A much-needed breath of fresh air in both 2010’s bloated Predators and the following year’s sci-fi western mash-up Cowboys and Aliens, his cinematic career is now firmly on the ascendent, thanks to parts in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s much-anticipated Blaxploitation-infused western, Django Unchained.
We recently had the opportunity to chat the great man himself about the latter.
HeyUGuys: How did you become involved in the film?
Walton Goggins: Quentin and I meet through a mutual friend at a barbecue, who set it up specifically to put the two of us together. We had a nice long conversation about Django, and I was blown away by the script. He asked me to come in so we could sit down and talk about it, and I brought in 40 pages [of the script] and set about trying to read for a number of characters. This wasn’t just to get the job – I wanted to speak all those words. They’re so poetic and so Quentin. An actor rarely gets the opportunity to say such great lines.
Did he initially have you earmarked for one role in particular? I know the script went through a few iterations.
There were a couple of characters. The role I eventually wound up getting, Billy Crash, kinda absorbed the character of Ace Woody from the original script. Originally, he was to be played by Kevin Costner until a scheduling conflict happened, and then it went to Kurt Russell who had the same problem with timings. If the big principal players weren’t available, I think it was the one [character] Quentin felt I could do pretty well. I was just grateful, first and foremost, to be in his mind about anything. I would have worked craft service on this movie. To be considered for a role like this is a chance of a lifetime. There was more to it than what ultimately ended up on screen, but everything that is in the movie is essentially the journey of this character, who is an enforcer of this horrific institute of slavery.
Billy Crash is a pretty evil character who lacks even the merest hint of eloquence and ambiguity you bring to Boyd in Justified. Did you find it tough to play someone who lacks any humanity?
In a Tarantino movie everything is a little heightened, but I didn’t think this guy is just sat there twirling his moustache – he’s cooler than that. I don’t see Crash as overly racist. He’s in tune with the ideology of the people during that time. I think it’s interesting, and this was the way Quentin had written it, that he’s a guy who has made his way up through the ranks of the business of slave plantation, to a position of real power. Having made a very comfortable living he has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo because without it, he has no authority or economic upward mobility.
It’s the first character I think I’ve ever played where I can’t justify his actions, because they’re so conflicting with anything I personally believe in. When you’re in that situation you just have to turn yourself over to it and trust the author of the words, particularly when you’re in the hands of Quentin Tarantino.
Django Unchained has a large ensemble, as does Lincoln. You’re also in this year’s character-heavy action film, G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Has it been a conscious part on your behalf to pick roles where you’re acting alongside a large cast, or has it just turned out that way?
I think it’s really a combination of both. I don’t have the luxury in my movie career of picking and choosing the roles I want. What I do have, is the luxury of picking and choosing those which I don’t want, and when an opportunity like Lincoln or Django comes along to work with these kinds of casts, you just go where the greats are. In Lincoln, it’s a who’s who of Academy Award nominees – from Michael Stuhlbarg to all the main players upfront – there are so many wonderful actors who all get their moment. Steven [Spielberg] purposely does that, because they’re all part of the story, and I was just grateful to be asked to be in there. I feel the same way about Django.
You have a production company which you co-own with a friend. Do you have any desires to direct in the future? You’re obviously working with some of the best in the business. Are you learning along the way?
I feel like I’ve been learning a very long time. With the movies we’ve made [via the production company], my partner directs while I take the producing credits, but it’s around 40/60, really. I’ve done everything you can do on a movie, from craft service to producing, and I know everyone’s job and what it takes to motivate a group of people to get behind you when you set out to tell a story. By working with Quentin and Steven, I understand what it takes to be a leader better than I ever have before. These directors are pillars of cinema and they’re both visionaries. I’ve learned a lot. I actually have a movie I hope to shoot later on this year as director.
You’re also a keen photographer. Do you ever take pictures on set?
I haven’t and sometimes in hindsight I really regret it, but to be honest, when I’m working I’m consumed with the story in front of me so I don’t think I could focus a camera, much less pull myself out of the film to frame a beautiful picture.
On Justified right now, Tim [Olyphant] and I talk three or four times a week after work, for maybe two/three hours. Whenever I’m working on anything, I’m consumed by it and I think all things which are worth doing require you to be that way. Work should drive you a little mad because that’s what it takes to get to the truth sometimes.
Which medium do you prefer working in?
They both have their strengths and weaknesses. I know what a powerful medium cinema can be, and there are movies which still reverberate in the viewer’s lives years afterwards. I also know that when you sink your teeth into a very specific world on cable, you can explore the nuances of a character in a way that you don’t have the time to do in a movie.
I feel with Justified, we make a 13-hour movie every year, and when it’s all said and done, over a seven year period, you’re making a 91 hour film. That’s a very fulfilling way to tell a story. It’s like getting the chance to write a book with 2000 pages as opposed to 150. I love it.
Django Unchained is out in the UK this Friday. That’s reason enough to go and see it. If you need more our review is here.