Interview: John Goodman on 'Argo,' 'Flight,' Eastwood and awards season wagging the dog

Posted by · 11:14 am · October 24th, 2012

NEW YORK — It’s not like John Goodman hasn’t been working consistently enough for a couple of decades, but the last two years have shown a stunning proliferation by anyone’s measure. Last year he was featured in two eventual Best Picture nominees — the Oscar-winning “The Artist” and Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” — as well as a recurring role on TV’s “Community.”

This year he’s following that up with roles in a trio of awards season hopefuls (“Argo,” “Flight” and “Trouble with the Curve”) as well as some voice work in Henry Selick’s “ParaNorman,” while 2013 will bring the antagonist of “The Hangover: Part III,” some more voice work in the much-anticipated Pixar sequel “Monsters University” and his fifth collaboration with the Coen brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”).

“It’s just the roll of the dice,” he says over drinks about his recent string of consistency and good luck with projects. “You’re not going to count on it every year. To me, it felt like, well, this is the way the cards are this year.”

In “Argo,” Goodman stars as Oscar-winning makeup artist and civilian CIA operative John Chambers, who assisted agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) in cooking up a wild story to get six American embassy workers out of harm’s way during the Iranian hostage crisis. This tale of Hollywood saving the day is “so absurd that you wouldn’t make a movie about it unless it were true,” Goodman says. “People mention that segment of the film and satire in the same breath, but Alan [Arkin] was telling me that he knew people like that, the producer, and people in the business talk about the business like that all the time. So we weren’t necessarily making fun of it. It’s just the way things are.”

Speaking of which, Goodman relished the chance to work with the actor he first saw on screen over 40 years ago in “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.” The two had oddly never met, but Goodman says he’s always responded to the amount of integrity in Arkin’s work. “I’ve always admired him,” he says. “He’s funnier than hell, and dry, because he just tells the truth. There’s no waste. Usually when you meet somebody you admire, it’s always a letdown. They’re never as good as advertised. He’s still interested in acting, which was great because I’d just pick his brains about it, his theories and stuff. He’s just an interesting man.”

Any journalist can attest to the same being true of Arkin on the interview circuit, to which Goodman bursts into laughter and, going into his best Alan Arkin impression, offers: “‘If I have one more person ask me what Ben Affleck is like.’ That’s why I like being with him at junkets. Things I want to say but I don’t.”

It was also a nice opportunity to make a movie in Los Angeles, Goodman notes. The first time in a while he shot something there was “The Artist,” and it’s striking to him how the business is shrinking away from its Hollywood roots.

“I was over at Paramount the other day and it’s all television production over there,” he says. Goodman moved to New Orleans in 1997. “They can’t afford to make films in Los Angeles. I mean, I like going to other places, but it’s nice to be able to make a Hollywood film in Hollywood.”

Which is a nice segue to “The Artist,” which Goodman wasn’t able to promote all that much last year due to the busy workload that has yielded all of these films in 2012. He balks a bit at the awards season machinery, a process he says he doesn’t really understand. So seeing a tiny labor of love take off in that way was unexpected.

“It’s so strange because we were just making this lovely little thing with a very talented guy, Jean Dujardin,” he says. “And Michel [Hazanavicius], the director, just had this story to tell. And it was great. It was fully realized. The guy loves movies…It was lovely to see the movie with an audience. That was the experience. And I tell you what it was, it was nice to see Michel’s dream realized fully and live to grow more than the expectations for it. So that was nice, that that kind of persistence is rewarded.”

Nevertheless, Goodman feels the Oscar thing is “too big,” he says. “It’s a lot different than when I was a kid and it was on on a Monday night and it was a neat deal in the spring…The red carpet’s wagging the whole thing now, and it just seems like people think if you don’t make a film that’s not nominated, what’s your purpose of living? Why are you even here? That’s not the reason people do movies. I don’t know if that sounds sour or bitter or anything, but to me it’s just blown way out of proportion.”

The counter argument, of course, is that a film like “The Artist” might not have reached such a wide audience had Harvey Weinstein not picked it up at Cannes purely to market it for awards attention. “That could be,” Goodman concedes. “I think it would have had a lovely little word of mouth, but without the massive advertising.”

