Interview: ‘Justified’ star Jere Burns on meditation, scene-stealing, and survival.


While many viewers would point to Boyd Crowder as the most charismatic criminal on Justified, there are plenty who would argue that Wynn Duffy is every bit as enigmatic and entertaining. Duffy has been a recurring thorn in the side of US Marshal Raylan Givens, and has served as equal parts antagonist and ally to Boyd, as well.

The character has resonated with fans from the very beginning, thanks in no small part to his portrayal by veteran television actor Jere Burns. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jere via telephone about his work on the series, some of his favorite moments, and whether or not he thinks Duffy will survive until the series finale.


Duffy is something of an anomaly in the Justified universe, in that he’s a villain that has managed to survive for several seasons rather than being killed or sent to jail. Why do you think Duffy has survived for as long as he has?

I think Duffy has survived for as long he has because Duffy has never been the alpha. On our show, the guys who get to do the cool stuff, who are the brains behind the organization and the head of the snake, they don’t last long. They get killed. Duffy hasn’t been that guy yet, and as a result I’ve survived.

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Were you surprised when you learned that you’d been promoted to series regular?

Yeah, I was very surprised, because they had me as a recurring [character] for years. Sometimes on Justified, you can do more episodes recurring than some of the regulars. I think I would get ten, sometimes eleven out of thirteen episodes as a recurring character. So they hadn’t [promoted me], and I was doing it, and I was glad to do it. So yes, I was surprised, and grateful.

It’s a bigger paycheck, too.

Significantly bigger. [laughs]

jere burns interview 02As someone who’s been working in television for a long time, going all the way back to Dear John, how much has the landscape changed for you as an actor? The types of shows that are available now are so different than the early days of your career, so how does that affect the type of roles you pursue?

As much as I miss the golden era of four-camera comedy, television now is so much better than television then. Everybody wants to be in the TV business. It used to be, there were TV actors and there were movie actors, now everybody wants to be on TV, everybody wants to have a TV show. Television has just gotten so good, and there are so many outlets for content.

I’ve done a few arcs on network shows over the past few years, but they’ve all been minimal. All I work on is cable these days, because it’s where all the good stuff is. Television is incredible, but as an actor I’ve had to broaden my appeal, which has been great because I’ve gotten to do so many varied things. As a character actor, you have to be able to do whatever they need you to do.

I just did a pilot with Steve Carell and Rashida Jones for TBS, which is a silly, spoofy cop comedy, single camera. I’ve gotta be able to do everything if I want to continue to work, you know? Sing, dance, drama, comedy, western, theater, whatever. That’s what I love about the business, and I just love using the whole toolbag. It’s really necessary, if you want to work all the time.

Duffy seems to have this coolness about him at all time, and nothing ever seems to surprise him or rattle him. Do you think he’s just grown so accustomed to this lifestyle that nothing phases him, or is he a complete psychopath?

Well, I do think he’s a stone cold killer. I think he’s been around a long time, and I think he meditates. I think he’s a meditator, and I think he has a very Zen quality as a result of it.

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Duffy has had plenty of scene-stealing moments over the course of the series. What have been some of your most memorable scenes with the character?

Well, I loved my first two episodes of the show. The first year, it was a very different show, and my first two episodes were really, really fun. The show changed in the second year, I think for the better, and I would have to say the “teaser pony” scene with Raylan in the room, where I’m painting because Quarles got bodily fluid all over it from a young boy he had in there… Raylan comes in, and we go toe-to-toe, face-to-face, and I just have a great line where I say I’m going to ride him down like a teaser pony.

It’s a funny line, and I actually asked the writers, “what is a teaser pony?” And they said “a teaser pony in Kentucky is about the worst thing you could call a guy, because a teaser pony is the Shetland pony they put in with the mare that’s in heat, before they put the stallion in to actually do the deed.” So the mare just chases and kicks the shit out of the teaser pony, getting herself all worked up, and then the stallion, who they don’t want to get hurt, goes in to do the job.

So that was a great scene, and I think at the end of the third season I have a great Russian Roulette scene with Raylan in my motor home. I love that scene. And then there was a scene this year that I don’t think they’ve aired yet, but it’s a scene with Picker and Mary Steenburgen and Walton Goggins that’s very explosive.

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You had this great scene with Mary Steenburgen in Episode 10, and it’s very obvious her character has some significant ties to Duffy’s past. What can you tell us about their relationship, both then and now?

How was that scene? Did you like it?

I did.

Oh, good. I was just curious. She was married to my mentor, the guy that really brought me into the business, and we’re going to find out that not only was she married to him, but she was basically pulling the strings, running the show, and may have been responsible for his demise. And despite that, despite the fact that she [may have been] responsible for my former mentor, who I love, I have an enormous affection for her. And in world where nobody trusts anybody, I trust her completely. She’ll be a big part of next year.

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Speaking of next year, we know the sixth season is the end of the road for Justified. What do you envision for Duffy’s ultimate fate? Do you think he’ll make it all the way to the end?

Oh, I don’t think Duffy’s going to live until the end of the series. I don’t think Duffy will survive. I hope Duffy will have a great death, because you always get a great death on Justified. If you’ve been around, you go out well, so I look forward to that. But I think a lot of people are going to die next year. [laughs] I think next year could be a bloodbath.

I was hoping for a Duffy spinoff, with him and Picker driving across the country in the Wynnebago.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, but we’ll see.


Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10pm, exclusively on FX.

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