Q & A: Justified’s Walton Goggins: “One of my greatest fears as an actor is apathy”
How great is Justified? The hit FX show has one of the best casts’ on television and with Season 4, it just keeps gets better and better.
I’ve liked Goggins for a long time. The guy is such a good actor and watching his work on the show and in recent films like Django Unchained and Lincoln is always a treat. Plus, he’s always been forthcoming about his life as an actor and how at times it’s been difficult and that honesty is so refreshing.
Goggins recently participated in a conference call last week and as usual, getting to talk with him was a blast. In the interview below, he talks about working with the cast on Justified, acting and what he learned from Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained.
Justified airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
If ever there were two people with the definition of the term frenemies, it would be Boyd and Raylan. They respect each other and at the same time, simultaneously, they seem to hate each other and love each other like brothers.
Now, when Theo’s man asks Boyd how he can be sure about what Raylan’s going to do, he replies, “We dug coal together.” Could you talk about how the Boyd-Raylan relationship has evolved from that to where he is now?
Walton Goggins: Well, you know, Raylan started off with that line in the pilot episodes after he shot me. And it was really kind of coming full circle in that moment. In some ways, you know, as a perfect bookend because, you know, I’m going – it’s my – it’s Boyd’s version of a bullet, isn’t it, you know, when you think about it, I’m going after Raylan Givens to save my own hide and more importantly the love of Boyd’s life’s hide.
And, you know, you’ll see kind of what happens in that moment. There’s a scene that it was the last scene that we shot – that I shot of the season coming up in the finale. And it was a difficult scene to really get right because I think it speaks so much to where these men are in their lives, how they feel about one another, yet how deep they really understand each other.
And they ask questions and offer opinions that are very painful to listen to but are the truth and Raylan does that to Boyd and Boyd does that to, you know, to Raylan. And it’s — I don’t know — it’s one of the hardest scenes to film, I think, for both Tim and I — certainly for me. But I think, you know, when it’s all said and done, it will be one of the most gratifying.
Was there anything about Boyd that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you added to this role?
Walton Goggins: Well, you know, none of it was really scripted in this way, you know. It was a conversation that really kind of started. When we were talking about, you know, kind o collaborating together, you know, and just the pilot itself was no real commitment beyond just the pilot.
So Graham and I and Tim and I had, you know, a lot of conversations about Boyd and about this relationship and I’ve said this, you know, many times but it was very important to me early on not to go down the stereotypical bad guy criminal southern path. I’ve done that in my life and I didn’t want to do that in this instance and that’s you know, not my experience kind of growing up in the south.
So I was interested in really understanding where it is that he comes from and why he talks the way that he does and I wanted to make him a lover of words and someone that is self-taught. So I think, you know, I think I had a lot to do with, you know, Boyd Crowder and we often talk about it.
There’s this show and we all feel protective about the show and Tim really owns Raylan with Elmore and Graham and has given me the authority to really own Boyd. And there’s something – you know, so magical about that when it’s not coming from ego but it’s coming from, you know, a love of the story and protecting the story.
And we don’t always get it right, you know. We don’t always get it right but what we do always get right is our effort and that we’re trying really hard and Graham and Michael Dinner our executive producer and all of the writers in the room are so protective of Elmore. And they feel ownership over the material and what we’re trying to do every week.
So it’s a real, you know, symbiotic kind of fluid relationship that we all have and we’re all – we all have each other’s back and it’s nice to be a part of that. I didn’t know that that would happen again after the Shield. I really thought that you get one shot to have this kind of experience in television and here I’ve had, you know, two and one back-to-back and I’m very grateful for it.
There’s such great chemistry between not just you and Tim but you and Jeolle as well. How do you all continue to maintain such a great rapport between each other?
Walton Goggins: You know, I – my – one of my greatest fears as a human being but as an actor, I would say, above anything else one of my greatest fears as an actor is apathy. I feel like that would be the death knell to me participating in this craft anymore if I would to become apathetic. I really care about it and I really care about Joelle. I really care about Tim and they both care for each other and they care for me and the same with Nick Searcy and Tim.
