ETOnline.com — Walton Goggins is, perhaps, Hollywood’s ultimate journeyman.
The actor, who has bounced between film and TV for the past 29 years after first appearing in a 1989 episode of The Heat of the Night, has been this way “since I was a young man,” he tells ET by phone, acknowledging, in some way, that he’s been “that guy from that show” for most of his career. In fact, to many, he has become known for supporting roles on The Shield, Justified and Sons of Anarchy — three shows that have earned Goggins critical praise and steady work if not “it” status or covers of magazines.
Then, in 2015, all of that changed thanks to, yes, another supporting role, but this time as Sheriff Chris Mannix in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. It was his second time working with Tarantino, after an even smaller role in Django Unchained. But this time he ran away with the entire film, stealing scenes from Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell.
While on set of The Hateful Eight, outside of Telluride, Colorado, Goggins was offered the opportunity to star opposite Danny McBride in Vice Principals, a new comedy marking the return of McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green to HBO after four seasons of Eastbound and Down. “I read the first three scripts and I was just blown away by it,” Goggins says. “I was just grateful for the invitation to come play with them.”
Soon, he was playing Chris Mannix for Tarantino during the day and at night getting into the character of Lee Russell, a conniving and sociopathic vice principal vying for the top job at a South Carolina high school. “You know, you’re tired when you fall asleep but it’s a high-class problem, isn’t it?” Goggins says of the experience.
The show, which ran for two seasons, premiered in July 2016 to rave reviews and has since earned Goggins photo spreads in high-profile magazines as well as also roles in History Channel’s Six, this year’s big-budget films Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Tomb Raiderand Ant-Man and the Wasp, and the lead in the CBS pilot for a new TV adaptation of L.A. Confidential.
In a conversation with ET, Goggins reflects on playing Lee Russell, the most diabolical character of his career, and how much of his career is instinct versus luck.
ET: You auditioned for Eastbound and Down and didn’t get the role. But then the opportunity to audition for Vice Principals came back around and you got that. What was it about Eastbound that wasn’t a right fit, but Vice Principals worked out?
Walton Goggins: Well, that’s really interesting. I think they were looking for something different for Eastbound and Down, and when I walked in, I knew that. At least, I felt in my heart that if I got into a room with Danny, there would be chemistry. Real chemistry. That’s what you hope with people that you look up to and it was, there was a lot of chemistry in this reading. I think by my very nature, my take on things is pretty dark. I’m not a comedian by trade. I’m just a storyteller, and most of the actors in the room when I showed up were all people from SNL and comedians. So I didn’t think I had a shot in hell of ever getting that whatsoever. It’s not really ever about that for me, it’s just about the opportunity to come play with someone you respect and admire. I think because of that reading, they were kind of going back and forth on whether or not they wanted to go darker with this particular role on Eastbound and Down. Then they made the right decision and they went with Jason Sudeikis. But in their mind, when it came to Lee Russell and when it came to Vice Principals,they wanted to go a different direction. They wanted to mine these characters for who they are, their tragedies as well as their comedic experiences.
You have had such a great track record with The Shield, Justified, Sons of Anarchy and now Vice Principals. When it comes to being involved in these projects and knowing they’re going to be so great, how much of it is instinct and how much of it is luck?
Oh, God, The Shield was luck. For sure. [Creator] Shawn Ryan had been around a little bit, but it was really his first time manning the wheel, so no one knew. But it was on the page. The same with Justified. It’s Elmore Leonard [who authored the short story on which the series is based], so we had that going with us, and the great Tim Olyphant. With all of these things, it is luck. I suppose the instinct or the gut feeling is the other part of that. I read Boyd Crowder and I just saw him immediately. I saw Shane McDonnell instantly. I saw Venus Van Dam immediately and I saw Lee Russell immediately. So I think it’s a combination of luck and just knowing when I can really add something to this or that I can help this storyteller share their story. Continue reading
Walton Goggins is the kind of actor whose name you might not instantly recognize, but who you’ve probably seen in dozens of movies and TV shows, quite often as one of the villains, like in 2000’s “Shanghai Noon” opposite Jackie Chan or 2010’s “Predators.” His most important claim to fame—and to household name status—arguably came when he started playing in the award-winning crime drama series “The Shield,” which, in turn, is arguably one of the best and most influential cop shows ever. From then on, Goggins’ career trajectory kept rising, especially on the big screen. Since 2010, he’s appeared in two movies by Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight”), landed another leading role in another hit crime drama series (“Justified”), joined one of the better-received big screen adaptations of a video game (this year’s “Tomb Raider”) and even joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe (in “Ant-Man and the Wasp”). For sure, picking the brains of an actor of this caliber allowed us to gain a lot of new insight into the what goes on in Hollywood and beyond.
DAMAN: So, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is set to hit theaters this June. We understand that you can’t really disclose much about the movie itself, but what would you say was the best part of working on this project?
