NEW YORK -- If there's a hall of fame for playing complex, tortured, TV bad guys, Walton Goggins is in it. For seven years, the 40-year-old Georgia native earned critical praise as rogue cop Shane Vendrell in the hit FX series The Shield. And for the past three years, his Emmy-nominated performance as Kentucky criminal mastermind Boyd Crowder has been one of the highlights of FX's Justified.
Goggins also is a much sought-after actor who has appeared in Predators and Cowboys and Aliens, and will be seen in Steven Spielberg's Abraham Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Newsday spoke with Goggins, who also has won an Oscar for a short film he produced, by phone from his Los Angeles home.
Q: Boyd Crowder seems to be a guy who can't make up his mind between Jesus or jail. Tell me how you see the character.
A: I think Boyd Crowder is a man who is comfortable with extremes. The first season was about exploring both of those extremes -- an agnostic, and then finding God. A man like Boyd, it was about being honest with himself as to who he is, and being OK with that. He's a criminal, don't mistake it, and this season is about Boyd honoring his own conclusions about himself. I think he sees himself as a person who brings along the poor and downtrodden with him. He's part Vic Mackey, part Nucky Thompson, part Peter Pan, and part Robin Hood, and he's OK with that.
Q: You seem to enjoy playing bad guys with complex issues. Why is that?
A: I think that compassion and empathy are the recipes for success when playing a character with questionable morals. I think I can generate some empathy personally because I'm compassionate. I'm a good listener as a human being, and the same thing applies when you're playing these people, people who at first glance are written off, "this is who this guy is."
Q: You have a distinct Southern accent, and with all the stereotyping of Southerners that goes on in the movies and on TV, I wonder if that was a problem when you got started in the business?
A: Absolutely. The first week I was [in Los Angeles], somebody said the first thing you have to do is lose that accent. They didn't realize that accent put food on the table; they were looking for the stupid Southern racist, and I got those roles, and made good money doing it. Then, I felt I was not going to perpetuate that stereotype anymore. It's ironic that this accent I've been running away from, I've come back to it, and met with so much success. It's sweet to be an ambassador for this section of the country.
Q: In fact, you are a partner in Ginny Mule Pictures, a production company that has made several films set in the South.
A: They don't have anything to do with racism; they're just movies about people in the South. The last movie we produced [That Evening Sun, starring Hal Holbrook] was about an octogenarian wanting to define his own life by his own terms. That's a universal story in America. It was a matter of saying there's more to the South than what Hollywood has been spoon-feeding you for years.
Q: You won an Oscar in 2001 for a short film called The Accountant, which you produced and starred in. How did that affect your career?
A: We were just looking to make a calling card, so we could get to make a feature, and that's what it helped us to do. It wasn't a key to inside the house, but to the little foyer, where people leave their shoes, and it gave us the opportunity to make our first feature. It didn't fundamentally change my career as an actor.
Q: You're a photographer and traveler, who even has a blog featuring your pictures and thoughts about India. Do you have a favorite place among all your journeys?
A: There is no one favorite place. I've gained insight from everyone. A weakness and strength is continually looking forward, and I'm just looking towards the next one. The next one might be northern Turkey, or getting on a motorcycle in Patagonia and hanging out in Argentina. I like traveling on $20 a day, and going places where people don't go, and that are relatively safe. I want to go to places that are fantasies, places that are not part of your average itinerary.