But there’s no hating on Shane’s alter ego, actor Walton Goggins. In contrast to Shane’s edgy intensity, Goggins is the most affable of personalities, and incredibly appreciative of how the acting opportunities of the series have challenged him and elevated his profile.
As the seventh and final season of the series debuts this month, Shane is a more critical character than ever – as based on the first eight episodes, the show’s never been as intense and unpredictable – as he and Vic decide if they’re going to make peace or go to war over the sins of their past. Goggins sat down with Hollywood.com exclusively to reflect on his ride on the way to The Shield’s sure-to-be shattering conclusion (and took the fifth on plot spoilers).
“We hope that this work will never be in vain and we've worked our asses off,” said Goggins. “I'm not just talking about the actors either. I'm speaking about the crew, speaking about the DP and about every director who came onboard and every writer who wrote every word and page… I'm so proud of it.”
Hollywood.com: When you first got cast and got a sense of this character, did you ever have a sense of what an acting challenge was coming your way over the course of the series?
Walt Goggins: I didn't find this out until the DVD commentary of Season One, but after the pilot episode they wanted to fire me [laughs], but I said, 'I had four lines in the pilot.' They said, 'Still, they weren't quite sure how you fit into it and it was kind of negative, your whole bent. And people didn't really respond to you.' I was like, again, 'How do you respond to someone who has four lines. Come on!' Shawn [Ryan] having that information took it upon himself to say, 'No, you guys don't know. We have something really special with this actor.' I was so appreciative that he went to bat for me without me knowing any of this. And then in Episode Two, that was a huge deal for me and it really kind of set the tone for my arc over the series and the arc of this friendship because we were both – Michael Chiklis and I, Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell – were inexorably tied to the original center of the show. You could never take that away. So it is about these two people having that information and how that information is revealed to the other people that are around us and how that affects us and where this friendship ultimately ends up.
HW: Shane has emerged as a central character and may be a villain, in the end – in Vic’s eyes, at least.
WG: Yeah, for sure.
HW: What do you still love about the guy and respect about Shane?
WG: I think, honestly, what's not to love about him? I hear what people say. He killed Curtis Lemansky, but this show is about misinformation and it's about access to information and withholding that information. All conflict, more often than not, revolves around those three things. It was misinformation that led to Lem's death. Vic Mackey would say that, 'No. Killing Terry was different.' On some level it was different. It was taking another human being's life, but in a twisted person's morality, saving Lem from the pain of ultimately having to tell on us and going to prison and then selfishly and narcissistically too, protecting myself and my family and my team. I wouldn't have expected any less if it was Shane Vendrell getting the grenade dropped on him. I don't think he would've been surprised, honestly. I think that kind of loyalty went out the window a long time ago. At the end of the day it was about protecting Vic Mackey. It was about Vic Mackey. Vic Mackey always winds up on top. So they had a twisted morality. What can I say? But I think that his sobriety in Season Six is a testament to his arc as a human being in this world, and I think that he did what Vic Mackey has been unable to do. And I think he accepted who he was and was okay with that and made peace with it by being honest, by verbalizing to his wife everything that he had done, and I think he invited Vic Mackey to participate in the peace that he had found. Vic Mackey chose not to do that.
HW: What did you swipe from the set of The Barn before the show wrapped?
WG: [Laughs] I was the first one, buddy. I was leading that charge. I said, 'Guys this is it. This shit is over with. What are we going to take? Because I'm taking some shit.' I got a sign that not many people see, early on. I got it in like the fifth episode when they changed the Strike Team, or in the fourth season when they changed the Strike Team around, which says 'I drink to make other people more interesting' and then I took the dartboard from The Barn that we all kind of played on and Lemansky threw a bunch of darts at. That was like a central prop in our room and a lot of conversations centered around throwing darts early on. So that was a big deal to me and I took that.
HW: What are you doing next? And HOW do you do something after The Shield –where do you start?
WG: I was asking myself that for the longest time and the landing is a little softer for me because I did Spike Lee's new movie [Miracle at St. Anna] and I was in Tuscany for a month, flying back and forth because it coincided with the last two episodes of our show. Shawn and FX were very accommodating and worked that out for me. So, I had an inkling of life after The Shield while the show was ending. It was kind of going back, honestly, to my roots as an actor. I've been doing this for 17 years, and my life, more often than not, revolved around feature films before the security of this show came along. So it was hard and bittersweet, but again it's back to the unknown which is where most actors live. But finishing Spike's movie, then it became sobering. It was like, 'What the fuck am I going to do NOW?' The idea of getting back into television was scary. It felt like I was cheating on my gal, like, 'How can I do this? Who are you?' I know how intimate this could become, this friendship could become. So I kind of said no to a lot of those things and then started to read a little bit and then decided that I wanted to create my own show, my partner and I – my producing and writing partner. So we said yes to another movie and we began producing another movie that starts in a week. I've got Hal Holbrook as a lead. Not bad. I play Hal's son and so we're in it as actors. I'm doing that and I'm doing another movie about World War II in France and I leave in a month. That's about the 82nd Airborn Division which were the first boots on the ground in German occupied France. Then, and I can't go into it too much, but my partner and I just sold a script for television and it would be for me to star in. I can't say anything beyond that, but hopefully you'll be seeing that soon. It's fucking good, man. It's really cool and different.
HW: Were you satisfied with the end of The Shield, where the show went?
WG: I was heartbroken and very satisfied. Extremely satisfied. I read the finale alone. Everyone else was together here and I was in Italy. I didn't have anyone to call because it was four o'clock in the morning in Los Angeles and so I read it and just weeped like a baby for everybody, but ultimately for the price that Shane pays for having engaged in this kind of activity over this prolonged period of time. I think it's justified and I think it's sad and I think that people aren't going to expect it. I'm happy. It allowed me to say goodbye which is the best thing I can say.
HW: What do cops who watch the show say to you?
WG: Well, Chiklis had it early on. He said that anyone below the rank of captain will publicly tell you that they love it. Anyone above the rank of captain will publicly tell you that they hate it and secretly tell you that they love it. That's been my experience too. We're not indicative of police officers in Los Angeles today. At the end of the day it's a television show and you get a large group of people together, and I don't care if it's writers or whatever you do, statistically some of them are going to be bad and this show is not just about bad cops. There are four bad cops in an ensemble that is eight to ten strong. So it's just a slice of it and cops see it as entertainment and sometimes when they're frustrated they see it as an outlet and something that they'd like to be able to do, but don't do. I believe in our law enforcement truly. It was a time for this show, post 9/11/, that was just kismet. I think that cops dig it.
HW: Have you ever gotten out of any tickets?
WG: Yeah! I've gotten out of three tickets. I got out of three tickets and I think I paid too for bringing it up three times too. I got out of a ticket in New Mexico and once coming down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving work, I got pulled over and I had my sunglasses on and I thought, 'Okay, I'm one of the boys. Wait until they get up to the window.' He got up to the window and said, 'License and registration, please.' I took my glasses off and I said, 'Hi, how are you?' He said, 'I'm doing good. I need your license and registration, please.' I said, 'You know, I'm on The Shield.' He said, 'Yes. I need to see your license and registration, please.' I think that's the reason he wrote me the ticket and might've let me off if I hadn't of brought it up.
'The Shield' premieres Sept. 2 on FX