The last time Walton Goggins appeared in a cable network show, he starred as the scheming sociopathic dandy Lee Russell in HBO’s outrageously divisive 2016 comedy, Vice Principals. Now, with the second and final season of Vice Principals still several months away, Goggins is back with another show that’s the diametric opposite of Vice Principals‘ envelope-pushing satire.
In Six, which debuts Jan. 18 on History, Goggins plays Richard “RIP” Taggert, who heads a Navy SEAL team charged with counter-terrorism missions. Instead of an exaggerated louse, Goggins is now playing an American hero — though he’s not without complications. A haunted man whose demons threaten to unravel his personal and professional lives, Taggert is in some ways a textbook Walton Goggins character, in that he’s neither completely good or completely bad. Instead, Taggert exists in a moral never-never land that he must reconcile before it destroys him. This zone has long been where Goggins excels — whether in TV landmarks like The Shield and Justified or in his excellent turn as the sorta-hero of Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 anti-western The Hateful Eight.
Six is uneven overall — the juxtaposition of the men’s lives in the field and at home with their families will feel overly familiar to anyone who has seen any number of military dramas, from Coming Home to American Sniper. But the sections in which Taggart’s story unfolds are frequently riveting, due almost entirely to Goggins’ dependably intense and empathetic performance.
Goggins, who came to Six in the 11th hour after original star Joe Manganiello dropped out for health reasons, spoke about the eight-part series with characteristic passion when reached by phone last weekend. Goggins was jet lagged after having just landed in South Africa — he’ll be there for four months filming the new Lara Croft movie with Alicia Vikander — but he gamely answered questions about what he says was one of the hardest, and most rewarding, jobs of his career.
What was your read on the character when you first encountered the material? He seems to square with the morally suspect types that you often play.
You know, I had a conversation with the creators immediately — there wasn’t a lot of time after I replaced another actor who was in that role, so I didn’t have a lot of time to really make my decision. I just said, “I’m not interested in being used as a piece of propaganda for American war policy.” Honoring the struggles of these men and women outside of the context of the country that they’re fighting for — I want to speak to them. I want to tell their story. I feel like that’s what they had written, and they said, “That’s exactly what we want to do when it comes to you.” They gave me a seat at the table and we had this beautiful collaboration over eight episodes, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, to be quite honest with you.
Your statement about not wanting this to be military propaganda is interesting. What exactly did you have in mind when you said that?
Well, I think that there are ways of telling stories like this that are about a true honoring or celebration of sacrifice for the people that we, America, ask to defend our country on a daily basis. I think there’s a time for that, there’s a place for that — then there’s also a place for not making it about you. What I mean by that is, by not making it about just America. Not having it be about you, [but] having it be about these people independent of you and looking at them and understanding really what it is they’re going through without just a cursory pat on the back saying, “Thank you for your service.”
Do you feel like Six has a political perspective, in terms of being anti-war or critical of American foreign policy?
No, I don’t, which I think is its saving grace. There is no political soapbox that it’s standing on, one way or the other. It’s not for or against anything. It is just with a microscope, dissecting the experience of [war]. I think that that’s the best way to reach anybody. In our volatile political system right now, I don’t think anybody wants to talk about it anymore, whatever side you’re on. I certainly don’t. I’m ready to get past it and look at individuals and look at their struggle and tell stories from that point of view.
I don’t want to divulge any spoilers, so let’s just say your character goes through quite a physical ordeal. Was this a hard shoot? Was it as hard to shoot as it to watch?
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I think there’s not a person that you would speak to that was involved in this project that wouldn’t say the same thing. For me, it was a process of being incarcerated for 15 hours a day and getting hit all day, every day, with my hands tied behind my back, man. I know, just in my imagination, how demoralizing and dehumanizing that is, and I’m just an actor, man — who can get a cappuccino if I needed to. But people have and probably will continue to have this experience. This experience is, on a number of levels, translated in a number of different ways, but it was very, very, very difficult. Mentally very difficult. Physically, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
I wanted to ask about Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who are executive producers of Six, and also were involved in the films you made with Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Was it their idea to get you involved in Six?
Yeah, I got a phone call from Harvey and he said, “Walton, I need you, man, and the story needs you.” I can’t tell you what it feels like for an actor to be at a restaurant with Harvey Weinstein, let alone get an incoming phone call from a man of his stature. It meant a great deal to me and I care for the man deeply and I took what he said to heart, you know, and answered that call. Not solely because of that, but because of that and because of Bill [Broyles] and Bruce [McKenna] and David [Broyles], and this cast, and this network. The History Channel really wanted to do something that they hadn’t done before, and to be bold in this next step.
Most importantly, I wanted to honor the people that have made this commitment. You know, I come from the South, man, and I would say that seven out of my 10 friends growing up all went into the service. It’s just what you did. My education lay elsewhere, and I went out West when all of my buddies went East in the Gulf War. I heard them. I’ve heard what it was like for them — even those that didn’t see battle, what it was like for them.
It was a real opportunity to say thank you. I hope in “insert-airport-terminal anywhere in the world” going forward, that they will come up and they’ll say, “Hey, man, thank you for giving a sh*t. Thank you for caring.”