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Walton Goggins: Playing Brother Boyd On 'Justified.'

The Southern actor discusses playing a white supremacist turned born-again Christian on the critically acclaimed FX series Justified — and how he gets into the mind-set to play one of TV's worst bad boys.

This interview was originally broadcast on May 26, 2010. Justified returns for a second season on Fx on February 9, 2011 at 10pm EST.

31:54

Other segments from the episode on January 28, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 28, 2011: Interview with Walton Goggins; Interview with Wanda Jackson; Review of the film "The Mechanic."

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Justified")

Mr. WALTON GOGGINS (Actor): (as Boyd Crowder) Fire in the hole!

(Soundbite of explosion)

DAVIES: That's Walton Goggins, playing a white supremacist shouting "fire in the hole" as he blows up a black church with a rocket launcher. It's a scene from the first episode of the FX series "Justified," which was based on a story by Elmore Leonard.

In the first season of "Justified," Goggins' character, Boyd Crowder, did time in prison, where he was born again and dedicated himself to Jesus. The second season premieres February 9.

Terry spoke with Walter Goggins last year, about his role in "Justified" and about another memorable performance in "The Shield" as Detective Shane Vendrell, a member of a corrupt narcotics strike team.

Let's hear another clip from "Justified." The show is centered around a deputy U.S. marshal, Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. He's been sent back to his home town in Kentucky, where his old friend, Boyd Crowder, played by Goggins, is being investigated for robbing a bank.

Boyd and Raylan used to work together in the coal mines as teenagers. Now they're on opposite sides of the law. In this scene, before Boyd's religious conversion, Boyd and Raylan are meeting again after many years and have been talking about the time they spent together in the mines. Boyd, the white supremacist, speaks first.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Justified")

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Yeah, all those days, good and bad, they all long gone now. Everything's changed. It's all changed. Mine has changed. No more following the seam underground. It's cheaper to take the tops off mountains and let the slag run down and ruin the creeks.

Hey, you remember the picket lines, don't you? Of course, backing the company scabs and gun thugs. Whose side do you think the government's always been on, Raylan, us or people with money? And who do you think controls that money? Who do you think wants to mongrelize the world?

Mr. TIMOTHY OLYPHANT (Actor): (as Raylan Givens): Who?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) The Jews.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Boyd, you know any Jews?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) See, I recruit skins. They don't know no more than you do. And I have to teach them that we have a moral obligation to get rid of the Jews. See, it was in the Bible.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens): Where?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) In the beginning. It's part of creation. See, in the beginning, right, you had your mud people. Now, they were also referred to as beasts because they had no souls. See, they were soulless. And then Cain - you remember Cain now?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Mm-hmm.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Well, Cain, he laid down with the mud people, and out of these fornications came the Edomites. Do you know who the Edomites are?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) Who?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) They're the Jews, Raylan.

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You're serious.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Read your Bible, as interpreted by experts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You know, Boyd, I think you just use the Bible to do whatever the hell you like.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Crowder) Well, what do you think I like, Raylan?

Mr. OLYPHANT: (as Givens) You like to get money and blow (bleep) up.

GROSS: That's a scene from the FX series "Justified."

Walton Goggins, welcome to FRESH AIR. You may be a white supremacist in "Justified," but I love watching you. It is so much fun to watch you in this series. Did you feel like you had to figure out why some people become white supremacists before you could play one?

Mr. GOGGINS: On some level, but I never believed that Boyd Crowder was a white supremacist, to be quite honest with you. In my conversations with both the network and with Graham Yost, our executive producer, and Tim Olyphant, it was very important for me as an actor not to play this guy as a white supremacist but to play him as a bit of a Svengali: a person who doesn't necessarily believe all that he espouses.

You know, I've made four Southern movies. I've been in quite a few Southern films. And initially, when this was sent to me, I wasn't interested in playing another Southern guy labeled as a racist.

You know, I think racism is a problem throughout our country, and it's not confined to those states below the Mason-Dixon line. And for me, I did not want to perpetuate a stereotype.

So I had them take out references to our president, Barack Obama, and I wouldn't say the N-word, and I said I would do this if Raylan was able to point out that Boyd doesn't necessarily believe that which he is saying, and that was very important to me.

