‘Fallout’ Star Walton Goggins On His Dual Role As Cooper Howard And The Ghoul & His Time In The Makeup Chair

Walton Goggins often portrays characters who transcend time and place, whether in modern day Kentucky, like in FX’s Justified, as career criminal Boyd Crowder, or in Civil War-era Wyoming in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, as plucky sheriff Billy Crash. In Fallout, though, he goes further: as The Ghoul, he is 200-year-old apocalypse survivor Cooper Howard, once a favored Western movie star, now a mutant bounty hunter. The two halves of this character combine in a captivating performance for which Goggins was happy to endure a torturous prosthetic.

\DEADLINE: How did you get involved with making Fallout?

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WALTON GOGGINS: It started with a conversation actually, a Zoom call, with Jonathan Nolan, Geneva [Robertson-Dworet] and Graham [Wagner]. The three of us got on the phone about eight months before we started shooting, and they just told me about this story that they were making and this role that they wanted me for, and we just really started breaking down exactly what the story was about and how they wanted to approach it.

And right out of the gate, maybe two minutes into the conversation, I did say that I was in, no matter what. Geneva’s an old friend of mine and maybe there is no bigger fan of Jonathan Nolan than me, and I’ve been a fan of Graham’s for a really long time too. And it was only after saying I was in that they said, “Well, don’t you want to know who you’re playing?” And I said, “It doesn’t really matter. I’m in.” And they said, “Well, you’re going to be playing a noseless, irradiated ghoul,” and I said, “You know what? Maybe I should read those scripts. Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea, and let’s talk afterwards.” I say that because that’s what happened, but, really, it began with a conversation, and it was a great conversation right out of the gate. I was working at the time, and I hung up the phone with them and read the first two scripts, and I couldn’t put them down. I called them back and I said, “Yeah, I can’t live without this. I’m in.”

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DEADLINE: And were you familiar at all with the Fallout video game series?

GOGGINS: I had heard of it. My son is a gamer but I’m not. He’s a big fan of [developer] Bethesda Games, so I had heard him talk about Fallout. But I had never played the game myself, no.

Walton Goggins as The Ghoul in <em>Fallout</em>.
Walton Goggins as The Ghoul in Fallout.

DEADLINE: So, were you aware of what the ghouls looked like in the games? I’m curious how much of a surprise those prosthetics were.

GOGGINS: Well, I had no idea what a ghoul looked like. Leading up to this meeting, it was a few days in the setting it up and they just said “Fallout”, so I went online and began reading about the game. Whatever article came up first in my search was about a guy leaving a vault, so I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really interesting. That’s obviously who they want me for, the Vault Dweller that’s coming out into the world, of course.’

I didn’t get far enough into the article to realize that ghouls were a part of this world and learned very quickly that it was not that role. It was something completely different. After we hung up, the first thing I did was Google “ghoul Fallout” and thought, ‘Wow, OK, we’re going to have to spend some time in the chair on this one.’

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DEADLINE: How long did it take for the prosthetics designers to get the right look for The Ghoul?

GOGGINS: Well, I’m going to say we talked about it for three months before we did the first application. There were many conversations back and forth about, what is it that we’re looking to elicit from the audience? What limitations can we live with for me as an actor, and how do we want me to be able to communicate to the audience? We didn’t want to lose his humanity, but he needed to carry the weight physically, in his physical appearance, of living 200 years in an irradiated landscape. The emotional scarring as much as the psychological scarring and the physical appearance, they all dovetailed into each other. I’m going to say it took us three months of talking back and forth, a lot of different drawings predicated on the game, and then Vincent Van Dyke, who created the piece, along with Jonah [Nolan]and Geneva and Graham and myself, just began going back and forth on, how do we want the audience to relate to this person?

All of us universally agreed that we didn’t want the audience to be repulsed by his appearance. We wanted them to lean into this experience with him and want to study his face and to understand what’s hiding in his face, what’s hiding in plain sight, and for that to be almost another piece of the story in and of itself. By the time we did the first application, we were pretty close, we were probably 80% there, and we did it two more times after that. The first time we did it, I put it on, and it took about five hours to do it.

My dear friend Jake Garber, who’s one of the best special effects makeup people in the business, put it on, and then I just asked to be left alone really for about an hour and a half, and just walked outside and took a lot of video and looked at it in different lighting to understand what was possible with it. What are people seeing and what aren’t they seeing? How am I going to have to modify what is normally my instrument? Can I do that? So, there were a lot of those questions. And I don’t want to alter my imagination. I’m not going to over-emote. I don’t really even know how to do that.

We kept working with the pieces, and Vincent made them thin enough where you know that it’s me and you can see my face and you know what he’s thinking just by looking in his eyes.

At one point, we talked about using contact lenses. I went to the doctor and we had them made and put them in, I think, the very first time we did the first application, and immediately, we all looked at it and said, “This isn’t right. All of a sudden, you become non-human. We have to see your eyes.” And so that was a big part of it right out of the gate.

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DEADLINE: I’m always curious about being able to show emotion easily with prosthetics. Was it difficult to act with the prosthetics on?

