Interview: Peter Weller On Directing Episodes of ‘JUSTIFIED’, ‘SONS OF ANARCHY’ & ‘HAWAII FIVE-0’

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1904201_948173735203100_8876799057430750663_nPreston Barta // Editor

The sixth and final season of JUSTIFIED kicked off last night, promising an epic final showdown between Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).

The road got a little windy last season, where JUSTIFIED was off its game, despite a few good episodes here and there. The latest season, however, is off to a good start and back on track.

The season opener last night was hardly the best of the series (especially with the death of a lovable character), but things heat up as the series progresses. Just around the third episode is when things really start cooking. Directing its third episode is UNT alumnus Peter Weller, who is probably best known for donning the original armored suit in 1987’s ROBOCOP.

Weller wears his Mean Green hat proud (literally below), directing some of the most intense episodes of television shows around. We caught up with Dr. Weller and discussed his last episode of SONS OF ANARCHY, his gripping episode of JUSTIFIED and the blast that is HAWAII FIVE-O.

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Peter Weller at last year’s Dallas Comic Con’s Sci Fi Expo. Photo by Denver Christiansen.

I want to talk about a few of your projects, but I want to first focus on your last episode of SONS OF ANARCHY now that I’ve had time to digest the series as whole. Last time we talked I had watched episode 9, which you directed, and the following episode. You were right about episode 11; it did reveal all. I found it to be the best episode of the series, and I am not just saying that.

Weller: “Ah, I appreciate that, man. It’s one of the better things I’ve ever been involved with. So I really appreciate that, because it’s certainly a cornerstone in my life, that episode.”

So much builds up in that episode before all the ends are tied up.

Weller: “Yeah.”

SONS OF ANARCHY -- "Suits of Woe " -- Season 7, Ep. 11 -- Aired Nov. 18, 2014 -- Pictured: (center) Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX.

SONS OF ANARCHY — “Suits of Woe ” — Season 7, Ep. 11 — Aired Nov. 18, 2014 — Pictured: (center) Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller. CR: Prashant Gupta/FX.

To me, that is always the best part of a show or a film: that build up. And you have such patience as a filmmaker. You let scenes breath, and they feel natural. Scenes where you just have Juice (Theo Rossi) walking— it’s incredible. You carried that over into your episode of JUSTIFIED as well.

Weller: “I loved that episode, man. I wish I had done more of that show, but I didn’t have the time. Michael Dinner (executive producer) tried to fit me in earlier. But yeah, I really like that episode. I really love that show, JUSTIFIED.”

It’s a great show. I know you mentioned to me before that you don’t watch television all that much, unless it was to catch up on SONS or something like that. But when you’re directing episodes of JUSTIFIED or HAWAII FIVE-O, is it important to watch all the episodes up until that point? Or, is it better to go in with a fresh perspective and just go off of what’s at hand, like the script?

Weller: “When it’s serialized, like JUSTIFIED— a serialized arc, like what Timothy Olyphant has with Walton Goggins, then I will watch a lot of what that season brought forth. I did that with SONS, and I also do that with LONGMIRE. LONGMIRE does have the crime of the week, but they also got an arc going on with Walt (Robert Taylor) and his wife, just as Timothy has with Walton Goggins in JUSTIFIED. I will watch that stuff.

HAWAII FIVE-O, however, is another animal. I just had a blast with a couple of really phenomenal actors: Michael Imperioli of THE SOPRANOS, Greg Grunberg and Xzibit. With that you don’t have to go back and watch a lot of stuff. I went back to watch the two episodes before mine that introduced Grunberg and Xzibit’s character.  So I will watch a couple of those, but I don’t have to catch up on it. I know the style of the show, so there’s nothing that I am really plugging into.

When I first directed HAWAII FIVE-0, I went back and watched a lot of the older HAWAII FIVE-0, which I’ve seen every episode of; I never missed an episode of that. So it depends on the show.”

JUSTIFIED -- Pictured: Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. CR: James Minchin/FX.

JUSTIFIED — Pictured: Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder. CR: James Minchin/FX.

Makes sense. I want to go back to JUSTIFIED and discuss your feelings about Walton Goggin’s character, Boyd. He’s the most interesting character to me, and I am sure that is the case for a lot of people. At the end of last season, season five, the show’s creator, Graham Yost, set up Boyd to be the big bad for the newest season. Is there any difficulty for you setting him up that way when we kind of root for him? Is it similar to Jax Teller in a way?