And the other thing that I wanted to explore with Boyd, which I think is more appropriate for him as a person, kind of getting in his skin, was to explore his intellect. And I don't think that that was there in the original pilot. It was tweaked very easily with a couple of different sentences here and there that explored how smart this guy really was. That was important to me, more so than - that was interesting to me. To be a racist didn't interest me.

GROSS: So okay, so going along with the premise that your character is a really smart man who is in a bad situation and has become a white supremacist, not because he deeply believes that everything is the Jews' fault, and black people's fault, but because that's the way to get power in the area that he is with the people that he knows - he goes to prison, and in prison he undergoes a religious conversion and is born again and dedicates his life to Jesus, so he says.

I have no idea watching this series whether you're serious about Jesus and having been converted or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And I'm wondering if you know.

Mr. GOGGINS: I do know. I think it was a discovery, you know, along the way. I don't think I knew initially. I don't think Graham or the other writers on the show knew initially, and I thought it best that we - as did they - that we keep it ambiguous until we figure it out. I think that I figured it out shortly thereafter.

GROSS: And he's organizing a church now made up of meth dealers and survivalists and...

Mr. GOGGINS: Absolutely, black and white, by the way, absolutely, yes.

GROSS: That's part of his revelation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: He's a walking paradox, for sure.

GROSS: So you grew up in the South. You were born in Birmingham and grew up in Georgia. The accent that you use in the show, is that an accent that you're familiar with? Because it's supposed to be a Kentucky accent.

Mr. GOGGINS: It is supposed to be a Kentucky accent. I don't know quite how accurate it is. I did study a little bit about people from Kentucky and kind of how they talk. It's not an accent that I'm familiar with.

It's different because the cadence is so specific to Elmore Leonard, and it's slightly stilted and heightened in a way that I also think reflects, for me, what I'm trying to do - I don't know whether it comes across or not - but something that speaks to Boyd's intelligence.

You know, more often than not, I don't or haven't seen Southern characters like this with a penchant and a love for words. And we were able to, in the pilot episode, kind of introduce that. And he says innocuous.

I was sitting there right before we were going on and talking over the scene with Graham and said, you know, what if he were to say, just kind of offhandedly, because it's the way his mind works, he were to say: You picked an innocuous target. You know what that means? That means harmless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: So he not only uses these words, but he also gives the definition right afterwards, as if he's very proud of knowing how to use a certain word.

GROSS: And that he also assumes that people who he knows won't know the word.

Mr. GOGGINS: Absolutely, absolutely, and the people that he hangs out with won't know the answer or the definition of those words.

GROSS: So the first episode of "Justified" is based on an Elmore Leonard short story called "Fire in the Hole."

Mr. GOGGINS: It is.

GROSS: And I'll confess, I haven't read that story. So I was wondering: Does your character in that story have the religious conversion, or does that story end before the arc...

Mr. GOGGINS: That story ends with the death of Boyd Crowder, and I have not read that short story, either, and purposely did not read it after getting the job because I didn't want to be influenced by it. But as I understand it, he dies at the end of the pilot, which is exactly how we filmed it. I was only to do one episode. Boyd Crowder actually does get shot in the heart.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: It is only after showing it to audiences that Boyd Crowder lived. About three months later, right when the show was getting picked up, I came on to do more episodes, and we re-filmed, we re-shot the ending so that Boyd had an opportunity to live.

GROSS: Oh, resurrected.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: Absolutely. He's like Jesus. He is Jesus. He came back in three months.

GROSS: Can you, like, deconstruct the voice that you do a little bit for us, like give an illustration of how you put it together?

Mr. GOGGINS: Well, this is a person with probably a ninth-grade education. I think he's extremely well-read. I don't think that he feels the need to raise his voice in certain ways. He - I think he understands the power of manipulation, sometimes can lie in whispering to people and getting close to people and not averting one's gaze but looking deep into their eyes and talking to their very soul.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right, good.

Mr. GOGGINS: How did that come off?

GROSS: Very well.

Mr. GOGGINS: Good. So do I have you on my team, Terry?

GROSS: I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Not on Boyd's team - no, thank you.

Mr. GOGGINS: Yes, but I understand.

GROSS: What was it like to, like, have a swastika tattoo and, you know, spout all that Christian Identity religion stuff? I mean, the Christian Identity movement that believes Jews are the mud people.

