Being bad is good for Walton Goggins, whose turn in 'Fallout' has kept his star rising

Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — A wave of dread swept over Walton Goggins on the first day of work on Prime Video's post-apocalyptic drama "Fallout." He was on location by a lake, and was so thrown by the heavy makeup and bulky wardrobe of his outlaw character that he wondered whether he would make it to Day 2.

"The heat index was 106 degrees," he recalled. "I couldn't see. My periphery was off. I couldn't hear so well. I couldn't swallow. After a couple of setups, I sat down on a log and thought, 'I don't know if I can do this. I really don't.'"

Goggins was stepping into the role of the Ghoul, a 200-year-old gunslinger. Think of Clint Eastwood's the Man With No Name without a poncho or a nose, and you get an idea of the Ghoul's look. The actor said he was "extremely overwhelmed" not just by the makeup, but by the process of becoming the Ghoul: "I had to get in the mindset of carrying around the pain he's been walking with for 200 years."

"I'm getting too old for this s—," he thought.

It was then he remembered experiencing the same anxiety when first stepping into many of the featured roles that have established him as one of the industry's most versatile performers.

"I realized I felt this way on 'The Shield,' on 'The Hateful Eight,' on 'Vice Principals,'" Goggins said. "And it kicked in that if I don't have that fear at the beginning of an experience, that's when I know I need to do something else with my life."

His fear lifted, and he proceeded to get his Ghoul on. His double performance as the mutant menace, and as film star Cooper Howard, is now praised as a highlight of "Fallout," which has blossomed into the streamer's most popular series ever. The drama, which premiered in April, has already been renewed for a second season.

The character is the latest addition in Goggins' wide gallery of multidimensional offbeat figures — many of them behaving badly — already occupied by vicious criminal turned preacher Boyd Crowder in "Justified," sadistic slave overseer Billy Crash in "Django Unchained" and the transgender prostitute Venus Van Dam in the biker drama "Sons of Anarchy."

And he's already working on the next entry — he's in the third season of HBO's "The White Lotus." Flashing a smile, he quipped that he can't say a word about his character or the plot "or I will be killed."

Despite feeling a bit fatigued by the back-and-forth travel to Thailand, where the critically acclaimed series is being filmed, Goggins was in a celebratory mood recently as he sipped a flaming margarita at Hollywood's El Compadre restaurant, one of his favorite haunts.

"I've been going back and forth while all this goodwill about 'Fallout' was happening," he said. "I really try to treat success and failure — and I've had a lot of both in my life — the same. I'm so grateful for every opportunity that I've been given. But my life isn't going to change. I'm still me."

He referenced a time 18 years ago when his career was struggling.

"I was talking to my agent and asked him, 'Why is it so hard?' And he said, 'It isn't hard, Walton. You're exactly where you're supposed to be. There is no one job, no silver bullet for your career. It is the sum total … the aggregation of your body of work that will give you what you're looking for. Just keep your head down, go to work and keep doing what you're doing.' This piece of advice changed my life."

While he suspected that "Fallout" would get some attention, especially from fans of the video game, "no one imagined it would be on this scale. That is gratifying and extremely humbling. People have shown up and responded to the work of 500 people that pulled this thing together."

And though he is trying to stay low key, he acknowledged he is indeed having a moment.

"My career has been like a stock that you want to own, that I want to own," he said. "There have been dips, but it's gradually gone up over time. I don't know, man. They say one door closes and another door opens. My life has been, one door opens and another door opens and another door opens, and you find yourself in rooms with people like Quentin Tarantino and ["Fallout" executive producer Jonathan Nolan] without questioning how you got there."


The door that opened to "The White Lotus" has him particularly jazzed. He was bowled over when his agents first delivered the news as they sat down to a meal at a restaurant.

"They said, 'Before we do anything, we have to tell you something. You just got an offer for 'The White Lotus,' and it's a very good role.' I said, 'Could you say that again?' They said, 'Mike [White, the series creator, writer and director] wants you.'

"I said, 'Could you excuse me a minute?' I walked outside and I start bawling. Crying uncontrollably. I called my wife (writer-director Nadia Conners), shaking, and she said, 'I f— knew it!' When we were watching it one time, she had said, 'Why don't you do 'The White Lotus'? You'd be perfect for it.'"

As in previous seasons, the upcoming episodes take place at a luxury resort. The cast includes Jason Isaacs, Carrie Coon, Scott Glenn, Michelle Monaghan and Natasha Rothwell, who played a Hawaiian resort spa manager in the first season.

"It's all very meta on every level," said Goggins. "We're guests checking into a hotel playing guests checking in to a hotel. We spend all this time together, whether we like it or not, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. We work where we stay."

The actor is also excited about another project: "Press Your Luck," an upcoming film based on the true story of Richard Larson, an unemployed truck driver from Ohio who in 1984 appeared on the game show of the same name, won a ton of money and was later accused of cheating. The film features an ensemble cast that will include Paul Walter Hauser, David Strathairn and Maisie Williams.

With his busy schedule, Goggins is still perplexed about the attention over a reported feud between him and "Justified" star Timothy Olyphant. In a recent interview in the Independent, Goggins was quoted as saying he and Olyphant were not speaking as the series neared its end, saying, "we had a tough time."

Said Goggins: "It's so crazy. There is no feud."

Pausing a few moments, he continued: "The ending of that show was hard emotionally, and people had different ways of dealing with it. It was a difficult goodbye and there were moments when we didn't see eye to eye. But I would expect that from any long experience you care about. How can you go through an experience like that and not have a disagreement?

"The truth is ... Tim is a dear friend of mine, and someone I love like a brother. I respect him as an artist and an actor, probably more than anyone. He's still untapped at what he has to offer. I love the man. And I know he loves me."

In a separate interview in Vanity Fair, Olyphant said he "always adored" Goggins and was enjoying his performance as the Ghoul.

As Goggins continued drinking his margarita, he reflected again on the importance of "The White Lotus."

Working in Thailand marks a triumphant homecoming of sorts. He visited the region 15 years ago during an existential crisis motivated by a personal tragedy.

"I went to a lot of the places where we're filming now, the same streets and sandy beaches," he said. "I have come so far in my life and been healed on a number of levels. I am so grateful for this moment and the path I've been walking."

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