Though he’s made a number of film appearances over the years (usually playing dim-witted rednecks), cult character actor Walton Goggins is probably best known in the UK for his TV work on The Shield and Justified.
But The Hateful Eight marks Goggins’ second collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, after the writer-director cast him in a minor role in his 2012 Western Django Unchained and subsequently wrote the part of former Confederate soldier Chris Mannix in his new movie with the actor in mind.
Matthew Turner sat down with Goggins to discuss his blossoming working relationship with Tarantino, his experiences of making The Hateful Eight, and his thoughts about joining the Two Movie Club.
This is your second movie with Tarantino. Do you know if he wrote the part with you in mind?
“I think he did. He’s said that in the press, for everybody in the movie, with the exception of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character and Demian Bichir’s character. He wrote the rest of them for all of us. Get the fuck outta here! Can you believe that, man?”
So how does that feel, to have Tarantino writing parts for you alongside the likes of Tim Roth and Michael Madsen?
[Sits back, makes amazed face] Flesh this out with your adjectives [makes more amazed faces, laughs]. Come on, I mean what do you say? There are bucket lists, right? And then there are buckets inside of that bucket list. And then there are buckets that you don’t even allow yourself an opportunity to purchase at the store, because they’re too special. And Django Unchained was the realisation of that for me. And if I sat in a room with Quentin, which is what I did for Django – he said, ‘Come in and pick three roles and let’s just talk’. And over the course of the next hour, I couldn’t believe what transpired, because it was so inspiring, what he does, the way he interacts creatively with actors, because he loves them so much.
“But at the end of that, of this great laughter and this great communion, I said, ‘But I’m not done – I’m going to read Sam Jackson’s role and Leonardo’s role and, at the time, this role Ace Woody, which was to be played by Kevin Costner. I said, ‘I know you’re not going to recast me in those roles but I don’t know if I’ll ever have this opportunity again – I’m going to say as many of your words as I possibly can in your company’. And he said, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it!’ And we spent another hour just going through the script, just celebrating his material, and he’s the kind of person who, at a moment’s notice, turns himself over to story and playing pretend. And for me, that in and of itself was enough. If it didn’t happen, I had that experience. And now, this is in some ways beyond my wildest dream and I’m grateful to move past the point of icon and say that he and this cast are my friends.”
So how would you categorize your working relationship with Quentin now? Is there a hint of future roles?
“You know, I don’t think that anyone ever allows themselves to think that. I think that you approach this with such humility and gratitude for being invited on this train. And whether or not it comes along again, well, that’s up to Quentin and the stars maybe aligning. You don’t even allow yourself to think in those terms.”
It’s a good sign though, right? You’re in the Two Movie Club…
“Well, I mean, yeah! Absolutely. How is that not a good sign? I really have spent my life not looking forward. I don’t play my heart or my vulnerability as a storyteller that way. It’s never what is going to get me here or what is going to get me there, it is about what is in front of me. And I find great happiness and peace in that. And that’s how I feel about this.”
What kind of preparation did you do for the film?
“I read a biography on Robert E. Lee, so that I could understand the way Mannix feels about Bruce Dern’s character, General Sandy Smithers. And you understand how divisive the Civil War is – I’m from the South originally, so I grew up with the South’s version of the Civil War – it was this divide along these principles about States’ rights and the Union and then about this issue of slavery. And to read that as we’re doing this film, and then the conjunction with what Quentin wrote and what happened in America over the last year [referring to Ferguson], it was surreal. We were living it, we were saying these words before an approximation of them were headlines in the New York Times. What an epic experience, man.”
Your character is much more central to the film than I was expecting. Were you surprised to get quite as many lines as you did?
“[Laughs] You know, to have a line in a Quentin Tarantino [film], I think is enough for most of us, and to have as many lines, if not more than anybody with the exception of Sam Jackson in a Quentin Tarantino [film] is an unbelievable gift, and then for the story to kind of go where it goes is one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Playing the kind of characters you play, you presumably don’t make it that far into too many films?
“Well, you know, I’ve been around for a long time, man. A very long time. And you spend the first part of your career [like that], unless you are that person who was anointed right out of the gate and you have that good fortune. That wasn’t my experience, but it happened for me in television with The Shield and with Justified. And you hope that you can do that kind of work long enough that you will be given an opportunity on the big screen to do what you’ve been doing for a number of years on television. After having the life that I’ve had, after having a passel of world experiences, I really feel like I’m coming into my own as an artist and I know what to do with it now – I really understand what it is that I have to give and I’m fearless about going to places that I don’t know if I can do. I don’t care anymore. Quentin has given me this opportunity.”
The Hateful Eight is in cinemas from Jan 8.