With his jocular, yet authoritative voice matched with a wide grin and gleaming eyes, John Goodman could very well be the definition of a character actor. The guy filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen routinely cast as the sidekick who lands some of the most memorable lines in their movies or whom Lorne Michaels frequently calls up to host and guest star on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” With the latter, it helps that he seems comfortable with dressing in drag.
And, despite being a marquee name with a scroll of TV, film, and theater credits, Goodman is perfectly fine with this distinction. “I still consider myself a character actor,” Goodman says. “I think it’s a good thing. I think every actor’s a character actor to a certain extent. Character actor has a lot of different definitions. I’m just a mutt. I just keep going for the bone.”
But to a legion of Goodman’s fans, he will always be Dan Conner, the dry- humored male counterpart to Roseanne Barr’s cackling title character in her trailblazing ABC sitcom about a working-class American family in flyover country. Through its nine-season run, the series conquered harsh truths including money woes, teenage sex and birth control, LGBT relationships, and domestic violence.
In the process, Goodman landed seven Emmy noms and a Golden Globe for the role. (He finally won an Emmy in 2007 for guest actor on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”) So it’s only fitting that when he receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 10, it will be placed a few down from the one belonging to his TV wife.
“The Carsey-Werner Co., [which produced ‘Roseanne,’] wanted me to meet him to see if I liked him to play my husband,” Barr recalls of Goodman’s casting. “My comedian friends were excited for me to meet him, too many of them knew him and admired him. Within two minutes, I couldn’t wait to work with him — he laughed at all my jokes. That is what always makes me like people. Carsey-Werner brought the right guy for the right job.”
Barr says she loves that their stars will be near each other (“The Conners will live on!”). Despite reports of studios tinkering with strategies to get more blue-collar viewers in light of the Donald Trump presidency, Barr says she doesn’t think “Roseanne” would be able to be made today because her series “belonged in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s — it was a show about those times.” Also, she says, “there will never be another John Goodman.”
“I admire everything he is in; he can make us laugh or cry,” she says. “He is a great actor. I learned so much from just watching him work. I love his ability to create layers of a character. No one does it better. I love him on ‘SNL’ too; his comic timing is unbelievably on the money.”
Although Goodman has hosted “SNL” an impressive 13 times, his frequent guest appearances on the long-running sketch show are met with just as much fanfare. His portrayal of Monica Lewinsky’s poorly chosen confidante, Linda Tripp, was so memorable and visceral that it was rumored to be the reason she lost weight and underwent plastic surgery. More recently, he appeared alongside fellow frequent “SNL” guest Alec Baldwin, playing Donald Trump’s then-incoming secretary of state Rex Tillerson as a brash Vladimir Putin bestie who would be one of the ones actually running things in Washington.
Goodman says this sketch had an “unusually quick” turnaround, as he found out about it on the Tuesday before that Saturday’s taping. He fit in rehearsals around his performance schedule for Broadway’s “The Front Page.”
And no hard feelings, OK Rex?
“I don’t know that much about [Tillerson],” Goodman concedes. “I just wanted to have fun and ‘SNL’ is my favorite place to be.”
Despite these appearances and roles on other politically themed works such as Amazon’s Washington-set comedy “Alpha House” or movies like “Argo” and “You Don’t Know Jack,” Goodman doesn’t necessarily believe it’s a requirement for actors to use their platforms as soap boxes.
“I think it’s important for actors to learn their lines,” he says.
Goodman’s latest film is Warner Bros.’ “Kong: Skull Island,” an action-packed ensembler about the inhabitants of the mysterious land mass that the giant ape calls home. He plays Bill Randa, an adventuresome sport with an ulterior motive and a knack for putting together a crackpot team of explorers including Tom Hiddleston’s hunter-tracker, Corey Hawkins’ fresh-faced geologist, and Brie Larson’s photographer.
It’s also easy to theorize about political connotations in “Kong,” which is set at the end of the Vietnam conflict and is about what happens to a delicate ecosystem when it’s greeted by unexpected and unwanted intruders, (speculations, by the way, Goodman says you’d be wrong to make). “The only thing political is the guy is hell-bent on getting what he wants out of an untapped area [and] that usually spells trouble for the untapped area,” Goodman says. “He’s persistent.”
Goodman says he wanted to do the film because, “I’ve never really done anything like that; a huge special effects movie like that. And I’ve always loved King Kong.” As far as researching the part, he says he “learned on the job” and “I grew a beard. That’s how I prepared for it.”
“Kong” director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives him a little more credit. “John Goodman is one of those actors whom you watch their body of work and they are an absolute force of nature on screen,” he says.
“There are performances of his that are like staring at a tornado destroying a town, somehow mesmerizing, raw, and intimidating. Yet the truly remarkable thing about him is that when you meet him in person you realize he possesses the rarest of all qualities, which is that he is able to harness his intense talent and yet he exudes a pure, gentle, kind, and truly good heart and is such a remarkably good human being.”
Directors flock to the actor. Much of Goodman’s film repertoire has been defined by his work with the Coens, enjoying parts of cult legend such as the short-tempered Jewish convert in “The Big Lebowski,” a modern take on a Cyclops in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or a convict on the lam in “Raising Arizona.”
“I work with the same people some times because that’s just the cycle of life in this business; I’ve been around for 40 years now and I’m going to run into the same people,” Goodman says, adding that it’s hard for him to choose a favorite of these roles. “I switch back and forth; I like ‘Barton Fink’ right now.”
Is there ever a Coen movie that Goodman would have liked to be in? “I was watching ‘Hail, Caesar!’ the other day …,” he says of last year’s send-up of the Hollywood studio system that employed pretty much everyone else with a SAG card.
There are some other parts Goodman has on his bucket list, but he declined to say what they were for fear of jinxing any prospects. He’d also love to write something of his own, but doesn’t feel he has the talent for it.
“I wish I could fly too,” he jokes.
What: John Goodman receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When: 11:30 a.m. March 10
Where: 6767 Hollywood Blvd.