Walton Goggins talks about his role as Boyd Crowder in the new FX series
Actor Walton Goggins enjoyed much success on the cable network FX with his seven-season run as Shane Vendrell on the groundbreaking cop series The Shield, which ended its run in 2008. Now Goggins is back on the network with its brand new series Justified, which makes its debut tonight, Tuesday, March 16 at 10 PM ET on FX. Goggins recently held a conference call to discuss his role as Boyd Crowder on the series and here's what he had to say.
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I so enjoy your take on bad boys. You have so much fun with this character. It's hard not to like "Boyd" even though he's vile, and I was wondering if you could talk about how you see him, his character and share with us your interpretation of "Boyd Crowder."
Walton Goggins: That's kind of been my blessing and my curse to get these deviant kind of complicated bad guys and to salvage some sort of humanity. I'm trying to get them to give me good guys, and I keep trying, so I know I'm going to crack that nut some day. For me when I joined forces with these guys, first and foremost, to get the opportunity to be back on what I consider to be my home network, FX was too good to pass up, and that coupled with Tim Olyphant who's been a friend for quite some time. I'm a fan, obviously, of his work on Deadwood, and Graham Yost and his career and what he's done. But for me the most important aspect to this character and one of the most enticing reasons for me to play "Boyd Crowder" was a creative conversation that I had with both Tim and Graham, and that is I was interested in playing this guy as one of the smartest guys in the room and someone who did not necessarily believe the axioms that he was espousing. I don't believe that this is a simpleton. "Boyd Crowder" is not a simpleton. He's not a racist. He's an extremist in his genetic makeup. Even if it came down to watching football or shopping for antiques, this is a guy who doesn't live in gray. He lives in black and white and extremes. There's no middle for this guy. I think the thing I was most excited about once we filmed the pilot and once we kind of started going down this road and exploring who this guy was, was the opportunity to do something different for the TV audience. In my experience over the course of my career and various pilots that I've been involved with and obviously The Shield, the pilot episode is an opportunity of that show to get familiar with all of its players. It's not meant to give you every answer. It's just meant to give you an opportunity to say, well, do I want to spend time with these people? We're asking a lot of the audience to spend time with us, so you just want to get them comfortable with the story.
You are festooned with tattoos, your boy "Crowder" in this particular series, and I was wondering if you could talk about that, if it's transfers. How many tattoos do you have and what did you go through?
Walton Goggins: That's a great question. I was doing Predators, this new movie for FOX simultaneously, and this character that I play in the movie is "Walter Stands," and I had a plethora of ink all up and down my skin. It required like an hour and forty-five minutes sitting in a chair every day. This is no secret. I was in an orange jumpsuit for that movie and would come back to the set of Justified and literally not change my outfit, but change the tattoos, so it was extraordinary. Once you have ink on your body, how it informs you as an actor, and you kind of get in that space and occupy that space of that character, when you're without them, when I'm just Walton Goggins in the world and I'm without my tattoos, I feel a little naked. I think for a person like "Boyd" he expresses himself through the tattoos, the markings that he has on his body, and you'll see it change hopefully over the course of this show and be reflected in his ink, and probably what I'd like to do is just the rudimentary solution, just kind of cross out the tattoos that I don't really believe in anymore, not remove them, just kind of put like an X through them or like a line through them so it's really kind of a history of who this guy is. I don't think that's been done on television before, but FX, they do that a lot. They do things that haven't been done on television before.
Now, you've already mentioned that in many of your roles and most notably on The Shield and at first at least here as "Boyd Crowder," you play guys who're generally kind of genial and smart and have something of a look about them that says mess with me, and I'll go batfrack all over you.
Walton Goggins: Absolutely.
Now, what I want to know is why would you take this role as a followup to "Shane Vendrell"? How does that figure? Did they come to you? Did you audition? What was the process?
