Few actors had a better 2012 than "Justified" star Walton Goggins: he provided some much-needed comic relief in a very tense season of "Sons of Anarchy" with his memorable guest appearance as transgendered escort Venus Van Dam, and he had the unique experience of delving into both sides of the slavery issue with his performances in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" on the big screen.
And, of course, he shined in the third season of FX's fantastic Elmore Leonard-inspired drama, which hits DVD this week just ahead of the show's fourth-season premiere on Jan. 8 at 10 PM. One of the highlights of "Justified: The Complete Third Season" on Blu-ray (Sony), in fact, is a nearly half-hour-long conversation between "Justified" Emmy nominees Goggins and Timothy Olyphant about their experience making the stylish, meticulously crafted western drama.
Goggins, who should have been an FX Emmy winner years ago for his ultimately heartbreaking performance as Shane Vendrell, one of the most tragic of the corrupt cops on "The Shield," pops up on the big screen again in 2013 in March's "G.I. Joe Retaliation," but it's on TV where he continues to steal many a scene as he develops Boyd Crowder, a complicated criminal whose career choice puts him deliciously at odds with his childhood friend U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (Olyphant).
In Season 4, Boyd is busily continuing to grow his Harlan County crime empire when he's confronted with a new challenger, a preacher named Billy (guest star Joe Mazzello), who tries to convince the local citizenry (i.e., Boyd's clientele) that they don't need to imbibe Mr. Crowder's recreational substances.
Goggins chatted with Yahoo! TV about the crisis that kicks off for Boyd, about the bigger plan that the ever-clever Mr. Crowder might have in mind throughout Season 4, about how he sparked the idea for that "SOA" role, and about how meaningful it was to help play out a pivotal piece of our country's history in back-to-back dream roles on the big screen.
Our boy Boyd Crowder is in a very different place when the new season opens. How thrown is he by the appearance of this new preacher?
I think Boyd is, for the first time, in charge, really in charge of something -- of an enterprise, so to speak, a criminal kind of entity. That is, the criminal empire that he runs in Harlan County. There's no one else really challenging him there. With that comes a lot of fiduciary responsibilities. Once you've made it, once you have something to lose, then you need to defend your territory. That's all new to Boyd. Between that, between his relationship with Ava, between the opportunities that are going to present themselves by working with the people up in Lexington and in Detroit, he is, in some ways, stepping way out of his league. That will continue as the season continues.
One part of that is greed. But what (showrunner) Graham (Yost) does and what Elmore Leonard does and what our writers try to do, when they are emulating Elmore, is give (Boyd) a reason for doing the things that he's doing. That's something that is the most important thing to me. Hopefully, what you'll see is that these steps, stepping out of one's comfort zone, are in the service of something greater. Boyd really has an endgame. He's working hard to that end. You won't really know what that endgame is until the season progresses. He sees this as a real opportunity to make some changes in his life that will affect him for the rest of his life and the people around him. We'll see whether or not he makes it. (Laughing)
Watch a preview of the new season of "Justified":
One of the most entertaining things about Boyd is that, even if there are 10 things going on around him, he sees them all, even if no one else does. Is Boyd aware that his cousin Johnny isn't trustworthy? Is that why he brings his military pal Colton (guest star Ron Eldard) to town?
Oh, I can't answer that question. But I can say that Boyd is probably the most observational character I've ever had an opportunity to play. I think if you got up earlier than Boyd, that wouldn't be enough time. You'd have to get up the night before (laughing) in order to try and pull one over on Boyd.
You mentioned Boyd working with people in Detroit. Are these the same people that last season's big baddie, Quarles (guest star Neal McDonough), was involved with?
Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) is a representative of the people in Detroit. So, through Boyd's dealings with Duffy, in some ways, when you're speaking to Duffy, you're speaking to Detroit, because he is a representative of that criminal institution.
Some people describe Boyd as a villain, but we never think of him that way. He's a complicated guy for sure, but not really a villain. Do you agree?
I would never use that word to describe him. What we like to do -- and what, again, is servicing the story, coming at it from that angle -- is to always try to find balance.
Graham and the writers chose to have this interaction between Boyd and Joe Mazzello's character, the preacher, in his church. It really afforded us an opportunity to have a real spiritual crisis from Boyd. This is something that is very painful to him. He has a lot of anxiety about confronting that part of his past. He is very comfortable with the way that he has defined the institutions of religion, but, as you will hopefully come to realize, there are no easy answers. Based on his past experiences, going forward, you can't put that in a box any more than Boyd Crowder can be put in a box … that it is all fluid and everything is connected, and this season of -- and when I say season, I don't mean the whole television season, but this season spiritually for Boyd in his life -- will hopefully reverberate throughout the entire show, for the rest of the time that we do the show. It's just another cog in the wheel, which will ultimately form his worldview and what he has to say, when it all comes down.
