‘Justified’ actor Neal McDonough returns to TV bad guy

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WHO:  Neal McDonough

WHAT: The Boston-bred actor has done some memorable turns on television - including stints on “Desperate Housewives,’’ HBO’s acclaimed “Band of Brothers,’’ and the late, lamented police drama “Boomtown.’’ This season he joins the superb FX drama “Justified’’ as the villainous Robert Quarles, a Detroit heavy with a taste for violence and drugs, on the other side of the law from Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). This job reunites McDonough with “Boomtown’’ creator Graham Yost and costar Mykelti Williamson, who plays the show’s other menacing presence this season. We chatted with McDonough at the recent Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif. “Justified’’ airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. 

Q. I’ve only seen the first episode and I’m already scared of your character.


A. [Spoiler alert: McDonough discloses some plot points from later in the season.] Yeah, he’s all the D’s: He’s despicable, dashing, delightful, delirious, and I’m having a blast playing him. I love playing the good guys, but they’re a lot harder to play because you’re dealing with real stuff. Like my character from [the 2007 miniseries] “Tin Man,’’ his wife and kid were killed, so you carry that pain and torture throughout the whole show, and you generally bring it home with you a little bit, too. With a guy like this, who thinks he’s the hero of the piece and that Raylan’s the bad guy, it’s pretty simple, my approach to it. And also I can be as crazy as I want because it’s the land of make-believe. I’ve never killed anyone or done OxyContin or any of these things, but I’m certainly doing a lot of it in this show. Starting in the next show, I get addicted to my own junk, so it’s pretty great.

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Q. So Quarles ignores the cardinal rule, “Never get high on your own supply’’?

A. That’s right, exactly [laughs]. It’s downhill from there; I just lose my mind.

Q. You mentioned that you hadn’t really watched the show previously because you have four kids under 6. Have you seen much TV at all?

A. I’ve seen bits and bobs of it. I don’t think I’ve watched one entire episode of a TV series in six years, because with the kids you just don’t have time. I didn’t realize I was this scary in the show until I watched it [last week]. Once in a while I’ll watch one of my characters and be completely lost when I watch it, and then I know I’m doing a good job. And I was watching this Quarles guy and I didn’t understand who he was until I looked at him onscreen: This guy’s nuts!


Q. Do you worry at all that because you are the big bad this year, it will not end well for you?

A. Oh, I hope it ends horribly for me! I hope I end up in Mykelti’s slaughterhouse, naked, hopped up on a bottle of Oxy. That would be the greatest thing. I love this character, but I’m not sure I could play him for a very long time. I would love to do a show back in Boston for FX. I’ll see if I can sell that one to them [laughs].

Q. “Justified’’ executive producer Graham Yost noted that when he was conceiving these characters, you and Mykelti Williamson simply came to mind.

A. That was great; it’s a heckuva compliment. Graham has been very nice to us, inviting us back into his family, and hopefully he’ll invite us back into whatever shows he has in the future.

Q. “Desperate Housewives’’ is going off the air this season. Now, your character might not have been the most beloved, but creator Marc Cherry said that some familiar faces would be returning. Might Dave Williams be among them?


A. I think he is the most beloved in the history of “Desperate Housewives.’’ If I had a nickel for every time some old lady comes up to me on the street and says, “You son of a bitch!’’ with a smile on her face . . . I never say no to much, but I think I buried that character. But it was so much fun.

‘[Robert Quarles] is despicable, dashing, delightful, delirious, and I’m having a blast playing him.’

Q. The last actor to play a villain on “Justified,’’ the great Margo Martindale, won an Emmy.

A. I wouldn’t be upset about that. Like I said, I have mouths to feed.

Interview was edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at