Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ya know him, ya love him... Goodman a big, cuddly bad guy

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Los ANGELES -- In two different movies currently playing in cinemas, John Goodman plays jovial characters who help the films' protagonists out of tight jams.

But the differences are profound. In Argo, Goodman plays John Chambers, a real-life makeup man who used his Hollywood connection to aid CIA agent Ben Affleck's scheme to smuggle American embassy workers out of Iran.

In Flight, Goodman plays a facilitator of a different stripe. Harling Mays is a drug dealer and all-round good-time Charlie who comes to the aid of Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), an alcoholic pilot who strategically uses cocaine to rouse himself from a drunken stupor.

The strange thing is that Goodman is weirdly likable in both roles, though Harling Mays, dressed in loud Hawaiian shirts and sporting a heinous ponytail, would have been portrayed as an outright pusher-villain in less subtle movies about addiction.

"Evil or villainy comes in many forms, and in this case, it's just a badly dressed, mediocre one," Goodman says in an interview in a Beverly Hills hotel suite.

"To me, he sees himself as providing a service," Goodman says of Harling. "He has a lot of friends, he goes out of his way to help people

"But in reality, he's a guy who's stuck in 1972, he probably buys his friends, and he's probably very lonely."

When you think about it, a good portion of Goodman's career has been devoted to playing likable monsters, literally in Monsters Inc., in which his character was a furry monster who made his living from making little children scream in terror. Go through his resumé and there are more examples. He kidnaps a baby in Raising Arizona, and he's a flat-out psycho killer in Barton Fink, and yet the 60-year-old veteran actor always seemed like the kind of guy with whom you'd want to hoist a brew.

Why is that?

"It's all a matter of style," Goodman says. "The style of the piece, the style it's written in and what the writer is trying to say.

"It's about how best I can serve the script," Goodman says. "I'm pretty good at doing what the director wants me to do."

If Goodman's characters tend to elicit unexpected reactions from the public, no reaction was as unexpected for him than fans' response to Walter Sobchak, the prickly, loud-mouthed, gun-toting sidekick to Jeff Bridges's Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski in The Big Lebowski.

"I had no idea that would happen," he says of the enduring cult surrounding that 1998 Coen Brothers film. "But I'm glad that people like that movie because it was one of my favourites to do.

"I walk down the street at times and I'll still hear a 'Shomer Shabbos' or 'Shut the f up, Donnie!'" he says, referring to some of the more priceless nuggets of dialogue he shares with Steve Buscemi in the film.

"Unfortunately, Buscemi gets that all the time, too."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 G8

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