So, it's fair to say Boyd is not yet fully done, not fully cooked yet? He's still figuring out what kind of guy he'll be ultimately?
Well, yeah. Yeah. Boyd's never been that guy. I don't think that Boyd ever will be that guy. I hope that he finds peace. I really want him to. But we'll see what happens.
[Related: 'Justified' corrals 'Lost' vet for story arc]
How big of a role does Ava play in who Boyd becomes?
I think Ava plays the biggest role. Second to Ava is his relationship with Raylan. Maybe before those two, Boyd is Boyd's biggest ally in the sense that Boyd demands of himself a certain amount of self reflection and growth. I think that's really the only way he survives. For him, being stagnant is death. So, between those three entities, he will ultimately get to wherever it is he's going.
Watch an interview with Goggins and Joelle Carter, who plays Ava:
Speaking of Raylan, and Boyd's frenemies-type relationship with him, they're both much more alike than probably Raylan would admit, especially in terms of being unsettled by their pasts, their fathers, and not being sure of who they want to be yet. Is that what bonds them?
Yes, they are very much alike. I do think that that's one of the main things that kind of bonds them. History bonds them. What else bonds them? Intelligence bonds them. Probably, and most importantly, pain bonds them. Pain manifests itself as genuine emotion, but it also manifests itself through humor. They're very similar; they have a very similar sense of humor. They both have gone through an awful lot of pain in their lives.
Switching to one of your fellow FX shows, your guest appearance as Venus Van Dam on "Sons of Anarchy" was one of the most memorable TV events of the season. How did that come about?
Oh, I love Venus Van Dam. I had been wanting to collaborate with ("Sons of Anarchy" showrunner Kurt Sutter) ever since "The Shield," and we had talked about a few different things on the show and maybe ways for me to participate. But ultimately, he said in an article that the only two people that he couldn't have on from "The Shield" because so many other alumni from "The Shield" had gone through his universe but he said, the only two people that I can't have are Michael (Chiklis) and Walton, because I think people would see them as Vic and Shane, going through the world of "Sons of Anarchy." And I wrote him, I sent him the article and I said, "That's bullshit, man!" (Laughing) I said, what if I played a transgender? And I think that really got his mind working, and this was like a year and a half ago. And then when I was on the set of "Django Unchained," he called and said, "You remember the thing that you talked about? Well, I have her." I said, "You have who?" He said, "I have her. I really want you to read it."
Watch a scene from "SOA" featuring Goggins as Venus Van Dam (Warning: Video contains adult themes and nudity):
I read it and just knew, two words into it, that I had to do it, I had to play it. This was it. I was so excited to do it. I had always wanted to play a transgender, based on this experience that I had in my 20s, auditioning for this movie. This character was a transgender. She was a junkie, and it took maybe a week to kind of get ready for it. I picked out my outfits. Daisy Dukes were really popular at the time, cutoff jeans and cowboy boots you could buy on Melrose. I had her look down; I had my hair slicked back. I surprised myself. I didn't look half bad from a distance -- from at least, like, 100, 200 feet. (Laughing) From a football field, I didn't look half bad.
Throughout that week, I would go out as this woman. I was just so interested in the reactions that I got from people -- from men, in particular, men working on a roof -- and I thought, "Man, this is so powerful." I would really like an opportunity to hopefully, authentically and with a lot of love, step into the shoes of someone that is this person. I think it's so courageous. I have met a number of transgender people over my life. I've had some great conversations with them. I just applaud them and how courageous they are for being who they are and being able to express themselves in that way. It was an honor, really, to attempt to pay homage to that.
It was a very respectful portrayal, especially for a character that was part of bringing some levity to the show after some very heavy events.
Thank you, thank you really very much for saying that. It really means so much to me to hear you say that, because both Kurt and I went to great lengths to do that. And all the boys, Charlie (Hunnam) and the gang, everybody, was so respectful and treated me like a lady. And I know these guys. I've hung out with these guys. But it was as if I was meeting them for the first time, and everybody approached it that way.
Did you improvise anything during the performance? Had you planned out every moment of the scenes?
No. So much of it was improvised, but the words were not. That's Kurt and his writing staff. We were very, very specific. We wanted this girl to be cool and sassy, and the kind of person you would want to have a beer with, you know? And for both sexes to be really comfortable with her. But it was so what's the word I'm looking for? salacious to the guys, that it all was improvised. It all just kind of happened in the moment.
The kiss, for Charlie's Jax, that was after we'd done it a couple times. Being very respectful of Charlie as an actor, I said, "Will you give me permission to do anything that I want to do?" And Charlie just looked at me, and he said, "Absolutely, baby. Anything you want to do." And I just leaned up and kissed him, and it wasn't sexual. It was so sweet, and Venus just wanted to pay respect to the lion in the room. And the look on his face was so priceless. It was so beautiful. I was like, "Oh, wow, yeah, that's wonderful!" So yeah, a lot of it just came out of turning yourself over.
