For nine years, John Goodman appeared to millions of Americans as Dan Conner, Roseanne Barr’s beleaguered husband on the sitcom Roseanne. It is a testament to the breadth and believability of his post-Roseanne roles that nearly a decade of constant exposure hasn’t pinned the actor to that one character specimen. Goodman has brought his heft and range to iconic roles, such as the overbearing Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, the Polyphemus stand-in “Big Dan” Teague in O Brother, Where Are Thou?, and the curmudgeonly studio head with a heart of fool’s gold in The Artist. In Robert Zemickis’ Flight, one of the three movies Goodman stars in this season, the actor plays Harling Mays, a man whose personality, like that of many of Goodman’s characters, is expansive to the point of offensive and, although perhaps not good, always loveable. We asked Mr. Goodman to describe the process of becoming Mr. Mays.
My character is an oaf. He has no sense of his surroundings. He’s pretty much wrapped up in his own head, so he just stumbles around. I picture him banging off the walls of the corridor wherever he is. He’s like a medicated bear on both stimulants and tranquilizers. In that shot you’ve got there, he’s listening to the Rolling Stones. “Sympathy for the Devil,” I think. He’s a contemporary guy really hung up on the early ’70s, still living in that era, like a character out of Key West who likes to fancy himself a good ol’ Southern boy. Maybe he read too much Hunter S. Thompson. Or maybe he listens to too much Jimmy Buffet. He’s just a Parrothead–type of guy. In fact, he’s a pretty bad guy. He thinks he’s helping but he’s not. He’s what they call an enabler. He provides Denzel’s character with drugs, and he’ll be your friend until the money runs out.
Whether he is likeable, I don’t care. That’s not up to me to judge. That’s up to the audience. I just try to do what’s on the page and flesh it out with some details. I’m not trying to be mysterious, I just don’t understand a lot of what I do. I do, however, think it is a mistake to say that I bring a lot of my own quirks to the character. The hair, the outfit, the mannerisms—most of it is in the script. I just take whatever details the script provides and then try to go about it with my own observations of why. It’s also a mistake to say that I’m drawn to these types of characters. It just depends on the script. Now, it’s true: I’ve been cast as this type of character often. I did some quiet stuff on Roseanne, but recently I guess I’m just a loudmouth all the time.