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Actor John Goodman perfects role of stealing spotlight

John Goodman’s bombastic style has helped him grab the spotlight in three films this year, including Flight.

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John Goodman’s bombastic style has helped him grab the spotlight in three films this year, including Flight.

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

In a movie career spanning four decades, John Goodman is notorious for stealing scenes. Not quietly like a cat burglar, more of a smash-and-grab type, leading with his girth and booming voice, leaving co-stars in his wake.

This year, Goodman has committed grand acting larceny three times, as a major league baseball executive in Trouble with the Curve, a Hollywood makeup artist helping the CIA in Argo, and now Flight, playing Harling Mays, the garrulous go-to guy for a drug-addicted airline pilot played by Denzel Washington.

Any of those performances could earn Goodman, 60, his first-ever Academy Award nomination. On this particular Saturday, Goodman prefers talking on the telephone about Florida Gators football, St. Louis Cardinals baseball, anything but his Oscar chances. He gets around to that, in these free-wheeling interview excerpts:

As an actor, what do you learn from performing with Denzel?

I like the way he works, even just watching him. He cuts the c--- out of things faster than anybody I know, just gets right down to the bone of the character. Laser focus. Somebody you can trust.

You had your share of heavy partying in the past. Ever know an enabler like Harling?

Oh, yeah. Mostly they're just really lonely in the way they choose to live. You're always going to have friends if you have a stash like that. Consequently he's never lonely, and he can control things. He can be the top dog if he wants but I think he truly hero-worships (Washington's character), and would do anything for him.

It occurs to me that Harling is a combination of the Dude and Walter from The Big Lebowski.

(Laughing) That sounds very weird. Well, I know he takes his cues from the Dude's wardrobe. He might be a Lebowski fan himself; one of those guys who watches it over and over, in a stimulated state of mind, let's say.

Do you still get feedback from fans of The Big Lebowski?

All the time. When people approach me on the street that's usually what they bring up. I showed up a couple of years ago at a reunion screening in New York City. I wanted to stay and watch the movie with the fans because they were all dressed up in Lebowski costumes, raring to go. But I just couldn't. I'd love to go with Jeff (Bridges) to one of those Lebowski Fests sometime.

You just wrapped your sixth movie with Joel and Ethan Coen. What can you tell us about Inside Llewyn Davies?

The movie takes place in 1961, at the beginning of the folk (music) movement on MacDougal Street in New York's Greenwich Village. Llewyn Davies is a folk singer, and in my case he hitches a ride for gas money with me to Chicago. I kind of drive him nuts on the way.

What is it about the Coens and you that works so well together?

They just tickle me to death, and they write good stuff. We're almost the same age, and we have the same things to draw back on. Just goofy stuff from childhood — common television shows, films we enjoy, a lot of reference points. Early on, it turned out we all read Mad magazine. Little stuff like that, a common sensibility. Working with Joel and Ethan again, it was like old times.

You have three performances this year being touted for Oscar nominations. Is that sort of thing important to you at this stage?

Not really. It's controlled by too many different things. It was nice to see The Artist get nominated last year and win. But it's certainly not something you think about ahead of time. To be honest with you, I don't pay it much mind now. You can't take it too serious or you'd go nuts. It's almost as goofy as life itself.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

Actor John Goodman perfects role of stealing spotlight 10/31/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 5:30am]

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