Walton Goggins: Playing Bad Boy Boyd On 'Justified'
This interview was originally broadcast on May 26, 2010. Justified returns for a third season on Fx on January 17, 2012 at 10pm EST.
One of actor Walton Goggins' earliest moments on stage came at a Georgia hog-calling competition when he was just 10 years old.
"I walked up onstage, and they had to adjust the mike for sure, and just leaned up on my tiptoes and just let out the biggest hog call that has ever been heard in my family, certainly," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And I won — I got a big trophy with a large hog on top. I have it in my office."
Goggins says his days on the hog-calling circuit certainly helped propel him toward an acting career. Though he's played many characters over the years, he is perhaps best known for his roles on The Shield — where he played a member of a corrupt narcotics squad — and the current FX series Justified, where he plays a white supremacist turned born-again Christian named Boyd Crowder.
Crowder also happens to be a fugitive bank robber hiding in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and an old buddy of the county's newest U.S. marshal, played by Timothy Olyphant — who's now on the other side of the law.
Acquiring the long drawl he uses to portray the quick-witted Crowder, says Goggins, took quite a bit of time.
"It is supposed to be a Kentucky accent," he says. "I don't know quite how accurate it is. I did study a little bit about people from Kentucky and how they talk. ... It's different because the cadence is so specific to Elmore Leonard," the author of the books the show is based on. "And it's slightly stilted and heightened in a way that ... speaks to Boyd's intelligence. More often than not, I haven't seen Southern characters like this with a penchant and a love for words."
On playing a white supremacist
"I never believed that Boyd Crowder was a white supremacist, to be quite honest with you. ... It was very important for me as an actor not to play this guy as a white supremacist but to play him as a bit of a Svengali: a person who doesn't necessarily believe all that he espouses. ... [In one episode] Tim says 'Boyd, I don't think you believe everything that you're saying. I think you just like to blow stuff up.' And that was very important to me."
On having to wear a swastika tattoo and spout racist and anti-Semitic remarks
"Honestly, it was awful. ... We did a table reading of this script, and ... immediately after, I felt like I had to say 'I'm sorry. I don't believe any of this. A lot of my best friends are Jewish.' It's difficult, and it's difficult to have a swastika on your arm. And I actually wore it home. I didn't let them take it off. I kept it with me during the process of filming the pilot episode. ... You're certainly affected by ink on your body, and something as powerful as a swastika and the negative connotations that come along with that. I definitely wanted to feel that, and there were times during the day when I wasn't working and I was out at dinner, that I would roll up my T-shirt and I would leave the swastika there just to see people's reactions. And there was one time when I was with Tim, when I had rolled my shirt up just to see what would happen, and Tim didn't notice it for about five minutes until there were tourists walking through the lobby of the hotel who almost gasped — like, you could hear it, you could hear them step back with their Starbucks coffee in their hands. And Tim said, 'Please, please roll down your shirt. Please. Or I'm gonna have to leave you here alone.' "
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
The third season of the FX series "Justified" kicks off on Tuesday. Walton Goggins co-stars as Boyd Crowder in the series. Before "Justified" Goggins co-starred on another FX series "The Shield," playing Shane Vendrell, a detective on a special-but-corrupt narcotics strike team.
Terry Gross spoke with Walton Goggins in 2010. Here's a scene from the premiere episode of "Justified" when Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant, first reignites with Boyd, who at the time was recruiting a band of white supremacists. Boyd and Raylan used to work together in the coal mines as teenagers. Now, they're on opposite sides of the law. Boyd, played by Goggins, speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JUSTIFIED")
WALTON GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Yeah, all those days, good and bad, they all long gone now. Everything's changed. It's all changed. Mine has changed. No more following the seam underground. It's cheaper to take the tops off mountains and let the slag run down and ruin the creeks. Hey, you remember the picket lines, don't you? Of course, backing the company scabs and gun thugs. Whose side do you think the government's always been on, Raylan, us or people with money? And who do you think controls that money? Who do you think wants to mongrelize the world?
TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (as Raylan Givens): Who?
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) The Jews.
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Boyd, you know any Jews?
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) See, I recruit skins. They don't know no more than you do. And I have to teach them that we have a moral obligation to get rid of the Jews. See, it was in the Bible.
OLYPHANT: (as Givens): Where?
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) In the beginning. It's part of creation. See, in the beginning, right, 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 - you remember Cain now?
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Mm-hmm.
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Well, Cain, he laid down with the mud people, and out of these fornications came the Edomites. Do you know who the Edomites are?
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Who?
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) They're the Jews, Raylan.
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You're serious.
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Read your Bible, as interpreted by experts.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You know, Boyd, I think you just use the Bible to do whatever the hell you like.
GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Well, what do you think I like, Raylan?
OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You like to get money and blow (bleep) up.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
That's a scene from the FX series "Justified."
Walton Goggins, welcome to FRESH AIR. Did you feel like you had to figure out why some people become white supremacists before you could play one?
GOGGINS: On some level, but I never believed that Boyd Crowder was a white supremacist, to be quite honest with you. In my conversations with both the network and with Graham Yost, our executive producer, and Tim Olyphant, it was very important for me as an actor not to play this guy as a white supremacist but to play him as a bit of a svengali: a person who doesn't necessarily believe all that he espouses.
You know, I've made four Southern movies. I've been in quite a few Southern films. And initially, when this was sent to me, I wasn't interested in playing another Southern guy labeled as a racist.
You know, I think racism is a problem throughout our country, and it's not confined to those states below the Mason-Dixon line. And for me, I did not want to perpetuate a stereotype. So I had them take out references to our president, Barack Obama, and I wouldn't say the N-word, and I said I would do this if Raylan was able to point out that Boyd doesn't necessarily believe that which he is saying, and that was very important to me.
