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Contender Q&A: John Goodman

On HBO's 'Treme,' he's working in his hometown of New Orleans, sober, humbled and not singing.

June 16, 2010|By Randee Dawn, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Fans of classic TV may always look into John Goodman's face and want to cry out, "Dan!" — recalling him as the gentle working-class husband he played for nine seasons on "Roseanne." Goodman's OK with that, but lately he's been working on shifting his image with other roles, working alongside Al Pacino in HBO's "You Don't Know Jack" and in a regular part on David Simon's "Treme." Plus, with "Treme," Goodman gets to work out of his own backyard, as a longtime resident of New Orleans. But he's also living with a Big Easy production boom and is learning to take some of his own medicine by living among camera crews everywhere: "I can't hardly park on my street anymore," he grumbles genially. But even amid mild complaints, it's clear that Goodman is happy and in his element.

You live in New Orleans and you work there now on "Treme." What's it like making a TV show about the last disaster there while in the midst of the newest one?

Christ. My heart was broken because I thought the city was going to be lost. Canal Street — knee-deep in water; alligators holding up traffic; people on rooftops. So [the oil spill has] dredged up a lot of the old feelings again, a lot of anger and fear. There are T-shirts that say "Defend New Orleans," and I understand what that means now.

What makes people so passionate about New Orleans?

If I could put my finger on it, I'd bottle it and sell it. I came down here originally in 1972 with some drunken fraternity guys and had never seen anything like it — the climate, the smells. It's the cradle of music; it just flipped me. Someone suggested that there's an incomplete part of our chromosomes that gets repaired or found when we hit New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.

How is the "Treme" set different from others you've worked on?

There's less of a feeling of community than, say, on "Roseanne," because I only work one or two days a week. There are so many story threads going through "Treme" that we've had two occasions where the cast has partied — and it was great, all meeting together, because it's like we're working on different shows. There were people I'd never met before, but we're all on the same show.

You were reunited with Al Pacino in "You Don't Know Jack" for the first time on film since 1989's "Sea of Love." Are you friends?

Going back and playing with Al, it's like picking up a football and chucking it around with someone you went to college with. He's so cool, man, because he's so committed to being an actor.

Actors who take on long-running TV roles sometimes have a hard time getting work after — but you never seemed locked into the role of Dan Conner. Did you worry about that?

Maybe in my seventh or eighth year. I thought the show had gone as far as it could, and I was apprehensive that I was trapped there. Plus, there was a lot of extraneous tabloid … going on, and that was tiresome. Plus, I was a pretty good drunk by then.

Has being sober for three years changed the way in which you approach working?

It's changed everything, dramatically. I'm very passionate about what I do for a living again, and, at the same time, I'm able to take it for what it is. You have to take it seriously, but not over-seriously, and step back and laugh at it. When I was drinking, everything was revolving around "poor me," I just whined so much and felt so sorry for myself, I was so miserable. It's a big load off of my back.

You're Dan to many longtime fans, but I still like you as the 6-foot, 3-inch "consistent panda-bear-shaped" guy from "True Stories." You sang in that film; do you sing for fun still?

Not so much anymore, now that I quit the social lubricant. One of the things I used to do in New York is get a bunch of guys together in a bar and start doing doo-wop and a capella, whether anyone wanted to hear it or not. But as I sobered up, my ears got better because I don't sound so hot.

So you won't be doing a guest role on "Glee" anytime soon then?

[Chuckling] No, I don't reckon.

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