Exclusive ‘Justified’ Interview: On a Wynn Fall with Jere Burns

by Ernie Estrella on April 8, 2014 · 0 comments

in Interviews, Justified

jere burns

Prominent 1950′s politician, Adlai E Stevenson was quoted as saying, ”You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.” Justified‘s mobile drug kingpin, Wynn Duffy must be living large because through all of Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins) misfires and failings, he rarely raises one of his expressive eyebrows. When Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is playing Harlan Roulette with him, well, that’s reason to get plenty mad. But most of the time he sits parked in his mobile home, somewhere in Kentucky, scheming with his lone bodyguard Mike (Jonathan Kowalsky) on watch while he’s inside, drinking tea or watching a women’s tennis match.

He’s carried out the dirty work of the Dixie Mafia and served as Robert Quarles’ yes man; now he has stuck by Boyd, through thick and thin – all for a piece of the action in Kentucky.  One-by-one, all of the dominoes are falling down beside him whether it was Detroit mob boss Theo Tonin, or lowlife thugs like Picker. Call it, his windfall, an unexpected turn of good fortune. As the fifth season comes to a close and we wonder how its finale will impact the sixth and final season, Wynn Duffy is sitting pretty for a change and we talked to the man himself, Jere Burns.

Talk about this fifth season and the expanded role of Wynn Duffy, who has become the resident “cockroach” on the show, surviving each season by the skin of his teeth. I mean that in the best way possible. [Laughs]

Jere Burns: Well, thank you for that. You may or may not know, I was originally hired to play Duffy for two episodes in Season 1. At the end of the second, I was supposed to die, but when I got to work that day, there was change in direction indicated that I was to be shot and wounded. In the second season, there was another instance where Duffy was to die, and I think it was Tim (Olyphant) who changed it. It was at the end of great scene that we had. If I remembered correctly, Tim objected to that ending, so that got changed.

However, this season is more than about surviving. It’s about stepping to the front of the stage and making a name for Wynn Duffy.

JB: I’ve never quite been the alpha dog, they always kill the alpha guy. I’ve always assumed the role of the beta guy. I always asked to do more but the writers kept saying that if they did, that I’d end up dead. It’s going to be six years when it’s all done and I don’t know who they’ll have left, but I feel very grateful. It’s really a fun show to do. I got to become a season regular and that was fun. It’s just been a great experience.

Being elevated to a series regular, how have you been involved in shaping the character this season?

JB: Justified has always been really collaborative. If you have something to add, and it’s good, everyone’s always open to it. It makes for a long day, but usually it ends being good. It says something about everyones’ egos over there that everyone can collaborate to the extent that they can, including Tim. Well especially Tim, who will often change things and it will have nothing to do with him, it’s all about making the scene better. The same goes for Walton. It’s always about making it better.

Do you have an example of how you got to help shape a scene to improve upon what was in the original script?

JB: This season, there was a scene that we shot in episode 511 (the hotel room conversations), “The Toll” that involved Mary Steenburgen, John Kapelos, and Walton Goggins, which was a lengthy and very intense scene, and at one point in rehearsal I said, “You know what? I have no idea why I’m doing this scene. Someone please help me here; I don’t know why I’m here.” Jon Avnet, who is amazing and is such a great director to work with said, “You know what? You’re right. I have no idea why you’re in this scene either and I have a sense that this scene is supposed to be about you.” So we stopped shooting. The crew took a break and we went into a room with the four actors in the scene, Jon, and Ben Cavell, the writer of that particular episode and one of our esteemed executive producers and we wrote the scene together. I think it wound up being an amazing scene.

justified the toll

How rare is that experience for you given your extensive experience in TV and film?

JB: Very. Very rare.

Do you feel spoiled to be on that set as you prepare for also what comes after?

JB: No. Not really. I’ve been on other shows where it’s a very different process and it’s great in other ways, you know what I mean? When you get there, this is what we’re shooting and in the confines of what you find on the page, you figure it out. That’s what you do. That applies to Bates Motel and Breaking Bad; what was on the page is usually what we shot and that’s also great. The process is not better or worse, just different. As for what will happen after, even though I’ve been here for six years, I’ve had time to do a lot of stuff during the year in addition to Justified. They’ve always been good about allowing you to do other things outside of the six months that we shoot each year. I was able to do a pilot for a comedy called Tribeca with Rashida Jones and Steve Carell who co-wrote and directed. So we’re always branching out.