Mr. GOGGINS: Yeah, it was - you know, honestly, it was awful. It really was. A lot of my friends at FX are - one gentleman in particular, Eric Schrier, is Jewish, and we did a table reading of this script.

And I had to say that monologue and immediately after felt like I had to say: I'm sorry, I don't believe any of this. Everyone in the room, I have - my best friends are Jewish.

It was - no, it was really - it's difficult, and it's difficult to have a swastika on your arm, you know. And I actually wore it home. I didn't let them take it off. So I kept it with me during the process of filming the pilot episode. And there were...

GROSS: What, you wanted to be infected by it?

Mr. GOGGINS: Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, you're certainly infected or affected by ink on your body, and something as powerful a symbol, as powerful as a swastika, I definitely wanted to kind of feel that.

And there were times during the day when I wasn't working, and I was out at dinner, that I would roll up my T-shirt, and I would leave the swastika there just to see people's reaction.

And there was one time when I was with Tim, and I had rolled my shirt up just to see what would happen, and Tim didn't notice it for about five minutes, until there were tourists walking through the lobby of the hotel who almost gasped.

You could hear them step back with their Starbucks coffee in their hand. And Tim said: Please, please roll down your shirt. Please, or I'm going to have to leave you here alone.

GROSS: Well, yeah. I can understand his sentiment. I mean, like, sporting a swastika in public is a very vile act.

Mr. GOGGINS: A very vile act.

GROSS: It's a very provocative act.

Mr. GOGGINS: It is.

GROSS: I mean, what kind of reaction were you expecting?

Mr. GOGGINS: I knew that I would get that reaction. I just wanted to see. I just wanted to see what that would be like.

GROSS: It's funny, nobody noticed that you're both, like, actors, that you're both stars.

Mr. GOGGINS: Not for a minute, but I definitely explained afterwards that it was fake, it wasn't real, so...

DAVIES: Walton Goggins, who stars as Boyd Browder, a white-supremacist-turned-born-again-Christian in the FX series "Justified," which starts its second season on February 9. Here's a clip from the first season. Boyd's attending the church he used to go to as a child, and at the reverend's invitation, he steps up to testify before the congregation.

(Soundbite of television program, "Justified")

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Crowder) Well, as many of you good people may remember, I was a hateful man. And I was a sinful man seeking my way through the darkness, looking for salvation in worldly things and evil things.

Like Saul on the road to Damascus, I was long gone on a sinful journey when the light of the Lord shone upon me on my deathbed in a prison hospital.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Crowder) And brothers and sisters, I'm here to tell you today that bullet missed my heart, but it struck my soul. It struck it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Crowder) I was blinded. I was blinded. I could no longer see ungodly truth, for if any man be born again in Christ is a new creature. Well, I am a new, a new creature.

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Thank you, Boyd.

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Crowder) Not quite finished here, Reverend.

DAVIES: We'll hear more of Terry's conversation with Walton Goggins and about his roles in "Justified" and "The Shield" after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Walton Goggins, who is one of the stars in the FX series "Justified." He had another memorable role in an earlier FX series "The Shield."

GROSS: Let me ask you about "The Shield" and your character on it, Shane Vendrell, and you were one of the members of this really corrupt strike team. It was a narcotics team that worked the streets of L.A. and was supposed to be busting, you know, drug gangs, but it was - they were pretty dirty so that they always took drugs and money.

Mr. GOGGINS: To say that they were immoral would not be an understatement, yes.

GROSS: Yes, and your character, Shane, he often thinks he's smart and that he can really come up with these schemes and even be smarter than Vic, who's the leader of the team, but he's sometimes just, like, really stupid and impulsive and does the wrong thing. And I thought we could play a scene here.

And Season One ends with all the members of this small strike team standing around like a dumpster of money that they've managed to steal from an Armenian gang that trafficked in prostitutes and drugs and other things.

So they're standing around this, like, dumpster of money, and they have to figure out where are they going to put it, what are they going to do with it? And then when the season, when the next season picks up, this is a scene in which Michael Chiklis as Vic, the leader of the strike team, is coming to see you because he needs some of the money. Here's the scene.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Shield")

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Detective Shane Vendrell) Hey, what's up?

