How fitting Walton Goggins has a series on CBS called The Unicorn. Though the term refers to a widower who is employed and is decent, cares for his kids and has a great chance out in the dating world (and this will also help to explain the plot of the series), Goggins himself is…let’s say very singular.
One thing is for certain, during our phone conversation on a press day in New York City, Goggins really went the full distance in presenting the reasons to not only watch The Unicorn, but also made a convincing case to see the majority of his projects. You’ll enjoy reading this honest, no-holds-barred interview, that’s for certain.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our chat with the one-of-a-kind Walton Goggins.
Brief Take: We love Peyton Reed and he had a big part in putting together this show, although I heard that’s not how you came to The Unicorn?
Walton Goggins: You know, it was and it wasn’t in a way. I mean, yes it was, I think it was a combination of…I’m not sure who brought it up first: if it was Peyton or David Nevins at CBS, but they brought it up to our creators Mike (Schiff) and Bill (Martin) and they said: “I don’t think he’ll do that.” [laughs] Like: “You think that we can get him?” and I read it and they sent it and I was so taken with the story and I thought: “Wow, this is infinitely human”, and it’s very different for any network, really. And I thought that I really liked it and it’s too bad that it’s a multi-cam, I don’t know that I can pull this off, in that format. And they said: “Would you consider doing this if it were a single-cam?” and I went in, and I met with Mike and with Peyton, and our producer Aaron Kaplan, and we talked about what this show can be really and to keep it grounded in truth. And I told them, I said: “Guys, I don’t know how to not lean into this text, in order to honour this situation”, and I said that it will be really funny. And they were unbelievably supportive and they said “Well, we want what you’re selling, man.”
That’s the story that we want to tell and they’ve been true to their word. And I said: “Guys, if we get this right, if we can walk this line between compassion, empathy and really understanding this situation, or any situation”. And I’ve said this in press before, but it can be any situation, it can be the loss of a parent, or a parent aging, or the loss of a job, or whatever circumstance in which a person finds themselves that allows them to live life differently, right? We can do that and honour that struggle and yet make them laugh simultaneously, I think that we’ll have…more so than lightning in a bottle, we’ll be able to bring something good to the world. And they all agreed and that’s what we’re trying to do, man. And for better or for worse, I’m making the show that I would want to make. And thank God Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins and Omar Benson Miller and Maya Lynne Robinson have my back and really bring that funny.
BT: You have many frequent collaborations but this is a bit of a newish group. What do you like best about this cast and had you worked with any of them before?
WG: They’re so wonderful, you know, and again, you can’t account for chemistry. Either it’s there or it’s not there. Luckily for the adults, Rob has been a friend of mine for 12 years, and I’ve known Omar for God, 15 years! We did a movie together in Italy (Miracle at St. Anna) and Rob and Michaela have been married a couple of times in films and whatnot (How to be a Latin Lover, In a World…) and then the CBS casting director found these two incredible young ladies (Ruby Jay and Makenzie Moss) to play my daughters and literally in the first two minutes of that conversation, I thought: “Oh, man, wow! You’re going to mean a lot to me”, [laughs] “You already mean a lot to me”, and we did it, they call me Papa G. Walton. “He’s going to be Papa G and let him take you and listen to him and go on the ride with him” and they have, and I can say this: Man, I love actors. I do. I love them as people – especially journeyman actors that have been around for a long time or that are in it for all the right reasons. And these young women, these young ladies, young girls, are hungry. They really want to experience that and they have delivered, man. There are things coming up that you won’t see coming and it’s going to make you laugh out loud and really pull at your heartstrings. Not in a gratuitous way, but because that’s the situation in which they find themselves.
BT: You’re friends with a legendary performer we interviewed recently, this being Danny Huston. In terms of being a veteran performer, do you feel a sense of responsibility to be a mentor to the upcoming generation of performers?
WG: First of all, I’ve known Danny and his nephew Jack for a long time, and I agree with you that he’s a legend. And the answer to your question is: yes. I feel that people did that for me. Robert Duvall did that for me on The Apostle, Anthony Hopkins did that for me, I’ve had a number of people that…Forest Whitaker did that for me! Michael Chiklis did that for me! A number of people that I have worked with in the course of my life…Sam Jackson! That whole group of people, they have given me such knowledge, such a profound respect in understanding and contextualizing the history of this occupation in a way that many people can’t. And then when you are the receiver of all of that information, then it’s incumbent upon you to pass that torch to the next generation and to be mystified in a way, but to also maintain the mystique of it, and it feels good. You know I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve worked with a lot of people, and to now be in a position to pass along some of this information and to see the joy that derives from looking at it in this way, it’s one of the greatest pleasures that I get in life, man, I really love it.
