John Goodman displays serious intent
“I still have it. I am an alcoholic. I know that for sure. But I’ve been sober for five years.”
What’s the trick?
“Well, Alcoholics Anonymous helps. But it’s really about showing up every day and not drinking.”
Goodman’s career shifted into overdrive with the launch of Rosanne in 1988. Until its bizarre decline into wish fulfilment in the mid-1990s, the series offered the most pungent analysis of (by the American definition) middle-class life on network television. Emerging just in time for the election of the first George Bush to the White House, it felt like a sly commentary on the folk that had been left behind by the Reagan revolution. Rosanne Barr was the salty housewife. Goodman played her longsuffering husband.
“I look back on it fondly,” he says. “I was having so much fun that it seemed like a natural step when it became a hit show. Well, that’s great. It was just nice to turn up and work and have a good time. I can’t say I cared when it became a hit.”
Did he see it as a political show?
“I divorced myself from that. That was all for Rose. She believed in what she believed in. That character was a strong woman – as woman are who head a family. The core of the thing was: just because we are poor, that doesn’t make us stupid. That was the political side to it. But it was more fun for me and more political for her.”
By the time you read this, we will know whether Rosanne – nominee for the Peace and Freedom Party – has been elected President of the United States. Will John be voting for her?
“Ha ha! No, I don’t think so. But we’ve always got on really well.”
If Rosanne hadn’t become a smash, John Goodman would, no doubt, have gone on to become one of those great character actors whose faces you know, but whose names remain annoyingly elusive. Things worked out very differently. Does he recall when fame kicked in?
“It eased its way in – like a tumour growing,” he says. “People reacted to me differently and I think I developed a sense of entitlement. I got used to first-class air tickets. I got used to the deference of people. I tried to keep it in check.
“But at the same time the drinking was getting worse and that was an escape. That’s how I dealt with that.”
Really? Goodman doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who would fly into a rage if the loo roll wasn’t folded down or his mineral water was from the wrong volcanic island.
“I wasn’t quite like that,” he says. “I wouldn’t have gone that far. But there was a sense of entitlement going on there. I had a feeIing that I deserved to be treated a certain way. I tried to keep that in check. But I think everybody goes through that when they get what they want.”
At any rate, Goodman continued to attract work in a great variety of projects. The one constant has been involvement with the Coen brothers. He has collaborated with the dual-headed auteurs on such projects as Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou and – most famously – The Big Lebowski.
His performance as (no, really) lovable fascist Walter Sobchak in that last film gifted Lebowski nuts a host of quotable lines. The bowling Vietnam veteran is an immovable part of late 20th-century popular culture.