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Justified Showrunner Graham Yost on Season 5 and Remembering Elmore Leonard

Creator/executive producer Graham Yost arrives to the Season 5 premiere of FX's
Graham Yost. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Justified comes back for a fifth season tonight on FX, along with a whole slew of new characters and complications. Not coming back, sadly, is the creator of Raylan Givens, Elmore Leonard, who passed away last summer. His spirit lives on, as showrunner Graham Yost told us, in how the new season brings to life some of the other characters Leonard created in his books and stores, most notably, the Crowe clan, who invade Harlan County. Yost chatted with Vulture about Leonard’s legacy, Raylan becoming a father, and all the new women in our favorite federal marshal’s life.

I’ve just watched the first few episodes, and I’ve never heard Michael Rapaport do a Southern accent quite like that …
It’s a new thing for his repertoire. [Producer and director] Michael Dinner had the idea [to cast him], and we all thought, That sounds cool! But the question is, can he do an accent? And he did a little test for us and showed that he could, and that was it.

Last season, you didn’t want to have a Big Bad, so the show was about a central mystery instead. But this season, it looks like you’re building up to a Big Bad again, if Michael’s character Daryl Crowe is that?
Yes. Absolutely. It’s just wanting to mix it up. We couldn’t do another mystery season. We felt that over the run of the show, we’d get to do that once, so we did it. And it was not just Rapaport’s character, Daryl, but also just this sense of family. We liked the bad criminal family. And it’s also just that the Crowes pop up throughout Elmore’s books, so we thought it would be fun to do a Crowe family. And the Crowes, they do multiply.

Was Elmore able to give you any kind of inspiration? Did he know what you were planning before he died? Did you talk about it in any way?
Sadly, no. But we were thinking about it, and we were thinking, Boy, he should really get a kick out of this. We’ve got Raylan going back to Florida, we’ve got Boyd going up to Detroit, we’ve got Crowes, you know? It was something we were hoping he would enjoy.

Was it a little weird going into this season and not knowing WWED — What Would Elmore Do? — which is a phrase your staff all has on blue rubber wrist bands you once handed out?
You know, it’s always possible we could just run off the rails and not do what Elmore would do, but there is a real sort of group consciousness about Elmore. Everyone on the writing staff has read his books, [Timothy] Olyphant is a huge fan and quotes it as scripture, and everyone is very conversant with him and his materials, so we’re all kind of checking each other: Is that something Elmore would do? At the same time, we’ve got to do our own show, so we do things a little differently than he would, but we’re always trying to stay in the lines of what he would have enjoyed, more than anything. But in terms of it being the season with him gone, the reality was, we didn’t really talk about what we were doing, he just let us do what we were doing. His contribution was the book Raylan, and letting us, as he said, hang it up and strip it for parts. And one of the coolest things that ever happened to me was seeing characters we created in that book, and to see Boyd was alive in the book, when he killed him off in the short story. [Laughs.] That was pretty awesome. It doesn’t get more awesome than that, if you’re an Elmore Leonard fan.

So what were the discussions like about shaping season five, since you’re bringing in the Crowes, Ava’s in jail, Boyd’s trying to get her out, and Raylan’s now a father?
We start with where is everyone, and what do they want? What is the problem? For Boyd, it’s getting Ava out of jail — that is both his want and his problem. For Raylan, it’s fatherhood. With the death of Arlo last year, which was a really difficult decision, he’s now confronting the whole landscape of what it means to be a father, and what kind of father is he going to be? And then the question is, who are the antagonists? We used the Crowes, not just because they’re a big part of Elmore’s world, but because we wanted to see Dewey Crowe again. He’s one of our favorite characters, and we put him on the bench last year, because we didn’t want to overuse him, and also because he was in jail, where Crowes often tend to find themselves.

Plus, we have the addition of Alicia Witt as Wendy Crowe, the paralegal who might be able to help her relatives with their legal woes.
We look at her as the Crowe who is trying to get out. She’s the one who’s trying to escape her family, but is she? She’s also completely enmeshed in it. We also look at her and Daryl as Wendy and Peter Pan, because she’s a civilizing influence, and yet there’s something very intoxicating about being a Lost Boy. She’s pulled in a couple different directions, and we wanted to explore that.

Raylan has an actual daughter now, but he also has a surrogate daughter in Loretta, since she looks for him when she’s in trouble.
And that was an early choice, let’s bring Loretta back. We just knew we would be able to have Raylan reflect on the notions of parenthood by having Loretta in an episode. And that will come up in different ways, in other episodes, such as his relationship with Art, which will be sorely tested this season.

Because of Loretta, Raylan means Amy Smart’s social worker character …
Allison Brander, who becomes a big part of this season. She’s different, because she’s not a criminal, and not a law enforcement officer, and yet she has familiarity with both worlds. She, like Winona to a degree, can see the bullshit and call Raylan on it. And that’s fun.

And if Winona is off in Florida raising the baby, Raylan is …
Raylan is free to play around. [Laughs.] And Raylan will.

Meanwhile, Ava is not free. How will her incarceration experience compare to, say, Orange Is the New Black?
Very different uniforms! No. I don’t want to give too much away, but Boyd makes a big strong play to get her out, and things culminate in the fifth episode. That’s all I’ll say. But I will say that we’ll see a lot more of Ava on her own journey.

Walton Goggins, as you know, has a guest spot on Community coming up, and that show’s motto is six seasons and a movie. Your goal is six seasons as well. But do you want the movie?
Um, you know, it’s so hard to even imagine that, right when we’re in the middle of a season! Maybe in May we can think about that. Right now, it’s like, “Let’s just get through these stories.” Listen, I love movies. I love a good movie. But when you say “six seasons and a movie,” we do a sixth season, and then another two-hour-long episode? It’s like, “Okay, we could have a bigger budget and bigger explosions and stuff,” but you know, I don’t know to what end the movie would be. If we can make it through six seasons, that’s fantastic. It’s funny, though, because it’s the first time I’ve thought about it, and only because you asked, but people talk about that all the time: “24 is doing a movie!” Why? To make money? To see it on the big screen? The first Sex and the City movie did great business, so it makes sense, but it all comes down to what story are you going to tell? I have a feeling at the end of six seasons, if that’s all we do, there will be a sense of completion to that. And doing a movie would be a very separate thing.

One last thing: Edi Gathegi’s character, Jean Baptiste, who seems to dispose of bodies with gators. How does he fit in?
Jean Baptiste is not part of the Crowe family. He’s a character who could serve to a degree as the consigliere. The wise counsel. But I’ll tell you flat-out, honestly, we don’t go back to Florida after the first episode. We just can’t afford it, so no more gators. That was very expensive! So we’ll have different ways of disposing of bodies, don’t worry!

Justified Showrunner Graham Yost on Season 5