Argo star John Good­man dares Don­ald Clarke to give him his worst,

John Good­man is known and loved for his joc­u­lar, larger-than-life per­for­mances, but he also does a mean line in men­ace, as the hap­less jour­nal­ist in the room be­fore Don­ald Clarke found out

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

JOHN GOOD­MAN has just en­dured a par­tic­u­larly gru­elling in­ter­view. It seems as if the pre­vi­ous jour­nal­ist de­cided to wheel out the couch and at­tempt a talk­ing cure. “I wasn’t pay­ing for a ther­apy ses­sion,” he says with a weary, bass laugh. “But I shelled up pretty quick. I think I’m wak­ing up now.” I’ll watch my­self then. “Oh God. Don’t watch your­self. That’s too fuck­ing bor­ing.”

For much of his ca­reer, this most em­pa­thetic of char­ac­ter ac­tors has played the sort of per­son­al­i­ties who don’t go in much for anal­y­sis. Since reg­is­ter­ing with Rosanne – the defin­ing Amer­i­can sit­com of the 1990s – he has cor­nered the mar­ket in bluff, blue-colour giants with a taste for un­pre­ten­tious mono­syl­la­bles. He was the dis­turbingly rightwing Wal­ter Sobchak in The Big Le­bowski. He was Fred Flint­stone in the un­for­tu­nate movie ver­sion of that TV se­ries. This week, he turns up as John Cham­bers, Hol­ly­wood make-up wizard, in Ben Af­fleck’s ex­cel­lent Argo.

One would not be sur­prised to hear him dis­miss any overly in­tru­sive ques­tion with a per­cus­sive burp. He speaks very slowly. He seems to take life very se­ri­ously. But, de­spite his protes­ta­tions, Good­man turns out to be per­fectly open to self-anal­y­sis.

Tell us about his up­bring­ing. John Stephen Good­man was born 60 years ago in St Louis, Mis­souri. It must have been a tough life. His dad died of a heart at­tack when John was just two, leav­ing his mom with three kids to raise alone.

“It was very hard. She took in laun­dry when I was a kid,” he says. “She babysat kids. Nowa­days, we’d call it a day cen­tre. She just called it look­ing af­ter the neigh­bours’ kids. She had a hard time of it. It was a mir­a­cle I went to col­lege and I didn’t hold up my end of the bar­gain there very much.”

John had the build for Amer­i­can football and his tal­ent for the game brought him to South­west Mis­souri State Univer­sity. He now says that “was too lazy” and that he didn’t have suf­fi­cient “heart” to ex­ploit a football schol­ar­ship. Hap­pily, he en­coun­tered a teacher who edged him to­wards the univer­sity’s drama pro­gramme. In 1975, he set out for New York City with the­atri­cal am­bi­tions.

“I was un­fo­cused. Look­ing back, I was wildly im­ma­ture un­til I got into drama. Then I found my way. My mom was happy that I was happy. To be hon­est, I think she was more wor­ried about me go­ing to New York than about me be­ing an ac­tor.”

It was more than a decade be­fore Good­man be­came a house­hold name. But he claims that – car­ry­ing moun­tains of charisma on his mighty shoul­ders – he was rarely out of work for any lengthy pe­riod.

“I tended to earn enough to get me to the next job,” he says. “I was fright­ened all the time. Where is the rent go­ing to come from? It took me a year to get into the union, but then I started get­ting com­mer­cials. That meant I didn’t have to work for a liv­ing. I could now sup­port my drink­ing habit.”

He sounds mildly joc­u­lar. But Good­man has, in­deed, un­der­gone a se­ri­ous strug­gle with the booze. To­wards the end of the last decade, he owned up to be­ing an al­co­holic.

“I still have it. I am an al­co­holic. I know that for sure. But I’ve been sober for five years.” What’s the trick? “Well, Al­co­holics Anony­mous helps. But it’s re­ally about show­ing up ev­ery day and not drink­ing.”

Good­man’s ca­reer shifted into over­drive with the launch of Rosanne in 1988. Un­til its bizarre de­cline into wish ful­fil­ment in the mid-1990s, the se­ries of­fered the most pun­gent anal­y­sis of (by the Amer­i­can def­i­ni­tion) mid­dle-class life on net­work tele­vi­sion. Emerg­ing just in time for the elec­tion of the first Ge­orge Bush to the White House, it felt like a sly com­men­tary on the folk that had been left be­hind by the Rea­gan rev­o­lu­tion. Rosanne Barr was the salty house­wife. Good­man played her long­suf­fer­ing hus­band.

“I look back on it fondly,” he says. “I was hav­ing so much fun that it seemed like a nat­u­ral step when it be­came a hit show. Well, that’s great. It was just nice to turn up and work and have a good time. I can’t say I cared when it be­came a hit.” Did he see it as a po­lit­i­cal show? “I di­vorced my­self from that. That was all for Rose. She be­lieved in what she be­lieved in. That char­ac­ter was a strong woman – as woman are who head a fam­ily. The core of the thing was: just be­cause we are poor, that doesn’t make us stupid. That was the po­lit­i­cal side to it. But it was more fun for me and more po­lit­i­cal for her.”