Weller: “No, man. You can’t judge him. I can’t anyway. You got to be Cormac McCarthy with this thing, man. The beautiful thing about Cormac McCarthy is he doesn’t impose a morality on you. As my wife says, ‘the way McCarthy writes is he writes what men do.’ It’s both great and brutal at the same time. I can’t drag morality into it. The second you do, you tip the scales.

With something as good as Elmore Leonard (the writer of the books JUSTIFIED is based on) and Kurt Sutter (SONS creator) has done— they’re going to pay the piper on their own. They’re going to pay their own existential piper. They just got to tell a story. With those guys, those writers, the second you slant it, you’re kowtowing, playing down to, or winking at an audience whom you wish will understand the difference between good and evil. You don’t have to do that, man. The audience will understand it; you don’t have to sell them short. I do not do that at all— I don’t moralize with the show.”

Do you ever think you’ll make the jump back to features, directing them?

Weller: “Yes, I do. I just talked to people about another feature, but who knows if it is the right feature. If it’s not the right feature- I don’t know. You know, I’d like to, but it depends on the feature.”

TYRANT - Pictured: (L-R) Salim Daw as Yussef, Mehdi Dehbi as Abdul, Noah Silver as Sammy, Ashraf Barhom as Jamal, Moran Atias as Leila, Jennifer Finnigan as Molly, Adam Rayner as Barry, Anne Winters as Emma, Justin Kirk as John Tucker, Fares Fares as Fauzi, Alice Krige as Amira. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX.

TYRANT – Pictured: (L-R) Salim Daw as Yussef, Mehdi Dehbi as Abdul, Noah Silver as Sammy, Ashraf Barhom as Jamal, Moran Atias as Leila, Jennifer Finnigan as Molly, Adam Rayner as Barry, Anne Winters as Emma, Justin Kirk as John Tucker, Fares Fares as Fauzi, Alice Krige as Amira. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX.

What projects do you have in the pipeline now?

Weller: “I’m doing a show on TNT called THE LAST SHIP, which is really taking off; it’s a smart show. It’s nine books about an apocalypse. With Ebola all out and about, the show is really taking off. After that I go down to Shreveport to work with my friend Jon Paré, who’s the line producer of SONS. He’s running this show, Fox 21’s SALEM. A lot of the same execs from SONS are on that show. I haven’t seen SALEM, but because those are friends who asked me to do it, I am definitely going to do it. Then I go back to Steven Spielberg’s show, UNDER THE DOME. Then I come back here to Santa Fe and LA to work on LONGMIRE – now picked up by Netflix, which is great – and teach a class at [University of California, Los Angeles] called Directing Actors for Film. And then as soon as that is all over, I go off to FX to do TYRANT.

That’s an awesome lineup!

Weller: “Yeah. After that, I don’t know what the hell I am doing.”

I think you would be great to direct FARGO for FX.

Weller: “Oh, yeah. Are they extending FARGO?”

Yeah, they got a second season. Have you seen any of the first season?

Weller: “I haven’t.”

I think you would get a kick out of it. Knowing you, I think you would really enjoy it. It’s got all this symbolism and hidden meanings I think you would find fascinating. They’re doing that whole AMERICAN HORROR STORY / TRUE DETECTIVE thing where it’s a different cast and time but still continuing the arc.

Weller: “Nothing is better than TRUE DETECTIVE. I watched that in a marathon on New Year’s Eve. I have a place there in Louisiana, around where they filmed it. That’s about as good as television gets.”

You could do season two of that.

Weller: “Yeah, I don’t know whether they booked that or not. That HBO crowd is a different crowd.”

I bet. Oh! I almost forgot to ask about the music in your episode of SONS. In episode 11 there is jazz music playing in the Dodge Challenger that Jax steals. Was that your call?

Weller: “Yeah. Bob Thiele Jr. and I, yeah.”

Was that a shout-out to the University of North Texas?

Weller: “Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Bob Thiele, the music supervisor and one of my oldest friends— we were at Miles Davis’ last concert together. We went backstage. His dad produced John Coltrane. So Bob and I go way back with jazz.”

That’s really cool. Well, as always, than you, Peter. Your time is always appreciated. And good luck with all your upcoming projects. I look forward to them.

Weller: “Thank you, brother. Peace.”

JUSTIFIED airs on Wednesday at 10 p.m. E/P, 9 p.m. CT. You can catch Weller’s episode on Feb. 3.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.