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Justified’s Walton Goggins on His Remarkable Teeth and Doubling Down With FX As a Likable Villain

After wrapping up a seven-year arc on The Shield as rogue cop Shane Vendrell (if you're still waiting to watch the final season, then skip the first question, as there's a massive, year-and-a-half-old spoiler), Walton Goggins is back and unpredictable as ever in FX's Elmore Leonard adaptation, Justified. The actor plays drug-running Neo-Nazi Boyd Crowder, boyhood friend to Timothy Olyphant's lawman Raylan Givens. Goggins spoke to Vulture about the complications of TV villainy, The Shield's walloping finale, and the uncomfortable truth behind his magnificent teeth.

Before we get to Justified, let's talk about The Shield's unbelievable finale. It’s so difficult for any series to wrap things up in a satisfying way, but The Shield really did.
None of the characters escaped unscathed, and in some ways Shane Vendrell was the sacrificial lamb for all of the strike force’s deviant exploits. [Here comes the spoiler, hidden away from unspoiled eyes: Shane killed himself and his family. Shhhh!] I feel like he overcame so many things to have the audience care about him — not least of which was his love for Vic Mackey [Michael Chiklis] — and see things from his perspective. And I didn’t know if he could ever overcome the decision to end his life and his family’s life the way that he did, but then I realized that it’s the greatest opportunity in the world if we execute it correctly. I wound up watching the finale with 400 people at a screening, and when it happened a deathly quiet came over the crowd and then the next thing I heard were tears — they were crying. It was a tremendous moment.

Do you stay in touch with Michael [Chiklis]?
Oh, all the time. We talked yesterday. He’s doing a pilot for ABC.

Is he growing his hair back?
No. He’s gonna stay with the dome. That’s his look now, and hey, he’s sexy as hell for a guy who’s five-foot-seven and built like a brick shithouse. He’s been a teacher to me on a number of levels and been a great archetype for the kind of person I want to be, the kind of father I want to be, the kind of friend I want to be.

You shot a lot of scenes with him, long hours under hot lights. Did you ever have to ask makeup to come powder his head so you wouldn’t be blinded with the glare?
Between his head and my teeth, lighting always had a problem.

You do have an incredible set of choppers. Are they actually yours?
Unfortunately I had a lot of problems with my teeth in my youth. They were knocked out by a baseball when I was in fifth grade and then shoved back up into my gums with no novocaine because of my age. Then, two years later, I knocked them out again diving into a swimming pool. So, I went through an extraordinary amount of pain and had a retainer during high school. Once I became an adult I was able to get a bridge put in my mouth.

Now you’re back on FX, which has been establishing a history of keeping it in the family — they gave Timothy Olyphant this show after he’d guested on Damages, and gave Glenn Close Damages after she’d spent a year on The Shield.
Yeah, it’s kind of like an old studio system. You develop a name brand on a network and get comfortable with their kind of material. It’s very incestuous, in the best way, because people understand where they stand.

I understand that your character on Justified, Boyd, was supposed to die in the pilot.
That’s right. But I said no. I wanted to be very careful about how I was seen again on that network.

That would have been a little rough right after Shane.
Yeah, I didn’t want to be someone that people would hate. I don’t want to play that guy anymore. I told Tim and [executive producer] Graham Yost that I’ll do this if I can be the smartest man in the room, and if viewers would understand somewhere in the pilot that Boyd doesn’t necessarily believe the words he’s espousing. So, they agreed to that, and after they’d wrapped and started testing the pilot, they found that the audience loved Boyd and the relationship between these two men.

How much will we see of you?
I’m only in the first five episodes because I was shooting Predators simultaneously. So, I would literally fly in for 24 hours, do a couple of scenes on Justified, then fly back to Hawaii or Austin for the film.

You sound genuinely enthused about this project.
I thought that I would not have another opportunity after The Shield to be able to latch onto something that I’d care this much about. But this character was too good to pass up — to be back on my network, to be back in my family, to be seen by my audience on FX. And to be in Elmore Leonard’s sandbox. For chrissakes ... c'mon!

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images