Is there any chance Venus will make a return visit to Charming?
I think Venus will come back and will continue on this journey. And I love her as much as I love any character that I've ever played … as much as I love Boyd, as much as I love Shane, I love Venus. I want Venus to come to "Justified." I want her to work at Audrey's.
You have also had an amazing year on the big screen. Congratulations on these great movie performances. How satisfying was it to have the chance to play both sides of this pivotal time in our country's history with "Lincoln" and "Django Unchained"?
Oh, thank you so much, thank you for saying that. I had a conversation with a young man who approached me in a park, him and his father. This young man was probably 15 years old. His dad was probably 55. They had been to see both movies. They stopped me and they asked me the same question that you did: What is it like to be on both sides of this historical debate, this historical time in our country?
I said it was like living history, really. Doing "Lincoln," participating in those conversations that took place on the floor of the House of Representatives, was something that I wish every young person in school could participate in, because you leave there with a deep understanding of this very specific time in our country and how painful it was to so many people, how many people lost their lives, what the institution of slavery did to an entire race of people. I got to sit in the front row and participate in the conversation. It was a real history lesson for me. I just, again, wish that every student, that that was built into the curriculum of every single school in America.
Watch the "Lincoln" trailer:
That is really showcasing how powerful, in a unique way, movies, and TV shows, can be.
Yes, I agree; I think that really is the power of this medium, and there have been so many movies and so many television shows that have been able to articulate the American experience. For me, I was a product of divorced parents, and I remember seeing "Kramer vs. Kramer" when I was probably 10 years old. And it had already come out, but it was the first time that I had seen it. I remember watching it with a parent and understanding for the first time how painful it was for both of them, that it wasn't the child's fault, even though the child feels responsible for it, and it's not an easy decision when it's made. And that was the power of one movie. I remember the couch I was sitting on; I remember how far I was away from the television screen; I remember the conversation that I had afterwards. I remember the tears that came to my eyes and understanding the process of divorce and how that played itself out from a parent's point of view, not just a child's point of view. And that's the power of this medium when it's done really well, when it's not just about entertainment for entertainment's sake, but it's about entertainment and also about learning. And that's what all great stories do. Every culture has a tradition of storytelling, and you understand the morality behind those stories as you get older, and that's kind of what "Lincoln" is for me, and what "Django" is for me in a completely different way.
Watch the "Django Unchained" trailer:
That's a hallmark of your career, isn't it? You seem to be very much attracted to TV shows and movies that tell great stories, above all.
Well, I think that's what I try to do; those are the stories that I try to participate in. That's what means more to me than anything else. You know, this business is also a business, and at times you have to do one for art and one for money. You have to kind of feed yourself. I suppose the same thing would be applicable to an architect or any other kind of field, really. You do one because you love it and you do the other because you love it and you also can afford to feed your family. At the end of the day, the thing that drives me more than anything is story. What I do have control over at this point in my career is the things that I don't participate in. That feels good -- that feels really, really good.
Aside from the movies, and how good these movies are, and your co stars, obviously, we assume working with Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg … those were dream collaborations for you?
Dream collaborations. If you would have told me 10 years ago that within the span of six months, I would work with two of the most important figures in the history of the medium, I would say, "I want your dope dealer. I want to know who sold you your marijuana." (Laughing.) Because I've been on a slow, steady incline for my entire career. It never … it didn't happen overnight for me. It's a stock that I like to invest in, because I think I've been prepared for every step that I've been given an opportunity to take. I feel, at this point in my career, and in my evolution as a human being, that I have more to offer than I've ever had before. I'm very excited about the future, and the future in the life that I've chosen is always unpredictable, which requires you to live in the moment. It's a place that I'm very comfortable being.
Other noteworthy TV DVD releases this week:
"Dead by Sunset" (Sony)
Any devoted Lifetime true-crime movie fan will know this one, the 1995 miniseries about villainous Brad Cunningham, who murdered one wife and was ultimately brought down by his next wife, a successful doctor who was initially fooled by his charm and her love of his children. "Thirtysomething" star Ken Olin is Emmy-worthy as creepy Cunningham, while Annette O'Toole plays his doomed ex and Lindsay Frost plays the doctor who risks her life to make sure he's punished for his crimes. It's the perfect movie for a winter weekend curled up on the couch, with the book version of the story -- penned by best-selling writer Ann Rule -- to accompany it.
"Being Human: The Complete Second Season" Blu-ray (eOne Entertainment)
Season 3 of Syfy's adaptation of the British hit premieres on January 14, so catch up on Season 2, which found the Boston roomies -- Sally the ghost, Aidan the vampire, and Josh the werewolf -- dealing with romance, unfolding backstories, and the politics of being werewolves and vampires. Bonus features on the Blu-ray set include interviews, making-of featurettes, and a feature on the cast at last summer's San Diego Comic-Con.