Boyd Holbrook scored himself a damn role in Justified: City Primeval, and it’s a performance that actually makes me think back to a quote from his character in Narcos. Back in that Season 2 finale, DEA Agent Steve Murphy utters one of the most memorable lines of the entire franchise. This went down during that rooftop scene with Pablo Escobar, after Murphy and the crew had spent months and mountains of adrenaline chasing the scamp, only to observe that the notorious coke-lord wasn’t all that impressive while taking his final breaths. “When you lay eyes on him, the Devil’s a real letdown,” Murphy remarked. “Just a man. Beard grows if he doesn’t shave. Fat and shoeless.”
I mention this because Holbrook is the opposite of a devilish letdown in Justified: City Primeval, though he does pull off “devil may care” in a gamble of a role (based upon Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval: High Noon In Detroit). Heck, the whole revival took a risk by existing because the original show’s passionate audience maintains high expectations. Yet this limited series pulls off skillful execution, and the same goes for Holbrook while following in Walton Goggins’ footsteps. It is, in fact, unfair to compare the two actors or their characters because no villain could measure up to Boyd Crowder (or Goggins) in terms of sheer charisma. Yet Holbrook holds his own as Clement Mansell, a.k.a. “The Oklahoma Wildman,” whose shambolic swagger makes him wildly enjoyable as he evades the U.S. Marshals Service.
Mansell is a slippery showman, alright, as well as effortlessly unstoppable and occasionally cringeworthy. In my review of the series, I described him as being “sort-of like if Anton Chigurgh fancied himself a good singer (and Clement is not) who obsesses over cassette tapes and hangs out in a kimono and tighty whities.” I stand by that description, and fortunately, Boyd Holbrook was gracious enough to discuss those tighty whities and more with us.
So I already binged the whole season like a weirdo.
I hope you enjoyed it!
Oh god, yes. I was a little worried that this wouldn’t live up to the original series. Did you share that worry?
Oh yeah, I mean, you know, redoing anything, there’s always been the predecessor of things, but you know, yeah, you gotta have a little fear in your belly like you’re going down the rollercoaster, but in a way, that’s a little bit of excitement for me.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you enjoyed this role.
Well, I tell you what I really enjoyed was the writing. The writing is probably the best that I’ve had to engage in. It’s one of the bigger parts that I’ve had to do, but the writing… [sighs] I couldn’t wait to see what they had written on the page because it was just so rich. I talked to a buddy of mine, A.J. Buckley, who was in Season 5. And I asked him what his experience was, coming on to do this, and he asked, “Is Michael Dinner, Dave Andron, Graham Yost, are they involved in this?” I said, “Yes they are.” And he said, “Run, don’t walk.” He’s right, man. The things they allow you do, it really makes you get out of bed in the morning.
You have portrayed both sides of the law. Everyone remembers your Narcos character, of course, so do you find it more challenging to play one side as opposed to the other?
Well, you know, one is an anchor, and one is a buoy floating out in the ocean. The anchor’s always trying to get the buoy to stop moving, if that’s not too much of an analogy. But they’re just different performances is what it comes down to being. Like they say, playing the baddie is fun, and for me, it was really different from me to go from playing Steve Murphy to Clement Mansell. There’s quite a gap there in the middle, and for me, finding that out is exciting.
As Mansell, you got to sing The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” That is such a fitting intro for the city of Detroit. Obviously, that song could not be in a book that was published in 1980.
Yeah, it wasn’t! That was just another good choice from Dave Andron and Michael Dinner. It layered Clement Mansell to give him a little bit of a heartbeat when he’s such a cold psychopath in a lot of ways. And it being Motor City, lots of musicians come from there — Jack White, obviously, so I thought that was a really interesting choice because in Clement’s mind, well, he is an outlaw, but that’s kind of good for his music. These stories are good for his music. He thinks that he’s a musician first, rather than a thief, but in reality, he’s a thief first and a musician second.
I cannot spoil what he does much of the time when music plays.
Well, he sounds like a cat in the woods screaming. I wanted it to be like he was almost tone-deaf in a way, and he thought he was a good singer, but he’s really terrible.
Being the “new” big bad means that Clement follows in Boyd Crowder’s footsteps. Very different character, very different connection to Raylan. How did you approach the challenge of knowing that people would — unfairly — compare these characters?
Sure, but I don’t really think about how it’s gonna compare. Like you said, they’re completely different characters. I think Walton Goggins is one hell of an actor, and I really respect what he’s done and what he’s paved the way for, but it’s a different dynamic on the show, and in one way, I gotta think about my own abilities rather than caring what everybody else thinks.
Fans can get carried away, and I saw something so silly once that I could not stop laughing. On the subreddit for Justified, someone mentioned your performance as The Corinthian in The Sandman, and they actually typed that it reminded them of a cross between Boyd and Raylan. And surely, that can’t be what you intended.
I will say that wasn’t correct because [laughs] it was absolutely not what I was thinking! I guess it goes to show you that one little comment on Reddit may not be the end-all-be-all. I do this for the fans and making pure entertainment, and I do love doing that. And I do love doing it for myself, getting the experience of performing something. I take it all seriously and also with a grain of salt.
On the serious side of things, there was a real-life shootout near the set. Were you anywhere in proximity when that happened?
Yeah, I was down around there. We experienced a little bit of a situation, which happens in a lot of major cities. Thank god nobody was hurt.
Detroit couldn’t be more different as a U.S. city than Harlan County.
I would also say that the major difference from the old show to this limited series is that the cinematography is quite advanced. The old show was always super-elevated. Elevated writing was the crown point with the characters and oddities in that. But then the shooting style was very straightforward, and in this season, the cinematography is much more creative and cinematic but still leaning on the really elevated writing that it’s always had.
Mansell is the “Oklahoma Wildman,” too. Can we talk about those tattoos? Was there any significance to those?
Yes, that’s from the book. I think they’re bluejays or sparrows. It’s been a while since I’ve worn them. They came from Elmore Leonard and I think they’re for my lover, played by Adelaide Clemens.
Now, the tighty whiteys that your character wore…
… they are not from the book?
You know, it was written that he wore a kimono, and then somehow, it just got into me and my whitey tighties, prancing around the set all the time in cowboy boots and whitey tighties. I don’t know, I kind-of like that! I did that as a young kid, I’ve got pictures of me in my underwear, so maybe it’s just something that I never got rid of.
I’m learning so much here, but we are out of time, and I have to ask one more question. If you could put Clement into another TV show or movie, where would you want him to go?
Oooooh gosh. I would put Clement in Breaking Bad, that was one hell of a show. I’d put him in some big blockbuster movie and let him tear it all to hell.
There’s a bit of a Joker vibe in him, especially when he sings.
Yeah, put him in a musical! Put him in La La Land.
FX’s ‘Justified: City Primeval’ debuts with two episodes on July 18 (and streams next-day on Hulu).