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Walton Goggins, Star Of John Bronco - Exclusive Interview

John Bronco is the totally real, not made-up-in-any-way story of the titular Ford pitchman. He was there at the debut of the Ford Bronco and was so instrumental in its fantastic first impression that they named the car after him. He went on to great fame, branched out into multiple media, and influenced a generation of pitchmen... only to vanish. John Bronco — now streaming on Hulu — tells his full story for the first time, from his start in the rodeo to his disappearance and possible redemption.

Looper spoke with Walton Goggins, the man tasked with portraying John Bronco and one of the few people still in contact with the legend. Goggins told us about portraying an icon, his own history with automobiles, working with the Ford Motor Company, and the difference between documentaries and biopics. Yes, biopics. Because remember, John Bronco is definitely a real person who exists.

Inspiration and cars

I loved John Bronco. Great job all around.

Thank you. Thank you very much. I'll pass along that compliment to the man himself. Yeah. We had a great time making it.

The obvious comparisons are Burt Reynolds and the Marlboro Man. Were there any other things that factored into your portrayal of John Bronco?

Well, I mean, it's kind of funny you say that because, yeah, in talking to John that they were friends of his and they were his two role models until he got out there. They were taking his act. And they kind of became who they became. But for me, yeah, I mean Burt Reynolds is ground zero for cool as far as I'm concerned. I had a chance to meet Burt, actually. I made movies for a while with my partner and we made four of them. We did a short film that won the Academy Award. Burt became a real big fan of it and used it a lot. He actually did a cameo in the third movie that we made. Yeah. So the answer to your question is yes, I think he's very similar to John.

So are you yourself kind of a car guy?

I've got to be honest with you, no. I'm not. My father is a big car guy and has a '57 Chevrolet all tricked out. He has always been a fan of... not really restoring but he's restored a few cars. He loves them. For me, I've never had that gene. I get a car and it's more than just traveling from point A to point B. I want it to be nice and to be comfortable. But I've had my car now that I've had for 10 years. Before that, I had the same car even when we were doing The Shield for 11 years. For me, I have a different association with the automobile. I get something. I name it. And I stick with it. That's just how I am.

What's the name of your car right now?

Well, it's silver. It's a BMW station wagon. It's a 5 Series. It was the last year they made it in America. So my son christened it. It's just the "Millennium Falcon."

Working with Ford

So with this movie you had to work with Ford. Did you have any interaction with Ford yourself making this?

I did, yeah. Mostly a lot of the top brass were there, certainly in their entertainment division. I've never really done... This is not a commercial. This is a story about one of the greatest pitchman in the history of the medium. But I mean I've only done one commercial in my life and have just never really kind of been inspired to do anything like that. So I'm not really used to dealing with executives on that level. But I just absolutely loved the process and loved them. They were so unbelievably supportive of this story and the telling of this story and were really hands off. They were there for almost every day that we did it. We did it in four or five days. So that's a lot. We did a lot in four or five days. For them, they just watched the process. I was probably more conscious of their reaction than they were of mine. It was just lovely, the whole collaboration.

The Bronco is such an iconic car that they clearly want it to be told in a serious way, get the real story out there.

Yeah, yeah. I think so. I mean it is. It just holds this place in all of our imaginations and what it represents. I don't know. For me, what it represents is freedom. I mean the car I think for a lot of Americans represents freedom. But the Bronco is its own thing. I mean it was kind of the first hybrid, wasn't it? The first SUV. This meant on some level you could go places that you couldn't go before. And that's still very important to me.

I mean, I grew up in Georgia. I never really had a new car. Growing up, we had a Toyota Corolla. That was the only new car we ever were able to afford. But when I came out to the west coast, when I was 19 years old, that drive across this country, it changed my life. It's the experience of seeing people and meeting people along the way and taking detours and letting the... I don't know, the journey kind of dictate where you go. It's always been paramount to me. Now, I've driven cross country four or five times. I love it. I absolutely love it. And still to this day there's nothing that I like more than just getting lost out on the road.

Singing and cool

So are we ever going to see a single release of "Mama Named Me Bronco"? Because I can't find it on any digital streaming platforms. Is that vinyl only at this point?

Yeah. It's vinyl only now, but I wouldn't be surprised if you hear it in one of the streaming platforms soon. I don't have the definitive answer to that question. But I think that the demand is there, so I don't know. Maybe you will hear that on your radio in the next month or so. I'm not sure. I know I have the 45 and I listen to it with my son, and he sings along to it.

How did you get good at singing along with that? You had to match John Bronco's voice and your singing for your version.

I mean, I don't have a voice really. I'm not a singer. I'm not a triple threat by any stretch of the imagination. I started singing in The Righteous Gemstones and somehow pulled that off, I think through the fellow sitting in the booth. But, yeah, I just kind of listened to his version over and over and over and over and over again and tried to get as close to his cadence as I possibly could.

What is the difference between doing a documentary and doing a regular movie?

A documentary is a... you don't really have a lot of latitude, do you? I mean you got to get it exactly right because you're recreating something that happened in the past and you're telling someone else's story. You don't have the freedom to just improvise or create something as you go along. So it was really kind of difficult to get his cadence and his walk and to become in some ways the epitome of cool. I'm not cool. Me, I'm not a very cool guy. I'm an honest guy. I can be funny. But more often than not, I'm kind of serious. And John is not that. He has the capacity to be serious but he's a pretty funny guy.

Rewatchability and what John Bronco wants

So this movie really rewards rewatching because I've seen it twice by now.

I think that's f***ing awesome that it does that. I wish I had been there for one of those viewings.

Especially because there's two or three twists in there.

Yes. I feel that way. I'm just such a fan of Jake [Szymanski, director of John Bronco] and what they did with this script. I mean they came to Ford with it because they wanted to tell the story. And Ford just got on board and said, "Yeah. We'll help you with some of the historical kind of footage that we have, that we own and then help you kind of tell your story that way." But I'm such a fan of Jake's and he's so smart and he's so subtle. When I read his script for the first time, I knew that then this is going to happen. That I would say yes. Because it was just so well thought out.

What was your approach? Did you figure you looked kind of like him or did you have to audition for this or did they recruit you?

They just called and offered it. We had multiple conversations about exactly what it was they were looking for. So I just thought I think I can best help you tell your story. And that was it. It was pretty simple, pretty straight forward.

So what does John Bronco want you to know about this movie? Because I think you're the only one who talks to him anymore.

John, I think, is just happy that his story is finally getting out because he felt while he was living this stage of his life how relevant he became and what a trendsetter he became and that he mattered on some level. And he made a decision that he made to just step out of the limelight and I think he got lost. It wasn't coming from ego. It was really kind of coming from, "Wait a minute, did that really happen to me? And did I make a difference? Did I help usher in this new era of people talking about cars? Was I a part of that?" So for him it was just a real validation. He told me he would not have done his life any differently. He doesn't regret the decision he made to step into that arena and he doesn't regret his decision to step out of that arena. This just makes it, now that this is out, just makes it easier to reconcile both.

Stream John Bronco on Hulu.