Walton Goggins has made a name for himself as one of TV’s finest actors thanks to his Emmy-nominated role on FX’s “Justified” and (should’ve been Emmy-nominated) work on FX’s “The Shield.” But this season he’s been all over the big screen as well, with prominent supporting roles in two of the fall’s most-anticipated awards contenders: Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”
“The stars align and the fates conspired to have these two radically different approaches to the same issue [of slavery] come out within a month of each other. And that I get to kind of bridge both of these experiences,” Goggins says with obvious delight during a phone interview before “Django’s” release. “To go from one person who was on the right side of history in “Lincoln,” to another person [in “Django”] who had a vested interest in keeping the status quo because that’s how he had his power — and is therefore definitely on the wrong, wrong side of history — was definitely an unbelievable experience.”
In “Lincoln,” Goggins plays Ohio Congressman Wells A. Hutchins, who was one of only 16 Democrats in the House of Representatives to vote in favor of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. But in “Django,” Goggins plays Billy Crash — one of the most loathsome lackeys of spoiled plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) — a man who represents many of the evils of slavery.
“Billy Crash is a necessary tool in order to show the oppressor of the oppressed,” Goggins explains. “I just wanted to be as truthful and as honest and reverential as I possibly could in depicting the horrors perpetrated against an entire race of people — the institution of slavery — show what that looked like.”
The making of “Django Unchained” was a bit of a roller-coaster, with actors signing on and dropping out as the production’s schedule was constantly in flux. At one point Kevin Costner was on board, only to fall out and be replaced by Kurt Russell. When Russell had to drop out as well, Tarantino decided to scrap an entire role and beef up Goggins’ part instead.
“As fate would have it, Quentin called me into his trailer and said ‘OK, Mr. Goggins, you’re my Warren Oates. You’re my guy. This is you. This has all happened for a reason,'” Goggins recalls about their meeting.
But not everything Goggins filmed made it into the final cut. Even at a hefty 165 minute running time, Tarantino had to excise a lot of material. While there’s been speculation about a longer cut somewhere down the line, Goggins says Tarantino is focused on the theatrical cut for now.
“Either he will release it or he won’t,” Goggins says about the additional scenes. “But right now this is the story he wants to tell, the story he wants people to focus on. On the other side of everything that will hopefully come from this movie, I think he’s gonna make his decision.”
Right now, Goggins is still on a high from working with two of his idols — Spielberg and Tarantino — in a single year.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve worked with a lot of my heroes,” Goggins says. “But here in the last year, getting to work with QT and Spielberg has just brought it to a whole other level. You hope in this business that you can hang around long enough and do work worthy of attention that you get an opportunity to start working with the greats, and that’s certainly been my experience over the past year.”