Most of America first came to know John Goodman as the blue-collar patriarch of the Midwestern family on “Roseanne.”
Playing the role of big-hearted, hard-working contractor Dan Connor on the ABC sitcom for eight seasons could have typecast him as TV dad type for the rest of his days. But Goodman , whose hands and feet will be imprinted in cement at the TCL Chinese courtyard on Nov. 14, is simply too prodigious a talent to be contained by one character, no matter how intimate the relationship he developed with millions of viewers.
He’s played congressmen (“The West Wing”) and crooks (“Raising Arizona”), murderers (“Damages”) and miscreants (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), cops (“Sea of Love”), bluesmen (“Blues Brothers 2000”), jazzmen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), moviemen (“Argo”), military men (“Mother Night”) ball players (“The Babe,” a suicidal English professor (“Treme”) and without question the most distinctive hyper-aggressive bowler ever captured on screen (“The Big Lebowski”). Along the way he’s managed to host “Saturday Night Live” 14 times since 1989 (counting his upcoming stint in December) and log dozens of voice-over roles for Pixar and other high-profile toons. And as of Nov. 15, he’ll be a digital pioneer as the co-star of Amazon’s first high-profile original comedy series, “Alpha House,” penned by Garry Trudeau.
In sum, Goodman is the contemporary equivalent of the great character actors of the 1930s and ’40s who never stopped working and could always be counted on to bring their own brand of zing to any given role.
“As far as acting goes, he’s totally game to try stuff,” says Jeff Bridges, who starred in one of Goodman’s most memorable films, “The Big Lebowski.” “We got lost together in the story and characters we played — lost in their world. … He’s a player with a deep soul, who shares it with us through his craft and art. He excels in any genre.”
Sara Gilbert remembers the first time she met him, as “Roseanne” was starting up. “It was like this force of nature. It was almost like the room stopped and I just thought, ‘Oh my god, it’s perfect. This could be a hit.’ As soon as he walked in, it just all made sense.”
For Goodman, acting as a career pursuit came second to his first passion, which was to be a disc jockey.
Growing up in Missouri, he acted in a few high school plays but didn’t take it seriously until he got to college at Missouri State U. He says he specialized in “taking up space” and getting kicked out of class. He’d often wind up at the library, where he started reading plays by great American post-modernists such as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and William Inge. “I liked the psychology of the human drama,” he says. His linebacker build, babyface charm and resonant baritone made him a natural for the boards.
After college, Goodman made his first trek to Los Angeles in 1980 — where he made the obligatory trip to Grauman’s courtyard but didn’t try to walk in anyone’s footsteps (“I didn’t want to break anything,” he says.) He wound up on Broadway in the tuner “Big River” and had film breakthrough with a role in the 1986 David Byrne indie “True Stories.” But it was the one-two punch of his role as the baby-loving bank robber in “Raising Arizona” in 1987 and “Roseanne’s” bow in 1988 that established him as a thespian force.
“Raising Arizona” led Goodman to a residency in Coen brothers movies, most recently with his role as an uptight jazzbo in “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Ever since they clicked while making “Raising Arizona,” the brothers write parts specifically for Goodman in their pics. “I think the world of them as writers,” he says. He’s also quick to praise the working environment established by George Clooney on the upcoming “Monuments Men.” “It’s a pleasure working with him — the guy makes me laugh,” Goodman says.
With all the offers that come his way every year, Goodman has his decision-making process down to a science. His yea or nay is always based on “the writing, the primary director, fellow cast members and location — in that order,” he says.
Despite the demand for his services and the accolades he’s accrued, Goodman is deeply humble about the reason for his longevity and the diversity of his resume.
“It’s luck,” he says. “I still like to think I’m trying to learn.”
Maane Khatchatourian contributed to this report.