Is there a financial benefit? Goodman’s not so sure about that, either. “Maybe it gets a little bump,” he says, “but not too much. And as for actors, maybe your price may go up and you’ll get cast a little more once, but it seems to level off. I mean, it’d be nice and everything, but I don’t know that it’s that beneficial.”

Maybe Weinstein could attest to that, as “The Artist” didn’t end up pulling in the revenue anticipated after such a financially successful awards season run with “The King’s Speech” a year prior.

Getting back to 2012, “Flight” was a great opportunity, Goodman says, to work with Denzel Washington again. The two collaborated once before in 1998’s “Fallen” but hadn’t seen each other for years.

“I not only like to work with him, I like to watch him work,” Goodman says. “Just really well-prepared, and like a good magician, you can’t see the tricks. There are no tricks. It’s seamless.”

The character he plays in the film is a charismatic, iPod-listening, Atlanta-area drug dealer. It was well-drawn on the page by screenwriter John Gatins, and so for Goodman, “it was just a matter of hitting my marks and having fun,” he says. “In the two scenes I was in I had to do some very specific things, and it was just a matter of getting that blocked down and just relaxing with it.”

He was only on the set for a couple of days, so it was an easy enough shoot, but not as easy as last year’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” Blink and you’ll miss Goodman’s handful of moments as an apartment building doorman, but the length of the role didn’t matter to the actor, even as it started to shrink more and more. He just wanted to be a part of it.

“I was very moved by that script,” he says. “They ran out of time and had to squeeze me out more, and they asked me, ‘Do you still want to do this movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you know what, just to be in it.’ And it only turned into a day, a couple of little scenes, but I just wanted to do it. I liked the kid a lot and I liked the story a lot. And I’m glad I did it.”

The film was a bit of a surprise Best Picture nominee for some, but per his view of awards season, Goodman says he doesn’t really put too much stock in that kind of thing. Nevertheless, it was, as he says, a nice roll of the dice to be in those two Best Picture nominees.

Swinging back once more to this year, there was also Robert Lorenz’s August release “Trouble with the Curve,” with Goodman starring opposite Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams. And like so many who have said “yes” to a Clint Eastwood project, the opportunity to work with the man is what made Goodman sign on.

“It was almost like I didn’t have to read the script,” he says. “I just wanted to work with Clint Eastwood. He’s not only prolific but good, in a good way. He doesn’t just grind them out. He makes quality movies, good stories that people like to go see and he knows how to do it. I’m attracted to people like that who can do it with a minimal amount of trouble and a maximum amount of pleasure. He’s got a crew around him and surrounds himself, delegates authority well, like Ben [Affleck] does. Ben’s confident enough in himself that he can let them do the job, and Clint’s the same way.”

And so on that note, each of these films represents a certain brand of mid-budget adult drama that is ever-receding from the marketplace.

“Adult drama, yeah, I think you hit something on the head there,” he says. “Yeah, grown-up movies, something with a subject that people are interested in. I’ve never seen anything like ‘Flight’ before and certainly never seen anything like ‘Argo’ before. It’s nice to hit something different that will attract an adult audience, something that’ll get you out of the house and share a movie experience with other people. I was out the other night, standing on the street the night [‘Argo’] came out, and people would just come up to me on the sidewalk and say they want to go back. It was a nice feeling.”

Both “Flight” and “Trouble with the Curve” were filmed in Georgia, which makes for a nice homecoming this weekend when he’ll be honored by the Savannah Film Festival. It seems somehow strange that he’s yet to be recognized by the Academy with an Oscar nomination, not that it’s likely bothering him all that much. But what matters to him is the luck he’s had as of late, because he loves to work, and judging by his schedule, he’ll be content for a while yet.

“Down time used to bother me, but I had down time this summer and I kind of liked it a lot,” he says. “A couple of years ago, right before I did ‘The Artist,’ it was dry. And I really got worried. But, you know, I’m getting older now. If it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.

“Of course, that’s really easy to say right now.”

“Flight” opens on November 2. “Argo” and “Trouble with the Curve” are currently in theaters.

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