The One Thing Walton Goggins Found Most Difficult About His Justified Character

FX's "Justified" is a series that isn't afraid to swim around in morally murky waters. Its title, after all, comes from the defense deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) has used more than once when tasked with explaining why he shot a civilian. Yet the series is often just as jaded about the myth of the American Western hero as it is inspired by gunslingers of decades past. For every action Raylan takes toward justice, there's Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), an outlaw man in black ready to take the opposite path. The pair grew up together, and the series ultimately portrays them as two sides of the same coin — neither one as outright villainous nor as heroic as their roles in the Kentucky-set series would make us suspect.

From "The Shield" to "The Righteous Gemstones," Goggins has always been capable of making a meal out of strong supporting roles, and Boyd is no exception. As the loquacious and theatrical crime lord of Harlan county, Boyd rose through the ranks of the series, beginning as a character who was meant to be killed off in the pilot episode and ending the series as Raylan's opposing equal. Before he was one of the show's best characters, though, he was someone unforgivable: in Elmore Leonard's "Fire in the Hole," the story that inspired the show, the character was originally written as a white surpremacist.

Boyd's racist roots

The "Justified" version of Boyd begins in a similarly heinous place: in the pilot episode, we learn that he's fallen in with neo-Nazis while in prison, and he even blows up a Black church. As despicable as this is, it's a plot point that didn't stick, thanks in part to Goggins' more nuanced approach to the character. "I never believed that Boyd Crowder was a white supremacist, to be quite honest with you," the actor told NPR in 2010. "It was very important for me as an actor not to play this guy as a white supremacist but to play him as a bit of a Svengali: a person who doesn't necessarily believe all that he espouses."

Series creator Graham Yost agreed, later telling NPR that he believes Boyd is "someone who will come up with a new scheme, a new way of looking at the world," one that tends to hide his true motives. When writers decided to bring Boyd back from the dead after Raylan shot him in the pilot — effectively diverging from Leonard's novella — it was with a new outlook on life. This time, Boyd was a born-again Christian, only that didn't turn out to be an especially authentic persona either. Slowly but surely, the series shows hints of the real Boyd Crowder, beginning when he starts opening up to Ava (Joelle Carter) in season 2. Yost called the development a "big evolution" for Boyd, one that requires audiences to ask ourselves if he really loves her or if it's "just Boyd talking himself into yet another framework in which he can view his life."

'You like to get money and blow s*** up'

Eventually, Boyd's prejudices seem to fall away completely, revealing a clever, self-interested man who can weasel his way into and out of most any situation by weaving the right words together. Before that, though, Raylan calls him on his BS. When he misuses the Bible in an attempt to support antisemitic remarks in the pilot, Raylan responds, "Boyd, I think you just use the Bible to do whatever the hell you like," Boyd answers, "Well, what do you think I like, Raylan?" to which the cowboy gets the final word: "You like to get money and blow s*** up."

For his part, Goggins told NPR he had a tough time playing a racist and antisemite, and that it was very important to him that Raylan see through his facade from the jump. "I said I would do this if Raylan was able to point out that Boyd doesn't necessarily believe that which he is saying," he told NPR. Even so, the character bears racist tattoos — often covered up by long sleeves in later seasons — that Goggins says he initially wore off-set in order to feel the weight of their impact. He even revealed that Olyphant once told him to cover his arms up when the pair were in public. "I kept it with me during the process of filming the pilot episode," Goggins explained, adding, "You're certainly affected by ink on your body, and something as powerful as a swastika and the negative connotations that come along with that."

His commitment to the role certainly paid off, as Boyd Crowther is remembered as one of the best characters on "Justified."