In his exit interview with GQ, Goggins talks about committing hardto those frosted tips and why the race controversy over Season One was “pandering.”
Walton Goggins has long had one of the most recognizable faces in entertainment, but now he’s finally building a name for himself to match. The character actor had back-to-back standout turns in beloved dramas The Shield and Justified, and more recently joined a very exclusive club of people who have survived a Quentin Tarantino movie.
He’s also one half of the crass, awful pair of vice principals in HBO’s Vice Principals, in which Lee Russell (Goggins) and Neal Gamby (Danny McBride), are enemies-turned-friends with the sole goal of becoming the principal at a small South Carolina high school. Created by Jody Hill and McBride, who also conceived Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals is an often hilarious, often sad character study of two men locked in a ceaseless battle not so much with each other, but with themselves.
The show comes to an end this Sunday after two seasons, which was the plan from the beginning. For fans, and for Goggins, it’s a bittersweet ending to a show—and character—that were often deeper and more profound than their reputation would suggest. Goggins took some time out of his schedule (he’s currently filming villainous turns in two highly-anticipated blockbusters, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tomb Raider) to talk about how the loud, fey villain Lee Russell came to be, and how the hell to relate to a character who burns down houses and compulsively lies to his wife.
The show is very funny, I swear.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get this role, Lee Russell?
I knew David [Gordon Green] from the independent world; I’ve known him for the better part of 13 years, 14 years. I actually read for Season Four of Eastbound and Down. I walked into this audition and there were literally five comedians from Saturday Night Live and me! I thought, “Well, this is never going to fucking happen.” But I was like, “Ah, fuck it. I don’t care. Let’s go in and let’s play.” I ultimately did not get the role. It went to [Jason] Sudeikis. And they were wise to do that.
But! Vice Principals came along and they were going back and forth about how they wanted to approach it. They thought about a traditional comedian for Lee, and then David, I think, threw out “Goggins” in the room and they all went, “He’s the fucking guy! That’s it. It’s gotta be Goggins.” So Danny reached out while I was doing The Hateful Eight and sent me the script, and I just got it.
How much of Lee Russell was written or conceived before you came into it? The weird shirts and the accent itself, and the frosted tips?
The frosted tips were there, and the first thing Danny said to me was, “Listen, you don’t have to frost your tips.” I said, “Oh yeah. Oh, I’m frosting the fucking tips.” The tips will be frosted! Hair that you see and hair that you don’t see will have tips frosted. [laughs]
I don’t know I really knew Russell until we got on the set the first day. I was full of fear. I just literally wrapped Hateful Eight at 9:30 in the morning and went straight to the airport, got on a plane, landed, got to the house and 11:30 at night. Frosted my tips and woke up at 6:00 the next morning just to become Lee Russell.
How did you approach them as lead characters, Russell and Gamby? Protagonists? They’re tonally not heroes, or even antiheroes, for that matter.
I don’t think they are. I don’t think they are protagonists. We’re exploring a side of ourselves or our society that we all know exists without giving the audience many things to cheer about. Unless you can cheer at the truths of how deeply insecure they are, and you can cheer or root for a person once you understand why they are who they are.
When I came into this, I said, “Buddy, there are things here about this guy, once you really kind of get in to him, that are very painful.” I don’t know that they anticipated it resonating or vibrating on that deeper level with me. I don’t know that they fully understood my interpretation of the depth of Lee Russell’s pain. Continue reading
Is there any chance of a Justified reboot or return? I don’t know if there are any reboots in production, but…we’ve talked about [continuing], and what that would be like. We’ve had conversations. But, it was such a fulfilling end to that journey, I think it would have to be real special for our showrunner, Graham Yost, to want to do that.
But with him or with Tim [Olyphant], I would be there, in a moment’s notice. It’s really hard to lay Boyd Crowder down and it’s hard to lay down the relationship that I had with Tim’s character, Raylan Givens. You know, I even miss saying the name…”Hello, Raylan.”
The way you just rolled it off your tongue… such relish, such fire. It meant a lot of different things at different times. It’s like, how many meanings does Sam Jackson have for “motherfucker?” It’s the same thing for “Raylan Givens.”
It would be really hard to improve on the final line, “we dug coal together.” Which was such a perfect, poetic end for a show that never tried to be fancy with its storytelling, but got to the heart of this very unique relationship. Absolutely. It wasn’t a world that was supposed to be fancy. Raylan doesn’t talk very much. He’s taciturn by nature, whereas Boyd Crowder is an eloquent, poetic killer. And a charmer.
Speaking of men who aren’t that fancy, we start the second and final season of Vice Principals with Lee having finally ascended to the throne at the school. The king! The king of all kings! [laughs] The biggest office in the building.
And he’s also remade the school in his image, which is really something. Yes, like America, know what I’m saying? [laughs] I’m joking. Yes, he has remade the school in his image, because you know, he’s a narcissist. I’m surprised he didn’t put up more mirrors.
I really like the painting [an over-the-top one of Lee that I won’t spoil here] that he has in the office. That’s one of my favorite production touches. [laughs] Me too man! When they wrote that, I just had no idea what they would really look like, and then they showed them to me for the first time, and I just could not stop laughing. But they only showed me one at a time, because in the story something happens, and there’s a new painting installed in the principal’s office. And it’s even funnier and more perfect than the first one.
How would you describe Lee’s sense of style in general? Whimsical. One of a celebration, just a rainbow of joy and happiness. Sarah Trost was our wardrobe designer, and I think it’s the first time she ever worked with Danny. And I’ll never forget the first day that I met her, and the conversation that ensued, and what she pulled out of her case. As wardrobe designers do, she fundamentally dialed into what Lee was going to be for me. I think Danny would say the same thing about her.
You know, we know a lot of people in the South—both Danny and I, and Jody and David for that matter [Editor’s Note: Jody Hill is co-creator, director and executive producer of the show, and David Gordon Green is a director and executive producer on the show; both are frequent collaborators with McBride]—that you don’t know whether they’re gay or they’re straight. You know, they’re these effeminate kind of guys in the South that are so lovely, they’re so wonderful, and this was kind of an amalgamation of a few of those people that I knew. Continue reading