The past few years have been kind to John Goodman: Monsters University was a worthy followup to Monsters Inc.; Inside Llewyn Davis was the best film of 2013; he stole the show in Flight; he was a part of a best picture winner with Argo; and he was in two kids films that will never be forgotten: Speed Racer and ParaNorman. The fact that that list of films doesn’t begin to cover all of Goodman’s good fortune goes to show how blessed he’s been. Really, how hard he’s worked. Settling into his fifth decade of acting, Goodman is hitting his stride.
Yet it’s the actor who accredits this success to pure chance. “It’s just the luck of the draw,” Goodman explained, while discussing The Monuments Men. “It’s total luck. Boy, I’m grateful everyday for it. The last few years have been a great ride. I look forward to going to work everyday. I wouldn’t trade it.”
And why would he? He’s appeared in many critical and commercial darlings, and he’s even back on a series with Amazon’s Alpha House, which, from the sound of it, he had a blast making. The same goes for his time spent on The Monuments Men.
“George mentioned this earlier today, but if we didn’t have to work, Billy and I would just show up on set to hang out. It was such a great vibe. I hadn’t done that since I started out.” Goodman gives credit to Clooney for creating a welcoming set. Goodman and Clooney have known each other since 1987 and already had a working relationship through Argo before pairing for the new Nazi art-theft movie. It was a year ago at an after party for Argo the writer/director said he might have something for Goodman, who replied boldly, “Yeah, sure.”
Easy-going commitment aside, this is the type of project that would be hard to say no to: Clooney directing; a great ensemble; and, to make it all better, a chance to return to Berlin, a city Goodman loves.
It’s a role that also sees him extending and building on solid filmmaking relationships. Beyond Clooney, Goodman and Jean Dujardin worked together on The Artist and they reunite here to battle Hitler. The two got along well on The Artist, but this time the interplay between them is different, both onscreen and off. “This time he spoke English. Man, I don’t know how he learned it so quickly. Doing The Artist we’d have to improvise with each other, but in two different languages.” As proven by The Artist and his big smile in The Monuments Men, Dujardin is a charismatic force to be reckon with. “He’s incredibly funny. He’s really quick-witted and he’s got a lot of heart.”
Dujardin is far from the first actor Goodman has played a memorable buddy-buddy relationship with for a film. He’s been a part of iconic film friendships: Walter Sobchak and Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges); James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal); and, of course, the complicated relationship between Charlie Meadows, a man with stories, and Barton Fink (John Turturro), the man who never listens.
Goodman has had plenty of luck with screen partners, because, when it comes to the duos he’s been a part of, he couldn’t think of a single actor he hadn’t hit it off with. The first name he mentioned is the one you’d expect, and hope, to hear. “Jeff and I had two weeks of rehearsal on Lebowski to get to know each other a little bit,” said Goodman. “What was important [in that time] was the lines for The Big Lebowski were very intricate, to the point where people think we improvised, that it looked very natural.” Goodman takes that response as a compliment, but, he added, “There was nothing spontaneous about it. It was all very cleverly written.”
Another perfect example: Billy Crystal. Little kids may not have discovered the wonderful friendship between The Dude and Walter yet, but they surely know James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski from the Monsters Inc. series. Animation is a whole different ballgame when it comes to creating chemistry, since, most of the time, the actors are hardly ever in the same room.
Goodman and Crystal didn’t know each other at all and “maybe” met once at an improv, but after they recordered Monsters Inc. separately, “Billy thought it’d be a good idea if we got together. There’s no comparison to that energy brought into the room and into the sessions. When Billy starts improvising, that’s a whole different tangent; it’s a whole different energy.”
We’ll see if his recent partnership with Garrett Hedlund will stand the test of time like Goodman’s aforementioned examples. The two made for a wonderfully bizarre paring in Inside Llewyn Davis, with Goodman as a motormouth with nothing interesting to say and Hedlund as his quiet driver, Johnny Five. “That relationship is something,” Goodman smiled. “The relationships with the other people in the film is fascinating. Every time I saw that movie I wanted to know more about the Gorfeins. I started worrying about them. I mean all these characters, where are these characters going? You really give a shit about these other characters.” Goodman’s right, you do care about those orbital characters, especially since the folk singing main character, as Goodman puts it, “acts like a shit.”
Rolan Turner, in a way, tortures Llewyn by strictly annoying him. There’s something haunting about that car, down to its passengers, the creaky windshield wipers, Turner’s funky outfit. “They wanted a specific wardrobe look. They had pictures of…I’m drawing a blank. It’s driving me nuts, but they had this specific songwriter in mind who dressed like an African-American hipster from 1945. For some reason, they made him a polio victim, I assume. I came up with the haircut. I’m not sure where the fake goatee from.” All those little things, including the fake goatee, add up to an unforgettable presence, which was further embellished upon by Roland’s speech pattern. Here, this would interest you: Goodman said he came up with that smoothly overbearing voice by reading the text over and over and over, until he “found” the right tone.
“Here, this would interest you,” is one of 2013’s greatest lines. Even when my time with Goodman was up, he shared an anecdote about how that presumptuous line came about. “They based that line on an industry guy they knew,” Goodman said, without naming names. “He had no idea if it would interest them or not, but it interested him.” He then added in his deep Turner voice, “This would interest you,” before giving a big-bellied laugh.
My 10 minutes with John Goodman went by fast, and while we were saying our goodbyes, he said, “Thanks for doing this, man.” After conducting hundreds of interviews, I can easily say being thanked for my time is not a common occurrence. Of course, John Goodman is far from a common actor.
The Monuments Men is currently in theaters.