My grandfather had a 2,000-acre peach and pulpwood farm in Warm Springs, was a politician, and had befriended FDR. My mother had this bucolic upbringing there. I was born in Birmingham, and we moved back to Atlanta in my very early years. We were living Downtown in a duplex off Memorial Drive, and my mother so longed to give me a version of her life.
Goggins as a Cub Scout, age ten; photograph courtesy of Walton Goggins
So when I was five, my mother found this 140-year-old farmhouse in the town of Lithia Springs, with two and a half acres of land, and a barn, and a 300-year-old oak tree. I didn’t know how much living that way would impact me for the rest of my life, that it would really shape the way that I saw the world. I’m so grateful she made that move.
I spent my youth on Old Douglasville Road, filled with the woods that were still prevalent in Lithia Springs—the wilderness before the modern, twenty-first-century subdivisions came in. It was an opportunity for me to get lost for hours in the building of forts, and the forging of trails for motorbikes. In the South, you have streets where there are generations of families living on that street. We were dropped down into the Hurst clan. And they kind of adopted us as their own, and participated in my rearing, for sure. The grandparents, Fannie and Kermit, had a three-acre farm that we looked out on from our front porch. Ken and Carol Hurst, their son David was my partner in crime.
The time to get home was dictated by the time the sun went down. Sweetwater Creek State Park, it was a place of calm. Like, 360 degrees of beauty, everywhere you looked. It was a place where I went to camp, and made necklaces and wallets in the summertime.
I got married in the second grade, with a ceremony in the yard of Beulah Elementary, and I really fell in love at Lithia Springs High School. I also got to become really good friends with the coaches and teachers. Mr. Bailey, a sociology and psychology teacher, took a group of students every year to Europe, because he understood how important travel was to a young person’s life. We didn’t have any money. There was no way my mother could afford to send me on this trip. So my mother went out, to friends and family first, of course, but then she went into the community. Ten or fifteen different businesses threw in, because my mother worked with the Chamber of Commerce in Douglas County for a while. And it changed my life; it watered the seed of curiosity that I knew was there, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
We had a front porch. We sat on it every night. People would come up and talk. Or we would go to other people’s houses and talk. Two things about growing up in the South that have affected my craft more than anything else, is: We’re all, for the most part, really good storytellers. And we’re also really good listeners.
When I got to be a little bit older, Atlanta’s film and television community was really growing. Shay Griffin was the matriarch of that movement, and casting, in Atlanta. I walked into her office at, like, fourteen years old, and I said, “Listen, I want to do this. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m going to do it, and you’re going to help me do it.” And that meeting with that Southern woman, who lived in Douglas County at the time, Lithia Springs—without her support, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
I got a couple of episodes of "In the Heat of the Night." It was food for actors back then. You could cut your teeth on a television show in Georgia! And then I got a big movie of the week, called "Murder in Mississippi," as a sixteen-year-old.
I went to college thinking I was going to go into politics, or law, maybe. Went down to Georgia Southern, thinking I was only going to be there for a couple of years. In the winter semester, I got a credit card in the mail. An offer from American Express that said $99 round-trip ticket east of the Mississippi, or $197 anywhere west of the Mississippi. I thought, This is it. I’m going to Los Angeles.
I moved out, at nineteen years old, with $300 in my pocket and a desire to experience a different sort of life. But I miss the feeling of a relaxed, slow-paced life, that is a part of what it means to be from the South. And while I’ve been away from it for a long time, it’s still right there with me.
—As told to Amanda Heckert
Known for his scene-stealing role on FX’s The Shield, actor Walton Goggins was recently nominated for an Emmy for playing Boyd Crowder on FX’s Justified. In 2002 he won an Academy Award for producing the best live-action short, The Accountant. He now lives in Los Angeles and will next star in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation.