Though they don’t get much chance to share the screen so far this season on The Righteous Gemstones, there’s a two sides of the same coin effect when it comes to John Goodman’s Eli Gemstone and Walton Goggins’ Baby Billy that’s been made even clearer as the show has gone on. Specifically, after Baby Billy found a higher value in family, reconnecting with his adult son at the end of last season with another child on the way. Family is, above all other things, at the heart of the show. Even if it threatens to jeopardize the family business, undo careful planning, and bring chaos to the Gemstones’ doorway (and nearby highways).
Uproxx spoke with Goodman and Goggins about the importance of family to these characters, how looming mortality is driving Eli’s actions, and how a sense of self continues to propel Baby Billy. We also discuss that amazing season 3 introduction to Goggins’ character last night, getting a little insight into how what he calls a “psychological montage” and “quasi-music video” came to be. Naturally, we talk a little Justified at the end while also discussing the thrill of sharing TV and movies with the ones you love and the larger pop culture community.
John, last season, there was some action thrown in and a lot of the stuff with Eric Roberts. This season, it has seemed like you’re more deeply connecting with the family side. Can you talk about that change a little?
John Goodman: Yeah, he’s alienated his sister’s family. He thought he was doing them a favor and he did not. They got some bad information and they resent him, mightily. I think they resented him anyway because he was successful and they had no claim on success. They didn’t want it. They preferred the way that they lived, but there was resentment there nonetheless. It’s trying to deal with that in a rational and sane manner and not getting any response in a rational and sane manner that makes for humor. It’s pretty funny when you have to deal with insane people and that’s pretty much my job as Eli is just dealing with crazy people.
Is it the fact that he’s retired and he has less to do that focuses him more on that or is it more of a sort of thing where he’s glimpsing mortality, getting older?
Goodman: Yeah, there’s a lot of, you don’t want to lay down for your dirt nap with your family mad at you. It takes a lot of guts and a lot of internal forgiveness to try to help these people and you have to humble yourself and make amends for the things he screwed up. He is just trying to get this all down. He’s done nothing but hard work his whole life and he wants to slow down. He wants to but he keeps getting sucked into adventures.
Walton, obviously your character went through a little bit of that last season where you reconnected with your son. When we pick up this season with his return in episode three, how changed is Baby Billy? Is he committed to being a great father, a great family man?
Walton Goggins: Yeah, I think he’s laid all that pain down. I think he got what he was looking for, which was forgiveness from his son. This season he is deeply in love with his child and his child that’s on the way, but more importantly, his wife. He respects her and loves her and cares for her. He’s as conniving as ever and desperately wants to succeed and he’s an idea man. He always has something going on. And to get to just stay in that lane and to be singularly focused on one thing was an anomaly for him and for me as an actor. I just absolutely loved it. There wasn’t a lot of heavy emotional lifting for Baby Billy this season and it fulfilled a dream that I’ve always had, which is at least hosting a television show, even if he ripped off Family Feud to do it. It’s so bananas, it’s so crazy.
This feels par for the course for him, wanting to get onto a bigger stage. The game show, like you mentioned, is part of that. But is this about him wanting to make sure that he can always provide for his family or is it more still the ego and just making sure that he has his share of the spotlight?
Goggins: No, man, I think it’s both. I think you just hit on it. I think that in a more kind of obtuse way, he’s experiencing the same thing that Eli is experiencing and he understands that he’s getting older and there’s not a lot of time left to do the things that he wants to do. And so, yeah, that’s a part of it, his family. But also he feels like his star can shine brighter and he can be used differently. I think he’s right, to be quite honest with you. And so this was the latest attempt at that and you have to watch it to see how it all plays out. But it’s pretty great, man.
I’m just thinking about the first glimpse of you this season where he’s having this great musical moment by the pool. It’s such an amazing costume. I’m curious about your role in that and just how powerful it is for you to be just dressed like that. How does that sort of drive the performance?
Goggins: Sarah Trost was the wardrobe designer for the two seasons of Vice Principals and the first two seasons of the Gemstones. She’s someone that I trust implicitly but they brought on a new wardrobe designer this year, Christina Flannery, because Sarah had a conflict. I did a movie called Them That Follow with her (Flannery), and she’s extraordinary in what she was able to do on that movie. So I turned myself over to them. And the very first day I got down there and I saw what she had in mind, even though I had an idea of what the clam shell was, I saw a drawing of it. Just the outfit itself made me feel like Elvis. It was extraordinary. What she did, stepping into those shoes was I think one of the greatest achievements I’ve seen on a show in a very long time. These are very big shoes to fill and she did it without a hitch. She stepped right in and the day that we were filming that episode they brought this clamshell out and I put it on, it went to places that I had no idea it was going to go.
