There’s a clock-based military expression: “Watch your six,” meaning look out behind you. History Channel would rather you watch its “Six,” the SEAL Team Six action-drama premiering Jan. 18 at 10 p.m., starring, among others, Walton Goggins — the inimitable Shane Vendrell from “The Shield,” Boyd Crowder from “Justified” and, replete with pink pants, bow tie and a smarminess far removed from those other characters, Lee Russell on the comedy “Vice Principals.”
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Georgia, Goggins, 45, was inspired by show-business aunts to pursue acting. He found local work on the series “In the Heat of the Night” and the TV-movie “Murder in Mississippi” (1990), and at 19 moved to Los Angeles. With a small role in Billy Crystal’s “Mr. Saturday Night” (1992) — cut from the film but included on the DVD — he began a long, steady career that’s included Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (2012) and “The Hateful Eight” (2015).
On “Six,” Goggins plays Richard “Rip” Taggart, an ex-SEAL haunted by a heinous act and personal demons, and whose former comrades must rescue him when he is captured by the terrorist group Boko Haram. As the actor prepared to leave for South Africa, to shoot the “Tomb Raider” reboot, he spoke with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
You were cast in this physically demanding role just days after Joe Manganiello had to be replaced because of a pre-existing health issue. How do you prepare mentally and physically to jump in like that?
My acting teachers are storytellers — they don’t even use the word “acting,” really, in their philosophy — and the last one I studied with, who is a dear old friend of mine by the name of Harry Masters, taught me that when you don’t have time, you don’t need time, really, if you’re able to turn yourself over to that set of circumstances and play pretend. My almost-6-year-old [son Augustus, with filmmaker wife Nadia Conners] is Laurence Olivier in his ability to play. Most children are like that. So I had a conversation with . . . [the producer] about Rip and about in what context I wanted to participate. I wanted to make sure they were on board for that.
What did you tell them?
Well, just that I don’t want to be used as a piece of propaganda for American foreign policy. I don’t want to go through this experience and have what I want to contribute to it politicized. For the right or the left. I want to speak to the returning soldier, man or woman, who has experienced conflict firsthand and I want to honor their struggle. And I don’t want to do it by saying, “You’re an incredible American” and “You’re a patriot.” I want to say, “You are a human being and you’re experiencing pain, and it’s real pain, and I want to listen to your pain. I don’t want to just pat you on the back.”
Did the producers revise the script?
We modified some ways of shooting scenes in the first three episodes, which is what they had written by that point. You know, you can say, “I love you” a million different ways, can’t you? It’s not in the words — it’s in your intention. And then I think that going forward these conversations gave [the producer] real parameters for what this experience could be. I think what it did was fundamentally change everything that happened after it.
That kind of happened on “The Shield,” where the network wanted your character removed after the pilot, and “Justified,” where Boyd Crowder was supposed to die in the pilot. But something about you changed minds.
With “The Shield,” the people who ran FX at the time hated me, man! I don’t know how you could hate somebody when I only had four lines, but [series creator] Sean [Ryan] said, “Listen, I know this guy, I’ve seen him, he’s special and I know what to do with him.” So episode two was really about [Goggins’ character] Shane. They saw it and said, “Wow, we’re sorry. We love him.”
And with “Justified,” [star] Tim [Olyphant] had such a good time and the rapport back and forth and what the characters’ friendship could mean over the course of a story — people really responded to that. They asked me to come back and we had a long conversation about it and I said, “I just want autonomy over the character and this part of the story,” and they agreed.
I have to ask: What was it like your first day on a Quentin Tarantino set?
My first day on “Django” was surreal . . . I’ll never forget. It was a big scene that ultimately got cut out of the movie, and the camera’s on me and Quentin yells, “Action” — and nothing comes out of my mouth! I’m looking at all these people and I just said, “I’m in a [expletive] Quentin Tarantino movie!”
Oh, yeah — absolutely! And they all started laughing and then it was, “OK — take two.”