Movies & TV / Columns

411Movies Interviews: Walton Goggins (Justified, Sons of Anarchy)

January 20, 2015 | Posted by Al Norton

Walton Goggins has been one of TV’s finest actors for over a decade, first with his work as Shane Vandrell on The Shield and for the last five years as Boyd Crowder on Justified, for which he was nominated for an Emmy, not to mention his recurring role as Venus Van Dam on Sons of Anarchy. He’s also had recent noteworthy big screen roles in Lincoln and Django Unchained, and has started work on Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight this month. The final season of Justified premieres tonight at 10pm on FX.

Al Norton: I’ve got two quick stories I want to share with you to start, both of which relate to your work. First, my 25 year high school reunion was in November and I had a bet with my wife about how long it would take before someone started talking about TV with me, which was about 20 minutes, but the second TV conversation I had was when a very old friend of mine, a Boston cop I’ve known since 1st grade, came up to me and, after asking me how my family was, volunteered “Walton Goggins is the best actor I’ve ever seen.”

Walton Goggins: I paid him to say that. I knew exactly where you’re reunion was going to be (laughing)…Man, that makes me blush. I don’t know if that’s the case but I sure am glad I spoke to somebody. The sure does feel good.

Al Norton: The second story is that I had a reader of mine email me and say he had never met anyone who was transgender and had some pretty clear cut and not positive thoughts in his head about who “those” people were but that after watching you as Venus on Sons, he know feels and thinks completely differently.

Walton Goggins: Now you’re gonna make me cry…I don’t know, I think that’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever been given in my entire life. That’s very powerful and very gratifying and I really, really appreciate you sharing that with me. Thank you very much.

Al Norton: Did you have any idea when you got the call and said, “sure I’ll do that episode of Sons and play this interesting character”, who Venus would become? People throw the word “groundbreaking” around but in this instance it’s accurate in that I think she’s maybe the single most groundbreaking character TV has seen in the last decade.

Walton Goggins: Kurt (Sutter, Sons of Anarchy creator) is a dear friend of mine and he is a bold human being and I am lucky to be friends with people who fall into that category, people who not only push themselves but push the people around them. It was an opportunity to, almost selfishly, explore this person that I didn’t really even look at as a transgender. I looked at her as a very confident, three dimensional, funny human being that I wanted to get to know. It was only going to be for one episode and we thought it might get a reaction because people wouldn’t expect it, which is why we didn’t tell anyone about it. That was on purpose; we didn’t talk to anyone about it and when FX sent it out to writers and media, it was with the condition that no one really say anything so they could let the audience experience it on their own.

From that perspective I thought it was a unique opportunity to say something, to be honest and vulnerable and forthcoming and truthful, a way to get into the Sons of Anarchy world in a way that was unexpected and surprising, and to not to portray that community as the butt of a joke or reducing them to an experience that we had all seen in other forms of entertainment. I was very, very surprised when the next day it was on the cover of Variety. It was a very pleasant surprise because what it gave Kurt and me the opportunity to do is see what else there was to her. I suppose I had a little something to do with it in terms of my interpretation of the material but it all came from his heart and his imagination.

Al Norton: The last full scene you did on Sons, with Venus and Tig talking about their relationship and the shadows and the light, is breathtakingly honest and just amazing to watch, to the point where I’ve kept the episode on my DVR for future viewings. How much rehearsing did you and Kim (Coates) do, how did you two and the direct approach it?

Walton Goggins: I was doing a movie up in Canada when Kurt sent that script and like everybody else who read it, which was not a lot of people, I was so amazed. It was one of those things that was outside of Kurt, where he let himself go and let himself be the vehicle for those words to come into the world, to express that person’s point of view to the world, and that just happens in those times when you’re in the pocket, and that can happen to you in whatever discipline you’re in. It could be you writing a review or a plumber solving a problem, we all have those moments in our respective lives and that was one of those for Kurt.