By the time you read this, we will know whether Rosanne – nom­i­nee for the Peace and Free­dom Party – has been elected Pres­i­dent of the United States. Will John be vot­ing for her?

“Ha ha! No, I don’t think so. But we’ve al­ways got on re­ally well.”

If Rosanne hadn’t be­come a smash, John Good­man would, no doubt, have gone on to be­come one of those great char­ac­ter ac­tors whose faces you know, but whose names re­main an­noy­ingly elu­sive. Things worked out very dif­fer­ently. Does he re­call when fame kicked in?

“It eased its way in – like a tu­mour grow­ing,” he says. “Peo­ple re­acted to me dif­fer­ently and I think I de­vel­oped a sense of en­ti­tle­ment. I got used to first-class air tick­ets. I got used to the def­er­ence of peo­ple. I tried to keep it in check. “But at the same time the drink­ing was get­ting worse and that was an es­cape. That’s how I Good­man in The Big Le­bowski and (right) with Rosanne Barr dealt with that.”

Re­ally? Good­man doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who would fly into a rage if the loo roll wasn’t folded down or his min­eral wa­ter was from the wrong vol­canic is­land.

“I wasn’t quite like that,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gone that far. But there was a sense of en­ti­tle­ment go­ing on there. I had a feeIing that I de­served to be treated a cer­tain way. I tried to keep that in check. But I think ev­ery­body goes through that when they get what they want.”

At any rate, Good­man con­tin­ued to at­tract work in a great va­ri­ety of projects. The one con­stant has been in­volve­ment with the Coen broth­ers. He has col­lab­o­rated with the dual- headed au­teurs on such projects as Rais­ing Ari­zona, Bar­ton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou and – most fa­mously – The Big Le­bowski.

His per­for­mance as (no, re­ally) lov­able fas­cist Wal­ter Sobchak in that last film gifted Le­bowski nuts a host of quotable lines. The bowl­ing Viet­nam vet­eran is an im­mov­able part of late 20th-cen­tury pop­u­lar cul­ture.

“I no­ticed it when peo­ple on the street be­gan scream­ing out lines to me,” he says. “Then if I quoted some­thing back, I’d get it wrong and they’d cor­rect me. It be­came grad­u­ally clear that they knew more about the film than I did. I think I had more fun work­ing on that than on any other pic­ture. The suc­cess was just gravy.”

“Peo­ple re­acted to me dif­fer­ently and I think I de­vel­oped a sense of en­ti­tle­ment. I got used to first­class air tick­ets. I got used to the def­er­ence of peo­ple”

What of the much-dis­cussed the­ory that Wal­ter is based on ma­cho di­rec­tor and screen­writer John Mil­ius? It’s not such an ab­surd no­tion. They have the same beard and the same bluff manor.

“I never met John Mil­ius. But I have heard that he might be based on him and a cou­ple of other guys. I have never even seen what he looks like. As far as I am aware, there was never any re­sponse from the Mil­lius camp. If there was I might not be speak­ing to you right now. I might be in a box. Ha ha!”

Good­man is ir­re­sistible in Argo. Af­fleck’s film de­tails a bizarre in­ci­dent from the af­ter­math of the 1979 Iran hostage cri­sis: a CIA team posed as a vis­it­ing film crew in or­der to help six diplo­mats, then shel­ter­ing in the Cana­dian em­bassy, make their way home to the US. John Cham­bers, the man who de­signed the make-up for Planet of the Apes, was in­volved in putting to­gether the fake sci­ence fic­tion film that the crew claimed to be shoot­ing.

“I didn’t know a god­damn thing about it un­til I read the script. That’s how sick and self­serv­ing I am,” Good­man says.

To be fair, the story was kept se­cret by the au­thor­i­ties for close to 20 years. To­wards the close, we hear ar­chive footage of Jimmy Carter re­gret­ting that he was un­able to credit the of­fi­cials at the time.

“Yes, I met some of the house guests. There was a marine who was from my neck of he woods – from Saint Louis, Mis­souri – and we got on fine. You know what? I was so tick­led by meet­ing them, I for­got to ask them much about the ex­pe­ri­ence. But they did say it was lot more bor­ing than it looked in the film. That makes sense.”

Again and again, when dis­cussing his most ad­mired projects, John says how much fun he had on set. This, per­haps, ex­plains why he con­tin­ues to work quite so hard. Early next year we will see him op­po­site Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in the much-her­alded Flight. Later in the spring, he pops up in the Coen broth­ers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. He stars op­po­site Clint East­wood in the up­com­ing Trou­ble with the Curve. Good grief! Does the man ever sleep?

“I guess I have been do­ing a lot re­cently,” he says. “I did have some down­time in the sum­mer and I en­joyed it. I didn’t have the fear that creeps in.”

Quite so. He de­serves a break. He’s off the booze. He lives hap­pily in New Orleans with his wife of 23 years. His daugh­ter is now at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. There’s no need to ap­pear in ev­ery de­cent film in our cine­mas.

“Hang on. You are right. I am go­ing to change my ways. Work sucks! Fuck work!”

Argo opens to­day and is re­viewed on page 13

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