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