Action is a genre that lends itself to Walton Goggins’s style of acting. And he has a trail of movie roles in The Crow: Salvation, Shanghai Noon, The Accountant, The Bourne Identity, Damage, Predators and GI Joe: Retaliation, that bear testament to his prowess in the genre.
Of course, to TV addicts, this 40-year-old veteran actor is still Detective Shane Vendrell of The Shield, not that he has allowed the popularity of the character to pigeonhole him. He moved on to a darker role as Boyd Crowder in Justified, which is drawn from Elmore Leonard’s novels, Pronto and Riding the Rap, and his short story, Fire in the Hole.
In Justified, which premiered in 2010, Boyd is introduced as the chief suspect in the murder of a young white supremacist who was involved in a church bombing. This puts him in the direct line of fire with Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), his former childhood friend.
Three seasons later, the battle lines remain drawn between Boyd and Raylan, whose unconventional law enforcement tactics see him attract the attention of more nefarious types.
Before delving into his character, Goggins expands on the distinction between his previous and current TV shows.
He says: “The main difference is my participation in both shows. The character I played in The Shield, Shane Vendrell, is a follower. He’s a person who acts before he thinks and, more often than not, he’s the last person to get the information in the room. Whereas Boyd built the room they’re going to have the conversation in. He only acts after he has thought about it from every angle. He doesn’t waste words. He doesn’t waste movement. He’s not erratic in behaviour and is able to control his emotions in a way Shane was never able to do.
“I think the difference, tonally, is that The Shield was unrelenting whereas Justified, because of its kind of bucolic nature as it takes place in Harlan County, is much more stylistic.”
Character transformation is crucial to the longevity of a show and Goggins nods: “People often refer to Boyd as one type of person, and it was the person you met in the pilot episode. But, if you think about it, that was only one episode. What I was so grateful for is that we were able to really paint Boyd in a way that you were able to see him as a person who is comfortable in extremes.
“After the pilot episode, he gets shot, has a near-death experience and finds God. In season two, it is about Boyd finding balance and not being erratic and coming to terms with who he is as a person in the world. Going into season three, it’s about slowly building this criminal empire in a way that is sustainable.
“And, in some ways, he is like the ultimate politician. While his morals are skewed, he really believes, with him as the criminal patriarch, that all boats rise… the down and out, the disenfranchised the misfits of Harlan County will all benefit from it. In this way, he sees himself like a saviour.”
In a career spanning more than two decades, Goggins, who has also co-produced a few projects such as The Accountant, is au fait with what constitutes good storytelling. And he trusts his gut feeling implicitly – as he did with Lincoln for Steven Spielberg and Django for Quentin Tarantino.
He says: “If you’re not result-oriented, and you’re story-oriented, then more often than not I think you meet with success. It’s never about ego with anything I have been a part of. I’ve always been about the story and telling the story in the best way you possibly can.”
As for whether he yearns to break free of the action mould, he smiles: “The blessings and the curse of my career, whether it be from Predators or even going back to The Apostle, is to play these guys who are morally kind of questionable and hopefully to infuse them with enough humanity that people feel for them and they’re able to generate some pathos.
“I want to be in a romantic comedy. I want to be Bradley Cooper as much as Bradley Cooper doesn’t want to be Boyd Crowder, you know? I like heavy material. But, yes, I would like to do the next Judd Apatow film for sure.”
By the way, in this season Boyd crosses a line he said he would never flirt with and it could very well come back to bite him After all, turning a blind eye to Boyd’s criminal activities isn’t quite Justified in the eyes of Raylan.
l Justified airs on M-Net Series (DStv channel 110) on Tuesdays at 8.30pm.