“I think the situation makes the man, the situation makes the woman, the situation makes the person, and beauty is skin deep, but wisdom through experience is bone deep and that’s what Wade Felton has to share in spades. And I think that makes anybody sexy in my eyes, regardless of where they come from.”
While the series premise is reasonably flimsy – this is, after all, a network sitcom which is played in the main for laughs and the next commercial break – Goggins said he was genuinely touched by Bill Martin and Mike Schiff’s script because he felt it was “kind, earnest and heartfelt and it was talking about what life is like on the other side of loss”.
“I just fell in love with this character, I fell in love with his relationship with his daughters, I fell in love with his friends and I have for some time wanted to play a person who hasn’t had all the answers, who doesn’t have all the answers, let alone the questions,” Goggins says.
The Unicorn plays with notions of manhood and masculinity, strength and vulnerability and finding a balance between the two extremes. Wade’s most attractive quality is, after all, his sensitivity.
“Most of the men that I am attracted to, that are friends of mine, are a balance of masculinity and femininity,” Goggins says. “I was raised by women. So, for me, being open and being a good listener or, not being withdrawn emotionally, that’s never been my experience. I’ve been this way since I was born, whether it’s nature [or] it’s nurture. This is just kind of how I live my life.
“So I’ve tried to do that with every role that I’ve ever played,” Goggins says.
Without discussing his own dating life – Goggins has been married to filmmaker Nadia Conners since 2011 and the couple have a son, Augustus – he notes that “this subject matter is not so foreign to me. I’ve had my experience and suffice to say on the other side of it, it was leaps and bounds. I found myself in situations that Wade Feltman has found himself”.
But the series is much about holding on to a sense of community in the aftermath of grief, as it is about the finding of new relationships, Goggins says. “Dating is a part of moving on, this show is about moving on after this one specific thing. But you can move on with anything in your life.
“We’re always in a constant state of fluctuating between needing help and giving help, and that’s what this show celebrates.”
The role does mark a series departure for Goggins who has, until now, lived between very serious dramatic roles such as Boyd Crowder on Justified and Detective Shane Vendrell on The Shield, or edgier comedy roles such as Lee Russell in Vice-Principals.
“This is more similar to who I am as a person than any other thing that I’ve had the opportunity to play, which makes it in some ways harder than anything that I’ve ever done,” Goggins says.
“I wish that it were easy for me to just turn it on and say a bunch of words and make people laugh, but that’s just not who I am as a person,” he says. “At a different point in my life I would not have been ready for this experience, but I am now so I’m happy to be here.”
Of all his roles, it is perhaps Venus Van Damme from Sons of Anarchy that sits most powerfully on the landscape. At the time – Goggins played the role from 2012 to 2014 – it brought a courageous spotlight on to a trans character who was that rare thing in television: authentic, honourable and emotionally complex.
By today’s shifting social standards such a casting – a cisgender man playing a transgender woman – might attract criticism. But Goggins, who remains fiercely proud of the experience, stands by both the work and the woman.
“I can’t tell you the number of times that the people in the transgender community came up to me and, hugged me with tears in their eyes and thanked me for giving a shit,” Goggins says. “The same with [Sons of Anarchy creator] Kirk Sutter for writing a character that was that three dimensional, that honoured their struggle.
“I feel like I was part of that conversation and that was a real privilege,” Goggins adds. “I come from the South originally, and if I’m looking at someone playing someone from the South why would I ever say to them ‘how dare you play that role?’ It is what it is. Life goes on. I would never apologise for that nor would I ever think that anyone would ask me to apologise for that.”
WHAT The Unicorn
WHEN Ten, Wednesday, 7.30pm
Michael Idato is the culture editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.