I spoke with the talented Duke Davis Roberts about his role as Choo-Choo on Justified. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode, don’t read this interview until you do. Choo-Choo and Ty Walker, played by the legendary Garret Dillahunt, are my two favorite new characters of the season. I was stoked to be able to speak with Duke and get his take on Choo-Choo. I was not disappointed because Duke was fantastic and incredibly fun to interview. Duke will also be guest starring on Battle Creek with Damon Herriman, The Night Shift, and is one of the leads in the film Undrafted. I still can’t believe that this is the final season of Justified. The show has given us so much over the years. Thank you, Justified for Choo-Choo, and all of the other intriguing characters that you have provided throughout the years. Don’t miss a single episode of Justified, which airs Tuesday nights at 10/9c on FX. Follow Duke Davis Roberts (@DukeUnchained) and Justified (@JustifiedFX) on Twitter. Also, don’t miss Duke in the second episode of Battle Creek on CBS and the eighth episode of The Night Shift on NBC.
Lena: I’m very sad about what happened to Choo-Choo.
Duke Davis Roberts: Poor, poor Choo-Choo. It was quite a sad thing to hear that that was going to happen to Choo-Choo; so soon.
Lena: I was hoping that they were going to keep him around for the entire season.
Duke Davis Roberts: I think a lot of people did, but maybe on an alternate universe where Justified runs for ten years.
Lena: He can connect with Dewey (Damon Herriman) now.
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughs] I knew it had to happen soon because at some point they had to get to the important stuff, you know, to wrap it all up. You can’t have Choo-Choo kicking around in scenes–Ava and Boyd are having an intense moment and have Choo-Choo show up and ruin the whole thing.
Lena: He doesn’t ruin anything. Choo-Choo just adds character. [Laughs]
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughs] I hope so.
Lena: This season of Justified has been phenomenal. It’s a shame that this is the final season.
Duke Davis Roberts: Yes! I’m also watching it as a fan, not just as a person that is part of it. I’ve been blown away by every episode.
Lena: Have you been a fan since the beginning?
Duke Davis Roberts: Yeah. My dad watched it and he was a big fan. I watched the first season with him and then it was never on Netflix. It’s hard to get this new era of people who watch purely on Netflix to watch something, but once you do you are hooked. When I got booked, I went back and got caught up and it was just as I expected—the acting and everything that went on was just great. My binge-watching happened after my Choo-Choo experience. It was kind of funny because I was having this moment afterward where I was like, “Whoa, I’m a part of this. I’m a part of this world now.” I understood, but I didn’t fully understand until I saw the seasons.
Lena: Exactly! You’re fairly new to acting, so what an amazing experience for you to be working off of such brilliant actors like Garret Dillahunt and the rest of the cast.
Duke Davis Roberts: Yeah. I even told Garret that he was a guy that I had looked up to before. He’s done so many great roles where he just pops up and you’re like, “Oh, there’s Garret.” A dream come true is a little cliché to say, so it was more of a surreal experience as just a young actor, who doesn’t know the game that well, coming in there and sitting across people like Garret, Olyphant, Scott Grimes, and Sam Elliot was there. That was crazy for me.
Lena: Choo-Choo and Ty Walker are my favorites new characters this season.
Duke Davis Roberts: Thank you, and they bounce off of each other a little. They are both, kind of, intertwined.
Lena: Can you talk more about working with the cast?
Duke Davis Roberts: Aside from just coming in and being in awe, there was not a single person that I didn’t feel welcomed from. Everyone was so welcoming. It was really amazing for me to be around a bunch of people who are at the top of their game, who knew their characters really well. I didn’t feel like I was playing keep-up, but I definitely felt I had to stay on the ball every time I came in for work. It wasn’t in a pressure way, it was more of a rising to be better because that’s what Justified is. It’s just one of those caliber shows.
Lena: Yes, it is. The moment when Raylan first meets Choo-Choo is when we really get a sense of how awesome your character is.
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughing] Yes, that scene! Tim had played around with and he had improved and came up with that they were going to change my name to Choo-Choo. That was insane. It was the day of shooting and they changed my character’s name. That’s what is good about that show—the improv and their ability to just roll with it. They were saying that was, kind of, the moment that we knew what Choo-Choo was—when we got out of the car and we had that exchange. It made it clear as to what we were going to do with the character. So, I love that scene.
Lena: The “I’m not following you” bit was hysterical.
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughing] And you don’t know. You don’t know if Choo-Choo is messing with him or if he is just that dumb. It turns out that he’s just that dumb.
Lena: And then he hitches a ride with Tim (Jacob Pitts). That was classic.
Duke Davis Roberts: Classic Justified, absolutely.
Lena: This show is going to be so missed.
Duke Davis Roberts: I think so. I’m waiting for it to have its Internet resurgence where people who haven’t seen it to go, “Oh my god, this show is great. How did I not watch it when it was on the air?”
Lena: How many cars did they put you in before they found the one that was just right?
