When Walton Goggins signed on to play Them That Follow’s Lemuel, the snake-handling pastor of a devout Pentecostal sect deep in Appalachia, you would think he’d have been okay with handling a snake or two. That was not the case. Ahead of the film’s release, we sat down with Goggins to discuss why he took the role anyway, what happened when his greatest fear came true, and why every role he takes feels like a profound privilege.
Video: Walton Goggins had to overcome his greatest fear for his role in ‘Them That Follow’
Collider.com — From writer/directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, the indie drama Them That Follow is set deep in Appalachia, where Pastor Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins) presides over a Pentecostal sect of serpent handlers. At the same time, his devoted daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), is preparing for her wedding day while also being forced to confront the fact that a dangerous secret could put her directly at odds with the traditions of her family and community.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actor Walton Goggins about why he wanted to be a part of telling this story, the appeal of playing this character, the mysteries of different types of religion, why people tend to be afraid of snakes, and faith vs. family for his character. He also talked about his role in the outrageous new HBO series The Righteous Gemstones, and why he wanted to play the lead role in the upcoming CBS comedy series The Unicorn.
Collider: Watching this, it seems obvious why you would want to play the character like this and be a part of telling a story like this, but was it apparent, on the page, the first time that you read the script? Were there conversations about who this guy would be?
WALTON GOGGINS: Yeah, that’s how I saw it, when I read it, the first time. What I was so blown away by were the words on the page, and the conflict and struggle that the lead character, Mara, played by Alice Englert, has in this story. It is very of this moment, the decision that she has to make and the journey that she’s on, and yet it’s also, simultaneously, from another time. I suppose what I try to do is to make her decision to ultimately leave this community as difficult as possible, and I try to do that through love. This practice, that they have in this community, is misunderstood and misaligned, on a number of levels, of course, but you should at least understand it to disagree with it. But what is undeniable is the love that this man has for his daughter.
For me and for everyone involved, especially for the writer/directors, Britt and Daniel, it was important not to take sides, and to just show the stakes that are involved with living a life, or making a decision, that runs contrary to what all of these people believe, spiritually. It wouldn’t be a big deal in a lot of other communities. It just wouldn’t be. But for these people, it’s life or death. Humans are incapable of passing judgment. That has to come from God, and the vehicle through which that atonement is made, in this particular circumstance, is through handling deadly snakes. We didn’t make this up. Britt and Daniel didn’t make this up. This practice has been going on for 125 years, in America. The first Pentecostal church in America was here in California, believe it or not, at least as far as I understand, in the 1920s, and it proliferated from here. This is just a way that a very small group of people, in this country, show their devotion and worthiness in God’s eyes. It’s something I’m very proud of. I think it says a lot about a lot.
People find snakes so mysterious, in general, because they don’t quite understand them, and then when you add that to religion, it’s something that’s even more difficult to understand for some people.
GOGGINS: My wife and I found an article about why snakes are so scary, or at the center of fears that people have. For a number of people, snakes are always a part of that list. For me, it’s number one on that list. It’s not sharks, and it’s not spiders. Heights is on there, on some level, but it’s really snakes. And we both found this article that talked about snakes, from the point of view of just their movement. I’m sure there is a survival instinct, with things that can hurt you, and that’s a part of our DNA for thousands of years. We can’t make sense of their movement. There is no way in which to predict what they will do, and things that are unpredictable are anathema to surviving, as a human being, and that’s what this article was all about. It was extraordinary, really, because I had never thought about it in that way. In some ways, you can see other animals movements or the unknown coming, as a threat from a hurricane or tornado, even though that’s a bit unpredictable, too. But snakes, it’s up close and it’s intimate. It’s personal, and you just can’t make sense of what they’re doing. The snake has been cast in the role of the villain, since the very beginning. That is the Christian origin story. So, it represents things that are nefarious and harmful to us, in story, since the very beginning. Why is that the case?
TVGuide.com — This fall, CBS will debut The Unicorn, a new single-camera comedy all about how Walton Goggins is sexy and everyone wants to date him. His character, Wade, is a widower, and the show, which hails from executive producers Bill Martin and Mike Schiff, is about Wade getting back on the horse and giving himself permission to live again after a year spent grieving his wife.
It is a role that involves Goggins stepping out of the box a bit. The actor has made a career of playing charismatic villains (Justified) or characters who exist in morally gray areas (The Shield), primarily on cable dramas that often, but not always, aired on FX. Goggins says the role of Wade is actually much closer to who he is in real life, and taking that on was a bit “unnerving.”
“I was really insecure about it,” Goggins, who lost his first wife in 2004, told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Thursday. “This is closer to me than anything that I’ve ever played. It took me asking myself the question, can you pull that off? Can you pull off just being you? Once I got past that fear of it then I said yeah, no, this is what I think I’ve always wanted to play.”
“It was nice to step outside of hiding behind something,” he continued. “We’ll see where it goes. But it’s been liberating in a way, and very grounding. I’m very happy with this opportunity.”
Noting that he has a similar relationship with his son, Augustus (with wife Nadia Conners), and friends that Wade has with his two daughters and a close group of friends, Goggins said he was drawn to the material because of the writing. “When this came along, I just fell deeply in love with him and with his struggles. And I fell in love with his daughters and I fell in love with his friends and this community,” he said.
Adding that he is now at an age where he is tired of irony, Goggins is simply ready to focus on different things. “I am at a place in my life, at 48 years old, where kindness and sentimentality and being earnest are things that are very important to me. And this show kind of spoke to all of that.”
However, when asked if he was ready for everyone to fall in love with him or find him sexy just like Wade, Goggins isn’t so sure. “I’ve never been accused of being that handsome or that attractive. … I suppose if the circumstances make the man… I’ll take it.”
The Unicorn premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.
On August 1st, Walton joined by Bill Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Maya Lynne Robinson, Omar Miller and Mike Schiff spoke to the press about their upcoming CBS show The Unicorn during the CBS segment of the 2019 Summer TCA Press Tour . You can check out many photos in the gallery!
Walton appeared on KTLA 5 Morning News this past Tuesday (July 30th) where he discussed his upcoming film Them That Follow and his new CBS sitcom The Unicorn. You can watch it out below:
On July 30th, Walton joined his fellow cast at the premiere of Them That Follow in Los Angeles, California. You can check out photos from the event in the gallery.
Walton alongside his wife Nadia attended the premiere of HBO’s new series ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ on July 25th in Los Angeles, California. You can check out photos from the event in the gallery below:
On July 22nd, Walton and his wife Nadia attended the Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood Premiere in Los Angeles, California. You can check out photos from the event in the gallery below.
I’ve added high quality episodic stills from the show in addition to promotional artwork and promos to the gallery.
Hi everyone! I’ve taken the time to add the remaining screen captures of Walton from EPIX’s original series Deep State which ended its second season finale this July. You can check out over 1,000 HD screen captures in the gallery now.
I also had a chance to replace the first four episodes with higher resolution screen captures as well. Enjoy guys!