TV

Walton Goggins On ‘John Bronco,’ His Life And Career, And Running Through The House With A Pickle In Your Mouth

There are three things you should know about Walton Goggins.

The first is that he’s had a pretty incredible career, from his dramatic roles on The Shield and Justified, to his comedic work on Vice Principals and The Righteous Gemstones, to his film work with directors like Quentin Tarantino. His latest project, John Bronco, a goofball 40-minute mockumentary — billed as “the unbelievable story of the rise, fall and ultimate redemption of the legendary pitchman for the Ford Bronco” — that premieres on Hulu this week, from director Jake Syzmanski (who also directed the delightful HBO mockumentary 7 Days in Hell), in which Goggins plays a legendary fictional pitchman and cowboy named John Bronco across multiple decades, is unlike any of those. In a good way.

The second is that he is very appreciative of all of this. And grateful. He’s someone who loves his work, and loves that he gets to do it, and loves to talk to people about it, both as far as what it means to him and how it affects the people who enjoy it. He does not take any of it for granted, which makes it even more fun to see him bounce from role to role and genre to genre, because you know he’s having just as much fun doing it as you and I are having while we watch him do it.

The third thing is that Walton Goggins is a very lovely and patient man who will humor you while you ask him a series of silly questions about running through the house with a pickle in your mouth and how successful Boyd Crowder from Justified would have been as a Dairy Queen franchise owner, and will give you thoughtful answers about everything that make you look at each project a little differently.

It was a pleasure to speak with him. I hope you enjoy reading the slightly edited and condensed version of our chat half as much I enjoyed the phone call it came from.

The thing I like about John Bronco is, just in theory, “Walton Goggins playing a legendary pitchman and cowboy over a multi-decade period in a screwball satire from the minds behind 7 Days In Hell” is basically a perfect idea for a project. And yet, I did not consider it as an option before, and I don’t understand how it happened. So let’s start there. How did you end up getting involved with John Bronco?

Imagine [the production company] reached out, along with the director, Jake Szymanski, about getting involved and playing John. And we had a conversation, and I read it, and I loved it. It was so well-written, and I’m such a fan of Jake’s. And Marc, who works over at Imagine, is such a talented guy, that I just wanted to get involved. And like anything that I say yes to these days, it all centers on the story and the people executing that story. And I thought the story was really important and really funny, but also touching. And I’d never really seen anything like this, really. I called a couple of my friends actually, and I asked their advice, and they said, “Run, don’t walk, man. Just do it.” And I’m glad that I did. I had such a great time, really.

So, it wasn’t just like, “I would like to do a role where I get to try a lot of different mustache looks?”

[laughs] Well, I mean, yeah. I called in two really good friends to help pull that off. But I think honestly it was, look… I’m not a conventionally sexy guy really, at all. I mean, I think there are different things that make people attractive, for sure. There are different things that make people attractive to me, and looks more often than not have nothing to really do with that. But I don’t think that I would ever be offered to play a sex symbol, and this was an opportunity to do that. And so, it was different for me in that way, and I loved it.

That brings up a good point. Over the course of your career, and this is one of the reasons I really like your work, you’ve played this huge range of roles. You’ve done charismatic villain types in Justified and The Shield, and you did various deranged lunatics in the Danny McBride universe, you’re doing a CBS sitcom lead, and now you’re doing just something completely silly in the John Bronco project. When you go into the process of choosing a role, do you have a big picture plan like, “I want to do a drama here, I want to try something fun here,” or is it really just a project by project basis?

Well, first of all, that’s a very nice thing to say, and I really appreciate you saying that, or at least being vulnerable in saying that. That’s very kind. Yeah, I don’t know. I read, and I have a lot of friends that are actors and are friends that are writers, people kind of in this world, or I read interviews and hear other actors that try to have a plan. I don’t really have a plan. I don’t know what the plan is. I think that more often than not, the only thing that I look for is, like, could I be a benefit to the storyteller on whatever level? Do I have a take on this that I think would help the storyteller tell their story?

I mean, even with The Unicorn, it was just a perfect experience for where I was in my life. And I didn’t want to do another drama, a six-year experience or seven-year experience on a drama, if you’re lucky to get that many seasons, if you’re lucky to have your story go that long. I wanted to experience something that was honest and lighthearted, but also serious when it needs to get serious in a way, and in a network format because I’d never done that before. And it scared the shit out of me, and it still scares the shit out of me.

It’s got to keep it very new and refreshing.

That’s exactly right. Why are you scared of this? Really? If you really believe you could do something with it, even if it fails, then do you need to do it, man? Even just being out in the world. I like to get lost in the world, and that scares the shit out of me, really, to just decide to spend a month in Namibia. But you just do it.

That’s a great perspective and a great philosophy to have in life in general, just to do cool stuff and run with it.

Right. A really good friend of mine told me something a long time ago. He said, “Have more yeses in life than you have nos.” And for him, literally, most of the time before people get the invitation out of their mouth, he says, “Yes, absolutely. Yes. Yep. I’m going to do that. Yep. Okay. You want to go to dinner? Okay, yes. You want to go here? Yes. You want to do this show? Yes.” And, I don’t know, how much fucking time do we have left on this planet? I don’t know. I mean, it is short and so just live it to the fullest, man.

So, with that in mind, is there any kind of project or role that you haven’t had a chance to try yet that you’d like to? You’ve done so many things in so many different formats. Is there something that just either hasn’t been offered to you yet or something that you haven’t got a chance to try or like, I don’t know, like a full-on musical, or something like that?