Duke Davis Roberts: Honestly, I think it was just that one. At first, I fit in it okay, so they padded the seat. Sorry to ruin the movie magic. They got a tiny car and just padded up the seat and I just looked ridiculous in it, ridiculous in a good way.
Lena: [Laughing] Oh! It was great when you stepped out and Raylan said, “Goddamn!”
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughing] Tim’s big. He’s very tall and slender and I make him look so tiny in that shot that it’s scary.
Lena: That must happen to you a lot in real life. I’m sure people do not mess with you.
Duke Davis Roberts: No, I’ve never had a problem. I also try not to wear like a Choo-Choo face all the time because then people wouldn’t talk to me at all.
Lena: Choo-Choo definitely has some of the best lines. What were some of your favorite lines?
Duke Davis Roberts: “Skim milk” might have been my Shakespeare line. When I’m talking to the waitress and I ask her if she has any skim milk. It’s probably that one or there is a line that’s not funny at all but in episode six about sometimes you wish that things didn’t have to be the way they were because you are realizing that Choo-Choo thinks about things. He’s not 100% not there. He’s got something going on in his brain.
Lena: That is a sad moment [when he’s talking to the girl] because you know exactly what that is going to lead up to.
Duke Davis Roberts: A very sad moment. You know exactly what is going to happen.
Lena: Choo-Choo certainly has one hell of a “starter tap.” Being a trained fighter, how is it fighting people onscreen? It’s definitely an art form.
Duke Davis Roberts: I love that scene. It’s funny because some people think that it’s not realistic, but it was an older guy and I got a free shot at him. I took him out and I killed Calhoun. Being trained gives me the ability to be more in control and almost not be intimated doing scenes like that because I know fighting and I know what to do in those scenarios. I think it kind of helps me, as an actor, feel like I know what I’m doing when it comes to some of those action sequences rather than feeling lost as to not knowing how to throw a punch. Being a fighter before, even though it was just amateur, it gave me the ability to do scenes like that and not feel lost.
Lena: In this week’s episode, we get a true sense of who Choo-Choo really is when he’s talking to Caprice (Ashley Dulaney) in the car. Do you think Choo-Choo thought that his friends would turn on him? [At least Ty felt bad.]
Duke Davis Roberts: I don’t think so. I think in his mind he just accidently killed Calhoun and he got what he thought was a slap on the wrist. I think he thought that there was maybe a way to work this out. When I was playing that scene, I definitely tried to think that he knows that he’s in some sort of trouble, he may end up getting fired, but I don’t think that he expected to get taken out the way that it happened.
Lena: And what a brilliant way for him to go out.
Duke Davis Roberts: [Laughing] The train! I love that the train stops. It’s just a wonderful moment.
Lena: What would his obituary say?
Duke Davis Roberts: He only has a few friends so I think it maybe pretty curt. It says, “Choo-Choo, a man of simple tastes.”
Lena: How would you like to see Justified end?
Duke Davis Roberts: I’ve seen a lot of theories kicked around and I think, of course you want all of your favorite characters to live but I think Raylan has been riding a real fine line and every year he gets closer to going too far. I think this season he might take it all the way too far. Whether that gets him killed or thrown in jail, I don’t know. My theory is that we are going to see him finally go too far and have consequences to it.
Lena: You are going to be in the second episode of Battle Creek with Damon Herriman, who played Dewey.
Duke Davis Roberts: I didn’t even know. I saw him in the trailer and I said, “Oh, man Dewey is in there.” I did Battle Creek before Justified and it just happens that it’s coming on after Justified.
Lena: I saw the pilot and I like it.
Duke Davis Roberts: Was it as funny as it felt like it was going to be? It felt like they were going for funny and action.
Lena: Yeah, the pilot was just exploring it. I’m sure it’s one of those shows that will continue to get better as it progresses. Did you have any scenes with Damon?
Duke Davis Roberts: No. I was kind of like a henchman to a bad guy. I had scenes with Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters and that was a lot of fun.
Lena: You are also in a film called Undrafted where you play one of the leading roles.
Duke Davis Roberts: I can’t wait for that film to come out. I don’t know when it’s going to come out. I am a lead. I think it’s more that they couldn’t find a guy who’s big to play the character and I kind of lucked out getting that role. Everybody on that was great. It’s going to be really good.
Lena: It’s great that you have a bunch of things coming up, as we are all still mourning the loss of Choo-Choo.
Duke Davis Roberts: I think my episode of The Night Shift is going to air in April on NBC. I’ve got a decent little string reminding you that I still exist since Choo-Choo went away.
Lena: Everyone loved your character and what you brought to Justified.
Duke Davis Roberts: It’s been crazy to see the reaction that Choo-Choo is getting because I played him before I even knew what was going to happen with him. I thought this is a funny henchman to get shot in the first episode that he’s in. Then they ran with him a little bit and I had no idea that people were going to react the way that they did. I’m grateful for that.
Follow Duke Davis Roberts (@DukeUnchained) and Justified (@JustifiedFX) on Twitter.
Justified airs Tuesday nights at 10/9c on FX.
Battle Creek premieres Sunday night at 10/9c on CBS.
The Night Shift airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.