Walton Goggins is familiar to most of the entertainment-consuming public as either Boyd Crowder from Justified or Venus Van Dam from Sons of Anarchy, both meaty roles on long-running TV shows with dedicated followings. But thanks to the efforts of Quentin Tarantino, Goggins may henceforth be known for his much-lauded performance as Chris Mannix, the supposed sheriff-to-be who ends up playing a pivotal role in The Hateful Eight, currently playing in a theater near you. Vulture caught up with Goggins to talk texting with the Hateful Eight cast, why Tarantino is like an "oasis," and the difference between playing a character over two hours and playing them for an entire season.
How’s it going?
Look at the smile on my face.
You seem pretty happy.
I’m really happy, man. Like, anyone who’s ever been remotely in a position like the one I currently find myself in, and that means a contractor who gets a great opportunity to build a house from an architect that he’s admired or loved, that’s how I feel, you know? There’s been a string of that, all culminating in this grand life experience with Quentin and this role of Chris Mannix and my Hateful Eight family, these actors. It’s extraordinary.
I talked to Kurt Russell recently, and he said that all the Hateful Eight actors have a text chain going, and that an uncommon, enduring relationship was formed on set.
It doesn’t happen ever. Seven months after you wrap a movie, you have the likes of the people in this cast, from Kurt to Sam [Jackson] to Jennifer [Jason Leigh] to Tim [Roth] to Demián [Bichir], all in different countries, texting 30 times a day? Come on, man. [Laughs.] That doesn’t happen with friends you’ve had for 20 years! It’s very real, and it’s very unique. I think we just all respect each other so much, and respect Quentin, and respect the opportunity to make this movie, and what we went through to make this movie.
Within the cast, you’re kind of the newcomer: You’ve been around for a long time, but compared to guys like Sam Jackson and Kurt Russell, you’re on the rise. When Quentin came to you with this part, what was your reaction?
I suppose the true way for me to answer that question is to be silent, because there are no words. Maybe, in your article, you just put "dot dot dot," because that really is the truth. What do you say? I never for once doubted that I would be able to do it, I just wanted to do it for him, and to be included in this group of people. Grateful is such an overused word, but I truly am, man. I was humbled, and I understood what it meant.
But you can't stay in the mind-set of I can’t believe this is happening to me for too long. I tried to just move past that and instead start thinking, What can I bring to him, and what can I bring to the other actors, and to this crew, and to everybody else, every single day? For me, it was: How can I start here, in an arrested state of development, as a person who has never had his own worldview, let alone his own real, independent thought, someone who, when Major Warren is shot, becomes a 4-year-old little boy? He falls down on that ground and he has, for the first time in his life, no real authority figure. That’s it. He’s alone. Then, over the course of the last chapter of this movie, Chris Mannix becomes a man.
One of the most interesting things about the production is that you guys are all basically in the same room for the entire movie. How did acting that way compare to other work you’ve done?
We can, I think, definitively say that Quentin Tarantino has created characters that will stand the test of time. He’s written a story where, like you said, you have eight super characters, all in a room rubbing up against each other all the time. What’s extraordinary about that is to hear Quentin’s dialogue, to see how good he is at writing complicated relationships, all played out in one space, and to see how deep the story is in any given frame. Because if you’re focused on Sam Jackson’s character, Major Warren, or what’s going on with Chris Mannix, or with Kurt and Jennifer over by the bar, it’s a completely different story within that frame, happening simultaneously. Then you look past them, at Oswaldo Mobray, and if he’s alone, what’s going on with him. And if Quentin pans just a little bit to the left, then you see Michael Madsen sitting right over there, what’s going on with him.
Those are five different stories all being played out in one frame. You don’t get the opportunity to do that, really, with 35mm. It’s just a different animal when you have 70mm, and no matter where you put that camera, you see that much of the room. That is very unique, and I don’t know, maybe it’s a Tarantino super-fucking-universe [laughs], I don’t know what it is, man, but it was extraordinary to watch, because you get to see the work.
It’s like how players on good teams play better because they’re playing with good players.
That’s right. So often, you’re just not called on the day when the coolest scene in the movie’s going to be shot. We were all there for every single frame of this movie. It is like a play in the sense that you’re sitting at a table where everybody’s talking, and then one person gets up and everybody else goes dark. And then that person talks and talks and talks and talks, and then we all kind of come back together again, and then another person stands out onstage by themselves with a spotlight and talks and talks and talks and talks. And everybody has that opportunity, every single person gets to shine in that way. Whether we were on camera or off camera, we were all on that stage, right in that snow, and you just got to see the work, man. It was really special. At the end of it, you could just go, [claps] fuck yes! Okay, I’m up next, can I get an espresso? Give me a cappuccino! [Laughs.]
Quentin did a big interview with us this year, and he was talking about you, and he had this really funny line where he was like, Walton had been doing all this faux-Quentin dialogue for so long, and I wanted to give him the real thing! What is it about his writing that is so enjoyable for actors?
What’s so good about the song that you want to listen to over and over and over again? Go through all of his movies, look at Christopher Walken — there’s not a speech that Quentin Tarantino has ever written that people haven’t thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed. You don’t get writing like that. People aren’t able to write that way. It's just sitting down at one the best restaurants in the world and then masticating to the point of sickness because you can’t get enough of the food. It’s like that with his words. When you’ve been in the desert for a very long time, and you come across an oasis like Quentin Tarantino and his words, you just want to drink it, man. It just tastes that sweet.
You played characters on two different shows that were both beloved by incredibly intense fanbases. This year you did a bunch of movies. I know you’ve done movies before, but what’s that transition been like? How is it different to live in a character for years versus being able to come in and do your thing and move on?
Playing a character over 84 hours will wear you out if you give a shit. I don’t know how to do it any other way. I want to know who this person is. Until they say cut for the last time, I want to know. That is exhausting, but it is also exhilarating. But to dip in and do a movie, it’s kind of having the best of both worlds. Because sometimes it’s nice to just eat at a restaurant once and get a full belly and then move on.
I’ve been around for a long time, and I’ve done a lot of movies, but now I’m getting to participate in movies the way that I want to, and I’m getting to say something more substantial. I like it, man, I really like it. There’s something to a limited commitment that in some ways allows you to not even have to slow down a minute, because it’s a two-month to six-month process, whereas the two shows I’ve been on have been a seven- and six-year process, respectively.
Which is a long process!
Yeah, yeah! But that being said, I don’t think there’s an actor worth his weight in salt who wouldn’t go back to television in some way for 13 episodes. You can’t tell a story in two hours, in two-and-a-half hours, in the way you can tell a story in 13. If you have the luxury and opportunity to live in both worlds, and now there is no judgment either way, why not take it, man? If you’re passionate about the story and you get the chance to tell it, regardless of the platform, just say it, man.