'Justified': Neal McDonough arrives in Harlan with an agenda

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neal-mcdonough-gi.jpgMost actors will tell you that when they play a villain, they don't really think of the character as a bad person. Neal McDonough is making an exception to that rule with the guy he's playing on Season 3 of "Justified."

McDonough ("Captain America," "Desperate Housewives") joins the FX series as Robert Quarles, whom executive producer Graham Yost describes as a "carpetbagger" from Detroit who arrives in Harlan County, Ky., with the intent of locking down the local oxycontin trade. He delivers an icy, sometimes frightening performance as a man who seems very calm and contained but can't (or won't) always control a nasty temper.

Quarles also, however, knows that what he's doing is wrong. "As the series goes on you see more and more bits of remorse in the character," McDonough tells Zap2it. "That's what makes him not just a chilling bad guy, but a guy grasping -- 'I have to get this done, it's gotta work. Why is everyone against me? ... I'm the good guy here.' And then once in a while I have to look in the mirror and say, 'You're not a good guy. You're a monster.' Then smash the mirror and go back to my job."

"Justified" is the third series McDonough and Yost have worked on together -- Yost was a writer on "Band of Brothers" and created the 2002-03 NBC series "Boomtown" -- and McDonough says he trusts Yost to write good material for him.

"He really delves into characters deeply for me," McDonough says. "Buck Compton from 'Band of Brothers' was one of the greatest characters I've ever had the chance to play, and David McNorris from 'Boomtown' was just gorgeous. ... Now with Quarles, it's almost like a McNorris, but McNorris erred toward the good side, and this guy errs toward the bad side. But in their train of thought, it's not very different -- both have things they have to achieve, and they're going to achieve them come hell or high water."

Of course, the likes of Raylan Givens ( Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder ( Walton Goggins) will have something to say about that -- much to Quarles' frustration in the early going.

"To take over the oxycontin business in Kentucky seems to him to be an easy thing," McDonough says. "There I am in my $3,000 suits, and these guys have ripped-up flannel shirts and holes in their jeans and mud all over their boots. These s**tkickers are going to pay if they get in my way. Little do I realize these s**tkickers are pretty smart.

"Raylan and Boyd -- the scenes I have with them are just the greatest pissing contest I've ever seen. ... We're having a blast."

"Justified" begins its third season at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (Jan. 17) on FX.
Photo/Video credit: Getty Images