Walton Goggins on the Emotional End of Justified, and the Fate He Dreamed About for Boyd Crowder

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Photo: Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

This interview contains spoilers for the series finale of Justified.

Boyd Crowder lives! Walton Goggins’s Kentucky-fried criminal was supposed to die in Justified’s pilot, but producers changed their minds after they felt the chemistry between Goggins and Timothy Olyphant, Boyd’s bromantic nemesis, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Like Wile E. Coyote, Boyd cheated death for six seasons and shockingly survived the series finale, where he is last seen as a reborn-again prison preacher getting a teary-eyed visit from his old coal-mining cohort, Raylan. Goggins spoke to Vulture about why he wanted Boyd to die, what he thinks Justified’s legacy will be, and shifting gears to work on a comedy.

Were you surprised by how the show turned out?
I was. I had really advocated for Boyd to die, starting in season three. At the beginning of this season, [executive producer] Graham [Yost] said, “I think he should live. I think everyone should live.” And I saw the wisdom in that. He was right. It took its twists and turns, and it was a painful, joyful experience to go through, but I’m satiated. I’m happy, man. I’m tired, but I’m happy.

What was the last scene you shot?
The last scene I shot with Tim was the prison visit, and I think it needed to go down that way. And, as fate would have it, just because of scheduling, my very last scene, which I shot right after that, was Boyd preaching. It was a very emotional experience shooting that scene with Tim, and in some ways, God — whoever He or She is — gave me a gift by having this euphoric, joyful preaching scene be my very last scene.

Were any of the tears in your or Tim’s eyes real?
Yeah, there were so many tears shed over the course of that last week, with Graham probably crying the most. I couldn’t hold it together that last day. You walk a road with someone for six years of your life, you go through the ups and downs, both personally and professionally, and you can better believe there are going to be some tears at the end of that, or you’re just not human.

Do you believe that Boyd truly loved Ava (Joelle Carter)?
Well, do you? 

I do.
I believe he loved her more than anything in the world. The irony in her fear of him was that he never would’ve hurt her. He would’ve killed himself before he killed her. For Boyd, it came down to, “Before I leave this Earth, I just need an answer to my question, which is ‘Why?’” And the universe needed for Boyd to hear the truth from the only person who could spoon-feed it to him, when Ava says, “I just did what I thought you would do.” There is no greater recipe for self-change than that. 

Do you think he believed Raylan’s lie that Ava was dead?
Yeah. He has no reason to doubt it. I don’t think Raylan gives him that information to protect Ava. Boyd’s not going to get out and hurt Ava. I believe it’s much bigger than that. What Raylan saw was an opportunity to end the cycle of violence that he, Boyd, and Ava had been trapped in, because of where they came from. He took it upon himself to do the right thing for Ava, Boyd, and for their little boy. 

Have you allowed yourself to imagine what will happen to Boyd next?
That’s the main reason I didn’t want Boyd to live, because I didn’t want to think about it. It’s the same reason I’m so happy Shane Vendrell committed suicide on The Shield. Now I’m forced to fucking think about it every day! It all depends on whether they want to continue the story for another 13 episodes somewhere down the line. 

Do you think Boyd will get out of prison?
I don’t think so, but I don’t think he minds that. After 42 years on this Earth and living the life he’d led, forcing himself to live up to this image of his father and his grandfather­ — of his lineage — had taken its toll. He desperately wanted to get out from underneath the weight of his last name for a very long time. He was incapable of doing that in the end. And he hurt a lot of people along the way. Boyd is as smart and malleable as they come, and his incarceration is in some ways a great freedom. 

What do you think Justified’s legacy will be?
It’s a different dish from all the other ones being served today. It was never meant to be Breaking BadThe ShieldThe SopranosThe WireBoardwalk Empire, or any of our other great dramas. It was a show that was just as likely to be funny as it was to be serious. It had something for everybody. When you service all those tonalities, the only person you’re really servicing is Elmore Leonard. That’s who we tried to live up to, every single week. 

Do you feel like you succeeded?
I feel like we did, to the best of our capabilities. We didn’t hit it out of the park every day. Who would want to do that? Perfection is boring. I’m happy with everything I’ve learned, with the friendships I’ve made, with the opportunity to work with Tim and Joelle and the writers. These aren’t friends for the run of the show. These are friends for a lifetime. 

How’s it been working with Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight?
I’m living an extended Elmore reality by working with Quentin. Elmore was a big influence on Quentin, so I’m still walking in that world, and then it’s on to the next.

Are you excited to work with Danny McBride on his new HBO sitcom, Vice Principals?
I’m scared as hell of dipping my toes into comedy with Danny and Jody [Hill] and David Gordon Green, because they’re so fucking good. But hell, live on the edge or don’t live. Make yourself vulnerable, man, or go home. I don’t care about being right or good anymore. I just want to live, let other people judge it, and not let it affect me.

Will it be a big departure for you as a flat-out comedy?
It’s not a flat-out comedy. It’s a dangerous comedy. I’m looking forward to getting out from under the weight of 13 years of doing drama. It’s been a long run, man. The Shield took its toll on everybody, and Justified, for all that it’s given, it’s also taken some things away. I’m just looking forward to going to work and laughing every day.