BT: This cast is extremely funny, and although the show is serious and funny, do you have moments in which you are completely cracking up?
WG: The times in which I can’t keep it together? I mean it happened the day before yesterday, [laughs loudly] in this scene that I was doing with Rob because he’s so earnest, when he really gets down in it, and he’s doing his thing, he’s so earnest! And I just…I mean, I couldn’t keep it together. And Michaela’s had me rolling on the floor in a way that Danny McBride or Bill Murray only has been able to do. And on the other side, I’ve done drama for a very long time and while I do maintain that The Shield and Justified were some of the funniest shows ever on television, it’s nice to be able to work and spend most of your day laughing, you know, and then you get serious when you get serious, and that’s a real welcome change in this stage of my career and in my life.
BT: You attended the premiere of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and I think that it could go all the way to the Oscars this year. Do you take your experience of working with Quentin Tarantino into this role?
WG: I mean, yeah, not only do you take an experience like that with you for the rest of your life, and to see…not only that movie, and look, Quentin Tarantino has the potential to do that with everything that he makes – his voice is so authentic and one-of-a-kind, that when you get invited to that party, you realize how special that ticket is, and you’re not only a member of that family for a day, you’re a member of that family for a lifetime. Whether you are in any given project or not, that’s irrelevant, it is Team Me, when it comes to that, and I can’t wait to see what happens, I mean, I think Leo and Brad, they were just wonderful, man. I mean, the whole thing, I just loved it.
BT: You’ve been a part of different networks. How have you enjoyed the support of CBS?
WG: You know, they have, God! I never saw that as a possibility, honestly. I’ve worked for a number of networks now, and I have a lot of executives that are good friends of mine and in some way, CBS seemed so unattainable, like I didn’t know that my world would collide with theirs. I have gotten to know Kelly Kahl (President of CBS Entertainment). with the pilot that I did that didn’t go, L.A. Confidential, and David Nevins I’ve known through Showtime, and pitching things to him. And they’re everything that I had hoped that they would be, they have given us everything for which we have asked and have been on par with the best working experiences that I have ever had in my life. I just…I can’t believe it, man! I can’t believe that I’m sitting here talking to you with a show on CBS that I care about so deeply, which, I don’t know, pinch me, man. And if it’s just this, then it’s this, and we all did it the way that we want to do it, and if it’s more, then it will be more. I am extremely happy with where we are now.
BT: What will you be doing when your show is on?
WG: I am going to be doing something completely opposite. [laughs] I’ll be cleaning my house or working or something like that. I don’t derive a lot of joy from watching the things that I have done throughout the course of my career with other people. You know, I’ll show up to a premiere, obviously, but for me it’s very personal. And I lived it. I went through it. Like I haven’t seen every episode of The Shield, I haven’t seen every episode of Justified, I watched all of Vice Principals because Danny (McBride) made me, I still haven’t seen every episode of The Righteous Gemstones, and for me, nothing can replace the experience of it. And I like to hear reactions to it after something is over. Like my wife watched the pilot of The Unicorn and I was so filled with anxiety and I put it on for her because we got it, after it was edited, and I said: “Okay, babe, this is it, and goodbye”, and I walked downstairs and I started cleaning. Five minutes later, I heard her laughing. Then I heard her laughing hysterically. And then there was silence for a while and she came downstairs 23 minutes later and she had tears in her eyes. She hugged me and said: “Walton, it’s so special and you really touched me. I loved him and I loved his children, I loved his friends, and it made me want to hug all of the people in my life that are important to me, and thank you”. And I would much rather get that reaction, even if it was negative, rather than sit in the room and experience it with them. That would be dangerous for me.
BT: You’ve said that this role is closest to you. How do you feel not having the costumes or settings that you’ve had in previous roles?
WG: I think this is more close to me than anything I’ve ever done. I don’t have the things that I can usually hide behind and it’s me. When I put the clothes on for the first time, I still looked like me. When I talked, I still talked like me. And it made me very insecure. [laughs] It made me really nervous. I was filled with a lot of anxiety, and I finally said: “Well, wait a minute, Walton. You like you, me, Walton, I like me and this is something that you’ve always wanted to do”. And once I put on that jacket, and I’ve gotten relatively comfortable with it, then I thought: “criticisms, positively or negatively, it’s okay. I’m okay with being me”. I’m in the service of a story that I think will do some good in the world and I’m okay with it. I’m really okay with it. I’m so much better for having been given this opportunity and decided to say yes.
The Unicorn airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS and Global