SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Justified, stop reading now. In addition to our regular weekly postmortem with showrunner Graham Yost, we’re having a freewheeling conversation with Raymond J. Barry, 73, whose character Arlo got in a serious prison skirmish with Hunter Mosley (Brent Sexton), who’d heard from Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) that Arlo was set to take a deal and reveal Drew Thompson’s identity.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when Graham told you Arlo would die?
RAYMOND J. BARRY: I kinda knew that I was hitting a dead-end, because I was in prison and they had killed my wife [Helen, played by Linda Gehringer] in the first three seasons, and I missed her. And Margo Martindale [who played Mags Bennett in season 2], with whom I’ve done three films [Dead Man Walking, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story], I’d been anticipating that we were gonna be doing a lot of work together but that didn’t happen — they killed her, too. [Laughs] In both cases, the actresses were very skilled and really very, very interesting in the series and they got rid of them. And I think it was unpredictable. They seem to do that to keep people off-balance. It’s in some ways a very clever approach: You don’t want the woman to get killed, you want the guy to get killed, if there’s a choice, particularly when there’s a character like Arlo, who’s not sweet and squeeze-y. [Laughs]
What did you think when you first read the scene where Arlo gets stabbed?
I knew that this is gonna be physical. The words were kind of an addendum to the action. I’m good at that sort of thing. I knew the deal was to go from number to number, and if you take a swing at somebody, or if you fall, or if you throw something, do it convincingly with your soul and heart and back in it…. The evening was sort of pleasant. [Laughs] Everybody was gettin’ killed. I’m punching people, and a guy’s stabbing me with scissors — it was like a big party for a bunch of goofballs with nothing better to do, with blood all over the place. It beats workin’. [Laughs]
I love that it’s so emotional to watch, and you’re describing it as a party.
I’ll tell you what was emotional, they had this big sign, “We’re gonna miss you, Ray” out in the lunch cart when people were getting their meals. These guys, these grips that were workin’ on the set, kept on coming up to me and telling me, “They’re crazy to get rid of you” and “God, I just love having you around.” They said things that were so nice to me, it sensitizes me to even think about it. It was very moving. I liked those people. I knew I was gonna miss the gig. That part of it was kinda sad. But the killing itself was like a roast [Laughs], like a bunch of guys playing Cowboys and Indians. What kind of occupation are you 70 years old, and you’re rolling on the floor and you’re punching people? How often does that happen, right, unless you’re half out of your mind and alcoholic and hanging around bars or something.
What kind of discussions did you and Timothy Olyphant have about the scene when Raylan comes to see Arlo and asks for Drew’s identity? Arlo stops him from leaving, tells him to come closer, and says “Kiss my ass.”
If I remember correctly, there was some discussion on his part about how quiet or how loud I should be, which had to do with the amount of energy I would have having a pair of scissors stuck into my chest. I thought he was absolutely right. He’s very perceptive. He’s a smart little son of a gun, let me tell ya. It’s an enormous responsibility playing the lead — they change the words, you gotta learn ‘em quick, you gotta be cool. The character’s unruffled and on top of the world. In real life, I always have a little secret in the back of my head that I could whip his ass [Laughs] but I would never ever play the macho thing in terms of our personal relationship. I have two sons and two daughters, and my sons have all that testosterone running through their blood. The other day, my 13-year-old said, “I bet Ray could beat you up,” meaning my 21-year old. And I said, “Yeah, he probably could, except if I had to protect you, then I’d kill him.” They want me to be like, “Oh no, he couldn’t!” Well, that same number appears at times on sets between actors. Actors are very macho-oriented. In my own case, I don’t give a s—. [Laughs] I’d love to play a gay character. I’d love to play a [transgender man]. Nothing would please me more. My heart is like in the yin-yang space, as opposed to walking around set flexing my muscles or whatever. Tim and I, I think, got along very well for that reason. There’s no challenge when you just listen, offer what you feel might be constructive, and come godd— prepared.
Was that how you envisioned Arlo’s goodbye with Raylan?
I would say “Kiss my ass,” at some point. I certainly like the line. But can you imagine Arlo saying, “I love you” — wouldn’t that be a surprise? I said this to Graham when he and I had our discussion about me getting killed: “I would have loved to have had a scene where all the barriers were broken down.” It might have been interesting. It might have been. On the other hand, I would never lobby for it…. I’m talking about what didn’t happen, but you know what did happen: I worked for four years on that mother, and it was a pleasure. [Laughs] With all my kids and stuff, man, it was cool. I had a steady income for four years. You dig what I’m sayin’? I have this one boy who’s on a basketball scholarship, but it’s not a full scholarship at Amherst College. You know how much it costs to send a kid to college nowadays? It’s 60 grand. So they give him a $ 35,000 scholarship. I’ve got a 13-year-old, that costs me $ 30,000. I’ve got a daughter who’s 4, and she’s in some kind of preschool that costs me $ 17,000. So this thing was cool. I can collect my pension, which is maxed out, plus work. So it’s been a good ride.
