Exclusive Interview: Jere Burns on ‘Justified’ Season 5

Jere Burns 2

I first saw Jere Burns on the NBC comedy “Dear John,” as Kirk, the ladies man of the divorce support group. Since then I’ve noticed him pop up in lots of movies and shows, particularly recently in “Breaking Bad,” “Bates Motel” and “Justified.”
Burns' “Justified” character really took off, as Wynn Duffy is now partnered with Boyd Crowder in the heroin trade. I sat down with Burns after FX presented the fifth season of “Justified” to the Television Critics Association” to talk Duffy, and his TV legacy.
CraveOnline: Are you surprised you’ve lasted this long on “Justified?”
Jere Burns: Yeah, yeah, I am. Although they made it clear in year three, “We want to keep Duffy around.” I’d complain about I don’t have enough to do, I want to be more in the forefront of the action. They’re like, “If you’re in the forefront of the action on our show, you get killed.” So I had a good indication. I was surprised when they made me a regular this year. I didn’t see that coming at all, but it’s been great. I’m really happy to be involved in the capacity that I’m involved in and I think it’ll ramp up a little for Duffy next year and then he’ll get killed towards the end of the season.
But you expect him to make it until next year?
Yeah, I know I’m going to be. Definitely, I’m making it. I know that. Yes, I do know that. I have that on good authority.
In the season premiere, was the blood spray a real surprise?
No, we knew it was going to get shot in our face. What was surprising is that it comes at you really hard. It comes at you so fast that I didn’t have time to blink. So my eyes were wide open. You know what I’m saying, so it hit my eyeball. This [squint], on camera, was completely real. The fluid went right into our eyeballs. 
When was the last time you got to see Elmore Leonard?
You know, I never met Elmore. I never met him. 
Not even here on a panel?
No, this is my first year being on the panel because this is my first year as a regular. 
What can we expect for Duffy this season?
Well, Duffy is sort of running the heroin business. Duffy’s trying to bring the heroin business into Harlan county. In order to bring it into Harlan County, you’ve got to bring it into Kentucky and in order to bring it into Kentucky, you’ve got to bring it into the country. Basically, Duffy’s throughline, mini story, is trying to figure out a way to get it from Mexico or wherever else into Harlan county. Surprisingly enough, the people who will deliver heroin are not the most reliable people in the world, so there’s a lot of looking for reliable people to help us facilitate our heroin business. 
Does Duffy remain reluctant about going to Mexico?
I shouldn’t really say because it’s a subsequent episode, but yeah, he’s reluctant, definitely. But, I’m not reluctant necessarily to have people go in my stead. That much I will say.
How different is being a regular to being a guest star?
It’s the same. You just make more money. [Laughs]
Do you have a better parking space?
I always had a good parking space.
How do you like those scenes where you get to play off of Walt Goggins?
It’s fun. Everybody in the show, the level of the work is so good and so high. The writing is so amazing that it’s kind of an actor’s dream, this show, with the writing based on Elmore’s characters and stories and executed by our amazing staff of writers. The guys I get to play with on the set in terms of the actors, it’s really a gift. 
Is the pace of dialogue evident on the page, or does it come from having heard previous episodes?
I think most good acting is spoken at a pace. We hear very quickly and I think one of the pitfalls we fall into sometimes, I know I have, maybe even this year on the show, is you start to milk the words because they’re so good. It doesn’t work. You just have to say ‘em. We can hear ‘em. We’ll hear you. You can’t talk too fast, most of us can’t talk too fast for you not to understand what we’re saying. There’s just a fluidity with his words, there’s a music to his words that I think often has to be played at a certain pace. 
Does Duffy care about getting Ava out of prison?
No. Duffy cares about Duffy. 
Do people still remember “Dear John” or is it just because I write about this medium?
No, no, people still remember that show and I’m lucky enough that I don’t look that different, right? 
You don’t. I still recognize you.
So that’s a lot of the reason people still recognize me.
The TV world is so different now, how different is doing a cable series now than when you were on network?
There was nothing on television like the stuff that I’ve done in the last six years, five years. “Breaking Bad,” “Justified,” none of this stuff existed. Television’s so much better than television has a right to be almost. TV is where everybody wants to work. TV’s better than movies by and large, right? Because it’s a regular job. You can work for 10 months out of the year instead of a movie and then it’s over, which is not to say movies aren’t great and fun to work on, but I don’t know how the paradigm shifted. I guess maybe because television outlets became so abundant that I guess the competition got more profound and the result of that was just super good writing, well executed and well acted. I don’t know but it’s very different, very different from when there there basically five channels.
Did you have to audition for the role of Duffy?
What did they tell you about Duffy when they asked you to play him?
Oh, I know what happened. I had auditioned for another role on the show which I didn’t get, and then they just offered me this months later. They offered it to me like the night before I was supposed to work and it was just reams of dialogue, reams of dialogue. I just remember it was speeches like I haven’t had since, two page monologues. I just remember that it was really arduous getting down the lines. But I remember the suit that I was in didn’t even really fit me right. They had to pin it in the back because there wasn’t even time to get me fitted properly. 
What was your first scene as Duffy?
First scene as Duffy was in the first year and it was making Natalie Zea’s character an offer. I was just basically extorting Natalie Zea’s character in about a five page scene, showing up at her house, terrifying her. It was awesome. It was great.
Do you still have five page scenes coming up?
It might’ve been a longer scene like that but there were huge, long monologues in it. Yeah, I’ve got some good stuff coming up in nine. I’ve been off for a few episodes but I know I’m in the rest of the year. I’m sure the stuff will be good. 
By the time you were on “Breaking Bad,” was it already the phenomenon?
No, no. People didn’t catch on to “Breaking Bad” until people started catching up with it on Netflix. Third year of “Breaking Bad,” nobody had any idea what “Breaking Bad” was. It wasn’t until somebody started watching it and said to me,” Have you seen this show?” It might’ve been in season four when somebody said to me, “Have you seen this show?” I’m like, “No, no, I watched the first episode I did because I went to the premiere, but I haven’t seen the show.” That show became huge I think in year five when everybody started to watch it and I think there are still people catching up. 
Was your speech as Jesse’s rehab counselor a five page scene?
It was a long scene, but the first speech was really long, around the camp fire.