‘I was freaking out’: Walton Goggins on fear, The White Lotus and being a 200-year-old mutant in Fallout | Television

At the end of last year, someone on Twitter managed to perfectly sum up the appeal of the best character actor working today. “Love how if you put Walton Goggins in your thing you have a guaranteed instant additional 20% goodness factor,” they wrote. It’s a claim that stands up. Watch Goggins in The Shield or Justified or megachurch sitcom The Righteous Gemstones – even the second Ant-Man film – and you’ll see a man who knows exactly how to elevate the material by sheer force of charisma alone.

There’s no such thing as a Walton Goggins type. At one point, he simultaneously starred as an assassin attempting to murder Santa in bloodthirsty Christmas movie Fatman and an adorable, newly widowed father in sunny sitcom The Unicorn. They came hot on the heels of his role as a goofy 19th-century sheriff in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight – and he played them all with the same unwavering commitment. There’s a sly magnetism to his work, a sense that no matter how challenging the material, he’s always having fun.

It’s a quality that has opened progressively more doors in his career, and now he appears to have hit the motherlode, balancing several high-profile roles at once – which we’ll come to later. When I talk to Goggins over Zoom, I’m half expecting to see someone wrung dry from the pressure of competing obligations. But I’m wrong. “I’m fantastic,” he beams when I ask how he’s doing. “I couldn’t be better. It feels pretty good, man.”

Obviously I’m sceptical. You couldn’t be better, I repeat, as bewildered as if he’d just told me he’d grown a second head. “You know, I got back from Thailand a week ago and went straight to South by Southwest, like a 30-hour flight, to launch Fallout, which was extremely successful,” he says. “And my wife’s movie premiere just so happened to coincide here in New York. I have no problem expressing gratitude. I wake up with it at the forefront of my thought process first thing in the morning. I have a lot to be grateful for.”

We should start with the project he’s officially here to promote, Prime Video’s adaptation of the Fallout video game series. To call the games a phenomenon would be a heavy understatement. A franchise stretching back to the 90s, the four games (plus assorted spin-offs) throw players into a post-apocalyptic, retro-futurist wasteland, where they are forced to fight for survival in a world primed to kill them.

‘I have good reps’ … Walton Goggins in The Shield. Photograph: Sony/Channel 4

Prime Video is firing on all cylinders with the series. The showrunner is Geneva Robertson-Dworet – the woman behind Captain Marvel and the 2018 Tomb Raider reboot – and it was developed by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan of Westworld fame. Like that show, Fallout is a sprawling satirical drama with a huge cast struggling to uncover the secret at the heart of the world. Unlike that show, however, it’s far less overblown.

Fallout’s pre-release reception has been little short of ecstatic, with previewers knocked sideways by its heightened, stylised violence. Like Prime Video’s other breakout show The Boys, this is a full-bore, joyously gory affair. Heads are crushed, guts are splattered and body parts are lopped off without a second thought, but it’s all shot through with the same wild sense of brittle optimism at all costs employed by the source material. This is a franchise, after all, that has a big thumbs up as an emblem – despite often being about shrieking terrified murder.

And just to help things along (and provide the requisite additional 20% goodness factor) is Goggins. He plays the Ghoul, a 200-year-old apocalypse survivor who perpetually teeters on the brink of becoming a full-blown zombie. It’s a great role, not least because the character’s grim survival is balanced out by flashbacks to his pre-Ghoul days, where he gets to employ some typically Gogginsesque charm. As Cooper Howard, a TV gunslinger who starts the show by outrunning a nuclear blast on horseback, we see him fall in love and squirm through unsatisfying workplace commitments. He’s an everyman, which makes the transition to the Ghoul even more heartbreaking.

Goggins is almost unrecognisable as the Ghoul, in part due to the full-face prosthetic work that essentially turns him into a bright red, noseless skull. Which, as you may imagine, was not a lot of fun to wear.

