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Celebrity Close-Up
Feb 01, 2013

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Good Times

The Legendary John goodman on movies, memories and actors who aren't afraid of commitment. Plus, recent Oscar buzz!
Story: Amy De La Hunt
Photos: Headshot by Nigel Parry/CPi Syndication; "Argo" film stills courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

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John Goodman quips that after “making it through the Mayan death calendar,” he’s already accomplished his main goal for 2013. But the 60-year-old St. Louis native is understating the year ahead. True, he’s already filmed some of this year’s releases, like the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” set in Greenwich Village’s music scene in 1961 and co-starring Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan.

This follows a high-profile 2012 when, as Goodman tells it, he “got on kind of a hot streak.” More understatement—last year’s films included “Trouble With the Curve” alongside Clint Eastwood, Oscar-nominated “Flight” with fellow acting great Denzel Washington, and his pinnacle role in “Argo,” a film that snagged seven total Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

For this prolific actor, “selling the movies is harder than making them,” Goodman says. His typical schedule is grueling: He left his New Orleans digs for LA in June and didn’t get home again until November, thanks to filming and promotional commitments everywhere from London to Savannah, GA—yet he still made it back to his native STL for a few days in August. Looking back on the 60-plus movies in his filmography, it’s clear that this jet-setting pace is no aberration. Neither is his choice of unpredictable roles, in everything from a SpongeBob cartoon to a silent movie.

Harling May struts down a hospital corridor to the sounds of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. He’s in full hippie regalia, right down to the ratty ponytail and rainbow-striped backpack full of “merch,” delivering girly magazines and booze to the heroic pilot who’s just crash-landed a jetliner. “Flight,” 2012

Goodman’s self-deprecating humor peppers discussions of his latest roles. He claims to be “kind of proud” of “Flight,” in which his character is a drug dealer to the troubled pilot played by Denzel Washington (who’s a contender for lead actor in the Oscars), and “Argo,” in which he stars as Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers during the Iran hostage crisis. Then he turns serious. “Doing ‘Argo,’” Goodman says, “I got a great feeling that something good was going to come out of it, just because Ben Affleck was such a committed director and so well prepared—plus Alan Arkin, who, by the way, got his start in Gaslight Square with a group that later became Second City.”

The comments Goodman made in November proved prescient in January, with “Argo” taking Golden Globes for best drama and best director and earning multiple Academy Award nominations, including best supporting actor for Arkin’s portrayal of the fictional Hollywood producer Lester Siegel. For most of the movie, a deadpanning Arkin tag teams with the wisecracking Goodman, who’s been critically acclaimed for his “faintly bullying geniality” and “wonderfully droll” delivery.

In the next few months, Goodman will show even more of his incredible versatility, going from the Coen brothers’ film to the voice of Sulley in “Monsters University” to a comedy called “The Internship” co-starring Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. He’ll also be part of an impressive team with George Clooney (a colleague from way back in the first episode of “Roseanne”) on “The Monuments Men,” a World War II thriller co-starring Daniel Craig, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett.

Dan Conner ambles into the kitchen—where his wife has just tossed a shoe across the kitchen table—and asks, “Is there coffee?” After Roseanne spends the next 30 seconds chiding him for asking the same question every morning for 15 years, he deadpans, “Is there toast?” “Roseanne,” 1988

Though he scoffs at the idea that he’s an icon or mentor within the industry, Goodman has certainly worked with nearly every star in Hollywood. Some of these relationships, like the one with Roseanne Barr, are decades old and still going strong.

When he landed the part on “Roseanne” as a workaday dad in a flannel shirt, Goodman says he drew inspiration from friends he grew up with who went on to hang drywall and have other “real jobs.” But few workers in any profession can match Goodman when it comes to productivity across the decades.

By the time “Roseanne” was a hit in the ’90s, he had already experienced success in musicals, movies and commercials. TV was different. “I appreciated television because it was a nine-to-five job, it was every day, and the people you were working with got to be like family,” he says. The allure of banter and bickering with Barr was so strong that last year the two worked together on “Downwardly Mobile,” a sitcom pilot set in a trailer park. It didn’t get picked up, but “it was a lot of fun for a week,” Goodman says.

Fun is what drew Goodman to drama in the first place. His early forays on stage came at Affton High School’s spring musical under drama teacher Judith Rethwisch. “My best memories of high school were playing football and being on stage,” the actor recalls. Then came college, where he was “just killing time...I didn’t know what I wanted or where I was supposed to be. When I was doing plays, I had some focus and some purpose for being there.” That prompted him to move to New York in 1975. Far from questioning her son’s decision, Goodman’s mother, Virginia, “used to get a kick out of when I did commercials and when I was on ‘Roseanne,’” he says. “She loved that.”

Walter, wearing his trademark yellow-tinted shades and khaki vest, shows up at his league’s bowling alley and within moments pulls a handgun to settle an argument over a scratch. “If you mark that frame an 8,” he says, brandishing the gun at the other bowler’s head, “you’re entering a world of pain.” “The Big Lebowski,” 1998

When asked what his favorite filming experience was, Goodman says he answers “‘The Big Lebowski’ almost by rote, but I did a movie called ‘Always’ with Steven Spielberg, and I sure enjoyed making it.” Among actors he’s enjoyed working with, “one guy who stands out is from St. Louis, Kevin Kline. He’s everything I wanted to be as an actor when I moved to New York. He’s really an example of brain and heart—just a terrific actor.”

Although he clearly loves acting, Goodman is less upbeat about the direction of the movie industry as a whole. “There’s a lot more reliance on marketing, entertainment shows and the entertainment news industry...a lot more demand for behind-the-scenes access.” He puts up with it with good grace most of the time, but sounds almost wistful when he says, “I just want to see the finished product without seeing the magician’s cabinet of how the tricks were put together. It’s like having a bratwurst—I don’t want to see how it’s made.”

New Orleans Detective Sergeant Andre DeSoto sits in an interrogation room, doodling on a notepad, across from two young African-Americans. After a brief exchange with Detective Lieutenant Remy McSwain (played by Dennis Quaid), DeSoto oozes skepticism as he starts to write down their two-sentence alibi. “The Big Easy,” 1987

Goodman’s minor role in “The Big Easy” left him with a major love for the city of New Orleans. He wisecracks that he and his wife, Anna Hartzog, live “a little bit past Cape Girardeau,” but you can tell he’s serious when he starts talking about his deep St. Louis roots. For one thing, he is and always has been a Cardinals fan. “I just love going Downtown to the stadium,” he says. “It’s a real thrill.”

When he’s back in town visiting his brother and sister in Oakville, he always goes back to Affton to drive around, “see what’s changed and what hasn’t.” Then he might have a meal in The Loop. “I love Blueberry Hill—I love that whole neighborhood.” St. Louis loves him back—but just enough. Describing his August visit, Goodman says he ate out in peace just down the street from his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. “I don’t think anybody recognized me; it was great.”

The other place Goodman can be found in St. Louis is on the links. “I love going to Forest Park and playing golf,” he says. Lately, a bum knee has been crimping his game; he’s had the right one replaced and will get the left one done eventually. “Anytime you can get moveable metal parts, I’m all for it!” he laughs.

For now, though, his demanding schedule comes first. “Keep moving, keep working” is his motto for the future. Of his upcoming films, he seems to have had a particularly good time playing the bad guy in “The Hangover Part III.” The highlight was working with two young actors Goodman admires. “I’ll call them kids, but they’ve been in the business for a little while—Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. It’s exciting to work with them because they’re so damn good and committed to what they’re doing.” Coming from Goodman, that’s high praise indeed.

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