Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, stop reading now. The promo showed Danny Crowe (AJ Buckley) charging at Raylan (Timothy Olyphant), testing the 21-Foot Rule. The belief is that a man with a knife, standing within 21 feet of a man with a holstered gun, will win that showdown. How did it work out for Danny? In a way that would’ve made the late Elmore Leonard proud. Buckley phoned EW to chat about the scene that will go down as one of the series’ funniest. Read what executive producer Graham Yost had to say about it, and the rest of the episode, here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talking with Graham, he said Tim had been pitching this end for Danny – charging Raylan, falling in the grave dug for his beloved dog Chelsea, and stabbing himself – since early in the season. When did you hear about it?
AJ BUCKLEY: Just before the episode. It was because they had to switch some things around. I went up to go shoot [an episode of] Supernatural, and they were flipping around some episodes, and Graham got the call. I had heard that if Graham calls you (Laughs) you know. I’m like, “Hello?” “Can you hold for Graham, please?” I’m like, “Ugh.” (Laughs) I was so bummed. I was just like, “Man, I was havin’ so much fun. No, I don’t wanna die!” It’s so different from anything I’ve played on TV before. But then I ran into Tim on set that day, and he goes, “Well, listen, this is the idea. They haven’t approved it yet, but I really think this is funny.” And I was like, “S–t, man, if you can pull that off, that would be really funny.” He said, “Just think about it: All this tension. You come chargin’ at me. You’re almost about to kill me. You fall in the f–kin’ hole and you kill yourself with your own knife!” We started laughin’. But it really came to life when we were on set with Taylor [Elmore] and the other writer [Keith Schreier]. We started running it, and after the whole emotional beat, there was a couple of takes where I stood up and just before I run, Tim just starts laughing his ass off. (Laughs) He was laughing hard, man. He just had the biggest smile on his face. It’s the time we’re gonna finally see Danny square off with a real shooter, and then I f–kin’ fall down my dog’s hole and impale myself with my own knife. It’s so redneck. (Laughs) I’m like, if there was ever a way to die on a show and go out, this was it.
Did the scene go through changes that night?
It was pretty much on the page. There was some dialogue that got cut because the writers all agreed that we wanted to get to the tension of what the scene was and take away some of the exposition. But 90 percent of it was the same. The writers did such a great job of killing Danny. That stuff beforehand with the four Crowes where we have that big blowup – there was a lot of good, juicy build up. To have this tension with these characters, and the big emotional charge, and then to f–kin’ laugh, I think, is absolutely brilliant. It’s so out of nowhere. You’re like, “What the f–k just happened?” And I love it when Raylan’s like – I don’t know what take they used…
He says, “S–t, Danny. I would’ve said somethin’. I swear to god I didn’t see it either.”
I think [Tim] kinda made that up there, and we were just laughin’. He’s so sincere. (Laughs)
A stunt man did the actual fall into the hole.
Yes. I did, like, the fall part where I go out of frame. It wasn’t anything too crazy, but I felt pretty manly that day on set.
You got to roll over, have the knife through your throat and up into your mouth, and die.
I had to go get fitted for this silver piece – they had to take a mold of the inside of my mouth and put that in – and that was tough, because every time I would roll over, my mouth was full of blood. You couldn’t swallow because your tongue’s pushed forward, so you’re just gagging and choking.
Did you celebrate your last night on set?
We finished that at like four in the morning out in Green Valley. We celebrated at the wrap party. I’m truthfully so grateful that I got to play in their sandbox.
Did you get to keep anything?
I got to keep the mouthpiece thing that killed me. ‘Cause what else are they gonna do with it? And it’s taken about a month to get me back to a normal haircut. For six months, I had half an eyebrow for that scar and the most ridiculous redneck haircut.
That episode of Supernatural has aired. What’s next?
I’ve got a feature that’s coming out, probably this fall, that I star in with Katherine Heigl and Patrick Wilson called North of Hell. I produced that as well. I’m another bad guy, but it’s a different type of bad guy. Myself and Kevin McKidd are two sort of crystal meth nutjobs. You’ll never recognize Kevin McKidd in this. He’s covered in sores and he’s all yellow teeth. And you never would expect Katherine Heigl to play this role.
I’m reading on IMDB: A seductive and scheming new hire causes dangerous problems for a businessman who is married to a bipolar, obsessive-compulsive woman.
That’s her. That’s not her in-person. She’s actually one of the sweetest people I’ve ever worked with in my life, and all that bad press is lies. She’s f–king brilliant in this movie…. Patrick Wilson is the businessman. Jordana Brewster is the new hire. Kevin McKidd and myself are the two villains…. The crazy thing is, it’s how I got on Justified. [Justified exec producer/writer] Dave Andron had seen an early screening of North of Hell because he knows the director [Anthony Burns]. It was as the role on Justified was coming up. He went to the producers and said, “I just saw this guy in this movie, he’d be perfect for Danny Crowe this season.” So it’s funny how things work out like that.
Are you looking to play more bad guys on TV?
I played a nerdy guy on CSI: NY for nine years. I want to be bad for a while. I want to be really, really bad. The lab coat has come off, I’m about to kill some bitches. (Laughs)