A musical? No. A musician’s biography? Yes, I would like to try that, and I’m talking to a few people about one in particular right now that I’m not at liberty to discuss. But you know the other thing that I’ve never done? I’ve never done a horror movie.

Here we go.

I’ve never done a straight-up horror movie, kind of in that genre. I would love to do a straight down the middle, creative interpretation of a fucking classic, man. I would love that. I really would.

You do a lot of… not necessarily villains, because there’s more to them than that, but let’s say, antagonists. So if you did a horror movie, would you want to play a bad guy, like a chainsaw-wielding menace, or would you want to pl-

No! I want to play the guy getting chased!

I love it.

I don’t feel like I’m… I’m not Brad Pitt. I’m never going to be Brad Pitt. I’m not a number of the people around me, but I do know what I am. And I feel like the things that I would like to do that I may or may not have been given an opportunity to do on that level, I still get to experience. And that has value for me personally, and I’m very grateful for those opportunities.

Well, yes, you’re not going to be offered the roles that Brad Pitt gets, but I’ll also tell you this: Brad Pitt could not play Baby Billy Freeman.

You know what? You said it. All right.

It’s true.

Man, I love my life. I love my life, and I love the opportunities that I’ve been given. And I love the experiences that I’ve had so far in my life. I swear to God, I’m one of the luckiest fucking people on this planet, and I know it. That’s the thing, to have it and to not be grateful while you’re in it is an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And [Michael] Chiklis taught me that when we were doing The Shield. He said, “Never, ever, ever be cavalier with success, ever, because it can end just as easily as it came.” And that’s the truth, and I learned that on season one of The Shield, and I’ve never stopped thinking about that every day I go to work.

We’re having such a good conversation. I hate to steer it back to my stupid list of questions.

No, please, go ahead.

In John Bronco, that’s you singing the John Bronco song, right?

Yeah. It just made sense for our story in a way that Jake wanted to do it for me to sing it. And I tried to talk him out of it, just like, “Man, I can’t. That’s not my thing.” I am not a triple threat. But he said, “No, man. Just give it a try, just go for it.”

Let me respectfully disagree with you on not being a triple threat. This is now at least the third project that I can think of where you’ve performed some incredibly catchy song. There’s this one, there was “Busted by Lee Russell” in Vice Principals, and definitely “Misbehavin’” in The Righteous Gemstones. In fact, let me ask you this. “Misbehavin’”… I still have that song in my head. You’re the one who sang it. Have you managed to get it out of your head yet?

Never. No, no. And my son still requests it, like in the car sometimes. He’ll have it on, because it was on iTunes, and we downloaded it like everybody did that wanted to listen to it. And so, no, I can’t get it out of my head.

Have you, at any point, caught your son running through the house with a pickle in his mouth?

God, how do I answer that? No. No, because he likes pickles so much that he eats them while he’s sitting at the table. So by the time he gets up and runs away, he’s eaten all the pickles.

It’s such a perfect line because I had not ever considered running through the house with a pickle in your mouth to be some sort of misbehaving activity. But I mean, you could testify as a dad, if you saw your kid doing that, you’d be like, “Knock that off. Get that pickle out of your mouth.”

“Stop running through the house with a pickle in your mouth, Augustus. Stop it.”

Exactly.

“No running by the pool with a pickle in your mouth. No running through the house with a pickle in your mouth. Stop it.”

Just curious, talking about this very catchy song, of all the roles you’ve played, is there one you get recognized for more than the others when you’re out?

I’m answering you honestly: No. That’s what’s so lovely about my experience for me is that it’s usually kind of multiple things, or one person will say one thing and a block later someone will say something else. And then you get people that are African-American or white or Asian, young, old, middle-aged like me, in cars at stop signs. And people say, “Oh, shit! Hey, man!” And it’s just lovely. I love it. I love having conversations with people that have seen anything that I’ve been part of that were affected by it.

I know I only have you for a little bit here, so is it okay if I finish by asking you a very specific question about Justified that’s been banging around my head for like five years now?

[laughs] Yes. Yeah.

Okay, good, because I’m going to go crazy if I don’t. In season four of Justified, before things all start going sideways, Boyd develops this plan to get out of crime and go legit. And his plan involves opening a Dairy Queen franchise. Do you think Boyd Crowder would have been a successful Dairy Queen franchise owner?

I think he would have been a very successful Dairy Queen franchise owner, very successful. And that episode in particular, it’s very … All of this shit is very personal to me. I’m a poor kid from Georgia. We’re divided on a lot of things in this country. The one thing that a lot of us aren’t divided on is poverty. And for me, Boyd Crowder was what I wanted to say about rural America and my version of it. And that for him, there was a glass ceiling, and he couldn’t break it. And all he ever wanted was that, was the ability to escape a life that he came from, and to be somebody, and to be respected in a different way, and not through fear and intimidation.

With my story, I participated in kind of all of it. And I said, “We got to say this, man.” Because there was a dude in my hometown whose dad had four Dairy Queen franchises, and he made it. He was a success. And so, to answer your question, as fastidious as Boyd Crowder was, and as great of a compartmentalizer as he was… yeah, I think you would have seen Dairy Queens popping up in places that you never anticipated.

I’m very glad you said that because I’ve always had a theory that Boyd Crowder would have become the South’s greatest ice cream tycoon.

Absolutely. He would sell more Blizzards than anyone in any state in America.

John Bronco premieres on Hulu on Wednesday, October 15.

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