Kim Coates and I talked a couple of times and he had a very specific way he wanted Tig to make love to Venus, which I thought was really appropriate and very loving, and it was the first time they had been intimate in that way. We did that in two takes. The next scene, where Venus is coming out of the shower, I had a deep conversation with the hair and makeup people because we are seeing her in her true state, when no one is looking, and we found that. The way she is walking out of the bath and the way she looks, you get to see behind the curtain and see who she is in that moment, and in that moment in front of the mirror she sees herself the way Tig sees her.

We walked through everything once and we all knew it was all we needed. The only thing I asked of Paris Barclay, who was the director and is a very dear old friend of mine – the first thing I did with Paris was a movie called The Cherokee Kid 18 years ago – is that we do two cameras at once and just have this experience and take it out of the realm of “cut” and “action.” Kim agreed and Paris said “absolutely, that’s the way I was going to do it.” He set up two cameras and we did it maybe four times and that was it.

Each one presented its own truth. It was one of those moments in your life as an artist that you get down on your knees at the end of the day and put your hands together in whatever faith you believe in and express as much gratitude as you can. You don’t get those opportunities every day, even though that’s what you strive for, and this is as close as I can get to this women’s truth and her experience. It forever changed me. The whole experience on Sons of Anarchy changed me. It’s weird, Al, but I truly mean this; I don’t feel like Walton Goggins ever did an episode of Sons of Anarchy. I’ve never seen any of the episodes with Venus, it’s too personal, and I was there. I never talked to those guys as Walton, only as Venus, although I know all of them outside of that world and we talk and hang out. In their world, I was no one other than Venus so I personally, Walton Goggins, have no stories from the show. It’s pure and undiluted and I am so grateful for it.

Al Norton: When you’re showing up for your first day on Justified this year, was there a feeling of, “hey, this is our last first day”?

Walton Goggins: Yeah, there was. We did the promos the two days before we actually started and that was a great opportunity to sit around with everyone and reflect on what this means. Having gone through it before with The Shield I was prepared for the process of saying goodbye, and I was saying goodbye to Venus at the same time, too. I thought I was prepared for it, at least, and it very quickly became apparent over the course of filming episode one that I was really saying goodbye to folks, that some of these scenes would be my very last scenes with this people who had become good friends over the years. It’s real. There have been those moments, almost daily, and then you have to put that in the back of your mind and keep going, protecting yourself form the inevitable fall and the grieving process that goes with a journey this long. If you don’t feel that, you’re not human.

Al Norton: I think fans of the show has always known that things would end up coming down to Raylan and Boyd but with the quality of the writing, I am sure if the journey to get there at the end is not the obvious one.

Walton Goggins: I think that’s right. For me, I don’t think there any great surprises in Justified. In the Elmore Leonard world you start here and chances are you’ll end up here so they mystery of that is not a part of the show. I didn’t know how The Sopranos was going to end, I didn’t know how The Shield was going to end, I don’t know how Mad Men is going to end, but that’s not my experience on Justified. I don’t really care about that. The journey for me is like reading an Elmore book, it’s how you get there, and it’s so lyrical and so literary and poetic, and it’s just some of the best dialogue anywhere. It’s very hard to replicate Elmore speak in other worlds. Quentin does it but that’s because no one can write a scene like Quentin Tarantino, which he has in common with Elmore Leonard. It’s not what happens but rather how it happens that’s really important. That for me involves questions like, what are we saying about love?, what are we saying about friendship?, about each of these characters individually. That really excites me more than what happens in the final scene between Boyd and Raylan.

Al Norton: You mention the dialogue, which has always been amazing on the show, and in the season opener there’s a long scene at the end, I think it’s the second-to-last scene on the episode, and while there are some big things that happen in the scene, what makes it so great to me is a little moment where Boyd has a little line about music. It’s a total of three lines about a cassette tape and it’s so random and also in character and so awesome; the delivery is so straight, like you’re talking about life or death things, and it was one the show’s most Elmore Leonard moments ever.

