Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Character: Walton Goggins

I love noticing an actor early on, and tracking the steady rise of their career. So describes my fascination with Walton Goggins, who first caught my eye as a racist cop on The Shield, and has steadily developed an excellent career ever since. Following his star making turn on The Shield, it would’ve been easy for Goggins to be typecast as a bigoted country bumpkin, but thankfully, he’s managed to create unique, new characters, while cleverly never turning his back on the persona that made him famous. No matter the role, there’s a fierce honesty that Goggins brings to his characters that I find immensely appealing.

Five Essential Roles
The Accountant (2001)
Tommy O’Dell
This Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short is about the O’Dell brothers (Goggins and Eddie King) who hire a wise crackin’, heavy drinkin’ accountant (excellent character actor Ray McKinnon) to help them save their farm from bankruptcy. They soon learn that this accountant’s methods are a tad unorthodox. Within minutes of reviewing their books, the accountant proposes they chop off David O’Dell’s legs, in order to collect insurance money. When that doesn’t pan out, the accountant suggests that they kill David’s cheating wife and cash in her life insurance. With each passing idea, it becomes increasingly hilarious to watch Goggins and King attempt to react to the insane ideas of their newfound business partner. The Accountant is a sort of hillbilly farce that embraces its silliness from frame one; watching it is a perfect way to spend 35 minutes.

That Evening Sun (2009)
Paul
What I like most about Paul is that he’s just a guy. He’s not a racist guy, he’s not a corrupt guy, he’s just a guy. A guy trying to keep his life in order by distancing himself from his father. Early in That Evening Sun, Abner (Hal Holbrook) springs from an old folks home and returns to his farm, which, unbeknownst to him, is being rented out by friends of Abner’s son, Paul. When Abner demands that Paul throw them out, Paul insists that his old man return to his nursing home and leave everyone alone.

What slowly develops is a tense relationship of father and son. We meet Abner as a miserable old son of a bitch, but through Paul’s patient monologues, we learn that Abner has pretty much always been that way. For lack of a better term, Paul is one of the most “normal” characters Goggins has ever played. But don’t mistake normal for boring. Goggins gives Paul a reserved depth that is quietly appealing.

Justified (2010-2014)
Boyd Crowder
Perhaps the finest compliment one can give Goggins’ work in Justified is that his character, Boyd Crowder, was dead. After delivering a wondrously evil performance in the show’s pilot episode, Boyd was shot in the chest, and written off as dead by the show’s writers. But then something happened. The show’s creator, Graham Yost, liked Goggins’ portrayal of Boyd so much that he couldn’t let the character go. So in the interim between filming the pilot episode and finishing the rest of Season 1, Yost decided to bring Boyd back to life, of which any fan of the show is forever grateful.

Over the course of the Justified’s five seasons, Boyd’s narrative arc has been one of the most entertaining aspects of the show. From deadly, racist drug dealer to a born again man of the good book to police informant to, currently, deadly-than-ever villain. Essentially, there has been no shortage of enjoyment from watching Goggins flesh Boyd out.

Django Unchained (2012)
Billy Crash
Who can forget Django bound by his feet, hanging upside down as Billy Crash cups his balls and prepares to chop them off?

One of the things that makes Quentin Tarantino’s films so great is that you have no idea where they’re going to go. There’s literally nothing off limits for Tarantino, so the first time I saw Django Unchained, I sat utterly horrified, praying that Billy Crash wouldn’t rob Django on his manhood. And, it must be said, much of the horror of this scene is conveyed in Goggins’ performance. There’s no hesitation in Billy’s movements, no reluctance in the act he’s about to commit. In fact, he actually seems eager to do it. It’s a terrifying moment, made effective by the command of Goggins’ performance.

Sons of Anarchy (2012-2013)
Venus Van Dam
So, if that screenshot is an indication, Goggins’ brief but memorable work in Sons of Anarchy is truly unlike anything the actor has ever done. In the middle of Season 5, with no warning whatsoever, Goggins hilariously showed up as a transgender escort, sporting assless pants, tight leather and a huge rack, excited to help the titular Sons blackmail a public official. In this initial appearance, Goggins delivers what has to be the most comically fearless performance of his career. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw it; Goggins simply owns the absurdity of the moment.

