V.F.com: Hi! How are you?
Walton Goggins: It’s good being back in California. I’ve been in North Carolina for like two months as a prisoner of war. Fuck, man! It’s been very . . . Wow. God, what a tough experience. We’re not here to talk about that. How are you?
I’m great! I’ve seen the first six episodes of Vice Principals!
Wow, the first six? Fantastic. Season 1 is about who these people are, and Season 2 is why they are who they are. It’s tough to be that fucking mean. Lee Russell is way meaner than Boyd Crowder. He comes around.
You’ve always been hilarious on Justified, and Sons of Anarchy but would you consider this your first full-blown comedy?
I do, yeah, even though Danny, and Jody, and David Gordon Green would say that they only make dramas that happen to be funny. Once you look at this in the spring semester—because it really is a fall semester and a spring semester, and it’s one story, it’s one piece with different movements to it. It’s pretty fucking dark in a satiating way, and, hopefully, I think it’s funny.
Were you nervous at all to dive fully into the comedy genre?
I was studying Vice Principals while I was doing The Hateful Eight, and I got on a plane the day that we wrapped. After a 24-hour day I went straight to the airport and jumped on a plane, and landed in Charleston, and at ten o’clock at night went home and got my hair dyed. I got my tips done until one o’clock in the morning, and started work at six o’clock the next morning.
I was as intimidated as anything I’ve ever done, and in some ways probably more so because the idea of improv-ing with Danny McBride was—fuck, man—I just couldn’t sleep at night. He’s so smart, and their humor is so specific. I didn’t want to let him down; I didn’t want to let HBO down. It’s a lot to step into that ring with the roughhouse boys and how they do their things. Kenny Powers is an iconic character, and to play at that level I think would be intimidating for anybody.
How much improvising did you wind up doing?
Daily. All day long. That was the hardest part of this entire experience for me, I think for both of us, was containing the laughter. You just look at Bill Murray. It’s Meatballs! That’s my guy! That was really the hardest part. We would go on these tangents that would take us in places that were sublime, but then we would always come back to the text. Most of it is as it was scripted, as Danny wrote.
What about the physical comedy? Was that a new muscle that you had to learn?
I would be curious to hear what a comedian has to say about that, because I don’t look at it in those terms. If I thought about it as, “I need to be physically funny,” then I don’t think that I could have done it. I think I would have been too self-conscious. It’s no different than Boyd Crowder, or [The Hateful Eight’s] Chris Mannix, or [Sons of Anarchy’s] Venus Van Dam, or anybody else. It’s just, if you’re true to who this person is, and you understand who this person is, and they are an authentic human being in the world, a heightened, at times, person in the world, then the way that they walk, and the way that they talk, and they way that they interact, all of that is a part of it, is a part of the situation that lives in your imagination.
You talked about Kenny Powers being an iconic character. You auditioned for Eastbound and Down, right? Which role?
I auditioned for the role that Jason Sudeikis wound up getting. I had braces on at the time, and I had just wrapped a season of Justified. I took that time to take care of some personal business, and I had these braces on and I wasn’t taking a job for four or five months. So I got these braces on my teeth and then they called and it was like, “Fuck it, I’m not taking the braces off, I need to get my teeth fixed. I’ve been putting this off a long time, so fuck it, he’ll love it.”
I walked into this room with my braces on, and my fucking shorts on, and some white tube socks. I walked in and there were me and four comedians from Saturday Night Live, and it was like, “Well, this is never going to happen.” That’s Jason, that’s so-and-so, this is crazy. I had a great time, and we had a lot of chemistry. I just talked to him philosophically about Kenny Powers and what that means. What does Kenny Powers mean, from my own fanboy opinion.
He tolerated my opinion, and we actually really got along. I had always wanted to work with Danny. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Foot Fist Way,, and I thought that I got his comedy and that we could do something really unique together. I always wanted to just jump in the sandbox with him. That was the treat. Even though the opportunity didn’t ultimately happen at that stage, it was still a fucking thrill to be in the room with him and to go through his story. I just think Eastbound and Down* was one of the most exciting, dangerous comedies to come out in a very long time.
You also had the advantage on Vice Principals of taking this very unique film-it-all-at-once approach. How does that stack up to you doing seasons of Justified, or The Shield?
In some ways it’s more free than I’ve ever been, because the writers weren’t influenced, the directors weren’t influenced, the cast wasn’t influenced by people either not liking it or by it becoming water cooler conversation. It just was what it was.
You mentioned that Lee Russell’s meaner than Boyd Crowder, which I agree with. Do you feel like there’s anyone we can actually root for on this show?
I believe that you can root for Dr. Kimberly Brown. What I will say to you is to reserve that judgment. I would say this to any person who writes anything about this show, that you need to taste the whole of the fruit to see if it’s rotten. It’s not just one bite of the apple. You need to eat the entire meal to see if you can root for someone. I would say that your allegiances will shift constantly.
It’s so insane. [Lee’s] this overtly effeminate man whose sexuality is constantly called into question. He’s desperately in love with his wife and he treats her like shit, and he is treated like shit by her mother-in-law. At the end of the day, he’s a man who walks through the world as impotent as a person can be, and the answer to that question lies in season 2—why he is that way.
Danny’s character, Neal Gamby, is the same person. For dysfunctional people or functional people, if you can find someone who understands you on a deep level, then there is possibility for change, and great change. These are two deeply flawed human beings, and deeply wounded human beings. They will find, hopefully, their salvation in each other.
You got to do one of my favorite half-hour comedy tropes—a drug episode where you two are accidentally under the influence. Were there any other classic comedy storylines that you wish you could do, or you’d like to do in the future?
There’s so many. Just a pratfall, that kind of classic trip. Even that is intimidating for me to think about it in those terms. There is something that happens in season 2, I think I can say this and be vague, but it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do in this way, and it revolves around karaoke. I think I can kind of give that away and use that one word to describe it. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, the way that Lee Russell would do that, and his motivations behind it.
Do you have any comedy heroes that inspire you?
I think Danny McBride would say, “Who wouldn’t say Bill Murray is their hero in this way?” Nine out of ten people would probably say that. Bill Murray and Richard Pryor, for me, make me laugh more than anyone. Obviously, Danny McBride. Steve Zahn is so fucking funny. I think he’s a brilliant comedic actor. He’s a dramatic actor who happens to be extremely funny. When Bill Murray did the lounge guy act, season 1 or 2 of Saturday Night Live, that is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve watched that a hundred times.
Right, the Star Wars song.
Do you see yourself being a comedian in the future, or do you just want to do it all?
I’m going to go do something about schizophrenia right after the thing that I’m doing now. Joanna, I don’t know. I’m just a day at a time, and whatever opportunity presents itself. I go where the writing is and I go where the stories are. I’m not Brad Pitt; I don’t have access to those stories. But I do have access to stories that speak to me, and Vice Principals certainly spoke to me on a very deep level. I think Danny McBride is the Woody Allen for flyover America. That’s what I look for, no matter how big or how small.
At the end of the say I just ask myself one question, and that is, “What are we saying?” These people that I’m about to collaborate with, what do they want to say? If that answer is motivated by truth, and integrity, and honesty, then sign me up regardless of what your story is.