Mr. MICHAEL CHIKLIS (Actor): (as Detective Vic Mackey) Hi, I need to make an emergency withdrawal from the retirement fund. You've got the key, right?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) Vic, there's nothing in there.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) You've got to be joking me.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) No, we took it. (Unintelligible) we took it to invest.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) Without telling me?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) You put me in charge while you were taking time off.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) A quarter of that stash is mine.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) And I'm in the process of tripling it for you. It was going to be a surprise.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) It is, a bad one.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) Look, I've been giving this thing a lot of thought.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) Yeah? And what's your plan exactly?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) I've been stepping up shipments. I've been overseeing distribution.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) Distribution? We're middlemen keeping the peace, not drug dealers. What the hell are you doing?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) I'm not doing anything that we weren't doing before. I'm just bumping things up a level.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) Oh, what level is that, prison? All right, where's my investment now?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) It's all tied up in the coke shipment.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) That coke that had Tio's(ph) guy bleeding from every orifice?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) We don't know that that was the coke.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) I need that money.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Vendrell) Yeah? Well, we all do.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (as Mackey) No, I need it now to get back my kids.

GROSS: That's a scene from the FX series "The Shield," which is of course on DVD. And Walton Goggins, who played Shane, is my guest. I want you to talk about how you see the character of Shane and how you developed him.

Mr. GOGGINS: I think that you've given a better description than I could ever give. I think that you're exactly right in the sense that he's -you know, he arrives in the room 30 seconds too late and is continually playing catch-up.

And he's not a very smart guy and doesn't think before he acts or doesn't think before he speaks and is very impulsive, like Shane. But when Shane stepped out and tried to do the same thing, he failed miserably. Whenever he takes a leadership position, he fails miserably. He's a tragic, tragic guy.

GROSS: I love watching your face in "The Shield" because sometimes you're just kind of blank and clueless-looking and sometimes incredibly defensive and sometimes really hurt. There's all these, like, expressions that flash across your face, your eyes.

Mr. GOGGINS: He's just mentally processing. It's like he's just trying to understand what the person just said. He spends a lot of time just playing catch-up.

GROSS: Now, I read that when you were young, you were good at competitive hog calling and I'm not even sure what that is, having grown up in Brooklyn.

Mr. GOGGINS: You guys didn't hog-call in Brooklyn?

GROSS: No.

Mr. GOGGINS: That's not how you got your pork in Brooklyn?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We got our pork in Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood.

Mr. GOGGINS: I understand. I understand. Yeah. You know, I was a first-place state champion hog caller. I'll do a little...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. GOGGINS: I'll do just a...

(Soundbite of hog calling)

Mr. GOGGINS: I think that's about as loud as I can get in the studio. But as I was 10 years old and saw other people doing it and walked up on stage, and they had to adjust the mic for sure, and I just leaned up on my tiptoes, and I won. I got a trophy with a big hog on top. I have it in my office.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So when you win the competitive hog-calling championship, is it just like, do hog actually respond and say yes, coming?

Mr. GOGGINS: Hogs don't have to respond, Terry. Hogs don't have to respond. It's the audience that responds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: The audience is sitting there responding to the hog call. And right when you're done with the hog call they usher you off to the greased pig contest.

GROSS: Which is what?

Mr. GOGGINS: They put a $20 bill on the back of a hog and they grease it up and the person who gets the $20 bill gets the $20 bill.

GROSS: Oh. Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Walton Goggins stars in the FX series "Justified." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Im Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

We're listening to Terry's interview recorded last year with actor Walton Goggins. He plays a white supremacist turned born-again Christianity on the FX series "Justified." Its second season premieres February 9th. Goggins played a corrupt cop on the FX series "The Shield." He told Terry how he was drawn to acting.

Mr. GOGGINS: I grew up around a bunch of women, believe it or not. And my aunt was an actress in the theater and another aunt, who was a publicist for B.B. King and Phyllis Diller and Wolfman Jack so...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. GOGGINS: ...I got to meet some of them through her. But I also grew up watching my aunt perform on stage, and I think that's where, you know, I got the initial bug. But early on, when I first began in Georgia, it was also an opportunity just to kind of exorcise some of these emotions, you know, that I was having as an angst-ridden teenager and it felt good. It really felt - it felt therapeutic.

GROSS: You know...

Mr. GOGGINS: I didn't know that I would be doing this for the rest of my life.

GROSS: It's funny you said angst-ridden teenager because Shane on "The Shield," your character on "The Shield," sometimes behaves like an angst-ridden teenager with Vic as his father. You know, it's like his way of obeying or disobeying.

