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Walton Goggins chats about slipping into skin of The Ghoul in Fallout and relevance of themes

In the series that premieres on April 11, Goggins plays two characters gunslinger and bounty hunter Cooper Howard who mutates into The Ghoul after nuclear attack that wipes out world as we know it

Priyanka Roy  Published 04.04.24, 11:33 AM
Goggins as The Ghoul in Fallout

Goggins as The Ghoul in Fallout

Walton Goggins needs no introduction. The actor has been prolific on screens big and small, leaving an impact in shows like The Shield and Justified, as well as big-ticket films like Django Unchained, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Tomb Raider, The Hateful Eight and many more.

Goggins, 52, now stars in Fallout, Prime Video’s high-stakes series based on the video game of the same name, which is created by Jonathan Nolan and set in post-apocalyptic America. In the series that premieres on April 11, Goggins plays two characters — gunslinger and bounty hunter Cooper Howard who mutates into The Ghoul after the nuclear attack that wipes out the world as we know it. Over a video call, The Telegraph caught up with Goggins for a chat.

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You play two characters in Fallout, one before and one after the apocalypse. That must have been a huge challenge. What were the others?

The biggest challenge was the application of the prosthetics and becoming The Ghoul. The second biggest challenge was understanding how he moves in this world. I am an actor who has worked with both guns and make-up throughout my career, but the kind of make-up I had on in this series throws your sense of balance and your spatial relatability off. It was so difficult to understand how to hold a gun with the gloves on. That was very challenging right out of the gate. But once we got it dialled in, it was a joy.

How much time did you spend on make-up every day?

When we started the application in the discovery phase, it was about five hours. It took a long time. We gradually decided what we wanted it to be... we didn’t want people to lean back from the experience (of watching The Ghoul), we wanted them to lean into the experience and dissect and observe The Ghoul’s features. We also wanted to make him kind of sexy (smiles). So by the time we were rolling two weeks into the experience, we had the make-up time down to about an hour and 45 minutes. We got the hang of it.

Most often, prosthetics and make-up help actors get into the skin of their characters. Was that the case for you as well?

That wasn’t the case for me. I had a profound, deep insecurity about the whole thing. I am claustrophobic anyway and even though I am a scuba diver, I don’t like anything on my face.

We settled on making it (the face prosthetics) as thin as possible. That was what Jonah (series creator Jonathan Nolan) wanted, that is what I wanted... Vincent (Van Dyke, prosthetics designer) created it and Jake Garber (Oscar-nominated make-up artist) put it on... but the thing that I was most insecure about was whether or not the audience could see what was going on inside of me.

During the first couple of days, after every take, I would look at Jonah and ask: ‘Are you reading any of this? Do you see what is going on in my heart? I don’t know what you see and what you don’t see. Does it look like I am a mean guy?’ And he said: ‘We see it. It is all in your eyes, we see what you are thinking.’

When we first set out to do it, Jonah was pretty dead set on me wearing contact lenses. I was extremely intimidated by that process because I have worn them before and I don’t react very well to them. But once we got it all done, we realised that my eyes were the only thing, the last thing which is still human in The Ghoul.

This is not your first project based on a video game. Tomb Raider is a big part of your filmography. Do you naturally get drawn to the dynamism and potential popularity of a video game adaptation?

I go where the best stories are. Stories that I am given the opportunity to
work with. Some of the best stories being created right now are in the video game world. My son is a big gamer and he loves Bethesda and some other video games. Some of them don’t even have that much action but it is the moments between the action that he keeps absorbing because he feels like he is in the middle of the experience and he derives so much pleasure from that.

Yes, I have done it once before with Tomb Raider and I am doing it in Fallout now because of Jonathan Nolan and the people behind it. It was the best story that came on our desk at the time.

Were you familiar with the Fallout universe before doing the film?

I wasn’t familiar with it at all. I never played the game and even though my son is a big gamer and a big fan, I had never played the game. I had heard of it and even when this job happened, I decided not to play it and to not read anything about it.

I did read one article about it and then I stopped because I felt like one of us needed to be in the conversation that was concerned with the story more than anything else. Even though the story may fit in the game of Fallout and even though this isn’t predicated on a particular season of the game, I think it is really important that the story stands up, with or without the gaming element to it. I think that is how an audience is able to absorb the experience.

Even though it is mostly set in a post-apocalyptic world, the series touches upon a wide variety of themes. Which, in your opinion, are most relevant in today’s times?

This show is about so many things. It is about the chasm between the haves and the have-nots and the rest of us who are left to die on the surface. That is a ubiquitous theme that is being played out in every country in the world right now and it will be the end of us if we don’t rebalance that equation.

This show is about the corrosion of morality and idealism. The chasm between the vault dwellers — that is the people that live below the surface — versus the people left on top. The vault dwellers have morality and they live in a meritocracy. But it is a morality of convenience. They have never gone without food or water... they have not been subjected to an irradiated landscape like the people on top have. For the people on top, it is all about kill or be killed. It is a scary place and once Lucy (played by Ella Purnell) comes up from the vault and experiences the world, it is through her eyes and also through her actions and the choices that she makes that she brings across this can-do kind of optimism. That will corrode over time and we see the naivete of people with privilege and the real world. It is absurd but it is presented funnily. It is subversive.

I believe you travelled extensively across India about 15 years ago. What was that experience like?

I did. I loved it very, very much. I have been to Calcutta. I travelled there and all across that whole top region. I would like to go back. Maybe I will see you in India.

Which is your favourite film/ series based on a video game? Tell t2@abp.in

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