If you require an actor who can convincingly spout truly mean-spirited dialogue and at the end of the day revert back to one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Walton Goggins is your man.
For more than a decade Goggins has been one of the most intense and magnetic actors on television, appearing on some of its most cutting-edge and hardboiled series. He's been "The Shield's" corrupt but weak-willed cop Shane Vendrell, "Justified's" venom-spewing career criminal Boyd Crowder, and "Sons of Anarchy's" complex transgender prostitute Venus Van Dam. And he knows his way around some of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's more evocative, racially charged dialogue, after playing the sadistic Mandingo fighting trainer Billy Crash in "Django Unchained."
Tarantino's latest Western, "The Hateful Eight," reunites Goggins with the writer/director as the maybe-new sheriff of Red Rock, who's still clinging to some rebellious Southern ideals. But of course vicious words and ugly sentiments belong solely to Goggins' on-screen personas. As his chat with Spinoff Online reveals, in person he's the most gracious of gentlemen, grateful for the opportunity to be hateful.
Spinoff Online: Another great performance in another turn with Tarantino.
Walton Goggins: Unbelievable, man. Thank you so much for saying that. I'm pinching myself with all of it. Sitting here in this hotel room talking to you on the phone. It was an extraordinary experience. And it's probably too much for an actor to even ask or secretly wish for an opportunity to collaborate with Quentin. And here I am, I'm going to do it twice. And it's every storyteller should be so lucky.
How did the role come to you, specifically? Obviously, you had a pre-existing relationship with Quentin …
I got a phone call. I got to think a lot of us did. I got a phone call and, oddly enough, I was in Mexico – just landed in Mexico, and I thought my phone was turned off. And I was sitting there having a conversation with two people in an Alamo van going to my rental car. And they were fans -- fans of "Justified" and “The Shield" -- and we were having this lovely conversation. I had just landed out there to let my head kind of get away. And we're having this great conversation, then the phone was ringing. I don't know whose phone it is. And I pulled it out of my pocket; it was mine. And it's Quentin Tarantino. And we all see it at the same time. And we're looking at the screen, and you don't know what to do. It's just ... it's Quentin. And the two people that were in the car with me said, "You need to answer that."
And I said, "Can you guys just be quiet for a few minutes?" And I picked it up, and I was like, "What's up, Quentin?" And he said, "I've got this stage reading that I want to do, and I want to talk to you about it. I've got a role that I want to talk to you about." And that's how it started. And I got to come in the room. We rehearsed, getting ready for the stage play. And that was it. You can't imagine what it feels like for an actor to be the recipient of images from a director like Quentin Tarantino's imagination.
He gives you some really juicy material that I'm sure as a decent human being is sometimes difficult to make the words come out of your mouth. But as an actor, you can't hope for anything more. How do you reconcile some of the ugly things that your character says with the great opportunity?
Well, there were days on "Django" with my black friends, and there were things I had to say to them and things that I had to do that you apologized beforehand, even though it's not necessary. You just know that I'm going to say it, and in that moment, I'm going to believe it. And look, you can't tell the story of the oppression of another race, the subjugation of an entire race of people, without having the people that subjugated them. And you need storytellers to do that.
And lucky for me, in this instance, I get to play a guy who is really just in an arrested state of development. Just an adolescent, rabble-rouser agitator who is spewing this bile based on his father's world view and the people around him. I don't know that he's ever formulated his own opinion. … And so saying those things to Sam [Jackson] -- that's not Walton, obviously, saying that to Sam. That's Chris Mannix saying that to Major Warren. And it's necessary to tell that story. All world views have to be represented, and Quentin does that better than most.
You've got some amazing language to work with, and I love the cadence and musicality of how you delivered it. Tell me about finding how this guy spoke – and how he moved.
Thank you, man, that really means a lot. I had the good fortune of doing "Justified" for the last six years, and it's based on an Elmore Leonard short story. Living in that world and seeing how words, and how Boyd Crowder, who was a lover of words, how they came out of his mouth, and how he just kind of deliciously consumed language. And then when it came to Chris Mannix, he was so very different than Boyd. But Quentin being a big fan of Elmore, and Elmore being a big influence on Quentin, it's in a similar vein. It's a similar world.
And I just had these couple conversations with Quentin earlier on, and the most important being right after I'd read the script, he came in the room, and I said, "I have one question for you: Is he the sheriff, or is he not the sheriff?" And Quentin said, "I need you to answer that question, and I don't want to know the answer to your question." And that was everything I needed to hear in order to start to understand who Chris Mannix was.
