Saturday 22 October 2016

John Goodman: A Great Actor and a Good Man

John Goodman has a reputation for making life awkward for journalists but Anne Marie Scanlon discusses his latest film Trumbo with a true gentleman

Anne Marie Scanlon

Published 01/02/2016 | 02:30

Distinctive: John Goodman has lent his voice to animations, as well starring in classics such as The Big Lebowski.
Distinctive: John Goodman has lent his voice to animations, as well starring in classics such as The Big Lebowski.

John Goodman has a reputation and quite frankly I'm scared even though I've been a fan since he first appeared as Dan Connor, the husband of Roseanne, in the TV sitcom of the same name. I'd happily watch a two-hour film of Goodman reading names from a telephone directory - that distinctive voice alone would be worth it. But yet, I'm nervous because as The Guardian newspaper put it last year he's "a famously tricky interviewee."

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I'm meeting Goodman to talk about his latest film, Trumbo, a biopic of real-life screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad) who was jailed and blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Goodman plays Frank King, a sleazy film producer who hires the blacklisted writer.

The first thing Goodman says to me is where would I prefer to sit? Then, where would I like him to sit. He quickly follows up these enquires with others. Would I like a drink of water? Is it OK if he has one? Am I warm enough? Honestly, the last time anyone was this solicitous of my comfort I was visibly pregnant. Where is the "tricky" actor who has reduced grown men to shivering wrecks?

Mind you, l'm still worried. Maybe Goodman is a bit like King who comes across as an amiable schlub until you annoy him and find yourself surrounded by a trashed room and pinned to the wall by a baseball bat.

I have to check whether Goodman is packing and ask him if he has a baseball bat on his person. "No," he replies smiling, "but I have a Babe Ruth model Louisville slugger by my bed just in case somebody breaks in."

I ask him if like his on-screen character Frank, he's ever had cause to use it. "I've had call but I've never done it," he replies deadpan and then goes on to say "I think everybody likes that scene (there were cheers from the audience when I saw the film) is because so many people want to do it."

Despite having his trademark jowls covered by a beard and having lost a huge amount of weight Goodman is easily recognisable as the star of a variety of movies including The Artist, The Big Lebowski and Momuments Men. He's also leant his distinctive voice to a number of characters including the original Yellow M&M and Sully in Monsters Inc.

Now a youthful looking 63, Goodman was born in St Louis Missouri and got the acting bug in school. "We had a gorgeous theatre teacher," he tells me. "I forgot my lines the only night we did (the play) and I started improvising. I had a walk around the table a couple of times and when I finished I picked up (the lines) and sat down. And she gave me a big hug," Goodman smiles at the memory, "so I said there's something in this."

During his high school years Goodman carried on acting, not only because it came easily to him, but because he felt as if he didn't fit in. "I was really shy so I turned into a kind of class loudmouth trying to be funny."

When Goodman went to university he realised that acting was something he would like to pursue. He didn't go on a Football Scholarship as has been widely reported. "I don't know where that comes from," he tells me. "(I wanted to) play but I had no talent and I was slow." Instead "I got into the theatre department, I reckoned there were more girls in theatre than there were playing football."

In 1975 Goodman moved to New York city to pursue a career in acting and lived in the appropriately named Hell's Kitchen, a less than salubrious neighbourhood. The actor loved it. "The city was broke, there was graffiti everywhere, garbage in the street, but the arts scene was thriving." Hell's Kitchen was perfect for Goodman as it's close to the Broadway Theatre district and the broke young actor was able to walk everywhere. His digs in an old-fashioned tenement building, with the bathtub in the kitchen and the toilet in the hallway, weren't exactly safe. "One morning (my girlfriend) found a hypodermic needle and some cooked bottle caps in (the toilet) - someone had been using it as a shooting gallery. I was frightened all the time but," he adds smiling, "I wouldn't have had it any other way."

The actor finally moved to LA after getting cast in Roseanne. He tells me he couldn't have moved there before that as "I was very broke. Once I had money I'd blow it on crap."

Rosanne, the story of an ordinary working class couple and their three children was a revolutionary show in many ways. It presented family life in a clear-eyed non-sentimental way (unlike it's contemporary The Cosby Show). Early on gay characters were integrated into plotlines which was radical in the days when Ellen, Rosie O'Donnell and even George Michael were still in the closet.

I ask Goodman if Roseanne gets the credit it deserves for being such a groundbreaking show in so many ways. "Oh I don't know. It's not for me to say," Goodman says quietly but then adds "I don't think she (Roseanne Barr) gets the credit she deserves. She was a tower of strength…she could cut the crap out of a script faster than anybody I've ever met before or since. She just knew what was funny, what was essential. (The show) was a great ride."

Things are going well so far. But I take a deep breath when I ask the actor about his much-publicised battle with alcoholism. In other interviews it's often at this point he turns "tricky".

Instead he's more than happy to tell me about his journey to sobriety eight years ago. Many people were surprised when paparazzi shots of Goodman in an alcohol treatment facility emerged in 2007 (the Paps were looking for Brittney Spears, he tells me). Unlike many of his Hollywood contemporaries Goodman never publically had the reputation of being a big drinker or party animal.

"I (thought) that I did," he tells looking both sad and pained. "I'd been caught drunk on set a couple of times during a couple of pictures - that was embarrassing as that was the one thing I swore I'd never do. It became habitual. In my mind I was turning into the town drunk and I pictured everybody talking about me."

Although sober for almost a decade the actor still looks troubled when recalling the moment, he knew "I was so bad I had to be hospitalised…. I was supposed to present at an awards show and I couldn't answer the bell (his cue for the stage) as I was so drunk. I'm proud that I've quit."

Despite having 8 years of sobriety under his belt Goodman isn't taking anything for granted and adds, "or trying to quit, day by day. (I know) there's going to be that hole there that wants to be filled with "fun" with quotation marks, but I can't even touch it so it's going to remain there - wanting something when it already has everything it needs." Then he admits that he started smoking again. "I'm too old for that," he says "but it's always something (of an addictive nature)"

Despite what his Wikipedia entry says Goodman has no Irish relatives that he knows of but would like to visit Ireland and "maybe do the Joyce Walk on Bloomsday in Dublin." I tell him that we're very proud of Joyce in Ireland and then a few seconds later we both say "now!" in unison and kill ourselves laughing.

There is still no sign of the famously "tricky" actor as I get up to leave so I tell Goodman that I had been really looking forward to meeting him as I'm a huge fan. "What an utter disappointment for you" he answers in all seriousness. "Far from it," I say indignantly and he hugs me. A huge big bear hug from John Goodman - if that's tricky I'll take it.

Trumbo opens in cinemas nationwide on 5th February.

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