Walton Goggins delivered one of ET’s Standout Performances of the 2017-18 season.
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