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Last night’s Justified brought an end to one of Raylan Givens’s biggest antagonists — and if you don’t want to be spoiled as to who or how, read no further. Just last week, Raylan told his flinty codger of a father Arlo that he looked forward to him dying in prison, and this week, he got the news, following an incident where Arlo went in for a little trim and got a large cut (i.e., a shiv to the chest) instead. Raymond J. Barry — who also played future Nick on New Girl — chatted with Vulture about his character’s death, his call from Graham Yost, and regretting Arlo’s last words.
Barry: I was expecting your call.
Maybe so, but did you expect your death?
I did. [Laughs.] I had a premonition that this was going to happen. I was in prison, I had killed a policeman, and then I killed somebody else, another inmate, and I thought, How long can this go on without some kind of repercussion? They had seemed to reach an impasse of what to do with my character, and they tried to keep me involved with the Drew Thompson secret, but I didn’t even know what that was — they hadn’t written it all yet. Plus, they killed my wife and they killed off Margo Martindale. There seems to be a technique for keeping everyone off balance, which is to the series’ advantage. So when [showrunner] Graham [Yost] called me, I kind of knew. It’s the only time he’s called in four years! I told him, “I know why you’re calling,” and he said, “Yeah.” He’s a smart man, the best producer, and the quality of the show comes from the top. He’s done a heck of a job.
At least you go out fighting.
That’s true. I was kicking ass! I’ll tell you something funny: I’ve played it for a long time like I could kick anybody’s ass on that set. Even the two leads [Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins]. And mind you, I don’t mean this as a macho trip, I just had it as a secret in the back of my mind: “If you come near me, I’ll grab you by the back of the neck and squeeze.” It kind of tickled me. Walton would come down on me, and I would say to myself, “Are you kidding me? You weigh, what, 125 pounds wet? Get out of my sight!” [Laughs.] I mean, they’re wispy, they’re sexy, it’s all right.
Could you take both of them in a fight?
My fight scene should have been with the both of them, instead of having some stranger kill me! You know the Broome Street Bar on Broadway in Soho? I used to be the bouncer for that bar — but I never got in a fight. One guy who was giving me trouble, I looked him smack in the eye and I asked him, “Are you Puerto Rican?” And he was like, “What? Are you kidding? Are you racist?” But he was Puerto Rican. And I said, “I’m directing a Puerto Rican theater workshop, I’ll give you the info, you should come down and do it sometime. But you’re drunk and making too much noise here, so you gotta go.” So he left, and he came to the workshop. That workshop saved my ass, because that was not a good situation — eventually, you’re going to get whacked.
You also used to do theater workshops with prison inmates. Did that give you a deeper understanding of Arlo’s mentality?
Arlo is a person who reads his environment and acts accordingly. And it’s the same in prison: “Now I have to protect myself. I have to kill someone like everyone else would.” When I did theater workshops at Sing-Sing and Attica, I got to know that mentality. There were a lot of men who weren’t bad people but who were victims of poverty. One of the actors, his father had worked with Nicky Barnes, the big drug dealer in Harlem, so this is what he knew, and naturally he was going to pick up on that legacy and end up in prison himself. God knows what became of him — a lot of them died very young.
Would there be that many sharp objects in a real-life prison barbershop?
That would not be the case. [Laughs.] It would be electric shears, not scissors — no way.
How do you feel about your last words: “Kiss my ass”?
You know what I wish they were? “I love you, son.” Wouldn’t that be nice? That’s what I would love. I thought of it, but I didn’t suggest it or make a fuss about it, but that’s what I thought. I wanted to say something sensitive, something evocative, something unexpected, and that would have been gratifying. But I’m still not mature enough at the age of 73 to know when I have a good idea and when I should be more aggressive and say, “Listen, man. Do what I tell you.” That’s what I should have done. But I’m getting better at it! On to the next, as opposed to getting all morbid about what I’ve been doing for the past four years. This has been a good ride for me. So instead of feeling sorry about it, I’m going to celebrate the possibility of doing something new.
Do you think you might end up on Graham Yost’s other show, The Americans? That’s where Margo Martindale is now.
Graham was very encouraging about wanting to hire me for something else, but there would have to be a tangible part he wants me to play. I’d love to be part of something like that. I’d love to play a Russian. The Russian accent is tough! I tried it one time for an audition, and it doesn’t come easily, but I could do it. And I’ve actually done four things with Margo now — and we were husband and wife in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. My intuition tells me that we will work together again.
Or perhaps you can appear in a Justified flashback as they resolve this mystery, or if Raylan ever finds a letter from his father, and you can do the voice-over.
They have a contractual agreement that might complicate matters, namely that if I work during a season, they have to pay me for eight of the thirteen episodes. I don’t have to be in all eight episodes, so they would have to pay a cool sum of money for those moments. They would have to really want me back. But gosh, that would be so flattering. My ego would become so big.