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?
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.
Check out these wonderful portraits of Walton with his Them That Follow castmates taken during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Photos: Deadline Live Q&A with the cast of ‘Them That Follow’, The Vulture Spot, and Variety Sundance Studio at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival
On January 28th, Walton attended a handful of events with the cast of his film Them That Follow while attending the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. You can view the photos in the gallery now.
Photos: ‘Them That Follow’ Premiere & DIRECTV Lodge Party at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival
On January 27th, Walton attended the premiere of his film Them That Follow along with many of the films cast. Walton also attended the DIRECTV Lodge Presented By AT&T Hosted ‘Them That Follow’ Party the same day.
Emmys 2018: Walton Goggins, Hollywood’s Ultimate Journeyman, Is Finally a Breakout Star
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 →
Real heroes. Not actual size. Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp is In theaters July 6th.
On March 12th, Walton attended the Hollywood Premiere of Tomb Raider with his lovely wife Nadia. Also in attendance was his talented co-star Alicia Vikander. You can view over 200+ photos in the gallery now.