Mr. GOGGINS: Absolutely.

GROSS: It's kind of like what an uncomfortable teenager would do who's not yet confident in the world but, you know, wants to follow but also doesn't want to go along sometimes.

Mr. GOGGINS: Absolutely. You know, I think that Shane, I think that's a part that kind of comes from me. He didn't have the strongest father figure in his life. In Shane's life, he didn't have a male significant figure in his life and really looked up to Vic. Vic took that spot for Shane and in no small way defined his moral code. I don't know that Shane would have gone down that path left to his own vices. I think it was under the tutelage of Vic Mackey that Shane went down that road.

GROSS: So in the final season Shane is really over his head. He's betrayed the cops that he works with, Vic wants to kill him and so do the Armenians who Shane stole money from. He's hiding out with his wife. She's hurt herself. She's hurt her collarbone in a fight I think with drug dealers. And I want to play a scene from that part of the series.

So you're both hiding out. You're just coming back to the place where you've been hiding out and she's lying down in great pain from her injury.

(Soundbite of FX series, "The Shield")

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) Hey. I'm sorry I took so long. How is it?

Ms. MICHELE HICKS (Actress): (as Mara Sewell-Vendrell) It's awful.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) I couldn't get us anything to eat because the cops, they spotted me. (beep) I had to ditch the car.

(Soundbite of moaning)

Ms. HICKS: (as Mara Sewell-Vendrell) You okay?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry about me. You just - I want you to take these.

Ms. HICKS: (as Mara Sewell-Vendrell) What are these?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) They're Persecanols(ph) and they will help with the pain.

(Soundbite of moaning)

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) Okay?

Ms. HICKS: (as Mara Sewell-Vendrell) Oh. Oh. What else did you get?

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) Just some street (beep) and some meth and weed and a little blow but I had to do most of it. The stuff that they made me do last night, that was great, right? And I needed to stay focused so that I can get us out of this.

Ms. HICKS: (as Mara Sewell-Vendrell) You can't help us if you're high, baby.

Mr. GOGGINS: (as Shane Vendrell) It was just enough to even me out. Okay, I promise.

GROSS: That's a scene with my guest Walton Goggins from "The Shield."

Did you travel with cops, understudy cops before doing the role? And I don't think any cops would much want to be associated with the characters that you and the other leads play because you were just so corrupt and amoral.

Mr. GOGGINS: I did. I spent - I'd gone on a number of ride-alongs with police officers here in Los Angeles and then spent time in my car, before every season would drive around this city in the places that we were supposed, that kind of represented Farmington in the story. And, you know, Chiklis said something early on and I found this to be very true. You know, "The Shield" is fiction. I mean it is entertainment. We tried to make it as real as possible but it is fiction. And Chiklis said anyone below the rank of captain will tell you that they love the show, they absolutely love the show. Anyone above the rank of captain will publicly say that they hate the show but privately tell you that they love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: And I found that to be the case, you know, over the years with the numbers of cops that I had met over the years and there were some strange interactions with the cops over the years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, tell us about one of them.

Mr. GOGGINS: Well, I got approached by a man with, I think it was an AK-47, in Panama of all places, who kind of stopped me when I was with my significant other and started asking me for my papers. I said well, wait a minute. I don't, you know, I don't have it on me. I'm sorry. I don't understand. And he just said, I love "The Shield."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: He was Panamanian and he scared the hell out of me, for sure. And then it happened with an immigration officer flying back into this country where he started asking me all kinds of questions and questions about drugs and this and that and said, I think you're lying to me. I said man, I'm not lying to you. You can look through my bags. He said, we're going to look through your bags. That's not the only thing we're going to look through.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: And then I was like please, take me into a room. Do whatever you have to do. And he said, I'm just kidding with you, man. Go through. When's the next episode coming on? When's the next season start? So they would just mess with you. It was like we were in this fraternity of guys in blue. And while it worked when they came up to you, it didn't always work when I tried to get out of a parking ticket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOGGINS: Or a speeding ticket.

GROSS: Did you try?

Mr. GOGGINS: Oh yeah. Oh, absolutely I tried.

GROSS: How?