Walton Goggins: I’ll tell you the story behind that. What Graham Yost and Chris Provenzano and Taylor Elmore and Ben Cavell and Dave Andron and all of our writers have been able to do is unprecedented. We’re not the first network to try to bring Elmore Leonard to TV on the air and it’s so hard to do because you’re trying to write in the vein of one of the legends, and these guys have pulled it off for six years. Regardless of how big or small our ratings are, the impact is that it happened, Elmore is on television and for six years, which is amazing.

The scene you are talking about was a collaboration. Along with our amazing team of writers, Tim (Olyphant) is involved in the show as a whole and I am heavily involved with Boyd and his story, and this exchange is one example of going back and reworking something to figure out where we’re coming from. I said, “in this moment, let’s bring this back to the music and comment on it.” My uncle, who was really like a father figure to me, my best friend growing up, he passed away this year and that was his favorite album. I have distinct memories of him taking it out of the sleeve and on his turntable. They let me put that in there, because Elmore is very specific and because the more specific it is, the more relatable it is, especially if the general moment is a bit absurd. If it’s real then it’s grounded and it’s true. That’s one reference I was able to put in there for my uncle.

Al Norton: Oh wow, that’s awesome.

Walton Goggins: Yeah, it is awesome.

Al Norton: Another one of the great things about the show’s run has been the casting, getting these really great actors in these really interesting roles. If you’d told me to make my wish list of people who haven’t been on the show yet and I wrote down ten names, Garrett Dillahunt and Sam Elliot would 100% of been two of them.

Walton Goggins: I am not an actor just given you a rote response about how great it is to have them on the show and how Sam Elliot is an icon when I tell you I think Garret Dillahunt is one of the greatest actors of my generation. He’s an actor’s actor. He’s that guy and he’s been that guy for me. I’m rarely intimidated anymore and we’re friendly outside the show, but he intimidated me that first day. He’s a force of nature and we’re lucky to have him for this last lap. With Sam Elliot, I remember where I was the first time I watched Mask. If there’s anyone cooler than Boyd Crowder, it’s Sam Elliot (laughing) in real life. He’s all you’d want him to be. I’d never met him before and within a minute he became a lifelong friend.

Al Norton: You’ve been a part of three TV shows know that are going to go be very well thought of in TV history. Does that make you more or less likely to do another show, to do another series in a year or two?

Walton Goggins: That’s a very good question. I think it makes me more likely, when I come down to do it. It’s not about living up to something, at least I hope that my ego won’t get in the way, although I probably wouldn’t be disappointed if critics hated it (laughing). I guess what I am attracted to most is the potential of telling a story over 80 hours. That, to me, in unachievable in cinema and it’s a unique experience you have once, maybe twice. For us, we get to go up to bat every week for 13 weeks and we get to work it and feel it and explore every aspect of our house and not just the centers of the rooms but all the corners, all the secret places, and I’m really attracted to that as an actor.

I’m getting ready to go do Quentin’s new movie, The Hateful Eight, with a truly dream cast – I can literally quote lines from the movies of all my co-stars – but I don’t know that anything could keep me away from trying to tell another 80 hour story.

Al Norton: I realized I was on the money when I named you our co-TV Entertainer of the Year when I didn’t get one single email or comment about why I was wrong. Lots of stuff supporting me but this is the internet we’re talking about so to not get a single negative comment is stunning and a tribute to the respect people have for your talent.

Walton Goggins: Wow…Wow, man, I’m an emotional dude. I am a sensitive motherfucker and way too earnest to be as cool as Body Crowder. One of things I am going to miss, at least in the interim, is conversations with people like you. I consider you guys friends and people I’d drink a whiskey with in Telluride in the snow. I truly appreciate all your support over the show’s run and you’ve been such a real pleasure to talk with. I’m gonna miss it…until we talk again (laughing).

Don’t miss the season premiere of Justified, tonight at 10pm on FX

article topics :

Justified, Walton Goggins, Al Norton