Walton Goggins has carved out a career playing scary MFers on-screen—including a corrupt cop in The Shield, a devious outlaw in Justified, and a ruthless slave owner in Django Unchained (out this month). But even villains have their fears, and for the 41-year-old actor, it was an aversion to water and tight spaces (stemming from the first time he saw Jaws terrorize hapless swimmers). "I have a real fear of being in a body of water where I can't see the bottom," Goggins says. Instead of running away from his phobias, however, Goggins dove into them—literally. For the past 12 years, the actor has logged more than 150 dives in such deep-sea destinations as Thailand, Panama, and the Caribbean. "I like to travel to faraway places and get off the grid," he says.
Goggins says his fears ironically dissipate when he's in the water. "Going beneath the surface—this whole different world opened up for me," he says. "You're in their environment"— referring to the exotic ocean life he constantly comes in contact with—" and it's so meditative. It's a place where you know you'll be witnessing something that's only possible for a split second. When that fish comes around that rock, you see it only once. It's beautiful."
Diving is a passion that Goggins can't wait to share with his nearly two-year-old son. "As soon as my little guy is able to get in a pool and put on a wetsuit, he'll be scuba diving," he says. In fact, he hopes to impart his general love of fitness to junior, leading by example. "I hike with my little boy. I'm carrying 28 pounds around Runyon Canyon, three times a week," he says. "Who needs a weighted vest when you have a kid?"
Padi's Open-Water Diver Certification
1) Learn theory of scuba diving in a classroom setting.
2) Develop basic scuba skills in a series of pool dives.
3) Do four openwater dives with an instructor.
If you move quickly, you can complete the certification in four days.
Goggins credits 1997's The Apostle (with Robert Duvall) for launching his career. But it was an earlier film—The Next Karate Kid with future Oscar winner Hilary Swank—that jump-started his fitness pursuits. "Since then, working out has been like going to church. It grounds me," Goggins says. The versatile actor approaches workouts with his characters' look in mind, including heavy lifting for seven years during The Shield. "I've never weighed more than 168 pounds, but here I was benching 230," he recalls. "These were big guys doing bad things, so it was important to have that body type."