As well as being one of the biggest names in Hollywood, John Goodman has one of the biggest frames. So when he insists on stretching himself out for the first few minutes of our interview (he’s just come off on a plane), I feel smaller than a gnat with an inferiority complex.
And in terms of his career, he’s only getting bigger. Most recently the 60-year-old actor’s been seen as John Chambers, the man in a “declassified true story” who, along with Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) was charged with producing a fake film so the CIA could enter Tehran to extract six fugitive diplomats. Argo has been littered with awards and praise, particularly for director and star Ben Affleck, a man who, in his own words, is enjoying a “second act” in his career.
For Goodman, however, it’s the latest in a long-running series. Starting in the Eighties with films such as Raising Arizona and The Big Easy, he became a household name for nearly a decade as one half of TV’s anti-glamour couple in Roseanne. Since then, he’s worked incessantly on both sizes of screen, cropping up in modern classics such as The Big Lebowski, The Artist and, of course, King Ralph.
Now Affleck’s thriller has joined that list. And with such a fascinating real-life character to play, you’d imagine he’d really get his teeth into the role...
How much research did you do into John Chambers?
Hardly any. I just read a couple of articles about the man and talked to a couple of people who knew him, but the script was rich enough that I really didn’t need much more. Apparently I have a limp sometimes when I’m tired and working, an arthritic knee, and one of the people that knew him asked me where I came up with the limp. They said “You really nailed it” and I said “Oh yeah!” [laughs] Happy circumstance.
So you’re basically channelling him.
Yeah, let’s say that. I was just possessed by his spirit. I entered a trance of work. I got lucky.
Can you remember the Tehran crisis first time around?
Well, it’s funny because all of the actors said “Oh I was working on…” It was 1979 and I was living in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and getting ready to do my first Broadway show. I just remember the feeling of frustration. It was like somebody was standing on your chest all the time. It was just something you couldn’t get rid of or scrape off – that feeling that something bad was happening.
What show were you doing?
It was a play called Loose Ends that I was going in to substitute, to give somebody a breather. I was very excited about that.
So you can match world events with jobs you were doing?
Yeah, it’s a little banal, but that’s my life.
The film’s done very well, awards-wise. Do you just expect that with certain types of films?
[Laughs] I expect it with everything, young man. I want an Oscar for this interview.
Which film or TV show have you done that has caused the biggest reaction?
The film that people remind me of, or might confront me with, most is The Big Lebowski, because there’s a group of hardcore fans that keep shouting lines at me on the street. Roseanne seemed to have some sort of an impact – it was on for so long.
When you meet fans of The Big Lebowski, are you expected to be a font of knowledge about the film?
No, I gave up on that long ago. They know much more about the film than I do. I’ll quote a line and they’ll tell me it’s wrong.
Have you ever been sent anything odd by a fan?
A woman sent a picture of herself naked in a bath tub that had a huge ring around it and she had a dog in the tub with her. I hung on to that for a while.
It had a ring around the bath tub?
Yeah, a ring around the tub.
What kind of ring?
Of filth, I suppose.
Like a tide mark? Did you keep that for ‘personal’ reasons?
No, just to show my friends.
You might have needed if for evidence as well. Do you keep stuff from your films?
I used to keep chair backs – the canvas chairs that have the title of the film and your name on them. The last thing I kept was from a play: derby hats from Waiting For Godot. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with them – they’re taking up space.
You don’t have Fred Flintstone’s loin cloth, then?
Oh, hell no. No sir.
Monsters University, the sequel to Monsters, Inc, is coming up. When you do voiceovers, what direction do you get?
“Do it again, do it again.” It’s constant repetition. I guess they need a bunch of takes. It’s exhausting. I put my whole body into it, it tires me out.
Do you think you’re putting more into your voice than you would in a live-action film?
Oh absolutely. Like I say, my whole body is thrown into it. It takes a lot of energy.
Tougher than screen acting?
I think so. Especially the repetition. Just trying to squeeze one more meaning or a bit of energy out of a word, over and over. It’s like finding a collapsed vein – for all you heroin junkies out there.
You were in a fraternity in college. Is the whole hazing thing as crazy as we are led to believe?
When I was in there were aspects of it – just a lot of servitude, some spankings with a huge paddle. It got crazier, but I was out of it by then – I couldn’t afford it any longer. Apparently there’s something called ‘Hell Night’ where you have to drink a lot of substances that you wouldn’t normally ingest.
What kind of stuff?
Is it all toga parties like in Animal House?
Yeah, we had that, that was fun. I saw Animal House at an unfortunate time in my life. I was out of college for two years, I’d broken up with a girl, I was really down and then I saw Animal House and just thought that was the way I wanted to live my life [laughs]. It brought back a lot of good memories.
And how long did that last?
Thirty years [laughs].
Other than Monsters, what else do you have lined up?
I’m doing a triquel. A movie called The Hangover Part III. So far, all I’ve shot is some desert situations and I’m going back to shoot outside of Las Vegas soon.
So the film goes back to Vegas, then?
Yeah. But it’s kind of a road trip.
The Hangover Part II didn’t go too well. Do you feel pressure?
I don’t feel a goddamn thing.
Argo is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 4 March
(Image: Rex Features)