The path of the Righteous

The path of the Righteous

Catching up with DQ at this week’s Monte-Carlo Television Festival, The Righteous Gemstones and The Conners star John Goodman looks back on his career, picks out some of his best screen roles and explains why he believes the future is bright for acting talent.

In his role presiding over the fiction competition jury at this week’s Monte-Carlo Television Festival, US star John Goodman has become accustomed to being called Mr President. Yet it’s not the first time he has held this title, having stepped into the role of US president, at least temporarily, during a four-episode guest part in acclaimed political drama The West Wing.

He played Republican house speaker Glen Allen Walken, who becomes commander-in-chief at the end of season four when Democratic incumbent Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) invokes the 25th Amendment to excuse himself from office after his daughter is abducted.

Asked what he remembers from his time on the long-running NBC series, Goodman tells DQ: “Long hours – and getting brilliant dialogue. But you had to get it letter-perfect or it actually didn’t work. It was constructed so well that it needed to be spoken the way it was written, and you certainly don’t want to let anybody down when you’re the new kid walking into an established cast. It’s a little difficult. But they were so sweet and nice and generous. That show had a big generosity of spirit. Plus Martin Sheen is great.”

John Goodman’s Glen Allen Walken is sworn in as president in The West Wing

Across a four-decade career, Goodman has enjoyed success in both film and television. His notable film credits include Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult favourite The Big Lebowski, plus Arachnophobia, Barton Fink and Argo, while he is best known on the small screen for playing Dan Conners in long-running sitcom Roseanne and its sequel The Conners.

In between filming The Conners, which as been renewed for a sixth season by ABC, the actor also stars as patriarch Eli in The Righteous Gemstones, HBO’s comedy drama about a famous and dysfunctional family of televangelists and their megachurch.

Speaking in Monte-Carlo before the fiction jury named BBC drama Ten Pound Poms best series at the event’s curtain closer, the Golden Nymph Awards, Goodman talked about his long-running career, his current roles and why he’s not predicting the future of Hollywood.

What have you enjoyed about being the jury president?
What excited me most about what I’ve seen has been the kids, the young actors. It was very encouraging and energising to see these kids who act so well, and it’s going to be exciting to watch the future.

Is there one of your characters, shows or films that fans talk to you about the most?
They seem to like the guy [Walter Sobchak] from The Big Lebowski the most. I’m not going to argue with them. I’m very happy that it makes people so happy. And they see it over and over and over. They know the lines better than I do.

The actor’s many memorable film roles include Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski

Would you like to bring back The Big Lebowski?
It’ll never happen. [The Coens] don’t do sequels. And I think it was fairly well wrapped up and a really wonderfully told detective story with a feeble-minded man and his friends.

Do you have a favourite?
I have favourites, but not one in particular. There was good about all of them, and I could have done a lot of them better. But it’s usually any time I work for Joel or Ethan Coen.

You’ve said you’re falling back in love with acting. Do you think, ‘I’ve got this,’ or is it still a challenge for you?
I really undersell myself. I’m learning how to relax more into it, and it’s not life or death, but it just makes it easier if I’m more relaxed and more susceptible to inspiration, whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. But it makes life easier.

Does the fact that you’re in two long-running series help you relax into character rather than having to do new jobs every few months?
Yeah. One of them [The Conners] is weird because it’s a 22-minute situation comedy, and it’s really easy to fall into a rut doing that and take things for granted. I try not to do that, though, and just find ways to make it more challenging for myself.
I’ve been in a six-year run between two television shows, so I go to LA [where The Conners is filmed], finish there, then I go to Charleston, South Carolina, and work there for five or six months [on The Righteous Gemstones]. And I’m never home in New Orleans anymore.

Goodman also stars in sitcom The Conners

Why did your character Eli and the world of The Righteous Gemstones appeal to you?
I don’t know what’s going to happen [next], but we just started airing [season three]. It’s a different role for me. I’m a straight man for once, so I just watch the craziness around me and try to catch up and repair things that other people are doing. It’s set in the world of modern evangelism and televangelism. But we don’t go after any faith. We certainly don’t lampoon people for their beliefs. It’s just a reflection of America and the obsession with business and money and the way that it always corrupts people. Eli, my character, has been corrupted in the past and he’s got a good heart. He’s trying to climb out of it.

After playing Dan Conner for more than 300 episodes, how much of you is in the character?
Dan Conner was a composite of a lot of people I knew growing up in St Louis. I’m from that background – middle class, Midwest – so there are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. It’s a pretty easy job.

You’ve worked in Hollywood for decades. What’s your opinion of the industry today?
It’s going by so fast. Things are changing so rapidly that I’m just hanging on to the tiger by the tail. And the more I stay out of it, the better I’ll be. I have no idea what’s going to happen. All I know is there’s going to be more work for more people.

Do you yearn for the past when you were starting out and the way the industry was then in Hollywood, or do you think the TV landscape is more exciting today?
See, I never knew what the angle was with Hollywood. I moved to New York initially, and in the beginning, I went where they pointed me and I got very lucky with some early roles. I had a good thing going with film, and then television came along, which was good for me at the time because I wanted to stop living out of a suitcase. I was on the road all the time. But far as Hollywood [is concerned], that’s for the grown-ups. That’s for the big people. It’s out of my domain.

The Righteous Gemstones, in which he stars alongside Danny McBride, is now in its third season

If you could choose one of your movies to be remade for TV, which would it be?
[The Coen brothers’ period comedy] Barton Fink, because it was old Hollywood. That would be a fun series. It would be great expanded. And it’ll never happen.

What kinds of series do you like to watch?
Two of my favourites just finished – Ted Lasso and Succession. [I like] anything that shocks me or surprises me, or is well written, and both of those shows were. Right now I’m watching a show called Silo [Apple TV’s sci-fi drama starring Rebecca Ferguson]. I’m really attracted to [good] writing.

Is there something you’d still like to do in your career?
I haven’t done any stage for seven years now and I miss that. I’d like to take a breath and decide on a project I’d like to do. But I’d like to get back in the theatre.
[TV, film and theatre] are all different degrees of art, it’s just different styles. It’s madness at the beginning [of a stage production], trying to put the puzzle together, and then the blind fear when the curtain comes up and finally settling into a run and doing things a little bit differently every night. There’s a different audience every night. Different things happen. It is very fulfilling.

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