John Goodman plays a 1920s movie mogul in the upcoming silent French film, The Artist. The film brought down the house at Cannes and is already catching early Oscar buzz. He recently sat down with Buzzine to discuss Hollywood history, acting in a silent film, expressing truth, and his future film projects with the likes of Robert Zemeckis and the Coen brothers.
Izumi Hasegawa: John, you have a new hairdo. Is that for a role?
John Goodman: What new hairdo?
IH: Is that for a part?
JG: Maybe...yeah, it is. I'm doing a movie called Flight.
IH: Is that with Denzel Washington?
JG: Yeah, in Atlanta, Georgia. I supply Denzel with fun. Let's just put it that way.
IH: Do you have to cut it again the next time they need you to be the Vice Principal of Air Conditioning School?
JG: I'm screwed there. I've gotta work there next week, and I told them, as soon as I get the Flight job, what was going to happen with the beard, so I don't know what they're going to do. I don't know how we're going to deal with it. I'm worried sick about it, but I can't.
IH: I'm sure you can find a funny way to deal with it.
JG: You're right. Maybe they'll just use a computer-generated pad on there.
IH: Your character is, in one sense, comedic, but you still have to play him with a certain straightness and reality and no dialogue. How did you wrap your head around what you wanted to do coming into this movie?
JG: You don't. You don't worry about whether it's comedic. You don't worry about whether it's funny or not funny. You have a pretty good root of a character, and you're just expressing the truth to the person you're sitting across from, and a camera just happens to be running. In this case, there's no printed dialogue, so we made up our own. According to the scenario, certain things have to happen. It's just basic storytelling. That's all. The other stuff is for guys like you to worry about.
IH: Did you ever dream in your career that you'd be able to do a silent film?
JG: I never gave it much thought. I never thought the electricity would turn off or anything like that. But it's great. It's a nice change.
IH: Did you watch some silent films for inspiration?
JG: You're not going into it with the thought that you're doing a silent movie. You're just doing a film. There's no mics.
IH: Do you have a special affinity or interest in the history of Hollywood and everything that's gone before?
JG: I do. The older I get, the more I appreciate what came before. I'm fascinated by these guys who started everything. I just read a biography of Cecil B. DeMille. He was a two-bit starving actor who couldn't make it. He just happened to know some people. He directed some things. They were going to Flagstaff, Arizona. It was raining so they wound up here. They did Squaw Man. They had to fight people off with guns. They had people shooting at them while they were shooting a film. But guys like these that invented the industry were just making it up as they went along. They were incredibly tough old bastards, but they had to have an ear and an eye for what the audience wanted, so they had to keep their minds open.
IH: How crazy is that sensation of shooting a scene in a part of L.A. or Hollywood that looks like it looked back in 1929?
JG: That's what's cool about it. It really helps you out. It's like putting on a period costume and greasing your hair down. It all helps.
IH: Talking about how movies have changed, what about how TV has changed? You were on the classic sitcom Roseanne, had some trouble getting sitcoms done later, and now doing a show like Community. What is that experience like for you?
JG: It's just work.
IH: Is it the same as it ever was?
JG: Pretty much, yeah. There is no audience. I mean, I just don't think about it. It's just another job.
IH: What's coming up for your character?
JG: I wish I knew. I don't even know when I'm working next week. I only work a day a month, and now it's been six weeks since I've worked, so I don't know what's going on. They call me when they need me, and they're going to get a little surprise with the hair and the beard this time. I don't know. Since I work one day, I get to jam about six pages of dialogue into one day. It's rough.
IH: You're also in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close...
JG: Unfortunately, they kept cutting my role down and then they'd ask me, "Well, do you still want to do it?" and I'd say yeah because the script was that good.
IH: What is your character?
JG: He's a doorman at the building where the kid lives.
IH: You have some other films in the works as well?
JG: I'm working on a film called Flight for Bob Zemeckis right now.
IH: You have some voice-over work too?
JG: We're doing the prequel to Monsters, Inc.: Monsters University. The Coen brothers are knocking on the door again, so that'll be swell.
IH: How great is it to be Sulley again?
JG: It's cool. It's great to work with Billy (Crystal).
IH: Is it different to play the younger version? Are you doing anything differently?
IH: Have you started recording?
JG: Yeah, I've done two sessions so far. I've got another one in December.
IH: Are you going to do Hit Somebody with Kevin Smith?
JG: No, obviously not because I've got all this other stuff.
IH: Red State was excellent. Did you know, when you were doing that, that he had this big plan to put it out himself?
JG: I don't think he did until Sundance, so no.
IH: How receptive to the pitch of a silent movie were you? Did you read the script first and say, "Of course," or did it get pitched to you as a sound movie and you were like, "Well, I guess I'll look at the script"?
JG: I got a scenario. It just sounded so different. I was intrigued, and then after the meeting, I was more than willing to jump on because it was different. And what the hell? I didn't have to learn lines. "I'm your boy. Sign me up. It works for saps."
IH: In the course of making this film, what did you discover while playing people who lived during the 1920s? How was it different from us now?
JG: Pretty much what I already knew. I took away an appreciation for the craft of making a film and Michel's passion for the period and love of cinema. A lot of that rubbed off on me.
The Weinstein Company's 'The Artist' is released on November 23, 2011.