And the chemistry that those guys have, you know, the chemistry that Jacob brings to Tim Gutterson with Raylan and Erica for that matter. Everybody on the cast is really trying to thread the Elmore needle and how do you sustain that or how do you get motivated to kind of, you know, do that every day because you feel like you’re in a services of something greater than yourself, you know.
You know, I have a son — I have a two-year-old. And while he won’t be able to watch this for the better part of 15 years, I wanted him to be proud of it, you know. I really want him to be proud that his daddy was proud of the work that he, you know, did for a living and that he can see why I was see.
So, you know, there are number of different reasons but I think if you boil it down, if you distill to its essence, for me it’s because I love the material and I love the actors that I work with and I love the men that I get to work for, Graham Yost and all of his writers.
What’s been the most challenging thing for you this season?
Walton Goggins: The most challenging thing for me this season was making sure that we didn’t leave any hanging story (unintelligible) and, you know, in Boyd’s track (unintelligible) taking care of Raylan and everybody else takes care of, you know, their participation but for myself, I just wanted to make sure we honor, you know, spiritually where Boyd was. I wanted to honor this love story and where this people are and to be very specific about what is it that they want, you know, what do they really want? What does Boyd want? What does Boyd finally see as a possibility that he never had eyes to see before?
And for me, that was, you know, breaking the glass ceiling and, you know, what do you do when you fall in love with another person? You want to build a life and you want to leave something for your offspring that is better than what you had. And I want it to be as our earnest as I possibly could in that endeavor and so, it was just checking with Joelle and a lot of conversations with her about this love story and Graham and all the writers and really protecting it and really taking our time and, you know, hopefully, we’ve achieved that.
We’ve certainly worked very hard to that end and hopefully you guys will see how it ends, how the season ends and think, wow, they – well, I won’t say anything more than that but hopefully, you’ll agree with me that we got to that place. I don’t know. I feel that we have.
Could you describe your character in three words?
Walton Goggins: Loyal, independent and thoughtful.
What is it about working with FX to you that makes you want to keep coming back and keep doing more things for them?
Walton Goggins: I think John Landgraf is preeminent in his field. I think he’s the best. You know, I think when people look back at this period of time and television and I do believe that it is a new golden age that he is, you know, will be in the pantheon of people in his position to make these decisions and from John to Eric Schrier to (Nick) to, you know, on down the line, these are all really good friends of mine. I’ve known them, you know, for since I was 29 years old and since they just had Son of the Beach on.
But what John does and what they all do is what any great directors does and that is they hire the actor that can do the job. And they don’t second guess them, that doesn’t mean they don’t put their feet to the fire and question what, you know, are the decisions that Graham makes or any other show running on FX but at the end of the day, you know, they have the show runners back.
And more importantly or just as important they have the actors back, you know, to get a call from John Landgraf, I had some of the stayed for years like the last episode of The Shield or the third episode from the finale of season 6 and when you have someone, when you have the president of the network reach out to you personally in that way, and thank you for your service and express their gratitude and then just praise it in a way that is sincere and earnest, you know. It doesn’t get better than that.
You want to work for him or people like that for the rest of your life and, you know, the last thing I’ll say on it because I know them also well is that they all care about the story as much as the show runners that they hire and as much as the actors that they hire to be on the shows. At FX, it really is story-driven and everyone is motivated, you know, by that factor. And that’s, you know, that’s a great place to be, man. You know, we’re in the business of telling stories and as long as you’re, you know, in the service of trying to get it right and putting your best foot forward, then that’s the people I want to be in business with and that’s FX.
Looking back on the show so far, what do you think Justified has brought to the television landscape that wasn’t there before?