And the other thing that I wanted to explore with Boyd, which I think is more appropriate for him as a person, kind of getting in his skin, was to explore his intellect. And I don't think that that was there in the original pilot. It was tweaked very easily, just a couple of different sentences here and there that explored how smart this guy really was. That was important to me, more so than - that was interesting to me. To be a racist didn't interest me.
GROSS: So you grew up in the South. You were born in Birmingham and grew up in Georgia. The accent that you use in the show, is that an accent that you're familiar with? Because it's supposed to be a Kentucky accent.
GOGGINS: It is supposed to be a Kentucky accent. I don't know quite how accurate it is. I did study a little bit about people from Kentucky and kind of how they talk. It's not an accent that I'm familiar with.
It's different because the cadence is so specific to Elmore Leonard, and it's slightly stilted and heightened in a way that I also think reflects, for me, what I'm trying to do - I don't know whether it comes across or not - but something that speaks to Boyd's intelligence. You know, more often than not, I don't or haven't seen Southern characters like this with a penchant and a love for words. And we were able to, in the pilot episode, kind of introduce that. And he says innocuous.
I was sitting there right before we were going on and talking over the scene with Graham and said, you know, what if he were to say, just kind of offhandedly, because it's the way his mind works, he were to say: You picked an innocuous target. You know what that means? That means harmless.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GOGGINS: So he not only uses these words, but he also gives the definition right afterwards, as if he's very proud of knowing how to use a certain word.
GROSS: And that he also assumes that people who he knows won't know the word.
GOGGINS: Absolutely, absolutely, and the people that he hangs out with won't know the answer or the definition of those words.
GROSS: Can you, like, deconstruct the voice that you do a little bit for us, like give an illustration of how you put it together?
GOGGINS: Well, this is a person with probably a ninth-grade education. I think he's extremely well-read. I don't think that he feels the need to raise his voice in certain ways. I think he understands the power of manipulation sometimes can lie in whispering to people and getting close to people and not averting one's gaze, but looking deep into their eyes and talking to their very soul.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Right, good.
GOGGINS: How did that come off?
GROSS: Very well.
GOGGINS: Good. So do I have you on my team, Terry?
GROSS: I don't think so.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Not on Boyd's team - no, thank you.
GOGGINS: Yes, but I understand.
GROSS: What was it like to, like, have a swastika tattoo and, you know, spout all that Christian Identity religion stuff? I mean, the Christian Identity movement that believes Jews are the mud people.
GOGGINS: Yeah, it was - you know, honestly, it was awful. It really was. A lot of my friends at FX are - one gentleman in particular, Eric Schrier, is Jewish, and we did a table reading of this script. And I had to say that monologue and immediately after felt like I had to say: I'm sorry. I don't believe any of this. Everyone in the room, I have - my best friends are Jewish.
It was - no, it was really - it's difficult, and it's difficult to have a swastika on your arm, you know. And I actually wore it home. I didn't let them take it off. So I kept it with me during the process of filming the pilot episode. And there were...
GROSS: What, you wanted to be infected by it?
GOGGINS: Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, you're certainly infected or affected by ink on your body, and something as powerful a symbol, as powerful as a swastika, I definitely wanted to kind of feel that. And there were times during the day when I wasn't working, and I was out at dinner, that I would roll up my T-shirt, and I would leave the swastika there just to see people's reaction.
And there was one time when I was with Tim, and I had rolled my shirt up just to see what would happen, and Tim didn't notice it for about five minutes, until there were tourists walking through the lobby of the hotel who almost gasped. You could hear them step back with their Starbucks coffee in their hand. And Tim said: Please, please roll down your shirt. Please, or I'm going to have to leave you here alone.
GROSS: Well, yeah. I can understand his sentiment. I mean, like, sporting a swastika in public is a very vile act.
GOGGINS: A very vile act.
GROSS: It's a very provocative act.
GOGGINS: It is.
GROSS: I mean, what kind of reaction were you expecting?
GOGGINS: I knew that I would get that reaction. I just wanted to see. I just wanted to see what that would be like.
GROSS: It's funny, nobody noticed that you're both, like, actors, that you're both stars.
GOGGINS: Not for a minute, but I definitely explained afterwards that it was fake, it wasn't real, so...
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now I read that when you were young...
GROSS: ...you were good at competitive hog calling and I'm not even sure what that is, having grown up in Brooklyn.
GOGGINS: You guys didn't hog call in Brooklyn?
GOGGINS: That's not how you got your pork in Brooklyn?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: We got our pork in Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood.
GOGGINS: I understand. I understand. Yeah. You know, I was a first place state champion hog caller.
(SOUNDBITE OF HOG CALLING)
GOGGINS: I was 10 years old and saw other people doing it and walked up on stage and they had to adjust the mic for sure and I just leaned up on my tiptoes and I won. I got a trophy with a big hog on top. I have it in my office.
GROSS: So when you win the competitive hog calling championship, is it just like, do hogs have to actually respond and say yes, coming?
GOGGINS: Hogs don't have to respond, Terry. Hogs don't have to respond. It's the audience that responds. The audience is sitting there responding to the hog call. And right when you're done with the hog call they usher you off to the greased pig contest.
GROSS: Which is what?
GOGGINS: They put a $20 bill on the back of a hog and they grease it up and the person who gets the $20 bill gets the $20 bill.
GROSS: Oh. Wow.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BIANCULLI: Walton Goggins, speaking with Terry Gross in 2010. Goggins co-stars in the FX series "Justified." Its third season premiers Tuesday. Coming up, "The Iron Lady," the new film starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. David Edelstein as a review. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.