Walton Goggins: Well, I think that the first film was so unbelievably smart and what director Peyton Reed did with that story in conjunction with Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas and all the rest just made me gut laugh. It was as evolved and quick-witted as anything I’ve seen in a long time and that spirit continues in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Just to be included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for any actor is a real feather in one’s cap, you know. They’ve been doing what they’ve been doing for 10 years now and it’s extraordinary if you look at the movies that have come out of these stories over the last decade. And now I finally have some pull with my son’s friends; now they finally know who I am. [ Laughs ]
DA: Right now, however, a lot of moviegoers would best remember you as Mathias Vogel, the villain in “Tomb Raider.” What do you remember the most—what is your fondest memory—of working on “Tomb Raider”?
WG: First and foremost, it was the story. What young person wouldn’t want to make some great discovery in one’s life? It was that journey— turning myself over to that journey and playing Mathias Vogel—that was so exhilarating. And that coupled with getting to have that experience with one of my favorite actors, Alicia Vikander, was a dream come true for me, really. I always wanted to do a movie like that and I thought that it could be done a little differently. And Roar Urtaugh and Graham King, director and producer respectively, also had a similar vision. Whenever you get a group of people that are actively trying to do something different and dig a little deeper on a movie of that scale, you feel like you’re doing something new. And I can speak for all of us when I say we just had the greatest time. Probably the last answer to your question was getting the opportunity to spend so much time in Africa, especially in South Africa.
DA: Your character in a movie, Mathias Vogel, is often described as a relatable villain—or perhaps “understandable” would be a better word. We’ve always wondered: How much of this characterization comes from the writers and how much comes from you?
WG: Well, you know, that’s a great question and I would say it’s a combination of both. When I read [the script] for the first time, it was all there on the page. So often villains in movies like this are one-dimensional and you understand their motivations at first glance, even sometimes without them speaking a word. But this was different and I felt that it’s a journey that I really wanted to go on, because I didn’t fully understand where Mathias was coming from. And I felt that his motivations were pure. In a world where we have so many stories available on a daily basis, throughout the world, I think that audiences by and large are just smarter, and I think that they demand more from their stories. So, it was a real opportunity to dig in and understand this world from Mathias Vogel’s point of view, and to know that he is a very different person today than he was the day that he the book. This show is really a retelling of the novel itself and I’m really proud of it. I can’t talk too much about it beyond that, but suffice to say we’ll find out if we get picked up in the next couple of weeks. You know, the opportunity to go back to an analog world and to explore this city that I love so much—Los Angeles—at a time that was both glamorous and extremely violent and subversive on a number of levels was a real eye- opener. And I had a great time.
DA: You’ve been playing on TV since 1989, what would you say has been the biggest change in how TV series are produced then and now?
WG: I think that the biggest difference is the transition from film to digital. When we were doing “The comes to time. You’re not loading the camera or canning the film, as they say. And that’s been maybe the biggest change. That and the quality of story. You know, when I started in 1989, the storytelling and television was very different. Then came along “The Sopranos” and “The Shield” and it turned into a real serialized format. It’s as if you’re watching a novel instead of reading it.
DA: The 2010s sees you playing in two movies by Quentin Tarantino— “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight”—and now joining the MCU. How do you think will you eventually top all that
WG: You know, I don’t live my life in the past, so I don’t feel like I have anything to top. A new day is a new showed up on that island—and to explore that as an actor. I think that Roar Uthaug wanted to do the same and what you see is really kind of a collaboration to that end.
DA: Moving on to your upcoming works, there’s the pilot for the “L.A. Confidential” TV series. Most people associate the title with the 1997 movie adaptation, so can you tell us a bit about this 2018 version?
WG: Yes, we just wrapped a couple of weeks ago and it is based on James Elroy’s novel. While the movie, “L.A. Confidential,” was also based on Elroy’s novel it really only explored Shield”—I did “The Shield” for seven years—we filmed that on 16mm and you only had two takes, really, for the most part and a take could only go as long as the amount of film that we had in the mag. For a 16mm mag it was about eight to nine and a half minutes. So, you had to get it right and then you had to move on, because you didn’t have the time that you have with digital. Now you’re able to leave a take running for five or six minutes—seven, eight, ten, twenty minutes if you want. While the magic is still there the precision has been lost, I think, because digital is a little more forgiving when it day. The experiences that come from this day will be what they are, not to be compared to what came before it or to what comes after it, to be quite honest with you. I just don’t look at any given day that way, let alone a season of my life and in entertainment. Hopefully, at the end of my experience on this planet, I will be able to share with my son and my friends a body of work that tells a story—bigger than me, but certainly a part of me. That’s really kind of how I approach my life and it’s certainly how I approach my job.
LAMag.com — It was the winter of 1991 when Walton Goggins arrived in Los Angeles at the invitation of a manager he’d met in Atlanta (his hometown is nearby Lithia Springs) while working on an episode of In the Heat of the Night. As soon as he set foot in the woman’s Hollywood apartment—he recalls it being on Poinsettia Place—she presented him with a contract to sign. He put her off by asking for a tour of Hollywood Boulevard, and then broke it to her that he wasn’t prepared to sign any paperwork. She told him to get out. It was late, so he negotiated a night on her couch, which she agreed to as long as he hit the bricks first thing in the morning. At the crack of dawn, he gathered his belongings and caught a taxi to an audition that wouldn’t start for hours.
