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He's made something of his life

Brian Goodman barely survived a dark past. From those experiences, he's created a film.

December 15, 2008|Susan King | King is a Times staff writer.

The bullet that's lodged in Brian Goodman's brain serves as a constant reminder.

"One thing you can't lose sight of is where I could be, where I am supposed to be and where I have been," he says in his strong south Boston accent.

Goodman looks older than his 45 years. He's had a tough life. At 12, he quit school and was living on the streets. He sold drugs to survive and has been shot several times in deals gone bad. Goodman, who married young and had two boys, served nearly five years in prison for his criminal activity.

"Today is my 14th year of sobriety," he announces proudly at one of his favorite restaurants in Brentwood. "I started to going to AA meetings in prison. Then I relapsed once and stopped on Dec. 8, 1994. I am a guy who just can't drink."

Since he gave up drinking, Goodman has transformed himself from an ex-con to a noted character actor in such films as "The Last Castle," "Annapolis" and "Munich." And now, he can add screenwriter and feature director to his list of accomplishments.

His first film, "What Doesn't Kill You," a gritty, semi-autobiographical look at his life of crime starring Mark Ruffalo as his reel counterpart, opened Friday for one-week theatrical run to qualify for awards consideration. Ethan Hawke plays Paulie, a partner in crime of Ruffalo's character.

Ruffalo and Hawke play childhood friends who become involved in some unsavory activities. Like Goodman, Ruffalo's character, Brian, is arrested, goes to prison and struggles with alcohol abuse. He begins to clean up his act, but Paulie keeps pulling him back toward a life of violence and self-destruction. Amanda Peet plays Brian's long-suffering wife and mother of his two children, and Goodman also stars as the south Boston gangster.

Goodman is still in contact with many of his cohorts from the old days. "I just mailed a money order to a friend of mine who is doing life [in prison]. I never forget where I could be."

He wanted to be an actor since he saw "Brian's Song" with James Caan on TV in 1971. "But I could never say it," he says. "In south Boston, saying you want to act is like saying you want to wear tights." But when he was in the cellblock in Massachusetts, Goodman recalls telling a buddy that he wanted to be an actor some day. "I was dreaming out loud."

When he got out of prison, Goodman says he started robbing drug dealers. "I tried to fill this hole [in my heart] with money, and for the first time, it didn't work," he says. "I put the money in my friend's safe one day, and I sat on the bench, and started to cry like a baby. I said to myself, 'What are you going to do?' I didn't have any trade skills."

But fate intervened when he learned that there were auditions for a low-budget film, "Southie," starring Donnie Wahlberg. "That was my first audition," he says. "The first three auditions I was sent on, I got speaking roles. I was still on parole, though, and couldn't leave the state."

He began writing "What Doesn't Kill You" after reading the script for "Southie." "I was bored and thought maybe I can write one of these things," he explains. "I started writing on this 37-cent notepad. I just kept writing. My sister typed it for me."

He moved to L.A. in 1998, found an acting coach and took the script to Wahlberg.

"Donnie said, 'We got to make this movie,' " he says. So Wahlberg (who appears as a cop in "What Doesn't Kill You") and screenwriter-actor Paul T. Murray helped him with the script.

Goodman met producer Marc Frydman and director Rod Lurie, who produced "What Doesn't Kill You," when Frydman cast him in the Jeff Bridges movie "Scenes of the Crime." And then Lurie cast him in "The Last Castle," where Goodman met Ruffalo.

Goodman became fast friends with the actor. "We were going to make this a few years back [with Ruffalo], but then he got called in for 'In the Cut,' " says Goodman.

"What Doesn't Kill You" was set to be re-released in 2009 by the Yari Film Group, but its distribution division was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. Now the movie is looking for another distributor, according to producer Lurie. Nevertheless, Goodman, who shot the movie in just 23 days last winter in Boston, says he's proud of the film because he was able to stay true to his vision and his life. "I know nobody is going to be able to say that's not how it is," he says."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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