so I guess this means that we’re not going to get the spinoff that I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping for, where Boyd breaks out and finally gets to open that Dairy Queen that he’s been talking about?
Well, never say never. [Laughs] I mean it is Elmore Leonard after all, and his characters live on. So you know, I don’t know. That’s in the hands of the people that make that decision. But it’d be hard to say no sometime in the future. Just not tomorrow.
On a slightly more small-scale note, I feel compelled to ask whether you’re a bourbon fan in real life and whether you’ve ever actually ordered Boyd’s usual [four fingers of Elmer T. Lee], which I think would be pretty much an entire glass.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s when he’s feeling particularly frisky. I actually have a few bottles at the house, but I won’t drink it with everybody. I like whiskey, I like scotch, I like bourbon—and I’ve got more than a few bottles at the house. But I’ll only drink Elmer T, I’ll only pull that out with someone very, very special because it’s not top-top shelf but it’s my top-top shelf.
It’s good stuff.
So, uh, so yeah. I have done that both outside of and inside my house. [Laughs]
You’re working on The Hateful Eight right now. Is your character like anything you’ve played before? It seems like given his title he might be on the other side of the law a bit.
Well it’s hard to say in a Quentin Tarantino movie on which side of the law you’re on, you know? Everything is up for grabs. It’s anyone’s guess, really. And what’s been so nice about this opportunity other than the obvious and getting to work with QT again and all of these unbelievable actors—these f—ing icons—is that it’s in the same vein [as Justified].
Elmore was a hero of Quentin’s, and Quentin may be the only other person on the planet that can write in a similar tone when he wants to. Quentin is the master of a scene, and Elmore was the master of a scene, and so I’m just giddy every single day I go to work.
And then from this I’ll go do this [HBO] comedy series, called Vice Principals with Danny McBride and Jody Hill and David Gordon Green, and I’m just beside myself with anticipation about this experience because I think they’re just some of the smartest and best guys working in comedy today. And I’m just happy to throw my hat in their ring and to be invited on their boat.
So here we go man! It’s as politically incorrect as they come, and it’s f—ing good!
Between Tarantino and then McBride and Jody Hill on the other end of the spectrum, it definitely seems like everything is going really well at the moment.
A day at a time, my man! A day at a time.