–Did you and co-writer Taylor Elmore collaborate on this episode in the same way you did on “The Hatchet Tour”?
Pretty much. We found we worked really well together on 409, so it was a natural and easy transition to a new script. Plus there were some suspicious fans who looked at our names and wondered aloud if we weren’t a pseudonym for Elmore Leonard — of course we had to keep stoking that fire.
–Are there challenges to about following an episode like “Decoy,” which was very action-heavy, with one that is quieter yet still having to sustain that lead-in momentum?
Not at all. In fact, we liked the fact that we could modulate the pace of the show, that a good story isn’t all rapids and white water; it also involves quiet eddies and deep switchbacks. We were contributing to a larger narrative and were tasked with taking the momentum, deepening the characters, and moving the story toward the big finish. Plus, thematically, we wanted to address some of the moral issues raised by Ava’s pursuit of Ellen May and the consequences of that.
–When did it become clear to you and the writers that Ellen May was going to play such an important role in this current season?
That was such an organic and evolving discussion that I can’t actually remember. I recall early on we were discussing Ellen May’s death, but all of us were hesitant to pull that trigger, which was significant — it reflected a deeper, perhaps even unconscious, understanding of her role in Boyd and especially Ava’s lives, so we trusted our instincts. Then each writer who wrote about Ellen May kept digging deeper, and in 408 Ben Cavell and Keith Schreier revealed Shelby and Ellen May in a quiet, reflective moment that crystallized her importance. She was an innocent victim that catalyzed the characters in different ways. Taylor and I were given the privilege of closing her chapter, and we were honored.
–An episode like “Peace of Mind” highlights how the writers find ways to involve a variety of different characters. What are some of the difficulties in pulling that off?
We had an hour to thread quite a few stories that everyone had been working hard on all season, so it was definitely a challenge. This was a difficult story to break for that reason: we had to do justice to the characters and their journeys. Not only is it an intricate puzzle, but we could never forget that everyone is the hero of their own stories, so even though Ellen May was a pawn for powerful forces she had an arduous awakening that was tied into Ava’s journey as well. They all had to connect and play off each other seamlessly. Yes, it was very, very hard.
–Giving Limehouse a moment of conscience and releasing Ellen May has deepened what is already a fascinating, complex character. Is he prepared to face the ramifications of further angering Boyd and also losing out on the $300,000 that Ava offered?
Absolutely. Dave Andron and VJ Boyd did a wonderful job of reintroducing Limehouse in 410, and they set up his journey, one of a leader burdened with responsibilities that kept him up at night, and his actions grew from that, but so did his reappraisals — thus, when faced with the visceral consequences of his choices — the fate of peoples’ lives in his hands — he had to reevaluate why he was doing what he was doing, and if it was it for the greater good. He is definitely prepared for what may come in the wake if his actions. Why? Because he answered his conscience.
–What were the decisions that led to making Nicky Cush a paranoid, anti-government type?
That was again VJ and Dave who turned Cush loose with his wild conspiracies in 410. We just took what they established and ran with it. Dan Buran, the actor playing Cush, embodied the character completely, so after watching him in 410 it was pretty easy writing for him. Dave Blass as the production team did an amazing job with Cush’s house, and that helped all of us envision the character.
–Every episode’s script goes through a lot of changes before arriving at what’s ultimately filmed. Can you tell us about any alternate versions of certain scenes or sequences?
So many. The Assistant Director Robert Scott jokingly called Taylor and I the head members of the Rewriters Guild of America. We actually put out a full new second draft that had the production team scrambling. We were terribly apologetic but as I mentioned earlier, this was a hard script to write, making sure all the stories and characters were coming together. One example of a big change? Boyd and Jimmy were going to rob a bank. For various reasons we found a different way into the story.
–Is there a moment that you’re most proud of in this episode?
I guess the moments when we see into the hearts of the characters, whether it’s the big church scene or the quiet scenes with Boyd and Ava. Even the scene with Raylan in the office during the Shelby/Ellen May reunion: if you watch closely we’re glimpsing into Raylan at that moment, a sense of his being cut off from that kind of intimacy going on right next to him, and he’s burying himself in paperwork for the same reason he chose to take this assignment when he didn’t have to, when Art didn’t want him to. Raylan is grappling with quite a few demons this season, but refusing to look at them.
–Are there attributes of novel writing that you miss in TV writing? And conversely, are there strengths in the television format that are hard to replicate in the other formats of writing that you’ve done?
For me, writing is writing. TV is more collaborative, which can be great fun, and I enjoy the Justified team very much. I really don’t miss anything so long as I’m writing *something*. And let’s be honest: Justified is a special kind of TV show. Where else can we have long speeches about the meaning of faith, redemption and forgiveness? And then, in the next moment, someone gets shot to death in a moment filled with all kinds of multilayered meanings? Yes, I can do this in a novel, but I’m also grateful that we can do this on TV with some amazing actors, directors, production people and editors.
–Do you work concurrently on all the various projects you have on your plate? And if so, do you spend a certain amount of time on each one before toggling to the next? Or is it based more on what you feel like writing on a given day?
I’m always writing something, and sometimes I work on multiple projects, usually divided up not by time but by sections or segments. Often I’ll give myself a page quota for the day for the projects. However, I *never* write based on how I feel — that’s the beginning of slippery slope to not writing at all. I’ve adopted my routines from writers I admire, like Hemingway, who wrote every morning, and found a kind of peace in the process, when, as he once said in an interview, “Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again.” It’s a way of life, really, and offers a sustenance that’s as important as food and water. It’s a creative sustenance.