When you were in Max Headroom as Breughel, did you ever think that you’d play so many bad guys in your career?

JB: I was so young and inexperienced back then I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t thinking straight, it was all a blur back then. The fact is for 15 years, the vast majority of the time before I did comedies like Dear John or Bob, a Bob Newhart show or Good Morning, Miami. I was doing half-hour comedies as either a dad or a goofball, or whatever. So there were 15 years of comedy. Six years ago when I started doing these cable shows, it was a big, big departure from what I’ve been doing for hire. That’s what’s so fun about being an actor. I can go to New York go on Broadway and sign and dance, I can come back here and be a kingpin in the Dixie Mafia, or go do a western. It’s a dream come true.

Well you resonate so well as a bad guy in recent years, and especially as Anson Fullerton on Burn Notice, who I think was Michael’s biggest adversary in that series, is there something that you love about playing bad guy?

JB: Aww, thank you. The fun thing about playing a bad guy is that you get to act out a lot of things you can’t do in real life and you get to say a lot of things that you can’t really say in life, so it’s such an escape. Then there’s the challenge of finding a way, to make this guy who’s doing these things somehow relatable and likable. I think people love Duffy and Duffy is a self-serving, stone-cold killer! People love Wynn Duffy, right?

I believe so, and let’s go back to the point where people really started to love Duffy. In Season 3, he was Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) right hand man. In a subtle way, Wynn becomes an increasingly important character because he becomes the eyes of the audience, and shows us these different sides of Quarles, but even to a larger degree, you are the visitor to Harlan county and this crime world. Was that the design of Wynn’s character, or was this an opportunity that came out of wanting to do something cool with him?

JB: I don’t know, I didn’t really know what I was showing up for that year. I knew that I was going to be in a lot of episodes, but I didn’t know about Quarles, or that I was going to be his partner. I didn’t know Quarles was going to this bad guy role, that I was just going to be the league choir in the background. It sort of felt like I wasn’t doing anything except following him around and rolling my eyes whenever he came up with a psychotically bizarre notion. Cut to a month after we shut down production and I get a call that I got nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award. I was thinking, “For what? All I did was react to a guy with a big blonde baby head,” [Laughs] but I’ll take it. To your point though, I think people appreciate having that guy live as their eyes, reacting to how they’re reacting to what’s going on screen, I guess.

wynn and katharine

Not having seen a physical script of the episode 308, “Watching the Detectives” where you overhear Quarles torturing a man, I think there are people still haunted by what really happened behind that door, and Wynn needing to repaint the room.

JB: [Laughs] There’s sometimes so much stuff that goes on set, but suffice it to say… [clears throat] there was probably a lot of body fluids all over the wall of various type, be it blood, semen, brain matter, Quarles was just that twisted.

It goes down as one of the most memorable sequences in the series.

JB: There’s that and what followed it was that great scene where Wynn and Raylan go face-to-face and I have that line, “Marshal, are you accusing me of being a fake blonde? Because if you need me to prove it to you, I may be inclined to break you over that step ladder, ride you down like a teaser pony, and paint this room a whole different color.” I remember saying to Graham Yost or one of the other writers, “What’s a teaser pony?” Do you know what that is?

No. I don’t, actually.

JB: Neither had I. A teaser pony is a little Shetland pony they put in there to get the stallion all worked up. Then they put the mare in. The stud goes to town with the mare and gets it done. The Shetland takes all the brutal foreplay from the stallion and then they just put the mare in to consummate the act, so she doesn’t get damaged.

So it’s a horse version of a “fluffer”.

JB: Exactly.

Let me wrap this up with this. With all the hard luck he gets, why do you think Wynn stays in Kentucky?

Hmm. That’s a good question. Well, he has orders from Detroit and the powers that be… and it’s where the show takes place. [Laughs] But I do have to figure it out for myself, you’re right. Well, initially it’s for the oxy, then it’s for heroin. I think you’re going to find out at the end of this season, he asks Katharine Hale to say, Am I doing the right thing, here? What is your opinion and what else could we do? She has sort of a mentor relationship. She was married to Wynn’s former mentor and she becomes his sort of friend/mentor/crush. So for Wynn, he stays for the oxy and heroin, then in the finale, you’ll find out why Katharine’s going to be hanging out until next season.

Watch the Justified Season 5 finale of tonight’s at 10/9c on FX.

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