Mr. GOGGINS: Because it - I ran a stop sign in a neighborhood and this cop kind of came up and he let me off the hook. So he set a bad example. He's like, hey man, all right. Just don't do this again. I know you're close to home. Don't do this again. When is the next season starting? So then I felt that oh, there's a silent fraternity of guys that I'm a part of and I didn't know it. But now I know it. And so the next time I got pulled over I waited for the cop to come up to the side of the car and I just kind of looked really cocky and just kind of laid back in my seat and said, hey there. How are you? He's like can I see your driver's license and registration, please? I said, do you really need to see that? Come on. I mean I'm a guy in blue. And he said, let me see your driver's license and registration, please. He came back and wrote me a ticket and said when's the next season come on?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Walton Goggins speaking with Terry Gross last May. Goggins co-stars in the FX series "Justified." Its second season premiere is February 9th.

Coming up, the ageless queen of rockabilly, Wanda Jackson.

This is FRESH AIR.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

(Soundbite of song, Lets Party")

Ms. WANDA JACKSON (Singer-songwriter, musician): (Singing) Some people like to rock, some people like to roll. But movin' and a groovin' gonna satisfy my soul. Let's have a party. Ooh. Let's have a party. So then I'm send it to the store. And let's buy some more. And let's have a party tonight.

I've never kissed a bear...

DAVIES: Wanda Jackson has been called the Queen of Rockabilly. But lets face it, there weren't a lot of women rockers who could compete for that crown.

Jackson toured with Elvis Presley in the '50s. And, it was The King himself who encouraged her to try and cross over from country to rock 'n' roll. "Let's Have a Party" was her only top 40 record. But she had songs on the country charts, such as, In the Middle of a Heartache" and Right or Wrong."

At age 73 wanted Jackson is still performing. A New York Times piece says she was cat growls, hip swivels and howls at a recent Brooklyn show, and she has a new novel called The Party Aint Over." It's a collaboration with producer Jack White, who plays guitar on the collection of covers recorded live with a 12-piece band. The hope is that the new CD will bring her a whole new generation of fans.

Terri spoke to Wanda Jackson in 2003. She told Terry about making the transition from country music to rockabilly.

Ms. JACKSON: Well, I started in country music and then in 1955, after I graduated from high school, the first touring that I did was with a young fellow early in his career too and it was Elvis Presley. And I worked with Elvis off and on for a couple of years and I could see that this new style of music that he was doing that, you know, I love it. And I was with him right as he was really breaking big, you know. And he's the one that encouraged me to try. He said I think you could sing this kind of music. And being this country, you, I said I don't think I could ever get the feel like you do. He said sure you can. So he encouraged me. He took me to his home and played records and then hed sing for me and say now you got to do it this way and so, you know, I had a good teacher.

GROSS: So one of the things Elvis was famous for in addition to his singing style was how he looked on stage. You know, he was very sexy and he was very sexually suggestive on stage, particularly for the period. Did you pick up on that aspect as well? Did you change what you wore? Did you change what you did on stage?

Ms. JACKSON: Well, I had already changed my stage attire, you know. I didnt want to be in full skirts and cowboy boots and cowboy hat.

GROSS: Why did you want to change the look?

Ms. JACKSON: I don't look good in those things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: That was the main thing. I've never been able to wear a full skirt, haven't to this day. And the cowboy hats and those old clubby boots, you know, and I just didn't like it. I didn't feel like that was me. Because I was a big fan of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor and I wanted to look like them, you know. I used to go to all the musicals and with paper and pen and when I'd see a dress I liked I'd sketch it down real, you know, real fast.

And so we copied one dress off of Betty Grable and one off of Marilyn. And it's kind of funny, when I look back at the old pictures and say, oh I remember where I found that type of dress. But my mother was a professional seamstress and she did all of my customs for me.

GROSS: Lets hear a song that you wrote that was a country hit for you. It's called Right or Wrong." And this was recorded in 1960. Did you think of this as more of a country song that they rockabilly?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, I did. I wrote the song and thought it was definitely, it really wasnt country, country. But in the 60s country music was beginning to use the violin sections and singing groups behind us, you know?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. JACKSON: And so I was really just in the trend of what people like Patsy Cline were doing and Brenda Lee and things. So that song was one of the first that lent itself to that type of an arrangement.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Wanda Jackson, recorded in 1960, Right or Wrong."

(Soundbite of song, Right or Wrong")

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Right or wrong I'll be with you. I'll do what you ask me to. For I believe that I belong by your side, right or wrong. Right or wrong, it's got to be always you, always me. Won't you take me along to be with you, right or wrong?

