He's Not A Bad Guy, He Just Plays One on TV
Drama actor contender Walton Goggins on letting his Justified villain be complicated, showing his Southern roots and working with Jon Favreau.
Your six-year run on FX's The Shield ended in 2008. Did that help you get the Boyd Crowder role on Justified?
They came to me initially for one episode. Then, when the relationship between Boyd and Raylan Givens [Timothy Olyphant] was as dynamic as we'd hoped it would be, people wanted to see more. But when they talked about me joining the show in earnest, it was actually a really hard decision, quite honestly. I didn't want in any way to stain the reputation of my Shield character. It's a lot to ask someone to watch you on TV every single week, you know? But I felt like I really could contribute to this story, so with the second episode, I said to [Justified showrunner] Graham Yost, "I'm interested in setting up a dynamic where the person you thought you knew in episode one no longer exists in episode two." I'm heavily involved with the story of Boyd Crowder and the way he sees the world. I've been invited to sit at that table in a real way, and I think that has a lot to do with my film background.
So, is Boyd a good guy or a bad guy?
Honestly, I try not to make that distinction too much and rather infuse the moments where Boyd does bad things with a morality. The audience may not agree with him, but at least they can understand him, and hopefully that generates an insane amount of sympathy. And the thing about Boyd, it's gone beyond like, "I'm rooting for a bad guy," to, "I just want to see what the f-- this guy will do next." You're no longer rooting for a bad guy, you're just watching -- hopefully -- the behavior. Then there are moments in the season-two finale where you saw Raylan, a United States marshal, essentially sanctioning the murder of another human being. While Boyd may seem on paper to be the antithesis of Raylan, he's not. They're two sides of the same coin.
You're from Georgia, and the show is set in Kentucky. Did you work with a dialect coach to make Boyd's accent sound particular to that region?
No, we actually don't have dialogue coaches. I think because I come from the South, I understand the different cadences, and they vary wildly from Tennessee to Kentucky to Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi and all the way down the road. But Boyd is really an amalgamation of all of them, yet he's none of them. His accent came out of the self-taught person he is; he isn't influenced by things outside of his environment. It was only through his self-education that he started to form his love of words and his way of speaking. It really comes from his curiosity about things and about literature and life in general and a deep wanting and understanding of the world, and he hasn't been able to access it other than through books. I think that has influenced the way that he speaks. He's kind of from everywhere.
You're on the big screen in July with Cowboys & Aliens. What was it like to make the film?
Meeting [director] Jon Favreau was a dream come true. Swingers defined a very specific point in time for actors who came to this city in the 1990s, like I did. I mean, I hung out at all those same bars in Los Feliz, looking exactly like all of those guys, and even golfed at that same course. That was my life, a very f--ing fertile and hip time. The one thing about Jon is his irrefutable knowledge of comedy. Whenever I finished a take, I just looked for his reaction on the playback. And if he was laughing, it was like, "I don't need to ask him if that was OK." My only disappointment was that he doesn't want to make a Swingers 2.
What can you say about your role in the movie?
I can't give too much away, but let's just say I'm a very loyal follower of Daniel Craig's character, Jake Lonergan. Man, Daniel is a f--ing funny guy. Actually, the whole set was cool. I've worked with most of my heroes at this point, from Chris Cooper to Robert Duvall, but I'm sitting there on that set -- it was a very macho, cool-guy set to be on, and you had to leave your uncoolness at home -- but I found myself going, "Oh my God, I'm gonna date Sam Rockwell!" And I'm about as straight as they come.
You've been acting for more than 20 years and even won an Oscar for producing the 2001 short film The Accountant. How does it feel to finally be almost famous after all these years?
(Laughs.) It's funny, I remember sitting in a screening of The Apostle at the Toronto film festival in 1997. At the end, people were crying and telling me how amazing the movie was, and they were like, "All right, get ready, Walton, here comes the big time." But it never came! No, I've been very fortunate to be involved with things that I'll still be proud of in my 60s and 70s. I'm very happy my level of fame has slowly gone from, "Hey, you're that guy on The Shield," to, "Hey, Shane from The Shield!" to, "Walton Goggins, I really love your work, man."