In his exit interview with GQ, Goggins talks about committing hard to those frosted tips and why the race controversy over Season One was “pandering.”
In his exit interview with GQ, Goggins talks about committing hardto those frosted tips and why the race controversy over Season One was “pandering.”
Walton Goggins has long had one of the most recognizable faces in entertainment, but now he’s finally building a name for himself to match. The character actor had back-to-back standout turns in beloved dramas The Shield and Justified, and more recently joined a very exclusive club of people who have survived a Quentin Tarantino movie.
He’s also one half of the crass, awful pair of vice principals in HBO’s Vice Principals, in which Lee Russell (Goggins) and Neal Gamby (Danny McBride), are enemies-turned-friends with the sole goal of becoming the principal at a small South Carolina high school. Created by Jody Hill and McBride, who also conceived Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals is an often hilarious, often sad character study of two men locked in a ceaseless battle not so much with each other, but with themselves.
The show comes to an end this Sunday after two seasons, which was the plan from the beginning. For fans, and for Goggins, it’s a bittersweet ending to a show—and character—that were often deeper and more profound than their reputation would suggest. Goggins took some time out of his schedule (he’s currently filming villainous turns in two highly-anticipated blockbusters, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tomb Raider) to talk about how the loud, fey villain Lee Russell came to be, and how the hell to relate to a character who burns down houses and compulsively lies to his wife.
The show is very funny, I swear.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get this role, Lee Russell?
I knew David [Gordon Green] from the independent world; I’ve known him for the better part of 13 years, 14 years. I actually read for Season Four of Eastbound and Down. I walked into this audition and there were literally five comedians from Saturday Night Live and me! I thought, “Well, this is never going to fucking happen.” But I was like, “Ah, fuck it. I don’t care. Let’s go in and let’s play.” I ultimately did not get the role. It went to [Jason] Sudeikis. And they were wise to do that.
But! Vice Principals came along and they were going back and forth about how they wanted to approach it. They thought about a traditional comedian for Lee, and then David, I think, threw out “Goggins” in the room and they all went, “He’s the fucking guy! That’s it. It’s gotta be Goggins.” So Danny reached out while I was doing The Hateful Eight and sent me the script, and I just got it.
How much of Lee Russell was written or conceived before you came into it? The weird shirts and the accent itself, and the frosted tips?
The frosted tips were there, and the first thing Danny said to me was, “Listen, you don’t have to frost your tips.” I said, “Oh yeah. Oh, I’m frosting the fucking tips.” The tips will be frosted! Hair that you see and hair that you don’t see will have tips frosted. [laughs]
I don’t know I really knew Russell until we got on the set the first day. I was full of fear. I just literally wrapped Hateful Eight at 9:30 in the morning and went straight to the airport, got on a plane, landed, got to the house and 11:30 at night. Frosted my tips and woke up at 6:00 the next morning just to become Lee Russell.
How did you approach them as lead characters, Russell and Gamby? Protagonists? They’re tonally not heroes, or even antiheroes, for that matter.
I don’t think they are. I don’t think they are protagonists. We’re exploring a side of ourselves or our society that we all know exists without giving the audience many things to cheer about. Unless you can cheer at the truths of how deeply insecure they are, and you can cheer or root for a person once you understand why they are who they are.
When I came into this, I said, “Buddy, there are things here about this guy, once you really kind of get in to him, that are very painful.” I don’t know that they anticipated it resonating or vibrating on that deeper level with me. I don’t know that they fully understood my interpretation of the depth of Lee Russell’s pain. Continue reading