If it's right for me to love you, it can't be wrong for me to care. If you will say you love me, my life with you I'll share. Right or wrong, day by day...

GROSS: Wanda Jackson, recorded in 1960, her song, Right or Wrong."

Now you said before that you weren't really comfortable performing rock 'n roll to teenagers over rockabilly to teenagers because you were used to performing for adults and you didn't, you just didn't relate to these teenagers. Did that affect your staying in country music, as opposed to trying to crossover more into that team rock 'n roll audience?

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah. Probably so, Terry. Right or Wrong," you know, right after Lets Have a Party," Right or Wrong," became a hit. It was a crossover song too. Meaning, it was high on the charts in country but it was also in the rock 'n roll or the I think then they called it pop and soul music. So it was in the charts and that's when I try to do these teenaged things and just, you know, didn't really care for it at all. So, yeah, I still, I considered myself country really all through my career until we get to about 1985, and I was invited to Sweden to record a rockabilly album. And it was from that point on that I realized how popular I was with the new rockabilly fans not only in Europe, all over Europe and Scandinavia, but also in America eventually.

GROSS: So you found this more specialized audience who cared a lot about your records.

Ms. JACKSON: Mm-hmm. And thats what made it so exciting to see these young adults into this 50s rock music.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. JACKSON: And I've just been having the greatest time working with bands that they sound just like our bands used to and they're really into the lifestyle and they drive the classic cars and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: And they dress in vintage clothes.

GROSS: Now what did your father do for a living when you were growing up?

Ms. JACKSON: He was a barber for a while.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. JACKSON: And he drove a cab. And he was driving a cab when he quit that to travel with me. And my mother...

GROSS: Because you are under age when you started performing. You weren't a team yet, right?

Ms. JACKSON: Right. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But what was it like being tutored by Elvis on how to play this kind of like sexy rebellious music when you're traveling with your father?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: Well, I dont know. I dont if I thought of it like that. But my dad really liked Elvis. He was a big cut up and Elvis was too. And so they kept something going on all the time, laughing at various things and so it worked fine. Now my dad went along to help me with driving and things like that, but he also it was very important that my reputation stay intact and I'm sure that was probably the main reason that he traveled with me. So I wasn't able to ever go from city to city in the car with Elvis or I had to, you know, dad had to drive me. I had to be in my car. And, you know, he didn't allow me to sit on someone's lap and I couldn't lay my head on someone's shoulder if I was sleepy and they were riding with us, you know, and he was pretty strict in those things. But it did keep my reputation intact.

GROSS: And there you are singing about broken hearts and let's have a party and riot in cell block number nine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah. It is strange.

GROSS: With a dad making sure that your head isn't on anybodys shoulder. I love that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah. I hadn't thought of that. That's quite a contrast, isn't it?

GROSS: Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. JACKSON: Well, thank you and I've enjoyed all of your questions.

DAVIES: Wanda Jackson speaking with Terry Gross in 2003.

Heres a track from her new CD, The Party Aint Over." This is Busted."

(Soundbite of song, Busted")

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Oh my bills are all due and the babies need shoes cause I'm busted. Cotton is down to a quarter a pound but I'm busted. I got a cow that's gone dry and a hen that won't lay, a big stack of bills that gets bigger each day. The county's gonna haul my belongings away cause I'm busted.

I went to my brother to ask for a loan cause I'm busted. I hate to beg like a dog for a bone but I'm busted.

DAVIES: Wanda Jackson.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

The British actor Jason Statham is a former Olympic diver and fashion model who made his screen debut in the 1998 thriller Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Since then, hes gone on to make such movies as The Italian Job," The Bank Job," the Transporter" series and The Expendables," becoming the biggest new action star of the last 10 years. In his new movie The Mechanic," which co-stars Ben Foster, he plays a professional hit man.

Our critic-at-large John Powers says it offers a revealing look at Stathams distinctive appeal.

JOHN POWERS: A few years ago, I was interviewing a well-known Hollywood actress. At one point, she leaned across the table and said, did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Steve McQueen?

Well, no actually. Not even close. But even though I knew she was working me, I was secretly flattered. I mean, any guy, and especially a critic, would enjoy being compared to McQueen. You see, he embodied a very seductive male fantasy - the quiet, effortlessly virile hero who seemed to have emerged from the womb on a motorcycle. McQueen could bluff at poker, hotwire a car and wield a gun without making a fetish of its size. Who wouldn't want to be like that?

