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Walton Goggins Gets Medieval in Quentin Tarantino’s <i>Django Unchained</i>

Walton Goggins has been a force to be reckoned with on cable television for over a decade now, starting with his explosive turn as Shane Vendrell on FX's The Shield and continuing through that network's top-notch procedural Justified as Boyd Crowder, the frenemy of lawman Raylan Givens. This fall, Goggins has key roles in two major Oscar hopefuls as well, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, both of which deal with America's tortured history with slavery... albeit in dramatically different ways. In Lincoln, Goggins portrays Congressman Clay Hutchins, who wrestles with whether to support the passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Django, meanwhile, casts him as Billy Crash, the appallingly racist henchman of plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) -- a role that requires him to torture Jamie Foxx's titular hero in particularly memorable fashion. Goggins spoke with TWoP about making both movies back-to-back, what to expect from Justified's fourth season (which kicks off on January 8), and shares exclusive details about the TV project he has in the pipeline next.

TWoP: Since you're currently starring on a show set in the modern-day South, was it interesting for you to make a movie that, in a way, functions as a prelude to where the region is today?
Walton Goggins: I see where you're going with the evolution of race relations in this country and how we're still a work in progress. But to me, Justified has nothing to do with race. It has to do with the journey of these two men and how they came from the same place and took two very different paths. Thinking about it though, there was that storyline last year with Noble's Holler, where the African-Americans lived on one side and the poor whites lived on the other. You know, it's hard -- rural America has really been left behind economically speaking. Hopefully what's happening is that we're moving past race and the problem is becoming more about economics and people without real opportunities, regardless of the color of their skin.

TWoP: In addition to Django Unchained, you've also got a role in Lincoln, the fall's other major Hollywood movie about slavery. That film has been doing really well at the box office. How do you think Tarantino's more stylized version might fare with the public?
Goggins: I keep my expectations to a minimum about everything. For me, the experience of working with Quentin Tarantino and all of these actors is enough, as well as telling this story, which really means a lot to me. It's an experience that's locked away in a very special box inside my heart. How will people receive it? I don't know. I can tell you how I perceived it and I think the movie is revolutionary. I think it is bold and from the mind of a person who is able to speak with an authentic voice. I've been a fan of Quentin's for so long and I think this is the next step in his canon of material. What I hope people will see is that Lincoln dealt with legislation and Django deals with revolution and you need both to change. So it's appropriate that these movies are coming out at the same time, because I think they speak to the perfect recipe for what any society needs to change and evolve its behavior.

TWoP: Did you shoot the movies back-to-back?
Goggins: Almost, man. It took a lot of people changing their schedules for me to get the opportunity to do Lincoln. Clay Hutchins was a character I really wanted to play, a guy who was not morally conflicted about making the right decision, but was intimated by the people in his party. Then he was given the opportunity to get a patronage job and he saw his way out. It was like, I don't need my party anymore -- I'll be taken care of. Then that job was taken away from him and in the face of that, he still does the right thing. I talked to the people at FX and they really wanted me to have that experience. So we started Justified in October 2011, then I was going back and forth with Lincoln in November, then back at Justified until March 1 and then I was on Django by March 15. What's hard now is speaking in front of other people as myself, because I got the chance to go from our writers' interpretations of Elmore Leonard's words to Tony Kushner's words to Quentin motherfuckin' Tarantino's words! So I hear Walton Goggins speak and I'm disappointed. [Laughs]

TWoP: Tarantino frequently writes characters -- particularly bad guys -- who are hyper-real. How did you honor that without becoming a complete cartoon?
Goggins: Honestly, it's something I've been given the opportunity to do so many times in my career. If you look at the things I've been involved with, going back to Shanghai Noon or even Predators, I've been asked to play these guys who are nefarious in a heightened way. They're serious when they need to be, but also bring about a lot of heightened humor. It's the same with Boyd on Justified and Shane on The Shield, whose humor came out of pessimism. On that show, I got to be the guy who experienced true grief and regret and be the guy who said the stupid-ass things that came out of Shane's mouth and made everyone laugh. I feel like I'm at my best when I'm playing a character where you don't know when or whether to laugh. And that's what Quentin does, so for me to get an opportunity to work with the master, well... do you see the grin on my face?

TWoP: You also get to act out what's probably Tarantino's most memorable torture scene since the ear-slicing sequence in Reservoir Dogs where Billy prepares to castrate Django.
Goggins: Yes, the balls scene! "Let's play ball, boy!" God knows, that scene was so hard. We did it a lot of different ways, but the end of the day it is a man hanging upside down in a barn and another man is going to prevent him from ever procreating. And that's what the institution of slavery did to an entire race of people for 245 years, man. All of us in that moment thought a lot of different things and we thought the scene could be a lot of different things. Originally, it was a little bit longer and there was a monologue that Billy gave that could go all over the map. But when you step back and look at it, this is the story we're telling in this moment and it's a horrible atrocity. I'm grateful to be in the service of this story by Quentin Tarantino.

TWoP: What can you tease about Season 4 of Justified?
Goggins: This season I think you're going to see Raylan and Boyd have their relationship fractured in a way that probably will be unrepairable. We went back to the roots this year, back to Raylan and Boyd's story. And the incredible guest stars that come through have arcs that are three or four episodes, which allows us to really see how they affect these two guys. I'm excited about it, man. I hope that we get six years. I could play Boyd for a long time.

TWoP: You started out as a producer as well as an actor; in fact, your 2001 short The Accountant won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. Do you have any plans to move back into feature film producing?
Goggins: My creative partner, Ray McKinnon, and I made four films, starting with that short. Our first feature was Chrystal, which went to Sundance, followed by Randy and the Mob and That Evening Sun with Hal Holbrook. I love the process of guiding people though the filmmaking experience and I've been able to do it on an independent level. Now, the thing I'm most excited about is going back into television as an executive producer with my own story. That's something I'm very close to doing right now. We just finished the script and it's with Fox Television Studios right now. If we had our druthers, it would be on cable for sure, FX first and foremost because that's my family. When I'm there, I'm home.

TWoP: Would this be a show for you to star in when Justified ends its run?
Goggins: No, I don't care who plays the role. I just want to be behind it. It's the story of a guy who -- through a turn of events and living beyond his means -- winds up losing everything and has to move in with his wife's in-laws. His wife's Latina, so she lives in Mexico. It's a fish out of water story and a show about how Mexico has been affected by American and America has been affected by Mexico. The protagonist is as much a part of the problem as he is the solution. What we're trying to do is a 360-degree exploration of another culture. I think that the American audience is ready for it. The show would be bilingual and what I'd love by the end of the first season is to do a whole episode in another language and people would followed it because they were so invested in the world.

TWoP: On a final note, this year marked the 10th anniversary of The Shield premiere. What do you remember about the show a decade later?
Goggins: I was 29 years old when we started that! I definitely had more hair and I've definitely lost it now. [Laughs] A lot of times I don't see the things I've done, but I was watching TV in my hotel room in New Orleans while shooting Django and an episode of The Shield came on. It was from Season 2, when the Strike Team goes down to Mexico and I just looked at my buddies, Kenny [Johnson] and Chickie and Dave [Snell] and I thought, "Man, we were the shit! Look at us, man. Look at all of us." And you know, when the series finale came around, we didn't know how people were going to respond to what happens to Shane. But when we watched it with 400 people, the entire crowd went quiet -- the only sound you heard was crying. And I thought, "We got 'em."

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