Walton Goggins: Very good question and it was not without a lot of thought for me to return to FX in this role. They, meaning the network, meaning FX, came to me and asked me to do this episode for this pilot Justified and play this role, and I read it, and I just said no. No, I can't do that. I can't do it for myself, and I can't do it for what I hope are my fans on FX. I don't want to return to FX in that way, and there was a definitive answer that I gave. It was only after getting a phone call from Tim Olyphant and Graham Yost and we began talking about it creatively, and I just said, well, if I'm going to do this, there are things that I want to take out of here. There are references that I will not make, and I will not be a racist. I will not say this, and I will wear these tattoos if we do one thing and one thing only, and this was Tim's idea, Tim's solution which was brilliant. Tim's a very, very gifted storyteller. He participates in this process a lot and is extremely collaborative, but Tim suggested that why don't I point out like he does in the pilot that I know you don't believe these things. I know you don't. You're too smart to believe these things, and when we were able to incorporate that in the story, that was my saving grace and that was kind of my key to explore this guy in any different direction. I decided to do the pilot, and we had such a great time, and I just liked everyone so much, and I liked getting the calls from the executives at FX and the publicity people at FX to this unusual kind of chemistry that I feel Tim and I have.
I wanted to know any research that you do for these kinds of roles, whether it's psychological research or just about the fact that this show takes place in Kentucky, just that part of the world and the country.
Walton Goggins: I have a bit of a bucolic kind of upbringing, and so I certainly bring an amalgamation of different people that I've met over the course of my life, especially before moving to Los Angeles, so I guess my childhood was my homework in a lot of ways for Harlan County. I have spent time in places like Harlan County. I know people like the principle players in this screenplay. But for other things that I do, there's a certain amount of work that an actor needs to do to understand how to hold a gun for instance or to understand what it means to walk the streets of Los Angeles. For The Shield before we started when the show got picked up and for subsequent seasons before the show began I just spent a lot of time in South Central and Compton kind of exploring the neighborhoods down there and really looking at the players on the street and the people that I would in my imagination be seeing and being able to substitute real people for people in my imagination, and it becomes very real for me. Then outside of that I think Robert Duvall and Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Tandy say it best. Acting is a child's game. It's your willingness to suspend one reality and substitute it for another. That reality lives and breathes in your imagination. The actors that I want to be like exercise that way of thinking, and that's kind of what I do.
You are known for the darker more dramatic roles. Do you ever crave just a comedy?
Walton Goggins: It's funny that you say that. That's true, but as of late and kind of with The Shield, but even with The Shield or for the first three seasons "Shane Vendrell" was the comic relief with Jay Karnes and "Dutch." With a lot of the movies that I've done, they've been both dramas and comedies from Shanghai Noon to Billy Bob Thornton's second movie, Daddy and Them, to just a bunch of movies that I have done have been comic, and they're usually from a cynical kind of pessimistic point of view which is probably my sense of humor, and this is a part of myself in everybody that I play, but Predators, this movie that you're going to see, I'm kind of the funny guy that hopefully kind of wins your heart if I did my job, and so absolutely, but I've been given that opportunity a lot, and it continues to be that way, so I'm lucky to kind of have both.
What was your experience like shooting the pilot in Western Pennsylvania?
Walton Goggins: It was unbelievable. I had spent a little bit of time in Greensburg and Latrobe because my uncle is from Greensburg, and my aunt and uncle are both actors in the theater and would do summer shows up at St. Vincent's College, and I tried to get the recipe for Latrobe beer from the monks, but they wouldn't give it to me ....
What do you think audiences will like about Justified, and what do you want people to take away from the show?
Walton Goggins: I think there are a lot things. I think the tone of the show feels to me like the Coen brothers meets The Shield. I think in that line description alone, that would be enough for me to watch it. I think that they will really appreciate the humor. I think that they will appreciate the writing and the stylistic kind of dialogue ongoing interpretation of Elmore Leonard. There's a saying that Graham has. I think he had it made on a bracelet for people that says WWED, and it's What Would Elmore Do. I think that people are going to enjoy kind of hearing that kind of banter. I think another reason that people will hopefully tune in and stay tuned in will be an opportunity to explore a world that isn't being explored on the rest of television, and that's the south, this very specific place in Harlan County, Kentucky, and it's nice to see things and to see people reflected in our art that are not just from urban areas. I ... country as a whole. I think it's important to reflect all cultures in our society, and I think that that will be an opportunity for people that don't live in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago to see something that is familiar to them. I think it's about time that people spoke to that audience in that way.
