Interview: Walton Goggins of 'Django Unchained'
On race, re-mixed history, Tarantino, The Drive-By Truckers and what he always steals ...
With his features easily turned to emphasize the haggard air and haunted eyes -- eyes, as the poet said, like the devil's sick of sin -- Walton Goggins has made a sideline in sputtering killers and swaggering crimelords. But he's also a deft comedic actor, and even his most brutal characters have their human moments -- indeed, some would argue that Goggins' work as Shane Vendrell on "The Shield" is an acting achievement on par with Oscar-level work at a time when the bar for acting on TV was raised by heavy-hitters like James Gandolfini. And while he's along for the ride in Tarantino's maniacal and majestic "Django Unchained," he's also, ironically, in Spielberg's "Lincoln" as well, a single actor bridging two films that, in an insane way, would make a hell of a double-bill. We spoke with Goggins by phone while he was in New York about "Django Unchained," the morality of cinema, and the American rock-and-roll of The Drive-By Truckers.
MSN Movies: You got to work with Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, never mind the weird, historical and sort of like cultural similarities and differences between the two films. But in a given year when you get to work with those two directors. you've got to be feeling pretty good about how your career's going.
Walton Goggins: C'mon man, like talk about walking amongst giants? You know? It's an extraordinary coincidence of events, man. I'm still kind of reeling from these two experiences kind of back to back. peppered with my show in the middle.
And that's the other thing, with "Justified" going great and all of that. But I mean more importantly, all kidding aside; those have to be very different sets. Can you talk a little bit about the differences when you're working with on something like "Lincoln" and on something like "Django"?
Well you know, one movie deals with legislation and it's effort to change the hearts and minds and laws in this country, and most of it is spent with Lincoln or in the House of Representatives and it's quieter and it's raucous when it needs to be. The other deals with change through revolution, and it is loud and violent and funny and all of the things that happened during revolution. And so yeah, they were very different. Both Quentin and Steven are so passionate about what they do and how they do it, and they're so confident in their ability and comfortable with what they do that they allow themselves a lot of freedom to improvise and find shots in moments and find moments within the shot that are even more specific, are more pointed to what it is that they're saying. Steven is in some ways a little more reserved in the way that it kind of comes out, and Quentin is a little more passionate in the sense that it's a little bigger than life. And you just, it's everything that you want., like the combination of both of those people. It's everything that you want when you set out to tell a story. You want to approach it from both ways, and I really, these experiences back to back will serve me in ways that I'm still trying to understand going forward.
I mean, moving on with "Django Unchained," one of the big pleasures of that film is this sort of comprehensiveness of the ensemble and that you'd throw a rock, you're going to hit somebody interesting who knows how to hold the screen, who knows the part they're doing, but still finding time to do all of that. When you read the script, did you know…
I think then the same thing applies to "Lincoln."
Go ahead. But we're talking about "Django."
But when you read the script and you saw the kind of stuff that Billy was doing, the very specific antagonism and a very specific resolution, were you thinking, "Yeah, I can do that. There's stuff, there's room there for me to make an impression in my antagonism with Jamie Foxx's character"?
Yeah, absolutely. The Billy Crash that I started with is not the Billy Crash that I ultimately ended up with in the sense that when I first got there Billy Crash was in the three or four scenes and one of which was really funny and tender and involved the story line with Broomhilde. And then when Kevin Costner dropped out, or not dropped out, when Kevin Costner had a scheduling conflict and then Kurt Russell had a scheduling conflict, Quentin came to me and said, "I want you to play this role of Ace Woody, but he's going to be, we're going to call him Billy Crash." So then it became kind of a hybrid of both of them.
But even in terms of the expediency of putting those things together, still having stuff there in the script and on film, to really put together a strong set of impressions in terms of character-making.
Exactly, yeah. I knew that there were some things that ultimately didn't make it in the movie. But even barring those things, I felt like this is something I can really sink my teeth into. Given an opportunity I can make them laugh the way that Quentin has his characters speak kind of his comedy, his sense of humor, his kind of absurd kind of world view on things, his poetic dialogue.
And then I can also make them cringe the way that Quentin needs for a slaver in this situation to make the audience cringe.
And yeah, also the whole thing of no matter how well anybody works to replicate the horror of slavery, it's a drop in a bucket compared to the reality.
It is the drop in the bucket, and when you set out to do it and the scene in particular of myself and our Billy Crash and Django in the barn, I think what Quentin and I both tried to do and what he again kept reiterating is that you have to go there. You can't be safe in the situation. You can't play this safe. In an effort to be as reverential as we possibly can to the horrors inflicted on an entire race of people we have to be as honest as we possibly can in this moment. As we all know that that was a drop in the bucket; that was but a letter in the novel of atrocities committed against slaves in this country.
I mean, the movie is so indebted to the tradition of the classic Western. At the same time it questions those traditions, right? I mean a bunch of us have been saying that the movie uses the n-word once for every time you didn't hear it one of the classic Westerns like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" or "Winchester '73." Do you have Westerns that you just love as these complicated stories of America that you know aren't historically right but are so damn entertaining you love them anyhow?
