Navigating the Wasteland to Bring a Gaming Smash to TV: Walton Goggins, Ella Purnell and Aaron Moten Chat 'Fallout'

Prime Video's long-awaited take on the hit post-apocalyptic game is finally here — and its three leads told us all about it.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 12, 2024

When you're starring in a survivalist drama about humanity's attempts to keep life going 219 years after nuclear bombs destroyed existence as everyone knows it, do you start thinking about how you'd cope in a similar situation? As Fallout's three leads tell Concrete Playground, the answer is yes. But for Walton Goggins, Ella Purnell and Aaron Moten, that question always comes back to their characters — as disparate a trio that anyone could ever imagine trying to eke it out in post-apocalyptic times, ranging from the literally sheltered to the centuries-old and mutated, and also a wannabe soldier in a military where robotic armour is the best protection against a living nightmare.

Goggins (I'm a Virgo) helps usher the game-to-screen series, which dropped its eight-episode first season on Prime Video Down Under on Thursday, April 11, into its premise. First he's seen as Cooper Howard, an actor who was once a western star, but is initially introduced getting paid to show up a a child's birthday party. That's where he is, alongside his young daughter Janey (Teagan Meredith, The Calling), when Los Angeles is devastated. Next, what should've been several lifetimes have passed and Goggins is now The Ghoul, with a look to suit his name (including a hole where his nose should be) and the fact that his character is still kicking after so much time. 

In her latest series with a survivalist angle — see also: her turn as Jackie in Yellowjackets — Purnell plays Lucy MacLean, who wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye when life was a picture of retrofuturistic normality for Howard. Her status quo is Vault 33, one of several underground facilities where a blue uniform-clad mission to keep civilisation alive is underway. Her first goal is simply to marry and help perpetuate the species; a wedding to a neighbouring vault dweller, as overseen by her father and Vault 33's leader Hank (Kyle MacLachlan, Lucky Hank), is her initial fate. Soon, however, she's venturing out into wasteland, where there's more going on than she's been taught to believe — and a place that both The Ghoul and Maximus (Aaron Moten, Emancipation) have no choice but to call home.

The latter has a clear aim, too, when Fallout begins: becoming a knight for the Brotherhood of Steel, which means donning Pacific Rim and Gundam-esque suits. Even being a squire for a knight would be a step up from being terrorised by his fellow trainees. As brought to streaming by series creators and showrunners Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Captain Marvel) and Graham Wagner (The Office, Silicon Valley) — plus Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy as executive producers — Lucy, The Ghoul and Maximus' journeys will see them cross paths, of course, but nothing is simple in the show's hellish realm. Fallout has the three lead performances to make that plain, and both the vibe and the world-building design (plus no shortage of carnage, whether from people doing battle or mutated animals leaping out of toxic waters).

Anna Webber/Getty Images for Prime Video

Goggins, Purnell and Moten are each sublimely cast. For viewers, enlisting Goggins as The Ghoul is especially perfect, after a three-decade career that spans everything from The Shield, Justified, Sons of Anarchy and The Hateful Eight to Vice Principals and The Righteous Gemstones. No one has the same kind of swagger, or flair with dialogue. He's just as mesmerising when he's stepping into Howard's past, too, where his soft-spoken tones match his own in-person.

Purnell's Lucy and Moten's Maximus both navigate coming-of-age stories amid Fallout's dystopian realm, albeit from vastly different beginnings. Plucky from the get-go, Maleficent, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Sweetbitter's Purnell segues from perennial optimism to toughened-up realism. Haunted from the outset, The Night Of, Mozart in the Jungle and Next's Moten is tasked with searching for somewhere to belong, but stops letting his yearning cloud reality. Fallout is about ascertaining who you want to be — what you're willing to do, and face, and put up with — in such grim times as well, with its main trio constantly unpacking that weighty idea.

What does it take to step into Fallout's wasteland, and to bring a gaming series beloved since 1997 to television? How do the show's stars see the heart of its survivalist story? What does the inimitable Goggins look for in a part, and what appealed to him about taking on The Ghoul? We chatted to Goggins, Purnell and Moten about all of the above, and also found out how much they adored the job at hand, how Goggins saw the setup as a "good, the bad and the ugly" situation, and the fact that this marks Moten's first-ever project shot on celluloid.


On Whether the Fallout Cast Think About How They'd Respond in the Same Dystopian Situation — and How That Influences Their Take on Their Characters

Aaron: "I think sometimes."

Ella: "Yeah."

Walton: "Yeah."

Aaron: "I do think that, I feel like we all have specific details that are different, actually, about that answer, though. Because as Maximus, I'm playing a person who was born and raised in the wasteland, versus a person born and raised in a vault underground, and a person who lived before the bombs happened.

So for me, yes, I think there's an essence of 'what would I do in this moment?'. But at the same time, I think Maximus has lived a harsh reality. A major challenge for me is how to change my thought pattern to match one of someone who would have been born and raised in the wasteland.

What that means, usually it's about his moral compass; how survival has, I guess, evolved people; and their choices, and their right and wrong parameters. That to me, there's an element of 'what would I do?' — but I usually then am using that as a springboard, and sometimes landing on the 180 opposite then, as of what to do in in a situation."

Walton: "I think we would all go about it in a very different way. The thing about the question that sparked a thought in my mind is what I love about this show — I think so often over time, over the last eight decades, shows that dealt with this type of end-of-the-world event, so much of the time is dedicated to showing the end of the world, right. That happens in the first five minutes of this experience.