GOGGINS: Well, I was deeply insecure the first couple of days we were filming, and after every take, I would look at Jonah and say, “What’s happening here, man? Do you understand what it is that I’m saying, what’s in my heart, what’s in my head?” And Jonah said, “You’ve got it buddy. We see it all. Everything is right there. It’s all in your eyes, Walton. Just you do your thing. You will effectively communicate whatever it is that’s going inside of you and going on inside of him.”

So, after two days of hounding him with this question, I finally just relaxed into the process and didn’t try to alter whatever it is that I do for any other movie or television show that I’ve been involved with. It’s just live and hold up a mirror in nature and try to be as honest as you possibly can and trust that the story you’re telling will be told. Initially, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to put some extra spin on this, or make this bigger, or gesticulate more, or something like that,’ and I am incapable of doing that as a storyteller. I don’t think it would’ve worked, and luckily for me, the audience was able to understand what was going on in my head.

Walton Goggins interview
Goggins in Fallout.

DEADLINE: When you started working on Fallout, what interested you about this dual character of not just The Ghoul, but Cooper Howard as well?

GOGGINS: The first script that I read started with Cooper Howard. The whole scene about the dropping of the bombs was from his perspective, and the relationship with his daughter was set, really, from the very beginning. And it was the first literally seven or 10 pages of that script where my heart was in my throat, and I just understood who this person was, what he must have gone through in that initial reading.

And as the story progressed, The Ghoul was introduced and The Ghoul was an even a bigger part of the first episode, and then they reconfigure things the way that Jonathan likes to do. I was just taken with the person that I read on page one and the person that I read however many pages later, and I thought, ‘Wow, what an opportunity to go from this person to this person, and fill in the details of what happened in between in his life.’ I thought it was a very unique opportunity to go from an optimistic, fully-fledged human being, to a cynical fraction of a human being who has absorbed all the pain and the devastation of the world that has experienced a nuclear fallout.

I knew The Ghoul was cool. He’s a cool guy. What I didn’t know when we first started, when I read it for the first time, was how cool Cooper Howard is, and where he comes from. And I won’t tell you about his upbringing because it’s personal, but when he came to Hollywood he was a stuntman in my imagination. He was working for a director, and they were looking for someone to step in because this actor didn’t show up, and they just liked being around Cooper. They liked the way he talked, and they said, “Here, could you say a few of these lines over there?” And he was natural, not because he wanted to be an actor or didn’t want to be an actor, he just wanted to be in the movie business, and he was effortless the way that he is in his life, effortless in his love for his daughter and his relationship with his wife.

He has a very specific set of morals coming from where he came from, and there’s just an easiness about him. I was so surprised, and genuinely heartened by how secure he was as a human being, as Cooper Howard, and the relationship that he has with his wife and with his buddies and his house, and the way his house is decorated and even how he walks down a staircase. It’s just without errors, isn’t it? It’s infinitely approachable. He says what he means and he means what he says, but he does it with a smile, and I just love him. I love being Cooper as much as I love being The Ghoul.

DEADLINE: Cooper definitely has a great story in the series as he is learning about Vault-Tec. He’s not really changing, but he’s starting to realize there are things he should be more aware of.

GOGGINS: Yeah. And I don’t think he is overtly political, but I don’t think that he’s apolitical either. I think he is a person that served his country in war, and he’s blue collar, comes from a middle-class, upper poor-class family, and he has a practical, reasonable approach to the world. He’s dependable and sensible, and so that carries on, obviously, into his relationship with his wife.

And then, when things aren’t adding up and he looks at how the world is changing around him and the way in which Jonah wanted to explore that in this version of this Fallout story, his eyes are just being opened wider and wider as time goes along. He is exposed to an ideology that he fervently disagrees with, only to have it sow the seeds of doubt in his own beliefs about the world and how the world works.

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine <a href="https://issuu.com/deadlinehollywood/docs/deadline_-_emmy_preview_-_drama?fr=xKAE9_zU1NQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">here</a>.
Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine here.

DEADLINE: And then you start to see flashes of Cooper Howard coming through into The Ghoul as the season goes on.

GOGGINS: When you read about The Ghoul for the first time, on paper, one can think, ‘My god, he is sadistic, what he’s putting this poor Vault Dweller through.’ And as the story goes along, hopefully, at least that was my intention, because I think that’s the story, [you understand] that it isn’t personal. It only becomes personal as he gets to know her. But she is just another experience in his day of walking the wasteland, and he doesn’t have any bad feelings towards her. He doesn’t have this harmful intent, like, “I’m doing this to hurt you as a person because you have hurt me in some way.” It’s just practical day-to-day survival in this environment. And in some ways, that’s even scarier, isn’t it? It was to me. It’s only after he’s confronted with, yet again, his own mortality, that he has to think and recalibrate his plan, or his day is f*cked, as they say, and he has to change course.

DEADLINE: What direction do you want to see both of your characters go in Season 2?

GOGGINS: Where I would like it to go? I want to keep that a secret. It’s very complicated in my mind, and I think for everyone involved, and it feels like we’re at the beginning of something. We haven’t finished the beginning of this experience, and there’s a long way to go and a lot of story to be told.

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