'The Hateful Eight's' Walton Goggins: On Being a Southerner in Hollywood
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
"The Hateful Eight" is a new Quentin Tarantino movie starring some big names - Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kurt Russell. It's about a bunch of really bad people caught in a blizzard in Wyoming during the 1880s. It also stars Walton Goggins. That's a not so big name in a pretty big role. He's this lean and hungry-looking guy who early on in the film convinces the others to give him a ride in their stagecoach.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT")
WALTON GOGGINS: (As Chris Mannix) Anyhoo (ph), I'm just trying to let y'all know how grateful I am. I was a goner, and you all saved me.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You want to show me how grateful you are?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Get in there.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Shut up.
MCEVERS: Goggins plays the chatty guy, Chris Mannix. He's a Confederate. Goggins has played a lot of Southern characters in movies and on TV. He grew up in a small town outside of Atlanta, and he told us he used to spend a lot of time trying to not be that guy from the South. So when he first moved to LA at the age of 19, he went to an acting teacher.
GOGGINS: The first thing he handed me was a book of sonnets by Shakespeare and he said, you need to lose that accent. So I started a valet parking service and just, you know, sat outside in that chair after parking cars feverishly for a couple hours and just read those sonnets over and over and over and over again.
MCEVERS: Out loud.
GOGGINS: Out loud. It changed my life. He was right.
MCEVERS: How did you sound?
GOGGINS: Probably a little like - a little like, hello, my name's Walton Goggins. Nice to meet you. I'm from Lithia Springs, Ga. (Laughter).
GOGGINS: And that turned into, hi my name is Walton Goggins and I'm originally from Georgia, a little small town called Lithia Springs.
MCEVERS: (Laughter). That's awesome.
GOGGINS: That's what you get with Shakespeare's sonnets.
MCEVERS: (Laughter). So you just bought it. The guy's like, got to lose the accent, and you were like, OK, whatever you say, sir.
MCEVERS: Was your accent ever a barrier to getting roles, to getting parts?
GOGGINS: No, I don't think so. I think when you first come into this business, it is very easy for people to put you in a box. And if you come from where I come from, you can bet you're going to play a racist. It's convenient. You can bet you're going to play someone that's stupid. That's just how this business sees people from the South - at least, early on. And I suppose it's no different than someone that's Italian from New York. You can bet you're going to be in the mafia. That's just an easy way to say a line and get a job and feed yourself. And eventually over time, you know, you hope that you earn the right through your work to actually be able to articulate a point of view about where you come from, and that's been my journey.
MCEVERS: That journey has included playing the character Shane Vendrell, the corrupt cop from the FX show "The Shield," a slave owner in "Django Unchained" and perhaps the most complicated of his bad Southerner roles, Boyd Crowder from another FX show, "Justified." In this scene, he explains to his nemesis, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, how he manipulates skinheads by using fake Bible stories.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JUSTIFIED")
GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) In the beginning, you had your mud people. Now, they were also referred to as beasts because they had no souls, see, they were soulless. And then Cain, he laid down with the mud people. And out of these fornications came the Edomites. Do you know who the Edomites are?
TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Who?
GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) They're the Jews, Raylan.
OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) You're serious?
GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Read your Bible as interpreted by experts.
OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Oh, you know Boyd, I think you just use the Bible to do whatever the hell you like.
MCEVERS: Goggins says he actually turned down that role twice because it was supposed to be this one-dimensional character who dies in the pilot. He says he didn't want Boyd Crowder to be another stereotype.
GOGGINS: I said, you know, I've earned the right not to represent my culture in this way anymore and I refuse to do that...
GOGGINS: ...When that wasn't my experience growing up, and I don't need the money. And then they kind of kept coming back and we began having these conversations. And I said in order for me to do this, I have to have autonomy over this character. I want him to be someone that is self-taught that knows the classics backwards and forwards but didn't have the opportunity or the support to continue his education. And that's really, you know, where my journey as Boyd Crowder began in earnest.
MCEVERS: It sounds like it's difficult then to play a Southerner and have to bring these sort of despicable characteristics to the screen, and that you've pushed back against that with this character. But yet you keep getting asked to play these bad people, right? I mean, Boyd Crowder's not the last bad person you had to play.
GOGGINS: Yeah. I - for a long time, I just wanted to be in a romantic comedy. I said, what's wrong and why can't people just look at me and laugh in that way? Does that make me dirty, right, because I'm a bad guy? Am I dirty? You know, as this existential kind of conversation with yourself. And then I realized, no, man, no. You know what's happening right now? I'm getting an opportunity to take these characters that, on paper, should be sold down the river immediately and fully flesh out their humanity.
MCEVERS: Which brings us back to his role in Quentin Tarantino's new movie, "The Hateful Eight." Here he is again as Chris Mannix, the son of Confederate militia man Erskine Mannix, meeting a Southern general played by Bruce Dern.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT")
GOGGINS: (As Chris Mannix) Boy, oh boy, did my daddy talk about you. I heard you gave those blue bellies sweet hell.
BRUCE DERN: (As Sandy Smithers) Me and my boys did our part just like Erskine and his boys did their part.
GOGGINS: (As Chris Mannix) Hell, yeah, we did. Yankee sons of [expletive].
MCEVERS: At this point, all the characters in the movie are trapped in a hostel during the snowstorm. Everybody has a past and everybody seems to be lying. Goggins's character, Chris Mannix, says he's the sheriff of a town called Red Rock. Goggins remembers when he first read the script in the director's backyard.
GOGGINS: I spent the better part of three hours saying, oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, God, oh, my God. And that's just kind of what you do when you're reading a Quentin Tarantino script, much like a viewer or an audience watching it.
MCEVERS: Yeah, I did that.
GOGGINS: Yeah. You could hear him inside just laughing, and at the end of it he walked out. And I said, Quentin, I just have one question for you. I said, am I, or am I not the sheriff of Red Rock? And he said, I need you to answer that question, and I don't want to know your answer to that question. And that was really, you know, the jumping-off point for me.
MCEVERS: Describe what he's like - Chris Mannix.
GOGGINS: You meet him and you think, wow, how - well, if that's Walton Goggins, this is going to be a pretty nasty guy. And then you quickly realize that could just blow him over with one exhale, that he's an unruly adolescent in an arrested state of development. And that's where you meet him. And he's just regurgitating a world view that was dictated by his father.
GOGGINS: And over the course of this movie - without giving anything away - you know, he gets an opportunity to, after reverting to being a 4-year-old little boy at one moment, to actually becoming a man, you know, and making those decisions for himself.
MCEVERS: Now that "The Hateful Eight" is out, Goggins says he still doesn't have any plans to do a romantic comedy. He will be in a comedy soon, HBO's "Vice Principals," which means it's time to say goodbye to all those complicated Southern characters that first got him noticed.
GOGGINS: I haven't had an opportunity to really mourn letting go of Boyd Crowder or Chris Mannix. They're all there and maybe on the other side of talking to people like yourself, I'll take some time to let them go properly.
MCEVERS: That's actor Walton Goggins. His newest movie, "The Hateful Eight," is out now.
Thank you so much for your time.
GOGGINS: Really, really nice to chat with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.