And the moderator last night [at Fallout's London premiere] brought up the fact that there's an inherent kind of hope and optimism even in this bleak landscape — whether that's coming from Lucy, or whether that's built into the show.

For me, I was thinking about that today, and I thought last night after she asked it, and I thought 'well, no', because really, the world that we knew is over. So the only thing that we have left to do once you know the deck has been reshuffled is to build. It's about recreating the world.

And Maximus brings that up in a in a just a great line in the pilot. And I think at the onset of any great human endeavour, hope or optimism springs eternal — and that's a cool part of this show. I like it. I'm watching it. It's really exciting to me."


On Unpacking Fallout's Survivalist Themes

Ella: "For me, one of the most exciting parts about the role was you take this very — at the start of the show — privileged, sheltered, innocent, clean (literally) young woman, and put her in this horrible, horrific situation that you would never hope to be in. And you really see her explore the extent of what humans are capable of.

She gets to the very brink of her limits. I think that she really gets put through it, and you see this deterioration happening in front of your eyes. And I think she has to dig really deep inside her to find that place of wanting to survive.

Because you want to give up. And there has to be a point where you make the choice that 'I am a survivor, I am going to get through this no matter what it takes'. And then that's where the theme of morality and identity come in.

I find survival stuff really interesting, just seeing how desperate a human can get — how they pave the way, how they put one foot in front of the other."

Walton: "I think the relationship between the two of us [The Ghoul and Lucy], I was thinking about that, too, after that conversation last night. The Ghoul in some way is a metaphor for life and tragedy. 

And he's saying in our relationship between Lucy and The Ghoul, it's as if he's sadistically saying: 'Come with me. Let me show you what the world is really like. You'll see this and you'll see this'.

And that loss of innocence is tragic, but inevitable in life."


On What Gets Goggins Excited About a Role, Including Playing Cooper Howard/The Ghoul

Walton: "For me, it's just money at this stage of my life. I'm just kidding. I'm joking. That's a very big joke."

Ella: "I always wanted someone to answer a question like that."

Walton: "It's just money. No, no, no. I've never taken a job for money, actually. I've believed in everything that I've been a part of.

I think all of us would say this — I don't want to speak for anyone else, but Jonathan Nolan is number one. Geneva, who's an old friend of mine, and we did Tomb Raider together. Graham, I've been a fan of for a very long time. And so you get that out of the way. And then you look at the story.

JoJo Whilden/Prime Video ©Amazon Content Services LLC

When I read the first two scripts, I was blown away by my journey, by The Ghoul's journey — but also blown away by Lucy's journey and Maximus' journey. And really saw it as kind of this good, the bad and the ugly, this strange configuration of these three people that come from very, very different backgrounds, and the way in which they meet up.

But the thing that got me more than anything is Cooper Howard is two people at different parts of the story, and understanding Cooper Howard — Cooper Howard was a movie star, a western kind of movie star. And he was the perfect protagonist, if you will, or the perfect hero for a time of eternal American optimism, for that specific time and the history in our country.

And in some ways, I think The Ghoul is not an anti-hero. I think he's the perfect hero in a cynical fallen world. He is someone who survived for 200 years. And for those of us that were left on the surface, it's a game of struggle, of daily survival. And I think it was the juxtaposition between those two different journeys that was most fascinating to me."


On the Responsibility of Bringing Fallout to the Screen Given the Enormous Fandom for the Games

Aaron: "I think we feel a great deal. There's a weight to it, for sure. I know that, for myself, it comes from care as well. You cherish the material and you want to do it justice.

A big part of acting, ultimately, I think for all of us is about getting yeses sometimes in a world of moving through scripts. And so there's a validation that you do hope to achieve taking on something that is beloved. But at the same time, every day for me — and [turning to Walton and Ella], I don't know if you guys were different — Howard Cummings [Fallout's production designer] and his team, and what they were building and putting together, and the detail that they were just preparing every set, every location, really made a lot of that fall away.

It was just such a joy to get such a great playground. It's like being the kid that's nervous to go to school, but then 'ohh man, they've got a swirly slide!'. It really felt like how could I not just jump in and enjoy it and really just go there.

Jonah [Jonathan Nolan] as well, helped a lot with that. And getting to shoot on film, just real celluloid, which is the first time for me. But hearing that camera."

JoJo Whilden/Prime Video ©Amazon Content Services LLC

Walton: "Amazing."

Aaron: "Yeah. First time."

Walton: "Wow. I never heard that."

Aaron: "A life of digital. A life of 'it's rolling, just play'."

Walton: "I didn't know that. Wow."

Aaron: "It makes us more economical, I think. You hear the rolls start, and you know we just reloaded, we've got seven or eight minutes."

Ella: "Yeah."

Aaron: "And if action is called, I'm doing it."

Ella: "Yeah, more intensely."

Aaron: "We're going for it."

Ella: "I'd say it's also the anticipation that's the scariest part. I don't know about you guys [turns to Aaron and Walton], but the two weeks leading up to beginning, I think I lost my mind. And then as soon as you start, it's, like you say, you get taken in by the characters and the costumes and the collaboration and the sets — and all of that goes away because it's fun.

It's just so fun. We're so lucky."

Walton: "Yeah, we really are."


Fallout streams via Prime Video from Thursday, April 11, 2024. Read our review.

Images: courtesy of Prime Video.

Published on April 12, 2024 by Sarah Ward
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x