David Meunier as Johnny Crowder in 'Justified'
Prashant Gupta/FX David Meunier as Johnny Crowder in 'Justified'

David Meunier has seen his share of backstabbing and intrigue on “Justified.” As Johnny Crowder, he was next in line to take over his family’s crime syndicate after his Uncle Bo (M.C. Gainey) -- until wayward cousin Boyd (Walton Goggins) got in his way. When Johnny tipped Boyd off about his uncle's Oxy shipment, Bo retaliated by shooting his nephew in the stomach, subsequently putting him in a wheelchair. With Bo dead and Boyd now running the Crowder family business, Johnny feels more than a bit supplanted -- he blames Boyd for his state and wants revenge. He also has some lingering desire for Boyd’s fiancée, Ava (Joelle Carter), which doesn’t help cousinly relations.

“Justified,” now in its fourth season, finds Johnny back in the forefront as he enacts a stealthy, multi-pronged attack on Boyd, partnering with Dixie Mafia head Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) to kill him while at the same time blackmailing Boyd's new right hand man Colton Rhodes (Ron Eldard). The show, which airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX, never shies away from deep character explorations and interesting plot twists, and Meunier’s Johnny Crowder is most definitely indicative of how layered and conflicted a "Justified" character can be. Meunier spoke with Indiewire by phone, helping to reveal Johnny’s motivations for and the internal struggle behind going against Boyd, the surprise of returning to the show in season two, and the overall pleasure of working in the set’s collaborative atmosphere.

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The Crowder clan has an amazing Shakespearean dynamic of double-crossing each other to get that place on the throne. Do you feel that Johnny thinks being the head of the family business is rightfully his place in the world?

In a word, absolutely. That’s Johnny’s mission in life, that’s what set him on his path to betray Boyd in the first place. Being groomed by Uncle Bo to take over the family business and to have it all taken away from him.

Especially since Boyd spent all those years blowing stuff up and preaching to Crowder’s Commandos...

Yeah, all those years while Johnny was running the family business with Uncle Bo -- and even Arlo [Raymond Barry], in the early days -- Boyd was off blowing things up, and we learn later that he was also in Kuwait and running churches in the woods. He was doing everything but the family business.

This season, Johnny is playing many different angles, which is intriguing to watch. Starting with his double-crossing of Boyd, do you think that’s something Johnny realistically sees himself with getting away with, despite Boyd being such a shrewd character?

Yeah, I think initially he thinks that’s possible. There’s no love between Boyd and Wynn Duffy, or the Dixie Mafia. So, Johnny’s figured out a way to say, “Well, look -- I can get you what you need, just help me get me what I need.” That was a reasonable plan.

What you do think Johnny has to gain by partnering with Wynn Duffy? Since he’s probably one of the most notoriously slippery characters in Harlan County?

It’s assumed that Wynn Duffy is the operational head of the Dixie Mafia. So there is a heroin trade running through that part of the world that’s coming from Detroit, and Wynn is the one handling that. And Johnny thinks, “I’ll be the one to expand Wynn’s enterprises” and also benefit himself in the process.

"There’s a 40-year history that these two men have, back from when they were kids."

Can you talk about Johnny’s motivations in blackmailing Colton? It seems Johnny almost feels usurped in the business by the guy when Boyd brings him into the fold...

I think there are two things at play with Colton. For one, Johnny has no love for him -- when they first meet, Colton kicks Johnny’s cane out from under him, and he goes crashing to the floor. So that’s not a very good introduction, for starters. Then it’s very clear that Boyd brings Colton in to be his right hand man, therefore making Johnny’s position in the business unclear.

Once Johnny figures out that Colton never killed Ellen May, then that’s a feather in his cap. That’s something he knows that Boyd doesn’t. And Johnny’s got this thing going with Wynn Duffy and all that, and he’s got to play like he’s on Boyd’s team. Any time he can show up and say, “I’ve got this information this really matters,” i.e. that Colton’s a liar, it’s only going to benefit Johnny and make him look better in Boyd’s eyes.

And despite his clear issues with Boyd, do you think there’s any lingering familial loyalty left for Johnny with him? Is that perhaps part of why he tells Boyd that Colton is a liar?

That’s where it gets a little muddy, in terms of relationship. Johnny has the clarity of knowing what he wants, but at the same time, we’re talking about his cousin, not just some random guy. There’s a 40-year history that these two men have, back from when they were kids. Johnny has feelings for Ava, of course, and always has, and Boyd is someone who is very important to Ava, and that in some ways gets under Johnny’s skin. He wants to get rid of Boyd, but he doesn’t want to hurt Ava… but he wants Ava to himself. So it gets very complicated.

But telling Boyd about Colton was sort of a double play. He is letting Boyd know that it is all a big lie, and Ava is potentially the one in danger here. And also it’s “hey, I know something important, and see how good I am?” Telling Boyd puts Johnny back as his right hand man.

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Back in season one, when Bo shoots Johnny, it was somewhat understood that Johnny was mortally wounded. So when Johnny returned crippled in season two, was that a surprise to you, or did you have the intel that Johnny survived?

That’s a funny story. Adam Arkin was the director of the final episode of season one, and he had all these ideas of how my stunt double was going to fly off the porch [after having been shot], like six feet in the air. And Fred Golan, the writer of that episode, who is also one of our producers, said, “You know, we need to shoot this in a way that Johnny could potentially not be dead. [laughs] And that’s where they left it. So I thought, “Maybe I’m not dead!”

Then at the beginning of the second season, I get a phone call and they said, “Johnny is alive. He did survive. We’re just trying to find an episode to bring him in.” That was very early, so months go by -- sometime in January -- and I look at the calendar and was doing the math, and they were at episode eight or nine at that point, and I think, “Johnny’s dead. It’s been so long that I can’t possibly come back.” Two days after having that thought, my manager calls and says, “Guess what? Johnny’s alive, and he’s in the next episode, and you’re going to work tomorrow.”