Walton Goggins ranks amongst the most amicable and most engaging interview subjects I have ever spoken to. On top of this, it’s clear that he’s thoughtful and ambitious – and if you know his work from Justified, The Shield, Lincoln or wherever else, then you’ll know that he’s a fine actor too.
Here’s some of what he had to tell me about his recent and upcoming work, most specifically his unforgettable turn as Billy Crash in Django Unchained.
I don’t know if Django Unchained is specifically about this time in our nation’s history. I think it’s more about the liberation of an entire race of people seen through the journey of one man, and his quest to find love. There are politics on the plantation and politics within slave culture, there are politics portrayed in the different scenarios between blacks and whites but I think it’s a story about love and about the journey of African Americans out of chains. We know what happened and this is a way to set fire to that institution that was responsible for so much pain for so long. I think it’s cathartic on a number of levels. It’s good for us to get around and watch slavery burn.
Some days on this film were so hard emotionally, even with all of the humour and light heartedness as Quentin tries to keep on set, because he’s so sensitive to the subject matter, one of the greatest days for me was the day that I took a bullet to the balls. I despised me as much as the audience despises me.
My characters Shane on The Shield or Boyd on Justified are fully fleshed out people, inherently flawed but righteous on one level. They’re representative of the good and bad in all of us. Somebody said to me that I’m talking about the agathocacological nature of mankind – the existence of good and evil simultaneously. When they said that I thought “Yeah! I’m gonna use that word in an interview” and you’re getting it first.
But there is nothing redeemable about Billy Crash. There’s an extended scene in the barn, where that awful horrific act is about to be performed and Billy was able to articulate his point of view – it took him ten years to get to that position of power and make that kind of money and Django is about to fuck it up. Quentin was smart enough to look at the story from a lot of different perspective, and Billy Crash is looking at things from a working man’s perspective. It’s not just about race or him being racist but also about protecting his own interest by maintaining the status quo. In some ways what’s so despicable is him acting this way. There’s no one he can have power over unless it’s a race of people kept chained up. The great sins of America.
Touching a man’s genitalia with such intimacy is as if to say “I have the power right now to prevent your seed from every proliferating. This is what the institution of slavery has done to an entire race of people and I’m about to do it to you.” You come to see that it takes a man to stand up and say “This isn’t how the world works any more.”
A character called Ace Woody was folded into Billy Crash and when you have a movie of this scope you lose things. There were two really big scenes with Billy that we lost, explaining that he was Calvin Candie’s Mandingo fight trainer extraordinaire and a gunslinger who could equal Django. You would have seen a white man who was as skilled as Django with the gun and is equal to Django on every single level and, on paper, should beat Django but in that final scene, Django is faster, Django is the better man. That scene says that Django is better than Billy Crash.
I think that Justified comes from the mind of Elmore Leonard, and he’s not so dissimilar to Quentin in the sense that it’s violence served with humour, it’s a little heightened, it’s poetic. We’re not making a documentary on Justified, we’re making entertainment but not at the expense of a group of people, and I would not participate in an ongoing serialised show that did such a thing. When we first started I said the only way I’d play Boyd is if they made him the smartest guy in the room. It’s an opportunity to introduce the rest of the US, and people in other countries, to a different side of the South. They’re not just stupid, they’re not just racists. Boyd is self taught and as smart as anybody in any Ivy League school.
We’re back on Justified now, half way through shooting the season. They left my stuff in GI Joe alone [after the reshoots] so you’ll see me there in March. Everything I did is still there. It’s such a fun movie, it’s so big and I think there’s something in there for everyone. It’s big America, like the Superbowl. It’s what we do well and I’m proud of it.
I have a show that I’ve just sold with a writer friend of mine and we’re going out to networks soon. It’s about an American planted in another country. He doesn’t understand the culture or how things work. He’s neither the protagonist or the antagonist – he’s as much a part of the problem as he is the solution. It’s a way into seeing what life is really like in this other country. I love travel, I love spending time in other places – it’s not about just seeing museums for me, it can be about hanging out in just a one block radius and breaking bread with people.
Thanks to Walton for taking the time to speak with me. Django Unchained opens across the UK this Friday. The fourth series of Justified has just started screening in the US. Both come highly recommended.