One who's clearly trying is Jason Statham, the British action star best known for B-movies like the Transporter" series - who may inspire more absurd man-crushes than any other current screen actor. If you've never seen him, you could do worse than his new movie, The Mechanic." It's a brisk, highly watchable 92-minute thriller based on a 1972 movie starring another manly man, Charles Bronson.

Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a crack hit man who lives in a sleek house on the Louisiana bayou. One of those artistic assassins like George Clooney in The American," Arthur has only one friend - his mentor, Harry, nicely played by Donald Sutherland. But after a big betrayal, Arthur has to kill Harry. And making matters trickier, he finds himself dealing with Harry's angry wastrel of a son, Steve. He's played by Ben Foster, a great young actor who's as explosive as Statham is stony. Steve wants to learn to be a hit man, so Arthur tries to teach this young hothead the cool art of murder.

Eventually, the two find themselves bumping up against the movie's villain, a corporate type played by the prissily handsome Tony Goldwyn, who seems destined to star as Timothy Geithner in a TV movie about the Obama years.

Here, Arthur phones this baddy in his high rise layer to let him know the jig is up.

(Soundbite of movie, The Mechanic")

Mr. TONY GOLDWYN (Actor): (as Dean) Yes.

Mr. JASON STRATHAM (Actor): (as Arthur Bishop) How much was Harrys life worth?

Mr. GOLDWYN: (as Dean) Fifty million. Harry's death was business, pure and simple.

Mr. STRATHAM: (as Arthur Bishop) Well, its not going to be so simple now.

Mr. GOLDWYN: (as Dean) You think you can get to me before I get to you?

Mr. STRATHAM: (as Arthur Bishop) I already have.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GOLDWYN: (as Dean) Wheres conference room, Eddie?

Unidentified Actor: (as character) Lower upstairs, sir.

Mr. GOLDWYN: (as Dean) Hes in the building. Get me out of here.

(Soundbite of car screeching)

Mr. GOLDWYN: (as Dean) You find Bishop?

Unidentified Actor: (as character) Nothing yet.

POWERS: Now, part of Statham's appeal is that he's not a Tom Cruise pretty-boy or a towering monument like Clint Eastwood. He has a vivid slab of a face that holds the screen, but isn't much of an instrument for conveying emotion. As for his body, although he's pint-sized, he has the physical presence of a ripped six-footer. And he can really move. Statham spends much of The Mechanic" slugging, kicking or throttling people underwater - and we believe it.

Then again, all action stars can do action. What makes the biggest ones compelling is that they provide an exaggerated look at a particular aspect of masculinity. For instance, the self-pity in Sylvester Stallone's heavy eyes, or the working-class anger in Bruce Willis' smirking contempt for authority.

Statham belongs to the tradition of heroes, from John Wayne through Harrison Ford, who are laconic to the point of grumpiness. Yet it's not his terse toughness that makes him special. Oddly enough it's his fastidiousness, a don't-touch-me fussiness that runs through nearly all his movies. In The Mechanic," Arthur not only spends his life making algebraically precise preparations for his assignments, but at home, he carefully wipes his LPs - naturally, he has vinyl - before cueing them up.

Hooked on precision and mastery, a Statham character is never more himself than when driving 100 miles an hour, when all that matters is technique and keeping your cool. On the other hand, he's driven crazy by anyone who can't hold it together - be it the unruly Steve, who keeps making a bloody mess of Arthur's immaculately tooled schemes, or the Ukrainian uber-babe from the movie Transporter 3" who violates the sanctity of his souped-up Audi by sloshing down Ecstasy with vodka. This coldly relentless focus is one reason Statham's detractors claim that he seems more like a machine than a man.

In fact, he's less a machine than a mechanic, which is why this new movie is perfectly titled. Statham is always obsessed with doing the job and keeping everything - tools, women, feelings - in their proper place.

This obsession with neatness is the true theme of The Mechanic," and of Statham's persona. It's his code, his religion, his armor. So devoted to his sense of order that he'll kill for it, he incarnates a fantasy of perfect control that taps into something deep in the male psyche, even as it leaves most women rolling their eyes.

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and Vogue.com. You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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