Danny (McBride) directed that episode and he had ideas for this and turned it into a quasi-music video and the way that Baby Billy sees himself, it’s like a psychological montage, if you will. I just thought it was brilliant, man. I had no idea that it was going to go that way. Once we got there and he was telling me how he wanted to block it and how he wanted to do it, and we had all of these extras and then all of a sudden it just turned into a typical day on The Righteous Gemstones or a Rough House production, which is one of imagination and joy and hard work.
Not that Eli doesn’t look sharp, but any envy for the costumes that Walton gets to wear?
Goodman: Not one millimeter.
Goggins: Come on, John.
Come on, man. He’s tremendous in the clamshell.
Goodman: I would, but it just ain’t my style. And they don’t make those big. When you go to the big and tall shops, they’re just out.
(Laughs) Are you dutiful viewers of the show? I’ve talked to some other people (from other shows) where it’s like, “Eh, sometimes I don’t want to watch myself.” What about you guys?
Goodman: I like to watch it. I don’t like watching myself. I always have notes, but I like watching what everybody else is doing. Because I’m a big fan of everybody on the show and they crack me up, so that’s why I watch.
If an older movie of yours comes on, will you sit and watch?
Goodman: It depends. I don’t mind them as much as I used to. There’s stuff I see in there that I just want to do over and that’s gone. But there are some that I would rather not see, but I don’t mind it.
What about you, Walton?
Goggins: Yeah, I watch this show because I love it. Like John said, to see what everybody else is doing. And it makes me laugh. But my thing is I won’t watch this show with my wife or friends. I watch it alone and I really won’t watch anything that I’ve done with anyone else. I’ve only ever seen most things one time. If something comes on, no, I’ll turn it off or I’ll just kind of skip it. Although I am finally at a place with my kid, I did watch The Apostle, I watched parts of The Apostle. That came on and it was like, what? That was 30 years ago, almost 28 years ago. But I did finally start watching some things that I’ve done with my son because he’s 12 now. And the pandemic really started his cinephilic experience and we’ve gone all over the map from this to this and including Kobayashi and Samurai Rebellion. I’ve taken him all over the map and he really loves movies and really gets them. I have just kind of started watching things with him and it’s very exciting. I just showed him Kill Bill because he is a big, big karate guy. Just so that he gets an introduction to Quentin and then I’ll probably show him Hateful Eight next and that’s exciting. I’m excited about seeing some of this shit because I’m watching it with him for as long as he can take it without wanting to vomit or get cringe-y.
Might be weird, but are you looking forward to watching Justified City Primeval and seeing where that goes?
Goggins: Oh, I am very much looking forward to it. No, it’s not weird at all. I’m excited to see Raylan Givens again and Boyd Holbrook. I’m such a big fan of his and Michael Dinner and Dave Andron and Graham Yost, that’s my family. Like The Righteous Gemstones is my family. Look, John Goodman has a lot of families and if you’ve been around for a long time, yeah, I got a lot of families too. And so, is it bittersweet? I mean, of course. Boyd Crowder is still very, very close to me, but it was not the time for either one of those things to meet, but I’ll be watching it all the way to the bitter end. How about yourself? Will you be watching it to the end?
Oh, a hundred percent. I was a late adopter. I did not watch the show full through until about a year ago and I just couldn’t stop myself. Stayed up till three in the morning watching five episodes a night. Very much looking forward to these.
Goggins: Got to, you got to watch every one of these, man. Got to.
I love this show too. I’ve been with this show since the start. I just watched the first five of this season. I’d like to slow it down a little. I like to watch it with everybody else.
Goodman: It’s fun to watch with other people.
Yeah, it’s that kind of thing, the weekly rollout. It’s nice to just see people talking about it and have those conversations. I like that more than the binge.
Goggins: I mean, not that you’re asking this question, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but because the three of us are here, HBO does it right, man. I think binge television is over. Personally for me, my household that is, we’re not doing it and maybe we’ll save up a couple of weeks or whatever, do a couple of episodes, but I have so missed the anticipation and the anxiety in my gut and the excitement and the joy and that’s what we’re doing with our kid. It’s like, buddy, it’s good, isn’t it? You want to watch the next one? Well, we got to wait a week to do it. I love it.
I think it (the weakening of the binge model) was a side effect of the pandemic. I think we all needed that communal kind of ability to talk about a show, that water cooler feeling wherever it takes place. I think that’s what we’re getting now.
Goodman: This weekend was a prime example, man, watching that last Succession.
And Barry and Ted Lasso. But now all the competition’s cleared. Now you guys are top of the heap, so you got that.
Goggins: The top, the very top! Standing on the top of the hill!
I haven’t watched the end. I hope this isn’t like a series finale. I hope you guys are with us for a couple more seasons. You got the crown now. Stick with it is all I’m saying.
[A brief moment of silence]
Goggins: (Laughs) I’m not giving anything away! Crickets.
‘The Righteous Gemstones’ airs Sundays on HBO and MAX.