– How did you come to be a Co-Executive Producer on Justified?
I knew Graham [Yost] from years ago. Graham, at the very beginning of my career, read some work that I had done and based on that gave me a staff writer position on a show called Raines that he had on NBC with Jeff Goldblum. That died pretty quickly and I bounced around on other shows. I was actually on a show called Past Life when Justified went to series. That show died and Graham brought me on, technically as a freelancer but I ended up writing two episodes in season one and I’ve been on ever since.
– Did you study writing in school?
I was a fiction major at the University of Arizona. I went through their creative writing program and thought I’d write books but then realized I didn’t want to spend my life alone in a room and so started doing film stuff instead.
– Since TV writing is a group effort and requires numerous iterations of the same script, how do you maintain a sense of authorship for the episodes that you write?
Part of what’s great about TV is that it’s a collaborative medium. There are so many ideas that get interjected. The stories come from everyone in the room generally. We don’t do extremely detailed outlines for this show. We do six, maybe eight-page beat sheets, so I feel like there is a lot of ownership of certainly those early drafts. Because you put down that original draft there’s still very much a feeling that it’s yours. And taking on [others’] ideas doesn’t mean that you lose a sense of authorship… It’s still your baby and you’re still overseeing it.
– When introducing a character like Randall (Robert Baker), how do you toe the line between making him interesting and not telegraphing his importance in future episodes?
Really it was just about making him memorable. The intention wasn’t ever to slip him into a scene in a sly way where you’re like, “what’s that guy doing in the back?” We wanted to bring him to the forefront, and the question wasn’t so much whether or not he’s going to be involved, the question was just how? The trick was to have it so that you knew he was going to be involved but not tip that it was Lindsay that was the connection. You wanted him to have an altercation with Raylan where there’s some allusion to the “hot blonde bartender” but the trick was to mention the hot blonde bartender and not have everybody think that he just came to see the hot blonde bartender.
– There’s a lot of scripture in this episode. What is your relationship to religion? Was it present in your upbringing? Did you go into those scenes knowing the verses you wanted or did you leave placeholders and look up the verses them later?
My mom’s dad was a baptist preacher in the south, so I was exposed to a lot of that as a kid. I think spending summers in Mt. Pleasant seeps into your consciousness somewhere. It’s one of the things that helps me write the show in the voice that we’ve found is fun, which is that mix between southern and Midwestern But having said that, I still had to go into the computer and do research. [I’m aware of] the themes of salvation but it wasn’t like I was pulling scripture out of the air.
When you know you’re going to have a scene where you have a whore who’s sure she’s going to hell trying to explain to her boss that she thinks she can redeem herself you know that’s going to be fun and you know that a whore sitting down with a preacher is going to be really fun. And so you look at the themes and what you’re trying to express on both sides. I’ll slug in dialogue and look for bible quotes to back them up or replace them.
Guys like Walton and Joe were so good that the rhythms, they made their own. In watching the rehearsals it was like, “oh my God are we filming this?” Often you get on set and you’re tweaking and rewriting and we didn’t have to do any of that there.
– Tim (Jacob Pitts) and Art (Nick Searcy) get some good banter in this episode. How do you serve characters in the marshals office, who, if done incorrectly, would just be exposition machines? Somehow they are so much more than that on this show.
We don’t do a lot of plot in this show. We try to make it about the characters and the people and I think one of the knocks that we’ve received over the seasons is not giving Gutterson and Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) enough stuff to do and part of [the reason for] that is just that Raylan’s the guy and you need Raylan to be figuring stuff out, but they all bring wonderful things to scenes. Gutterson having that back and forth, that kind of patter with Raylan, and seeing them on the same page teamed up against Art was a fun dynamic that we haven’t seen.
– Where did the *ahem* “marshal stiffy” runner in this episode come from?
That was pitched in the room. It sounds like Chris Provenzano now that I think about it, but it might have been Ben Cavell. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. That was months and months ago.There’s a lot that flies around that room in a hurry. When in doubt, defer to somebody else.
– Ethan Jamieson, the actor who played the kid Milo Truth, was excellent. Was he the first choice for casting that role?
[When we audition people], we’re seeing these people on the computer. So without getting a sense of them in the room it’s a little difficult but even as everyone was discussing the role I saw [Ethan’s] tape and was like, “oh man, that’s the guy.” Ethan Jamieson, he’s awesome.
– You also scored the amazing character actor Beth Grant (King of the Hill, Donnie Darko), who is one of Mike Judge’s go-to players. Was that a dream-come-true?
I was so glad we were able to get her. We had her in mind from conception… and don’t think we auditioned her. I don’t think there was any need. She was wonderful.
– Did you get to know her on set?
Yeah she was a dream. She was such a sweetheart. Yeah she seemed not only super talented but really easy to work with. Great to have around, great energy. She brought so much to it.
– How involved does a writer get in casting his/her episode?
Depending on the shape of the script there’s generally a call early on with our casting department and they’ll have some specific questions about people but Cami Patton and Christal Karge have been doing this show from the get and they do an amazing job. Every episode has it’s specific challenges and casting was a huge challenge for this episode. We had to cast Randall, and that was a guy who we knew was going to have an arc. It was a big challenge to find a guy who had that kind of physicality, yet you still liked him and you bought that Lindsay was with him and that he was a fighter. And to have to cast the whole Truth family, that’s a casting challenge. Of all the episodes I’ve done, casting wise, this was the most challenging and they knocked it out of the park. The guy they cast to play Jud Truth (Ted Welch), the guy who comes out with the shotgun in the beginning, he had just had a cut on his forehead and was all stitched up, and they were saying after we saw the tape, “don’t worry, he’s going to have the stitches out,” and we were like, “no don’t do anything, that’s amazing!”
– What’s your take on Ellen May, played by Abby Miller? She figures heavily into this episode, and it seems like she’s going to remain important for a while.
Talk about lucky casting. At heart she’s a good person who’s just doing what she has to do to survive. I imagine she comes from a fairly difficult background. She’s a character that’s emerged over the course of three seasons, who we cast in one of my episodes in season 2, and she was just going to be a piece of information. She was a great character but it was just somebody to get Raylan form A to B and we were like “oh my God, this girl is so good,” and as she’s evolved on the show I think this is the first time we’ve seen her really want something. She’s clearly wanted to be left alone or to just work at Audrey’s but we’ve never gotten a sense of her having any kind of crisis of the soul or conscience. We meet her at the beginning of the season and she’s low, she’s hurting. Seeing her make this choice to pursue some kind of faith and redemption and [ask] the question: is everybody redeemable? How far can you go before you’ve crossed the line, and what [does she] truly believe? And then there’s the duplicity of someone like Ava: Does she really believe the things she’s telling Ellen May about, “you’re a whore, you can’t be saved,” or does she just want to keep her there and keep her working? And I think those are themes in a show like this that work well in a criminal underworld [setting]. In a place that is so steeped in religion and tradition I think that those themes butting heads are very interesting, and good stuff to play.
– Seriously, how long did it take for someone to pitch the title “Where’s Waldo?” once you knew the season was going to feature a character named Waldo?
A long time. Nobody said it. In fact, the working title of this was “Truths and Consequences.” But then in a late draft I found Raylan at some point had to say: “all we want to know is Where’s Waldo?” and the moment I wrote that I was like, “well of course the f**kin’ episode has to be called “Where’s Waldo?” I resisted for a long time but once I found someone was going to actually say it in the episode it was like, “well now I have to cave.”