“I didn’t know how I would hold up, to be quite honest with you,” he says. “The very first day we were working, it was 106F [41C]. And all of a sudden, the sweat started building up. I couldn’t stop it. Jonathan Nolan asked me: ‘Are you crying?’ I said: ‘No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And he touched my eye and water came pouring out of the piece, because there was a buildup of sweat inside. I’m not one to complain, but I sat down on a log and literally said to myself: ‘Man, you’re getting too old for this shit. I don’t know how I’m going to do nine months of this.’ I was freaking out.”

‘I have a lot to be grateful for’ … Walton Goggins. Photograph: Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb

It’s hard to talk about Fallout without mentioning The Last of Us, another post-apocalyptic game turned into a series to tremendously successful effect. By total chance, however, the film that Goggins is also promoting – The Uninvited, written and directed by his wife, Nadia Conners – happens to co-star Pedro Pascal. Given how volatile gamers can be, and how they will loudly reject anything that falls outside of their narrow expectations, I wonder if Goggins asked him for advice on how to handle the attention.

“I didn’t,” he says. “He’s a good friend of mine, but I didn’t talk to him about my experience. I talked to him about his experience, because I was blown away by what he did. And obviously we were talking when he was in Canada, hearing what a great time he had, but I didn’t say: ‘So what does it mean to make a successful game adaptation?’ I wouldn’t ever speak for Pedro, but I can’t imagine he woke up every morning with that pressure either.”

So you’re not worried? “People will criticise and applaud any endeavour, no matter what it is,” he says. “I don’t live my life that way. As artists, we have a responsibility to do the best job that we were hired to do, right? And I can tell you that there was no stone left unturned to make this experience. I feel confident that people will like it.”

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The reason Goggins has just returned from Thailand – and will return there the day after we speak – is The White Lotus, where he has been filming season three. Along with the rest of the world, I am eager to learn everything I can about the show, given that it is likely to dominate all cultural conversations when it is released next year. So, what can Goggins tell me?

“We’re filming in Thailand,” he says. “Mike White is the writer and director.” He giggles and shrugs, since this is apparently the extent of what he’s able to reveal. The show began as an elaborate Covid workaround, allowing the cast to live and film in the same resort without breaking any bubbles. Is that still the same? At the very least, do you live in the rooms where the show takes place? Four seconds of silence ensue. “I can’t even say that,” he eventually musters. “It’s a nightmare.”

‘I don’t think I’ve ever taken a job for money’ … Walton Goggins in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Photograph: Andrew Cooper/The Weinstein Company/Allstar

After The White Lotus will come more episodes of The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride’s riotous religious comedy, in which Goggins plays a megawatt televangelist named Baby Billy – plus “another couple of things in the works”. It’s not only impressive logistically – “I have good reps who are able to sort this shit out,” he says – but from a quality standpoint, too. Goggins is in the middle of an astonishing run of success, with little sign of it letting up. How does he decide what roles to take?

“Well, that would depend on what came before it,” he says. “Every time someone wants you to be a part of whatever they’re doing, it’s a privilege.” The movies he’s in gradually seem to be getting bigger, though. Is that conscious?

“There have been times where I’ve done a number of big films, like Tomb Raider and Ant-Man, and there was another big movie in there,” he says. “During that time I felt like I needed to just have no money, and be a part of something where no one’s getting paid anything, and it’s going to be a deep struggle staying in a shitty hotel, and I just want some Holiday Inn coffee. And we found it with Olivia Colman in [2019’s snake-handler preacher movie] Them That Follow, and I’m so proud of it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever taken a job for money,” he adds. “I’ve gone to work for money, but I’ve never taken a job for money, you know what I mean? All the things that I’ve been a part of, I believe in. But I feel that way about a conversation with a friend. I feel that way about going on vacation. I feel that way about a fucking meal or a bottle of wine. Apathy is for somebody else. It’s not for me. I will love it or fucking hate it. But I will feel something about it.”

Fallout is on Prime Video on 11 April.

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