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A Q&A With ‘Justified’ Writer Jon Worley

By / 01.31.12

I don’t remember exactly when it was brought to my attention, or by whom, but at some point around the end of last year, I found out that first-year “Justified” writer Jon Worley was a fan of Uproxx and Warming Glow. This excited me to a degree you probably can’t wrap your heads around. I reached out to him after the season premiere to see if he’d be interested in doing a Q&A for the site, and he was gracious enough to play along. Over the last few weeks, we traded emails on everything from the process of mapping out a season of the show, to the whole Ava vs. Winona thing, to our theories about Guy Fieri. It was really informative, and quite a bit of fun.

In addition to joining the “Justified” staff this year (he co-wrote this season’s fifth episode), Jon has worked on “The Chicago Code” and “Terriers,” and has been involved with another Uproxx family favorite, 5-Second Films. Also, when I asked him if he had any other bio information he wanted me to include in this intro, he proceeded to list a number of bourbons he likes (for the record: Elmer T. Lee, Pappy Van Winkle, and Black Maple Hill). I think I showed a great deal of restraint by waiting until the second email to suggest that we become best friends. Because I am a professional, you see. (Okay, I lied. It was the first email. Whatever, like you’re so great.)

Anyway, the Q&A is after the jump. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Even though “Justified” is beginning its third season, this is your first on staff as a writer. Can you talk a little about how you got involved with the show, and any difficulties you encountered coming aboard one that was not only established, but also critically acclaimed?

It was just a serendipitous thing. “The Chicago Code,” which was this big Fox cop show I had a ton of fun working on, got the ax, and there I was, the writer equivalent of driftwood. I felt like doing something crazy that would later sound completely out-of-context in an interview situation, so me and some friends took off to Equatorial Guinea and made a documentary about a reclusive poet.

I got back to LA and started hearing rumbles that “Justified” was looking for new writers, and promptly started running around in circles like an excited ferret. Because I love “Justified.” Graham [Yost] and Fred [Golan] read some of my stuff, met me, hired me, and we started work in July. I guess it’s in some ways easier to join a show in the 3rd season, because they’ve already, to a large extent, figured out what works. The daunting task is, how do we keep this fresh? How do we surprise people without getting shark-jumpy? And as acclaimed as Season 2 was, Graham didn’t want to repeat the formula, and I think we all agreed.

What is the process like at “Justified” for setting up a season-long story arc? Last year’s finale brought closure to a lot of the big plot lines, so it seems like season three is a fresh start in that way. Do the writers try to set up a framework and build around it, or do you try more to look at where you want the characters to go, then develop the plot from there?

We started with a lot of notions, worlds we wanted to explore, possible themes and signposts for the season. And of course our new villains. There was this idea of a rural, black crime kingpin. Which is interesting, not something you’re used to seeing. So, okay, what’s the reality of that? One of the writers, Nichelle Tramble Spellman, came in with some great research. These wild, insular hollers and communities like Coe Ridge became the inspiration for what we call Nobles Holler. Even the character’s name, “Limehouse,” came from a real historical figure who brought freemen up to work in coal mines. Such a badass name.

Then there was the idea of a Carpetbagger… we just called him “Carpetbagger” for weeks. That’s the Neal McDonough character, Robert Quarles. We had him come from Detroit, as a sort of nod to Elmore Leonard. The idea of this gangster in a three-piece suit thinking it would be a cakewalk to take over and organize hillbilly crime, that was there early on. Also, two of the writers, Ingrid Escajeda and Ryan Farley, visited Harlan County and came back with a ton of great material, especially regarding the f-cking nutty/gonzo politics of Harlan. I mean, that place is full of such ludicrous chicanery. So we figured we’d try to delve into that.

And then, we still have Dickie Bennett, and the spectre of Mags’ money, as the threads that sort of tie us back to last season story-wise, and are still very much at play. But to answer the question, we have all these characters we’re juggling, and a rough idea of where we’re going, and then the slow, careful work of fitting all the pieces together in a way that makes sense. There’s an alchemy to it. Cool ideas bubble up from various places and somehow it all ends up telling a cohesive story (we hope) where a lot of people get shot in cool ways.

The relationship between Raylan and Boyd has really developed over the show’s first two seasons, changing from a more traditional lawman/outlaw story into one of the more complex, fascinating interpersonal relationships on television. I’m sure a lot of that can be attributed to the chemistry between Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, but how do you guys go about dealing with that relationship in the writing process, and is there ever pressure to work in a scene with the two characters just because of the way they play off each other?

That’s a great relationship, right? There’s this mix of odd affection and deep animosity. Part of it’s the Kentucky thing, which goes back to Elmore Leonard’s original stories — they dug coal together, and that’s a lifelong bond. There’s a bit of bromanticism there. If there isn’t slash fiction about them yet, it’s only a matter of time. I’m pretty sure someone on Youtube did a “Brokeback to the Future”-style montage.

What was the question? Oh. Yes, whenever a story can somehow incorporate Raylan going to Boyd, we try to get it in there, because f-ck, it’s fun to watch. But we wouldn’t do it for no reason. And their relationship is explored more this year — you know, how it looks to outsiders that this Marshal has such a close history with an outlaw. And, sh-t, Raylan’s father is part of Boyd’s crew. That doesn’t look good.

I forget where I saw this, but someone had a theory that the more unruly Boyd’s hair was at the beginning of a scene, the more likely he was to do something dangerous or crazy by the end of it. Can you confirm or deny that? (Pleaseohpleaseohplease confirm it.)

Huh. I don’t think that’s purposeful, unless Walton and the hair department have some deviant conspiracy going on. (Ed note: [frowny face])

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