‘Justified’: New threats in Harlan

Neal McDonough stars as Detroit gangster Quarles on “Justified,” airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

There’s no shortage of bad guys causing trouble for Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in the Southern underbelly where FX drama “Justified” exists. But finding one to match the grit and cunning of Mags Bennett — portrayed with Emmy-winning flair by Margo Martindale last season — was no easy task. So two men will go toe to toe with the modern-day gunslinger this year: Quarles (Neal McDonough), a Detroit gangster with his sights set on becoming a Kentucky crime lord, and Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson), a Harlan County man who has no scruples when it comes to protecting his holler.

“We wanted to … try a different kind of antagonist this year,” says “Justified” creator Graham Yost of the impeccably tailored, ruthless Quarles. “We thought it would be interesting to bring in a guy from the outside who thinks he’s going to come down to Kentucky and show these backwoods hicks how crime is really done. We’ll just see how that goes for him.”

Quarles may have a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings, but it didn’t take McDonough and Williamson long to acclimate to the “Justified” set. Well, not once they got over their jitters, at least.

“The first time I showed up on the set I was extremely nervous, because I’m a fan of the show and the last thing I wanted to do was destroy something that I just love,” Williamson says. McDonough took a different approach: “[I] purposefully didn’t want to watch what [Martindale] did last year, or what everyone else was doing, because I didn’t want to get nervous,” he says. “Then I sat down last week and I watched the show. Now I’m nervous.”

No regrets

Creator Yost stands behind the decision to (SPOILER ALERT!) kill off baddie Mags Bennett in Season 2’s finale. “We can’t just accumulate bad guys over the years and have them all sitting around in a room like, you know, teachers on probation in New York,” he jokes.
   
“I don’t regret that we killed Mags; I do regret not having [actress Margo Martindale] around,” he says.

The ‘Super Bowl’ of dramas

“Justified” newbies Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson can’t stop gushing about their experience working on the critically acclaimed series. Williamson likens the creativity and talent of the cast to “the greatest group of jazz musicians playing together,” while McDonough said going to work on the drama was “like Super Bowl Sunday every time you get to the set.”

Why so much praise? McDonough credits star/producer Timothy Olyphant’s dedication — and sense of perfectionism — to the success of the show.

“Tim’s amazing. … If the scene isn’t working correctly, we’ll take our time,” McDonough explains. “We’ll make it work perfectly. Not a lot of guys who are, you know, No. 1 on the call sheet, care that much about a show to make each scene as perfect as possible. Tim’s going to hang out and make sure the show is top-notch.”


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