What are some of your favorite scenes?
I loved [in season 1] when I destroyed two big, monster wiseguys with a baseball bat. I just walked up to ‘em, said something about baseball and Ty Cobb, and I began to beat them over the head. I did the whole thing myself, no stunt guy. It was a rubber bat, and I could really hit them. And I loved it when I got shot in the leg, and I was yelling at the guys who shot me. I loved the scenes with my wife where we’re yelling at each other. The character was very outgoing, effusive, cantankerous, and sort of pleasantly unpleasant. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, I just let my intuition tell me what to do, and sometimes that’s more intelligent than logical reason, which can slow you down. It makes you a little pedantic. I went out there, made sure I knew the words, and I just played it. It was fun! And I’ll tell you somethin’ else: I love talent. The writing, the producing, the acting — they knew what the heck they were doin’. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t feel that, from the top down. I’ve done about five of these TV series, man, and some of them are kinda dumb. [Laughs] I hate to say it. I’m not gonna mention any names. But you can be in a situation where you feel the actors are dumb, and then the producers you feel are dumber than the actors. I spent 23 years in New York City doing stage work. I can tell when an actor can cut it. So this was absolutely, unequivocally beautiful. I hope I get another ride like this soon.
I was going to ask if you have anything lined up.
As far as a tangible gig is concerned, I have nothing in the offing. I never know what’s coming. It’s always been like that. Very often they’ll hire me, and I have to start working tomorrow. It’s like very suddenly your life changes. In the meantime, this sounds ridiculous, but I write short stories and plays, and I paint pictures — I’ve been doing that all of my life — and I’m teaching my 13-year-old how to play basketball plus my 4-year-old. [Laughs] I have a website that shows all my artwork, RaymondJBarry.org…. I used to have shows, but I stopped doing that because I didn’t like the process of selling my work. I’d always accept too little money for stuff that I should have gotten paid thousands of dollars for. Today, I’d charge $ 30,000 — tuition for my kid. In those days, when I had shows in New York, I’d be selling stuff for $ 300 or $ 600, it was ridiculous. And then I got involved with a girl I was living with, and she was driving me crazy, so I stopped painting for about six years because she was taking so much of my damn time. [Laughs] I had a studio, but god, she was driving me nuts. I finally ended that baby, and I started working again. When you’re an actor, you’ve got plenty of time. You’re not workin’ all the time. And I respect painting and writing, in many ways, more than I respect acting now that I know how to do it. In the beginning, when I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag, maybe I respected acting more than anything else because I couldn’t do it.
How did you start acting?
I was a jock at Brown University and majored in philosophy. At Brown, you got to take real courses. It’s not like you go to Arizona State and take communications if you’re a football player. Give me a break. Some guy came up to me in my second semester in my junior year, a professor named Jim Barnhill, and he said, “We’re looking for a football player to play the part of Hal in William Inge’s Picnic, you want to do it?” And I said, “No.” He kept coming back. He said, “I want you to audit my class.” I checked out his class, and I liked it. I did the play, and I was terrible in it, but that’s besides the point. The same guy got me into Yale Drama School. Two summers ago, I went to Brown to take my 21-year-old there for a basketball clinic, and I looked him up and we had lunch, and I told him he changed my life…. Justified was the second-longest gig I’ve had. I worked with a theater company called The Open Theater in New York for six or seven years when I was in my twenties and thirties. During that time, we toured every year to Europe and every year to Canada. We performed in Algeria, Turkey, Israel. We would be in Paris for the whole summer performing at the Sorbonne. We’d be at the Roundhouse theater in England. We’d be up in Denmark. It was a fabulous, long, stabilized experience during which I was paid $ 150 a week, and I was as happy as a pig in you know what. I was young, I was learning how to act in front of audiences, and it was just wonderful. [Justified] was another animal in terms of the glamour, or whatever you want to call it. You’re on TV, and all the guys playing basketball at the YMCA come over to me, “Hey, I saw you last night. Man, you got that menace thing down!” “You’re a real killer, man!” [Laughs]
So what TV show would you like to do next?
I would be interested in doing any show that is available. I am not a proud man. I know the difference between something that is absolutely brilliant — I do know that — but when I work, I have a good time. I did a thing for Cold Case, about 10 episodes playing the lead’s father, and I had a great time. I think that is the case whenever I work. Sometimes I’ll do a play of mine in New York, and my manager will hook up some kind of gig, and it will pay for the whole trip, and I’ll have a good time and do the play at night. It’s not a bad life. Not bad. [Laughs]
‘Justified’ postmortem: EP Graham Yost talks series-changing moment