“I got there at 7 o’clock, 6:30 in the morning for a 10 o’clock appointment, and just sat out on the bench with all my shit,” he recalls. “That was my first 24 hours in this city, and ever since then [L.A. has] given me so much more than it’s taken away from me, and I’ve become the person that I’ve become because of this town.”
Goggins, now 46 and recognizable for starring roles in everything from Justified to the new Tomb Raider reboot (not to mention his pathos-rich turn as sociopathic school administrator Lee Russell on HBO’s Vice Principals), tells the story over sips of a gin concoction he mixed behind the bar in his new Arts District headquarters. In late 2016, he and friend-partner Matthew Alper, a first Assistant Camera man with dozens of film credits, launched Mulholland Distilling, a liquor brand that aspires to capture the “spirit of L.A.” Alper is a second generation Angeleno, raised on the Westside, and Goggins considers himself a transplanted native, which seems fair given the lukewarm welcome he endured to live and thrive in the city.
Last month, they quietly introduced the Mulholland Room, a second-story loft they intend to be a physical extension of the brand and its identity. In theory, it’s their office. It’s a tasting room. It’s a space for private and not-so-private events (eventually). It’s a place for people to get together and share ideas. Alper calls it a “salon.” Goggins calls it a “watering hole of sorts.” In practice, it’s the airy, gorgeous living room of your L.A. dreams, complete with a fully stocked bar and some really nice art on the walls.
“I think branding in 2018 is the opposite of branding, do you know what I mean? I don’t think that you wear a T-shirt with Mulholland Distilling on it anymore,” Goggins says. “It’s really about well, no. We’re here right now, and let’s pour a beautiful cocktail, and let’s sit and talk. I think our goal was to cultivate an experience where people could come and bond and share ideas, really, regardless of where you are in your life or what your occupation is.”
Currently, it’s accessible via text message to a number on a card being handed out by Alper and Goggins to friends and friends of friends. In the future, they envision opening it up for some more public gatherings, like an industry night, where bartenders can come, hangout, and experiment behind the bar.
Goggins’s personal aesthetic is represented in nearly every detail of the space. Amid the cushy, vintage sofas and chairs are pieces from the actor’s own collection, including a French club chair he bought when he started getting real work 20 years ago. The wall opposite the bar features a large-scale painting by Goggins’s friend Danny Fox; near the entryway, there’s also a Wes Lang painting of Willie Nelson and Stefanie Schneider photographs of the desert on L.A.’s outskirts.
The cool, inviting marble-topped bar is the heart of the space. Mulholland’s spirits—a New World gin, a whiskey, and a vodka—are distilled elsewhere, but finished to their specifications. The whiskey is distilled in Indiana, and then transported to Kentucky where it is blended with a high rye bourbon, so it’s 94 percent corn, four percent rye, and two percent barley. “It’s sweet up front and caramel-y, and then has a nice rye spice finish and a little bit of heat at the end,” Alper says. “Just to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey.” The vodka, made from non-GMO corn so it’s gluten free, is distilled six times, which gives it a sweeter flavor; a higher proof gives it a softer mouth-feel. The gin is the standout. Finished with notes of lime, lavender, and Japanese cucumber, it’s simultaneously fruity, herbal, and vegetal, without being alienating to people who don’t normally drink gin.
Alper refers to them as “egalitarian spirits.” They’re accessible in terms of taste, and they’re relatively inexpensive, too.
“That’s the whole thing,” Alper says. “It’s a reflection of who we are. I think it’s accessible, it’s delicious; the bartender’s really attracted to it because it’s new and different. People who’ve never had it before are attracted to it because it’s not scary and it’s not some off-the-path sort of thing.”
Goggins adds, “It’s not the greatest whiskey you’ve ever had in your entire life, and it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be accessible but beautiful, and a very high quality.”
For more info or to host a private event at the Mulholland Room, contact them via their website.
Deadline.com — Walton Goggins didn’t just walk into the role of Lee Russell in HBO’s Vice Principals. Instead, it took him years to land the part. The series, co-created by Jody Hill and Goggins’ co-star Danny McBride, earned Goggins a best supporting actor Critics’ Choice Award. It wrapped its two-season run at the end of last year.
The dark comedy series centered on Neal Gamby (McBride), a prickly high school vice principal who teams with his rival Russell against the new principal who took the job they both wanted.
Goggins said Sunday during Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys event that he always wanted to work with McBride, but it took a while to find the right project. “I actually went in and I auditioned for a role on Eastbound & Down,” Goggins said of McBride’s previous HBO series.
While Goggins didn’t get that part, he did make a lasting impression on McBride. “A couple of years later, I was doing The Hateful Eight and he reached out and said, ‘I have this role and I want you to do it.’”
Goggins said it was a project he won’t soon forget.
“It was bittersweet to say goodbye to it,” Goggins said. “It was an incredible experience.”
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.