Did you notice anything different in the way that Quentin was directing this one as opposed to "Django Unchained"? Anything new up his sleeve?
Yeah, there's a level of cadence and humor that is present in all of Quentin's dialogue. And for Chris Mannix what was so extraordinary for me on reading it on the page. You kind of get it in your imagination and it kind of comes out the way it's going to come out, is that Chris really emotionally, and with words, is able to go to run the gamut of the alphabet. I mean, it really is from A to Z. And the way he speaks at the end this movie and the way he watches people -- there's physical behavior at the end of this movie [that] is one of a man who's so incredibly different than how he begins this movie, which is as a boy.
And that was probably one of the most thrilling things that I've ever had an opportunity to experience as an actor, because it just happens in that magical place, in this world that Quentin creates to play in. His sandbox is so fucking rich, and he allows for all of it. And he's already given you the best material that you can get. I just had to add that to the question you had before. I had to.
How is this different than "Django"? I can't answer for Quentin, but my experiences of "Django" were these really big kind of moving parts, and all these different locations. And I think that this was a different experience for Quentin, because we were in one location for most of the movie, and it gave Quentin an opportunity to focus on one of the things that I think he enjoys most about that process which is working with actors. And he wasn't consumed with all of the external decisions that a director has to make on a daily basis. That he could just be in this room, get to know this room, become very intimate with it. And then, tell his story in one place with actors that he enjoys, that he celebrates. And I think there's liberation in that. There's an opportunity to be more focused in that environment.
Everybody in that room is world-class actor. Your first day, are there nerves? How do you walk in, emotionally?
Well, I'm going to take this back, and this will dovetail nicely into your first question about how this all came about. The very first day of rehearsal for the stage play, I had got on a plane. I flew that morning; I was doing another movie. And Quentin said, "You need to be here by 10 o'clock. And that doesn't mean 10:01, that means 10 o'clock." I said, "I will be there," and pulled up in front at 9:59. And as I was walking up to stairs to walk into this room to begin rehearsal for the stage reading for "The Hateful Eight" for Quentin Tarantino, I almost threw up, and I almost fainted. I just had to hold myself on the door because I know the people that are sitting in that room on the other side of this door.
And I just got very centered and still, and I said, just be honest and truthful. And I walked in. And then, there they were. There was Kurt [Russell]. There was Michael [Madsen]. There was Tim [Roth]. There was Bruce Dern and Sam and Quentin. And I went and took my place and sat down next to Sam, who was a friend of mine. Jackson is a friend and a real mentor to me. And I sat.
And Quentin said, "Well, we've been rehearsing. So now, you're up. You're up, Walton. This is all about you. Let's start on your chapter, shall we?" And I just exhaled. And Sam looked at me. And he leaned down, and he whispered in my ear. He said, "You got this. You got this. You got it." And there's tears in my eyes right now because of what that man means to me, and his generosity in his spirit and his support of another actor means to me. And just those words from him gave me the confidence in a room full of people that I didn't know, aside from him and Quentin, to just enjoy it, man. Just play pretend.
At the end of the day, we're all just storytellers. These just happen to be a room full of the best storytellers that I would get to know. And then it went from there. And by the time we got to set, we had spent all of this time together rehearsing, that there was no competition. There was no negative, not one negative feeling throughout the entire year and a half that this process has gone on. It was just a celebration of Quentin and a celebration of this crew and a celebration of this story. And last but not least, a celebration of each other. And they welcomed me in, every single, one of them welcomes me in. And I can't say enough about this group of people. From the bottom of my heart, they're just incredible human beings.
Did you get to live out some good little kid Western fantasies?
Of course! I mean, I've done Westerns. I've been on a horse for multiple times in my career. But this is, I think, one of the greatest answers to a question that was asked several years during the process. A fellow actor came up to me when I got back to the set of "Justified." He said, "So tell me: You're doing a fucking Quentin Tarantino Western? Do you have a really cool gun?" "No, man, I don't really have a gun." "What about your horse? What color's your horse?" "Well, I don't have a horse." "Well, do you have a really cool hat?" "Well, I have one, but I don't get to wear it that often." "Well, then what kind of fucking western are you making?"
And it's true. Everything that I just said is true, that we're making a Western. We're making a Quentin Tarantino Western. And every day was like a dream come true.
“The Hateful Eight” will open in limited 70mm release on Friday before receiving wide digital release on Jan. 1.