Walton Goggins on How ‘The Unicorn’ Is Different Than Anything He’s Done Before

Walton Goggins
Michael Yarish/CBS

Thanksgiving comes early on The Unicorn this week when widower Wade Felton (Walton Goggins) and his daughters (Ruby Jay and Makenzie Moss) host the big holiday dinner for their friends and extended family, including his opinionated sister-in-law, Allison (guest star Annie Mumolo).

“You’re going to laugh so hard, and then when it lands — why Wade was motivated to do Thanksgiving, and what he realizes at the end of it — boy, it’s going to hit you,” Goggins promises. During filming, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Even if CBS hadn’t already ordered a full season of the show, Goggins would know the heartfelt and hilarious freshman comedy was touching viewers. Here, he tells us how.

Is the response you’re getting to this character different than the reaction you received to previous roles on shows like The Shield and Justified?

Walton Goggins: Honestly, I’ve become a repository for sadness, and for trauma, and for joy, but in the best way. I got picked up at the airport [recently], and I was talking to my wife in the car as the driver’s driving me home. Right before we pull up to our house, he looks at me with tears in his eyes, and he says, “I want to thank you so much for your show.” And I said, “Which one?” He said, “The Unicorn.” And then I knew — I knew something was about to come. I said, “Please tell me why.” And he said, “I lost my wife to cancer a year ago, and I have an 18-year-old, and I have a 22-year-old,” and he had to pull over on the side of the road and just let it all out.

Greg Gayne/CBS

We got out of the car, and I said, “I’ve had loss in my life, too, man,” and we just broke it down. And we had this incredible, heartfelt connection. We got back in the car. He drove me the six blocks to my house. I got to my house, we hugged again, and he said, “One more thing: I just lost my dog three weeks ago.” And it’s like, “Oh, my God! I lost my dog, too! I know what that feels like!” But then on the other side of it, we laughed. We laughed about how crazy and absurd the whole thing is. So it’s been an opportunity to connect with people around painful experiences in their life that they can also find humor in. I’ve had that happen, but never like this. I feel like if we can keep getting it right, then for 22 minutes a week, we can do some good in the world. And that means more to me than anything, really.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Becoming comfortable being closer to myself than anything else I’ve ever played — that was the biggest challenge. But now that we’re into it, the biggest challenge for me is we do these episodes in five days. I’ve never done that before. Even though The Shield was the cheapest show produced on television at the time, we still had seven days, and so you would get the weekend to recover and still be in the same episode when you got back. Here, we’ve got to do it in five days. And we’re working with the kids, who can only work so many hours a day, and so sometimes when the kids can’t be there, our wonderful stand-ins have to stand in and say their lines. So it’s getting used to that. And our dogs! It’s just a testament to this crew. All of the people who are working on this show have skin in the game, because they feel like they’re doing something special. Rob Corddry feels that way. Michaela Watkins feels that way. Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson, everybody.

This week’s episode is the first time we meet a member of Wade’s late wife Jill’s family. What should we expect?

The friends have been so close for so long that they all know Allison, and she knows all of them. So the dynamic between Jill’s sister and Wade, Jill’s sister and Wade’s friends… it’s going to take you on a ride to see what these connections are and what Jill’s loss means from a completely different perspective.

I will say that there is a dish that is going to be served by Wade and Wade’s family that will play heavy in this episode. Its meaning will make you laugh and also make you cry. If you watch this episode, you will see your life reflected in it. And we are trying to do it with such love and such respect.

Michael Yarish/CBS

Wade’s friends are such a key part of the show. How important is it to you to see those relationships each week?

We talked about this really early on: The Unicorn is not a show about dating. It isn’t just seeing yourself in Wade, but it’s seeing yourself in the dynamics between these friends and your own friends, and the relationship that you have with your children or your niece or your nephew. This show is about community as much as it is about anything else, and that is something that is very, very, very important to me and has been from the get-go. What I think you’ll realize is that the ball is passed. There are moments where Wade and his daughters are the center of the emotional storyline, and then we recede and we become the comedy and it’s somebody else’s turn. None of these people are static and they’re all evolving.

I wanted to ask about Wade’s backyard. That is one of my favorite sets.

Ever. Ever.

These women who think of Wade as a unicorn haven’t even seen that yet. That patio is what makes him a catch. Did you have any input on that?

Well, first and foremost, our production designer is a really good friend of [executive producer] John Hamburg, and we had these long conversations about how we want it to feel real, like very real every which way. We live here. This is where it is. And John, with his production designer, did it. When I walked in for the first time, we just did a little camera test to feel the house and look through it, I almost brought my bags and didn’t leave. It was so comfortable.

And it’s funny that you bring up the backyard, because every single one of us, whenever we have any time, more often than not instead of going outside, we’ll go sit in the backyard and talk. Everybody hangs out in the backyard. We’re happiest when we’re doing scenes in the backyard. It’s magical back there, man. I love it. I couldn’t believe it’s on a stage. Literally, they said, “You can’t grill meat for real, man. We’re on a stage. What are you doing?”

Erik Voake/CBS

Last question: I can’t imagine having two more different characters on TV at the same time than Wade and The Righteous Gemstones’ Uncle Baby Billy. Did filming overlap at all? And will we see Baby Billy when that show returns for Season 2?

CBS has been extremely supportive, and so, yeah, I’m definitely going to be back with Danny [McBride] and The Righteous Gemstones. He’s my brother, man. And here’s what’s so interesting about this. I met [The Unicorn producers] the day before I was leaving to go to Charleston, South Carolina [to work on The Righteous Gemstones], and based on that meeting, I said, “I’m in. Let’s do this.” I told Danny about it. I said, “Man, I’ve got to do this. I think that this could be something that I would be really proud of,” and Danny said, “Not a problem. Yeah, you’ve got to do that.”

And so I literally did the Episode 3 introduction of Baby Billy in the bathtub — it was the last thing that we shot that week — and I got on a plane on Friday night, landed on Saturday. We had our [Unicorn] table read on Sunday, and then the next table read for CBS on Monday. Started the pilot on Wednesday, I think. I went right into it. I was like, “Wait a minute, am I 70? Am I 45? Who am I right now?”


“Wait, there’s no nudity required?”

[Laughs] “There’s no nudity on CBS? No cussing on CBS? What have you done to me, Danny McBride? How am I going to do this?” So Danny and HBO gave me the time off to do The Unicorn pilot while I was doing The Righteous Gemstones, and the day we wrapped, I got on a plane and went right back to Baby B. It was so crazy. My wife said, “I don’t know who I’m living with right now. Who are you talking to me as right now?” And I said, “Boyd Crowder! I’m talking to you as Boyd Crowder, all right? Everyone leave me alone.” [Laughs] I’m so grateful, man, that this is the life I’m leading.

The Unicorn, Thursdays, 8:30/7:30c, CBS