Walton Goggins stars as Matthias Vogel in Tomb Raider, much of which was filmed in South Africa and which was released on 16 March by Empire Entertainment.
Prior to becoming involved in the Tomb Raider movie, did you have any experience with the video game franchise that inspired it, or a frame of reference for what a phenomenon it was?
The answer is yes. But my experience with video games began and ended with Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Galaga. I grew up at a time when video games really weren’t a part of my culture – and we couldn’t afford it. So, I never played the Tomb Raider game. But when I shared this news with my nieces, nephews and godchildren, all of a sudden I became iconic in their eyes. For them, my association with Lara Croft made me a hero – even though I’m playing the antagonist. In some ways, I think it was good for this film to have a principal actor who was initially unfamiliar with the character of Lara Croft or her adventures in the games. When reading the script, I wasn’t influenced by the legacy or feel any pressure to uphold a vision that the audience might expect. Therefore, my motivations could be pure.
What can you tell us about your character, Mathias Vogel, and how you connected with him as an actor?
Mathias is a man who has been searching for the fabled tomb of Queen Himiko for seven years, to no avail. He holds no dreams of changing the world. He’s not interested in the fact that his discovery holds the potential to unleash threats beyond imagination. It’s just a job to him, and he wants the job to be over. The one bright spot is an unexpected arrival. In some ways, Mathias is in awe of what landed on his doorstep in the form of Lara Croft. He’s overwhelmed by her presence. And then his journey begins. I thought that idea was bold and different and three-dimensional. It was something I could sink my teeth into and contribute to the story we wanted to tell. Mathias’s need to move on with his life is a big part of who he is, which, in some ways, I think is even more destructive than pure villainy. He isn’t at the nascent stage or the apex of his journey. You’re meeting a guy on a Wednesday of the longest week of his life. Mathias is exhausted and has few options. I’m sure that there was enthusiasm and passion at the beginning of his search, but by the time we meet him in Tomb Raider, he’s not full of potency and vigour. I think audiences are no longer interested in one-dimensional antagonists. I’m lucky to have been a part of some seminal stories featuring multi-dimensional adversaries, beginning with my role in the television series The Shield. So portraying Mathias was very satisfying for me as an actor, and I hope it’s satisfying for the audience.
What do you think Alicia Vikander brings to the role of Lara Croft, and how did you find working with her?
I think Alicia is one of the greatest actors of her generation. She’s a very special talent. And while I knew Alicia socially, I was so looking forward to playing in a sandbox with her, and I wasn’t disappointed. The experience was everything that I had hoped it would be. The truth is that Alicia is amazing, and I applaud her incredible commitment to playing Lara Croft. I’ve been lucky over the course of my career to have some really good chemistry with a lot of different kinds of people. And working with Alicia was everything I had hoped it would be.
Can you talk about the dynamic we’ll see unfold between Mathias and Lara Croft?
It’s complicated with Walton and Alicia on screen together, and it’s complicated – and very exciting – when Mathias and Lara are on screen together. There’s a lot going on between them. What I think is going to surprise the audience is that they’re meeting a man, Mathias Vogel, who doesn’t have a lot of information. He’s tasked with finding this tomb, and he knows only a little of what might be in it. Mathias has two daughters that he hasn’t seen for seven years. Suddenly, a young woman – Lara Croft – shows up, and she’s around the same age of one of his daughters. For Mathias, it’s beautiful, sad and exhilarating to be able to just talk to someone different, and to be close to youth and someone who reminds him of his family. So, in some ways, her arrival is the answer to his prayers, both negatively and positively.
How did you find the experience of filming in South Africa, in what looked like some rugged terrain?
I thrive in those conditions. Filming in South Africa and getting to experience that culture was a fantastic experience. I’ve dedicated my life to travelling and submersing myself in other cultures. When I wasn’t working, I took off and spent almost three weeks travelling all over South Africa and Namibia. I spent five days with the Himba tribe on the Angolan border, and then made my way to southern Namibia and then bounced over to Mozambique to do some scuba diving. So, the conditions on Tomb Raider were far from challenging. It was like, throw me into the briar patch!
Are there specific aspects of cultures of South Africa and the country itself that made a strong impression on you?
I really came to understand the effects of apartheid. The struggle of South Africans is living history. I met people who ran cooking schools in the townships. I spent ten days on a safari up in northern South Africa and spent time with some Shangaan people in their village. I also visited an orphanage for youngsters and another for teens, and hung out with them. I was deeply touched by their struggle and inspired by their resolve. It was incredible. I fell in love with that country and with those people.
You’ve worked with some amazing filmmakers during your career. What was it like working with Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, who is making his first American studio film with Tomb Raider?
I think Roar’s Norwegian film The Wave is extraordinary. I was so taken with his ability to convey what was happening to this town, family and community in a very visceral way. Roar did such a good job visually of taking the audience through the experience of the anticipation of this cataclysmic natural occurrence. I thought, “Wow, I can’t wait to meet this guy.” Then, in a wonderful conversation we had via FaceTime, I found that Roar not only understood my take on Vogel, he encouraged and supported it. I wanted to do everything I could to help him realise his vision for Tomb Raider. He did an incredible job.
What do you hope audiences experience when they see Tomb Raider in the cinema?
We wanted to honour the place of this young woman, Lara Croft, in the imaginations of people all over the world. So, whether you are a fan of the Tomb Raider video game or new to the character, I hope that that you will appreciate the passion behind this interpretation of Lara Croft.