But then something interesting happened. Midway through Season 6, Venus came back for two episodes and added an unexpected depth to her (his…?) plight. I won’t spoil the reason for Venus’ return, but few actors could’ve transformed such a purposefully shocking character into something far more poignant.

The Best of the Best
The Shield (2002-2008)
Shane Vendrell
Shane Vendrell is one of the most tortured, ruthless, unforgiving, and, above all, utterly fascinating television characters of my lifetime. The way The Shield was set up, it was always bound to be Michael Chiklis’ show (and for good reason, as Chiklis was flawless through the show’s entire run). But there was something about the vile Goggins equipped Shane with that I found mesmerizing. Here was an uneducated, racist L.A. cop who only did things to benefit himself. Shane wasn’t an antihero, he had no redemptive qualities like Chiklis’ character – he was a truly disgusting figure that Goggins inhabited courageously.

And then everything changed.

When Shane’s new love interest, Mara (played exquisitely by Michele Hicks), was introduced in Season 3, Shane slowly changed from a morally bankrupt street cop to a man of purpose. When he became a husband and a father, Shane suddenly had something to lose. Which isn’t it say that he altered his corrupt ways overnight, but he was given a much-needed layer of depth that subsequently made him more human.

The tricky part about TV is that, more often than not, as a show progresses, it tends to get weaker. Storylines are recycled, characters battle the same problems; the show becomes stale, the performances become stilted. Walton Goggins’ work on The Shield is one of the rare instances of a performance getting drastically better as the show went on. With each passing season, Shane became more man than monster, resulting in a devastating character conclusion that I will certainly never forget.

Other Notable Roles
In Predators
The Next Karate Kid (1994)
Switchback (1997)
The Apostle (1997)
Major League: Back to the Minors (1998)
Red Dirt (2000)
The Bourne Identity (2002)
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Chrystal (2004)
Randy and the Mob (2007)
Miracle at St. Anna (2008)
Predators (2010)
Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Straw Dogs (2011)
Lincoln (2012)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
Machete Kills (2013)
Community (2014)


30 comments:

  1. A great and underrated actor. My personal favorite role of his has to be Boyd on Justified. A less capable actor could have easily just have turned him into just another racist villain of the week type of character, but Walton truly turned that into one of TV's most interesting characters at the moment. So far i'm only half way through season 3 of The Shield though and i'm definitely loving him on that show as well. I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

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    1. Hey Henrik, thanks so much for the push in regards to this article. I've been wanting to pen this one for a long time, and your encouragement led me to do it. So thanks!

      If you remember, I'd love for you to stop by once you've finished The Shield. Really eager to hear what you think of Goggins' performance. Until then, happy watching!

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    2. Will do. Might take a while though. I almost never get time to binge watch shows anymore.

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  2. I haven't seen him in a lot of films but he was always really good to watch. Even in the third Major League which I think is an OK film but he was really good in that one. The best thing I've seen him in is Django Unchained. That was a great character he played.

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    1. I kind of like that third Major League as well. Not so bad. Love him in Django... what a sadistic son of a bitch.

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  3. wow, i haven't seen quite a few of these. in fact, i first noticed him on justified (even tho i started watching it after i saw django--in which i also thought he was great). love him on sons of anarchy too! good list! i gotta see these others.

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    1. Thanks Candice! He was such a trip of SoA... that's one of the most surprising cameos I have ever seen. Had no idea he was going to appear and then BAM, there he was. Ha.

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  4. Right on. Goggins is incredible as Boyd Crowder, but the role of his career is Shane Vendrell on The Shield. The transition of his character from being entertaining but villainous into the most sympathetic in the final two seasons is stunning. He kills the most likable guy in the group and then becomes even more sympathetic in the torturous final run. The final season and amazing finale only shines because of Goggins' great work as Shane.

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    1. YES! Exactly. The amount of depth he gave Shane was remarkable. He kept changing, but always growing more captivating. It's the role of a lifetime, really. I agree that the final season carried his best work. Thanks for the comment, Dan!

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  5. I actually noticed Goggins way, way back although I didn't know it at the time. He played several different redneck antagonists on the Carroll O'Connor TV version of In the Heat of the Night. It was one of my mom's favorite shows, so I watched a lot of it growing up. The casting director(s) of that show deserve a medal for how many great actors showed up in bit parts through the years. I was so amazed when I noticed Goggins again on The Shield and then in Justified. He's such a great actor and a fun on-screen persona.

    Interestingly, Ray McKinnon--who shows up in a lot of stuff with Goggins--was also on In the Heat of the Night. I actually prefer McKinnon's performance in That Evening Sun to Goggins. The character is a really pitiful man, so full of impotent rage, but at the same time you completely get where he's coming from and how he can believe what he's doing is right.

    Both of them have done compelling work in roles they seem destined to be type-cast in.

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    1. Shit man, I've never seen him on In the Heat of the Night. That's so cool that he was on that show. I too agree that McKinnon is superior in That Evening Sun. If I ever write one of these for him, his work in that film would definitely make the cut.

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  6. Like others above me have said - a great and underrated actor for sure. Love his work on Justified, I think its been his breakout role.

    First thing I remember seeing him in was in House of 1000.

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    1. House of 1000 Corpses is so batshit insane, isn't it? I remember Sean Keim dragging me to that goddamn movie, and me not having the slightest clue what was happening. Ha.

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    2. Yeah it is, could be one of the reasons why I love it. Sean - That brings back memories. Was a nice guy, heart always in right place.

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    3. Still one of my best friends. Love that guy.

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  7. Amazing actor. The Shield, Justified and Sons of Anarchy are 3 of the best TV shows ever made, and his performances are unforgetable!

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    1. Hell yeah! I actually haven't seen every episode of SoA, but I need to get on that at some point.

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  8. Such a great actor but I feel like I'm missing a lot by having never seen the major TV shows he's been in. I need to watch Justified and The Shield ASAP. Just recently he showed up and was hilarious in a Community episode.

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    1. I loved him in Community! Definitely check out The Shield when you can. I mean... wow, such power.

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  9. Watching Goggins portray characters with such realistic truth is fascinating. He is the perfect portrayal of man's untamed search for self interests. The way he allows Boyd to methodically manipulate and dismantle his opposition on Justified is such a pleasure to watch. There is never a hint of hessitation or a question of ethics. Only pure focus. Goggins gives depth and complexity to an otherwise ruthless man. His education and way with words are merely tools to achieve his plans. I cant wait until he gets his hands on the cop that got Eva put away.

    Thank you for bringing to light Goggins' career and skills as one of the best actors around.

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    1. My pleasure man! I know he's one of your favorites. Remember when we would watch him on The Shield and just laugh at how dumb he was? Shit was hilarious. Good ol' Shane.

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  10. Walton Goggins is one of the best character actors on television right now. I hope to see him collect his Emmy for his role as Boyd Crowder. He is truly underrated and should have won many awards years ago when he was on the Shield. I would love to see him star as a lead character in a show of his own.

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    1. My God, wouldn't that be amazing if he won an Emmy? He so deserves it; a flawless performance 5 years going.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  11. One of the very best actors out there today - Justified is such a brilliant show and I love his portrayal of Boyd, but there's not denying he's fantastic in every role he does.
    Great write up of a well deserving subject. It's a crime the award shows have never recognized him, but the it's great that directors do and continue to cast him well.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I love hearing more praise for Goggins. So glad you're a fan; I agree, he's great in everything.

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  12. Whenever I see this guy I sometimes forget he's acting, which is the sign of a great actor. He embodies the character so completely that I forget that he's not that character. He's brilliant and underrated. He had a small role in 'Lincoln' and delivered what I think was the best line, "I ain't got no courage!"

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    1. So well said! I love his work in Lincoln as well (great line you highlighted there), and I was this close to putting it on here. Such a natural actor.

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  13. I've not seen most of these, but he killed it in Django! That scene is hard to watch. Nice call on That Evening Sun too.

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    1. That scene is sooooo scary. Oh God, the worst. Cool to find another person who has actually seen That Evening Sun.

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