John Goodman gorges on film roles

05:00 AM, Jun 26, 2013

John Goodman as Walter in the Coen Brothers' 'The Big Lebowski,' one of the actor's iconic roles. Goodman reunites with the brothers this winter for 'Inside Llewyn Davis.' Universal Home Video/


Written By by Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — John Goodman has grown used to the feast-or-famine nature of acting.

So he’s trying not to take his full plate for granted.

Just three years ago he couldn’t get a call back from studios, Goodman says. Despite hits like the animated Monsters, Inc., the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski and the TV comedy series Roseanne, the actor says he had fallen out of favor with Hollywood’s casting gods.

There’s no real rhyme or reason to it,” says Goodman, 61. “Things will be going great, then, all of a sudden, the phone stops ringing.”

Aside from supporting roles in the 2010 TV movie You Don’t Know Jack and the forgettable film Drunkboat, Goodman’s career had stalled. Then he picked up a script for a low-budget silent film, The Artist, and landed the role of studio exec Al Zimmer.

The Artist would go on to win the best picture Oscar. And Goodman’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

Nor is it likely to stop ringing anytime soon, since Goodman is coming off the best debut of his career in Monsters University, the Pixar prequel that opened to $82.4 million this weekend.

The animated comedy marks the third film this summer for Goodman, who also appears in The Hangover Part III and The Internship.

Other than Dwayne Johnson, I’m not sure there’s an actor who is in more movies this year,” says Paul Dergarabedian, box office president of Hollywood.com. “He’s become Hollywood’s good luck charm.”

Dergarabedian says Goodman’s resurgence comes thanks to an affable personality that is striking a chord with moviegoers.

People react to him like they’re seeing an old friend on screen,” he says. “What’s interesting is that he really doesn’t have one type of role, as some actors do. He does the family animated movie. He does the R-rated comedy. He can fit in just about every kind of movie, and they’re doing well, either in terms of awards or box-office gross.”

Indeed, Goodman comes off another best-picture Academy Award winner, Argo, and will star in his latest Coen brothers collaboration, Inside Llewyn Davis, due Dec. 6. On Dec. 18, he stars in George Clooney’s World War II story The Monuments Men.

I know what it’s like to not get a job, so I’m grateful they still let me work,” says Goodman, who has a daughter with wife Annabeth Hartzog and lives in New Orleans. “You take the jobs you can, because you can’t take anything for granted.”

Even the fortunes of a Pixar film. Goodman says that while he has been waiting for a sequel to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. for more than a decade, “I know that the studio takes its time with a story, especially one they never intended to have a sequel.”

But fans and stars kept pushing for another installment of the adventures of James “Sulley” Sullivan (voiced by Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal).

Crystal says that Goodman is such a physical actor, “you need to be in the room with the guy to play off him,” and insisted the two tape their scenes together, a rarity in modern animation.

The first time I heard his voice, I knew I couldn’t pretend I was interacting with him,” Crystal says. “For one, his voice is so big and animated, you’ll disappear (in the scene). But also, he’s so friendly, and gets so into his roles, you want to work with him to feed off that energy.”

Goodman says there’s no secret to his success, aside from a willingness to take “any film that punches you in the gut with a good script.”

Including Monsters. Goodman says he’d “do another Monsters movie in a heartbeat if they call. I work on their clock.”

The St. Louis native says his commitment to his craft developed in 1976 when, as a struggling actor and waiter, he received tickets to a Broadway show he declines to name.

The lead sucked,” Goodman says with a laugh. “I remember kind of relaxing and thinking, ‘I can do this.’ Then the movies started coming, and everything changed.”

Like his taste in films.

You never have to worry about a Pixar script,” he says. “But at this point in my career, I’m finding I’d rather have a great director than a great script, because a great director can fix little screw-ups.”

He’s also changed the roles he takes.

I’m playing characters that I personally like,” he says. “Maybe if things change again I’ll have to play characters I’m not crazy about. But right now, I can’t believe the good fortune I’m having.”

So much so that he’s going to enjoy a rarity: a six-week break between projects. How does the 6-foot-2 mountain of a man plan to relax?

I’m going to have to get the elliptical machine out,” he says. “The one downside of all those movies is all those catering trucks.”