‘Tomb Raider’s’ Walton Goggins agrees to tell a story

Gainesville.com — Though he’s been acting on TV and in film for close to three decades, his name — Walton Goggins — doesn’t immediately conjure up a face. But once that one-of-a-kind face is seen, he’s quickly recognized. TV viewers know him as the shifty Boyd Crowder on “Justified” and, more recently, as the nasty Lee Russell on “Vice Principals.” On the big screen, some of his choice roles have been in “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln” and, most notably, as Sheriff Chris Mannix in “The Hateful Eight.” For his newest film, “Tomb Raider,” he gets to play the villainous, yet complex, mercenary Mathias Vogel, who goes up against the tough and feisty Lara Croft — a character that originated in a video game, was first played onscreen by Angelina Jolie, and is now portrayed by Alicia Vikander.

Goggins was raised outside of Atlanta, started dabbling in acting at 15 when he landed a part in the TV show “In the Heat of the Night,” spent a short time at Georgia Southern University, then at age 19, headed to Los Angeles to try his luck in show biz. Now 46, he’s still there. It’s where he recently spoke about his career and “Tomb Raider.”

Q: Did you have a tough time once you got here?
A: I was very lucky, man. I started working immediately, in little parts here and there. I also started a valet parking company as soon as I got here. I kept doing that and put all my money away, and then I sold the business. I never wanted to be a celebrity, and I’m not a celebrity. I just wanted to be good at at least one thing in my life, and that was telling stories because I so enjoyed doing that.

Q: What’s the first thing you do when a new script comes into your hands?
A: I try to absorb the information and be quiet. Without criticism or judgment, I just turn myself over to what this writer is trying to say. I just read it as a story, and just look for how I feel at the end of it. So, it’s contingent on the story. By the end of the story, even if it’s with flaws — because I don’t know anything that ISN’T flawed. Thank goodness for flaws! — I just ask myself, can I help my director tell this story?

Q: Did you and the film’s director, Roar Uthaug, have much discussion about how to play Vogel before filming began?
A: Roar and I had a conversation early on where I said, “I really love this, man, and I think it’s different, it’s not your usual kind of fare. I can only imagine what Alicia might do with this, and aside from wanting to play in that sandbox with her, I think I can give you something that’s different, if you let me.”

Q: You’ve now worked with so many different directors. Do you have to approach your craft differently with each one?
A: I think I’m a relatively adaptable guy. But the answer to your question is yes, and no. Look, with Quentin Tarantino (“Django,” “Hateful”), my process is whatever his process is. Yet he allows for MY process, as he allows for Sam Jackson’s or Kurt Russell’s or Tim Roth’s, or any of the people who have worked with him. And I have a very specific way, man. I’m alone, I’m pretty quiet, and I’m just off to the side. Because I love it, so that aspect of my process really doesn’t change. But if you’re working with a first-time director on an independent movie, and you can help them, it can be about, “I’m trying to help you win, and I want to win, so how do we tell the story that you want to tell and the story that I want to tell?” So that changes.

Q: You said that you wanted to be good at telling stories. Walton is certainly an unusual first name. What’s the story behind it?
A: Well, I’m Walton Sanders Goggins, Jr. My grandfather was one of the most important figures in my life, and I asked him that question. I said, “Where does my name come from?” He said, “Your father, because you’re a junior.” I said, “I know that, obviously, but take me back further.” He said, “It’s my middle name: Lawrence Walton Goggins.” I said, “OK, take it back even further.” And he said, “OK, here’s the truth, my name was actually Weldon, and I was made fun of by all of the kids in my class. When I was a kid in school, they would constantly ask, ‘How do you like your steak … Weldon?’ (big laugh). He told me that he was so traumatized by that childhood bullying that he changed it to Walton. (pause) I don’t know that I’ve ever told that story.

“Tomb Raider” opens on March 16.

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