Walton Goggins at Comic-Con Actor Walton Goggins (1971- ) has been credited in more than 70 television and film productions, often playing southern characters. In these roles, Goggins has dealt with the complexity of depicting the region fairly and owning up to its demons while striving to avoid common stereotypes of white southerners. In his television career, he is best known for his critically acclaimed portrayal of Det. Shane Vendrell in the FX series The Shield and for his Emmy-nominated portrayal of career criminal Boyd Crowder in the FX series Justified. His film credits include major roles in director Quentin Tarantino’s films Django Unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015). Goggins has also worked behind the camera as a co-owner of Ginny Mule Pictures, which produced the 2001 Academy Award winning short film, The Accountant. He has been nominated for seven Critics’ Choice Awards, the most of any actor.
Walton Sanders Goggins Jr. was born on November 10, 1971, in Birmingham, Jefferson County, to Janet Long and Walton Sanders Goggins. The family soon moved to Lithia Springs, Georgia. Walton described his upbringing as unstructured, stating that after his father left the family, his mother did little parenting, preferring to have fun with friends. He noted that she did immerse him in clogging, a traditional folk dance style popular in the American South. Goggins and his mother were champion cloggers and once opened for blues legend B. B. King in Georgia at the Fulton County Prison. Goggins credits his aunt and uncle, who were active in Birmingham theater, as an influence on his career path. At age 12, he walked into the office of an Atlanta casting agent and declared his desire to be a professional actor.
In 1989, Goggins moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. An acting coach advised him to subdue his southern accent, suggesting that his opportunities as an actor would be otherwise limited to portraying negative southern stereotypes. Goggins initially supported himself in Los Angeles with his own valet parking business. In his down time, he followed the advice of his acting teacher and practiced reading Shakespeare aloud to alter his accent. Goggins has noted that, despite being able to speak without the accent, his best roles have relied heavily upon it and, to a degree, upon negative stereotypes of southerners. He gained his first credited acting role that same year when he was cast as Darrell, a southern crack dealer, in an episode of the TV series In the Heat of the Night. He would go on to make a successful career with small supporting roles in TV and film during the 1990s. His first credited film role was in the 1992 Warner Brothers movie Forever Young, starring Mel Gibson. He also had a role in the acclaimed 1997 independent film The Apostle, written by and starring Robert Duvall. In 2000, Goggins married Leanne Knight, the owner of a dog-walking business; she would die by suicide four years later.
In 2001, Goggins became involved with Ginny Mule Pictures, an independent film production company created by actors Lisa Blount and Goggins’ long-time friend from Georgia, Ray McKinnon. Goggins signed on for the short film The Accountant as an actor but soon was invited to become part of the Ginny Mule Pictures team. The Accountant won an Academy Award in 2002 for Best Live Action Short Film. Set in the South, it tells the story of an accountant who attempts to help the O’Dell brothers save their family farm in the era of corporate agriculture, with Goggins playing brother Tommy O’Dell. The film is credited in the liner notes of the album Decoration Day by Alabama’s Drive-By Truckers for inspiring their song Sink Hole. Ginny Mule was involved in producing four critically acclaimed independent films, each featuring McKinnon and Goggins on screen.
Goggins’s big break as a television actor came in 2002 with his casting in the FX series The Shield as Los Angeles police detective Shane Vendrell. The character, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, was meant to die in an early episode, but Goggins’s acting appeal earned the character an expanded role in the series throughout its six-year run. Though undisciplined and racist, the character was also very intelligent and complex.
Following his success in The Shield, Goggins had small roles in several films and television series. His career took a turn for the better in 2010, when he accepted the role of enigmatic Boyd Crowder in the pilot for the FX series, Justified. The series, based on Elmore Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, was set in Harlan County in eastern Kentucky. The Boyd Crowder character, a local criminal and white supremacist, was intended to be killed during the pilot episode, but Goggins was received so positively by the test audience that his character survived the shooting meant to kill him off. By the second season, Goggins’ character was one of the lead roles and would remain so for the remainder of the series. In 2011, Goggins was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Boyd. That same year, he married writer and director Nadia Conners, with whom he has one child.
Goggins has also worked in film, most notably, with famed directors Stephen Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. In Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), Goggins plays Ohio Congressman Clay Hawkins, who, despite concern over his constituency’s reaction, switches his vote in favor of the antislavery 13th Amendment. That same year, Goggins played the role of a sadistic fight trainer named Billy Crash in Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated Django Unchained. Goggins noted that though the violence and sadistic nature of Billy Crash, who trained slaves to fight each other for sport, was difficult to embrace as an actor, he felt that it was important not to sugarcoat the role out of respect to all of the enslaved people who endured the atrocities that happened during this period in American history. In 2015, Goggins again acted in the Tarantino western The Hateful Eight, portraying young Wyoming sheriff Chris Mannix. Mannix, a major character in the film, begins with a racial worldview adopted from that of his father, a Confederate militia leader. By the end of the film, Mannix’s beliefs have been challenged and changed by his interaction with the African American character played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Goggins starred in several series after completing The Hateful Eight, including Vice Principals, The Unicorn, The Righteous Gemstones, and Invincible. He also continued his film career with such films as Them that Follow, Fatman, and the short film Zinnias. He was widely praised for his role as Baby Billy Freeman in the Righteous Gemstones, a series parodying televangelists that began airing in 2019. From 2019 to 2021, he played the lead role in the CBS series The Unicorn, a sitcom about a widowed father re-entering the dating scene. He also returned to his Emmy-winning role as Boyd Crowder in the 2023 reboot of Justified, titled Justified: City Primeval.
In 2002, Goggins was the object of Georgia General Assembly House Resolution 1589, which stated that the members of the Georgia House, on behalf of the residents of Lithia Springs, Douglas County, and the state of Georgia, commended him on his distinguished acting career and on his Academy Award. In 2016, he and a friend founded Mullholland Distilling in Los Angeles.