Walton Goggins: Oh that’s a tough question, man. That’s a really tough question. That’s filled with actor answering the question traps left and right because, you know, so many shows have brought so much to television. I guess in the current landscape, yes, it’s pretty easy to digest, you know. It’s like eating a good meal. You get (unintelligible) it’s cooked with a, you know, a lot of different ingredients. You get to taste a lot of different flavors and, you know, we mix a healthy amount of humor and absurdity with the drama that we kind of try to offer up.
You know, I’m trying to think of another show on the air right now that really kind of does that so maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s – people don’t, at the end of the episode, you can kind of lay it down and it’s almost like reading a book. There’s a narrative kind of – a literative kind of quality to it which, you know, feels at least for me, it feels like, “Oh wow, I read that chapter.” “Oh, man, I can’t wait to read the next chapter.”
So I think that’s something that we offer that not a lot of other people offer right now and I think that’s just because of, you know, Elmore and trying to be true to him.
So I think I would be safe saying that without – and being truthful without offending anyone and being honest. I think maybe that’s it.
What impresses you most about your co-stars and how the show has evolved over the past few years?
Walton Goggins: Yes, well, I’ll say my co-star I guess I could say something about everybody but I’ll say this about Tim. I personally have an obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to many different things in my life. I obsess over things. And because I care about them and rarely have I worked with another actor who obsesses on the same level as I do.
Fortunately, for Tim, I don’t know that that applies to the rest of his life but I know it applies to Justified. And he lives no stone unturned four times. So he’ll take every stone and turn it over then turn it back over and turn it on its side and turn it on its other side. He’s as curious and as tenacious and as obsessive as I am in his approach to the work and specifically to the show, his commitment is unparalleled and that’s a, you know, something that allows me to feel like I don’t need to go see a psychologist on a weekly basis, you know, because there’s somebody else out there that is as obsessive about Justified as I am.
Because you’re doing more movie work lately, have you reached the point where the movie work is beginning to encroach on the TV work or vice versa or are you still good with both of them in your life?
Walton Goggins: Yes. Again, I think we’ve come to a place, you know, in television and programming on cable that it feels like doing a movie every week. So it’s really seamless for people to kind of go back and forth. I had a long conversation with Bryan Cranston about this at the night before party for the academy awards and you look at his career, you look at (Aaron)’s career, you look at so many people, (John) (unintelligible) career. You look at, you know, so many different actors’ career right now and you can kind of flow kind of seamlessly between the two.
So I don’t know that one kind of encroaches on the other. What does encroaches is scheduling and there are things that, you know, I’ve missed out on because the show was back but there are things that I’ve been able to say yes to, because I have, you know, the stability of the television show simultaneously so I can kind of do both and there are pluses and minuses to all of it but any actor worth is (unintelligible) we’ll tell you that getting to go to work every day to do something that you love on something that even if no one else thinks is important, you think it’s important is gold, you know. It’s a great life.
Some people say that when an actor works with a new director, that experience makes him a better performer. With that, how was it working with Quentin Tarantino?
Walton Goggins: They – you know, when you work with someone that’s, you know, is arguably, you know, two of the – those two people stand tall than almost any other person in our profession and, you know, I learn grace from (Steven) and this ease that he kind of has and his love of the craft of storytelling that has really influenced how I kind of approach my day and as an actor and then, you know, I balance that with just the sheer unstoppable enthusiasm and creativity of Q.
You know, he’s a giant not only in this field but in his excitement for the stories in general and his love of all different types of movies and his cinematic acumen is really kind of unparalleled. So I think, you know, what I learned from him is just the love of it to really love it and to know how special it is, to know how fleeting it is.
He had a saying – Quentin did – when we would do something, you know, ten times and he would have it. It would be done and he would say, well, “We’ve got it but we’re going to do one more. Why?” And then everybody would say, “Because we love making movies.” And, you know, you have someone that is kind of leading the charge, you know, say that to you and remind you how lucky you are, mate, how lucky you are to, you know, to contribute to the legacy of, you know, of this business, of storytelling in this way.
It’s pretty exciting and there’s no, you know, greater example of that in my book than Quentin.