When you play a character such as this and of course "Shane Vendrell" of The Shield, do you kind of envision some kind of a backstory as to how they got to where they got to and the actions they took?
Absolutely, yes. That's like when I was talking earlier about your imagination. It's just living in your imagination in one's imagining of a set of circumstances. You can't really create that set of circumstances without imagining what his life was like in the past and how he came to be the person that he is on this very moment. That's what's so interesting about doing television. It's in that work before you begin that allows you to get to the place at which you start, but once you've started, it's you and all of these other creative people dictating where this guy goes. There is such value in really good television being able to explore the inner life of a character over the course of whether it be 13 hours or 84 hours like on The Shield that you can never get in film. You just can't get it. You can't be expected to understand that kind of nuance that one can ascertain from really good television over the course of 84 hours. You just can't do it in two hours. I learned that on The Shield, and I didn't know that existed. I'm really excited about that and excited I've been given the opportunity to do that at least once in my career.
Going back to The Shield, I don't want to give too much away in case people haven't seen it, but when you first found out about what was going to happen to your character, were you surprised?
Walton Goggins: I was actually getting on a plane to go to Italy. It sounds like I've got such a great life. You know what, I do have a great life to work with goddamn Spike Lee. It was amazing and Shawn had just gotten it, and Shawn called and said, "It's going to be a tough read. It's going to be a very tough read. If you get there and it's in the middle of the night and you need to call me, just call me." I did not read it until I got in the hotel room which was a long time after, and upon reading it the first time, I threw it across the room, and I said there's no way I'm going to do that. There is no way I am going to take that action because I love this character so much, and I felt like after being perceived as a racist early on which I still don't agree with to killing "Lem" to a number of actions that "Shane" took to kind of overcome those, to have the audience really like him again, I thought that his actions in the finale were unforgivable, and it was only after reading it the second time that I realized the true genius of Shawn Ryan. It was like, no, my God, what he's given me is the chance of a lifetime, the chance of a lifetime if I can pull it off, and I just kind of went in with faith in him and these writers and the world that he built and love for this character and tried to be as honest as I possibly could. I felt like we had something really special for every character involved, but certainly for "Shane," and I didn't know for a year because I didn't tell anyone, not even my significant other, and it was only upon watching it the night that it aired in a theater with 400 people that when it happened, it was crickets. The audience got very quiet, and then the next thing I heard were tears from all around me, and I just looked at my gal who was crying, and I said, "I got them. We got them. We got them." It was just an extraordinary evening. It was an extraordinary experience. ... and I and Kenny Johnson talk all the time. A lot of the cast we all talk all the time, and it's something that we'll be talking about when we're 80 God willing, so it's wonderful.
I was just wondering, you were talking about creating a backstory for your character and the imagination that goes into that, and I was wondering if with the collaborative kind of effort that's going into Justified if the writers had maybe taken any elements of that backstory and incorporated it and also if you had any interests from outside of work that you think would work as a trait for "Boyd."
Walton Goggins: I'm not sure I understand the second part of your question.
Well, like personal interests, hobbies, things-
Walton Goggins: Okay, I got you. I don't think "Boyd's" a scuba diver. I don't think he likes to shop for antiques, but I do think that he is a spiritual seeker, and I think he's a curious man, and I think that he is a self-taught man, and those are certainly traits that I have, the kind of person that I want to be and that I try to be, I endeavor to be. I think that certainly that those are things that I'd like for "Boyd" to have because I feel that it's appropriate and Graham agrees. Yes, we talked early on about, okay, if we continue where can we go? What can we do? What I said to Graham was this is a, because it's just a journey of discovery for both of us, and I said, well, this is a guy like I said earlier that deals in extremes, and if the pendulum started off here in episode one, well, with a near-death experience, Graham, the pendulum has to swing in a completely opposite direction. It has to come over here. It has to be not narcissistic, not self-centered, but righteous, and so that's how we started on the path, and I won't talk too much more about that, but that's how we started down this path that "Boyd" continues on in this journey. There were other things that I wanted to do, and Graham had much better ideas, and so we incorporated those kind of in the spiritual transformation. I don't know. I feel like I'm truly blessed, man. Really, I'm having that much fun.
You can watch Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder on the series premiere of Justified, which airs tonight, March 16 at 10 PM ET on FX.