Well you know "High Noon," I mean that's a fictional account, right, of a movie?
And is that real? I don’t know. Did that happen? Probably in some town somewhere a version of that story played itself out, I would think.
You know "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," my God, it's one of the greatest Westerns ever made.
You know? But I don’t know that there are specific examples out there that can answer your question because only Quentin Tarantino can answer that question.
It's a Quentin Tarantino film that can answer that question, and he pays homage to all the things that have influenced him as a filmmaker. And in the process of doing so creates his own genre of which there have been eight films made, you know? And they're all directed and penned by Quentin Tarantino.
And they all work as these kinds of great combinations of character and culture in terms of like using the films to look at that. Do you ever say to your agent, your people, "I really need to play a decent human being soon?" I mean, I know Boyd Crowder has turned into this great anti-hero, but on film you usually get to show up and glower at people.
Yeah, you know, yeah.
It's a living, and you do it superbly. But I mean, is there a desire to maybe break out of that a little bit?
Yeah, I don’t think that they're repeats.
I think that they're all individual experiences. And I just think like "Lincoln" was a very good man ultimately. He morally did the right. He was never in his seat of power and was very fearful about the company that he kept. And that's obviously very different from Billy Crash. I think "Predators" is something I still hang my hat on. I think it's a fantastic movie. And Stans was a despicable human being, but he was really funny. I think with "G.I. Joe," it's something different with "Sons of Anarchy" ...
That's something different, but I agree with you. And yeah, I would do a romantic comedy tomorrow if I was offered it, you know?
But you go where the work is, and then you slowly try to change or add to the perception that people have of you. And that's for some people like me who has been doing this for as long as I've been doing it, those changes happen incrementally. And I think I'm finally at a point where I'm able to pick and choose the next thing that I want to do and to move in that direction, so I'm excited about it. I feel like I have more to offer now at this stage in my life than I've ever had to offer before.
It's really funny and I don't want to be that guy, but a couple months ago I was at a Drive-By Truckers show at the Troubadour and you were there and clearly enjoying it, which is a) a good sign, and b) I'm curious what is it you're listening to. Are you a big rock and roll guy or is that just a case of that being a band too good to pass up?
Well Patterson Hood and the Drive-by Truckers are very good friends of mine.
We have used their music in every film that, I've used their music in every film that I've made with my partner, my filmmaking partner Ray. And so from the short film that we did, which they weren't able to participate in at the last minute, but we almost used a couple of their cues to the very last film that we produced, "That Evening Sun," either Patterson has written original songs or we've used the Drive-By Truckers on every single soundtrack. So they're really good friends, and then my music tastes are all over the map. They're really all over the map, and I'm really proud of the music that we've put in the four films that we've made. I listen to music cinematically. I think about music and how it would make me feel when it's put to an image, a moving image, and I love it. I just kind of file them away. I stick them in a folder on my computer. But probably my favorite music, believe it or not, is sad music. I love me a little Ben Harper and Damien Jurado or Micah P. Hinson or A. A. Bondy or On Down the Line. I love Drake. I love Eminem. I love Notorious B.I.G. I love everything. I love Roscoe Holcomb. I love the Preservation Hall Band. There are a lot of different things that I have on my playlist, and it's just random when I sit down to listen to something. I just scroll through and pick it.
This is going to seem like an amusing question considering you're in two of the best films of the year, but what film left this year are you most excited about having the chance to see and enjoy for yourself?
I am really, very excited to see "Zero Dark Thirty." I can't wait to see that movie. And I can't wait to see "Rust and Bone." Just Marion Cotillard, if I had one obsession, if I could get put in jail for like stalking someone it would be her. She's just such a, such an incredible actor. I can't wait to see that. And yeah, it's probably those two. There's some really good films that have been made this year.
It's been an amazing year.
"Silver Linings Playbook" is just an extraordinary film I thought. I just didn't want it to be over, and it moved me so many times. "Argo." I'm from Georgia, so Jimmy Carter has a very special place in my heart, and I wasn’t aware that this scheme was going on at that time when the hostages were taken. There's so many really good films out. "Moonrise Kingdom."
"Moonrise Kingdom" is the best movie that he's made in a long time, and Wes Anderson has made some really good films.
It's nice to see him getting outside again.
Are you somebody who keeps things? Do you have a little piece of "Django Unchained" that you picked up and wandered off with? A hat? A gun? A great looking sneer?
Yeah, I keep something kind of personal from everything. Like from "The Shield" I have Shane's jacket, and from "Justified" I haven’t had a need to steal anything yet.
But from "Predators" I have his shoes, and from "Django" I have little bitty thing that I carry in my pocket, which is ... kind of personal. And yeah, I steal. I'm a klepto near the end of the filming. I'm coming home with something.
Thank you for this interview with Walton Goggins. Ever since I saw him on the Shield, he has been one of my favorite actors. He just appears to inhabit his characters. I enjoy watching all of his performances. I especially appreciate his scenes with Timothy Olyphant, on Justified, where they are both at the top of their game. I have seen Lincoln and I am anticipating seeing Django.