For over two decades, Walton Goggins has been one of the most chameleonic actors in cinema and television. His most recognizable role, as ‘Boyd Crowder’ on FX's Award-winning Drama series Justified, earned him an Emmy nomination and four Critics Choice Awards nominations and he garnered critical and fan praise alike for his long running portrayal of 'Detective Shane Vendrell' on the award-winning drama series The Shield. He recently launched into Blockbuster stardom with the new Tomb Raider franchise and the forthcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp, but don’t expect to find him amongst the Hollywood glitterati. He’s much more comfortable at home with his family - a normal guy who just happens to have a talent worth writing home about.
I arrive at the location for the shoot and immediately remark at its perfection - or rather, the perfection in its imperfections. Mirrored walls, yellowing stains on faded wallpaper, polyester drapes and a genuine CRT TV perched in the corner, frozen in time and salt-n-pepper static. It’s a true Hollywood gem of a seedy motel and the entire team couldn’t be more thrilled by the forty years of cigarette smoke still lingering in the air. It’s an iconic location for a memorable day with the most atypical of Hollywood stars, Walton Goggins. He walks through the doors of our motel ‘suite’ with that recognizable, ear-to-ear grin, lets out an audible salutation and spreads his arms wide as if to say, ‘I’m so ready for this.’
One week later I find myself wandering through the hallways of a newly renovated downtown Los Angeles building. I’m lost, really, and –– oh shit, oh shit I’m late for my interview with one of my all time most favorite actors on the planet, shiiiiiittttt. My cell buzzes. “Hello?” I ask with some hesitation. The voice that rings through from the other end of the line isn’t that of a publicist or a manager - no, that is the distinct voice of Walton Goggins himself. I can almost hear that wide smile through the phone and his Georgia twang is subtle, but it’s there. As a fellow Georgian myself, I certainly can’t miss that little detail. “Hey darlin’ where you at?” he asks brightly. “Um, I think I’m here I just don’t know which door it is.” “Ha Haaa!” he continues on with an impish recommendation: “Follow the music.” I can almost hear him wink when he says it. My ears perk up and there it is - Willie Nelson coming through loud and clear from behind door number three. I enter.
The room is beautiful and it has Walt written all over it –– in every hardwood detail, in every carefully chosen piece of art –– it’s as much a story about the man himself as it is a tasting room. Oh yeah, did we mention he has his own line of spirits with a DTLA tasting room? Mullholland Distilling is the brainchild of Goggins and longtime friend, Matthew Alper, and one of the first spirits brands in the city since Prohibition.
I remark on the uniqueness of the space and he admits he’s always had a fondness for interior design. “I was always into design, even when I was broke and my mother gave me like $100 to do my room when I was in high school.” He laughs at the thought and continues, “ And this guy she was dating, I talked him into helping me make this bed that I had in my mind. We built this platform bed that was on a pole, kind of like on these two poles in the center of the room. And that took, with the plywood, that took like $35 or $40. And then I bought the paint, white and black, and did a Pollack on one wall and taped it off and did stripes on another wall and did some other fucking designs.” We excitedly exchange stories about our penchant for painting walls as teenagers. Mine, I admit, was more of a feverish finger painting stint at 3am during one of my more moody evenings as a ‘tortured’ 16 year old. My parents left that mess up in my bedroom to this day (I think as a constant reminder they survived my teenage years) and Walt, a dedicated father himself, finds that hilarious and moving, “Wow! They must really love you.”
The interview moves from the bar to the half open window by the fire escape to allow for a cigarette break. It’s honestly more of a swapping of stories than it is a traditional interview, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Goggins is an adept and intriguing storyteller. He chooses his words carefully and places more importance on the authenticity of moment-to-moment exchanges than most artists I’ve met in Los Angeles. It’s likely why his career has been such a profound one and his performances so incredibly moving to those of us observing.
“As actors, we are storytellers. It’s not a new occupation. We’ve been doing it since we’ve been here... but I like to show up and put myself in a position where anything can happen – In my work, I like to do all my research and all of my studying away from everybody. Alone. So that when I show up to work, it’s a part of my DNA. I don’t try to manage or control what happens in that experience. You just react to it the way that you react to life. And I think if you do that, then you can fail miserably and you can also succeed splendidly and it is kind of what it is. I don’t really judge it either way. As long as I leave there satisfied at the end of the day –– that’s the main thing, that’s what I’m looking for.”
