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'Justified's' Walton Goggins does bad well

Playing a destructive racist on the FX show, he has an undeniable chemistry with Timothy Olyphant's U.S. marshall.

March 23, 2010|By Maria Elena Fernandez
  • Walton Goggins, late of "The Shield," plays a white supremacist who destroys a church on FX's "Justified," based on an Elmore Leonard story.
Walton Goggins, late of "The Shield," plays a white supremacist… (FX )

Boyd Crowder is in mighty fine company. Like detectives Bobby Hill and Andy Renko ("Hill Street Blues"), nurse Carol Hathaway ("ER") and Dr. Jack Shephard ("Lost"), FX's new “Justified” villain was supposed to die in the first episode.


FOR THE RECORD:
Walton Goggins: The photo that accompanied an article about actor Walton Goggins in Tuesday's Calendar section was credited to the FX network. It should have been credited to Robert Zuckerman. —

As originally written, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) would sit down to a chicken dinner with his friend-turned-nemesis, and eventually Boyd (Walton Goggins) would provoke Raylan into shooting and killing him. It was an ending with undeniable impact thanks to actors Olyphant ("Deadwood") and Goggins ("The Shield").

But test audiences lamented the quick passing of the oddly appealing white supremacist and the missed opportunity of seeing a complex male relationship develop. So FX executives and executive producer Graham Yost weighed their options.

"If all we ever did was that one hour of television, we'd let him die," said Yost, who adapted Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole" to create the series. "But there was so much more to be gained by letting him live that we decided to bite the bullet."

It's not the first time that a TV series gambled and moved in a new direction by keeping alive characters whose deaths were supposed to cast an early defining mark. But it seems unfathomable now to think of "Hill Street Blues" without the partnership of Bobby (Michael Warren) and Andy (Charles Haid). Or to picture "ER" without the epic romance of Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), or “Lost” without its science-faith battle between Jack (Matthew Fox) and Locke (Terry O'Quinn)

Could Raylan and Boyd be next?

"We just loved what Walton was doing, and we knew that we were going to miss him," Yost said. "What we got from that was this whole interesting notion for Raylan -- well, why didn't he kill him?"

The truth is Goggins, one of the finest actors on FX's "The Shield," almost didn't accept the role. Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, he worried that a guest part playing a white supremacist who blows up a church in Kentucky and kills the man who helped him do it would cast him in a negative light with his FX audience.

"The ghost of Shane Vendrell [on 'The Shield'] casts a large shadow for me, and in no way did I want to taint that experience for the viewing audience or myself," Goggins said. "That coupled with being from the South and the fact that I've explored Southern culture to the extent that I want to explore it [in eight movies], I certainly don't want to participate in perpetuating a stereotype of the racist Southern person. I think that's trite and over-explored and boring."

But Olyphant, who has known Goggins for seven years, proved to be persuasive and soon he, Goggins and Yost were collaborating on developing details of Boyd's true nature and his history with Raylan, with whom he dug coal at 19.

"I wanted to infuse his dialogue with a love of words, words that aren't often associated with people from the South," Goggins said. "I wanted him to be self-educated, and I wanted the audience to know how bright this man really was."

For the viewer, the result is electric. Olyphant and Goggins have an unquestionable chemistry, and although Goggins remains a guest star in nine episodes of the first season, he will be a regular if "Justified" makes it to a second cycle, FX President and General Manager John Landgraf said. The show got off to a winning start March 16 with 4.16 million viewers.

"Walton made it into a wildly charismatic and ultimately rather charming part, which is incredible considering the despicable things the character says and does in the pilot," Landgraf said. "But he created a character so memorable, it ended up being vital to the season going forward."

By the time FX and producers decided Boyd would live, the man who plays him was filming "Predators," so they had to work around his schedule, which meant limiting his screen time in the first half of the season.

More important was figuring out the path Boyd would take. In Tuesday night's episode, he reveals to Raylan that his near-death experience has made him reach a spiritual epiphany of sorts, which Yost said was Goggins' idea. Of course, Raylan doesn't buy it.

"The greatest part about it," Goggins said, "is that you will think you know by the end of the first season if the change is real, but no one knows. This is Boyd seeing God for the first time. What's so interesting about it is that while his actions may not be different, his motivations are different. And that's really important at the conclusion of the first season. What happens to this guy and this friendship when many things are called into question?"

maria.elena.fernandez @latimes.com

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