There’s a pause in the music and we both utter a ‘hell yes’ when John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” comes up next in the queue. Goggins worked with Prine years ago on a film with Billy Bob Thornton and this musical interlude provides the perfect segue into his next epic tale.
“So I get this phone call, right? I get this phone call, back when people had beepers I suppose, but we were camping in the middle of fucking nowhere in Yosemite and for some reason I said to my friend, I said ‘I think I need to check my answering machine at home’ and so I drove down, it was like this 30-40 minute drive, down to this one payphone up at Yosemite. And there it is, fuck, I’ve got a quarter... everyone had change back then,” he explains, “So I put it in and called home and checked my messages and sure enough, Billy [Bob Thornton] had called and said ‘Hey man, I got this thing that I’m doing, this movie and I want you to do it. And you got to get on a plane tomorrow.’ So I drove back up 45 minutes and called him and said ‘Hey man, I’m in! I’m in! I’m camping right now but goddammit, I’m going to make it!’”
Goggins has this kind of explosive YES attitude to life and it’s clear it has served him well throughout his career. He smiles, puts one hand over his face and throws his head back with the fond memory of this moment. After a pause he looks sideways over at me, one eye peeking through his index and middle fingers, and he asks, “Shall we drink?” I’m already halfway to the bar before the question mark is in the air.
If it’s even possible, Goggins is just as skilled at mixing a cocktail as he is in front of the camera. He takes the exact same care with every step of the process as I imagine he takes with each script he receives. It’s not just about the end result (although yes the end result can be delicious) it’s about the process. He begins peeling a fresh grapefruit and muses on this idea of the equal importance between process and outcome.
“Isn’t that kind of life in general? Even in the bar business, it’s not just the presentation. It’s the set-up, it’s the break down…” he curses under his breath as the shaker slips from his hand. He shakes his head, lets out a little laugh and then continues, “It’s like a film set. It’s not the movie that is the thing, it’s the making of the movie: that’s the thing. The same with this article, the same with this magazine. You could look at these pictures and think, ‘Wow, oh my god, they’re really, really cool!’ but it took a long time to get there. And this conversation is, what, 2 pages in a magazine? But there was all of this build-up. Your whole life that led you to this point to be able to fucking sit here and ask these questions or for me to be able to answer them... or to be in a position where you even want to know what I think about fucking anything?!! That’s what’s so crazy about it.”
The cocktail is complete. Goggins delicately places his creation on the bar in front of me –– it’s a perfect presentation and yes it tastes divine, but I have to admit I enjoyed watching him build it almost more than I’m enjoying drinking it. Every moment matters and it leads to the next, a ripple effect, a butterfly’s wings to a hurricane and so on and so forth.
Goggins is, at his core, a Southern man, although a liberal one at that. Throughout our conversation we have both remarked on our desire to see more authentic representations of our culture in media –– authenticity across the board, but of course the culture we were raised in remains at the forefront of our dialogue. It was, in fact, a non-negotiable point for him when he was beginning his work on Justified many years ago.
“I just said, ‘I want autonomy over Boyd Crowder’s journey. I need that.’ Because again, it’s my culture and I’m not going to sell my culture out. I want rural people in America, whether you’re from the South or you’re from a rural community anywhere in America, I want, as this person is a representation of those communities, I want him to be the smartest man in the room because that was my experience growing up. Not everybody in the South or in rural America is stupid, or ignorant or racist. That wasn’t my experience growing up, I didn’t always see those things.”
He’s wearing a hat today and he gingerly removes it and sits down next to me, a simple gesture that brings me back home to Georgia in an instant. His energy has transitioned from taut and charged to something more grounded. I can tell the conversation is about to shift, the change is palpable and fascinating. I watch him, the quiet struggle as he searches for the right words to explain what he believes is a missing piece –– the disconnect he’s noticing in the here and now.
“Conviction has been lost, I think, in 2018. What really, really moves people on a daily basis. We’re so fucking ironic in today’s society... If you’re being led by your contribution and not your ego, then there’s never any problem.”
He takes a sip of his drink and considers the moment. There’s a thoughtful pause before he turns and looks me square in the eye.
“You don’t have to know everything. You know your truth. You know your capacity, but you know that you are capable of exceeding your capacity. That’s truth. That’s gospel.”
Photographer: Jonny Marlow
Stylist: Justin Lynn
Grooming: Ermahn Ospina
@Tracey Mattingly using Tom Ford
Writer: Katie McGehee
Lighting Tech: Alex Feynves
Location: Harvard House Hotel