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John Goodman on ‘The Conners,’ Season 3 ‘Righteous Gemstones,’ and More
John Goodman’s weakness is Oreo Thins. Deceptively sleek, they feel like the kind of snack that might be healthy but assuredly aren’t. I tell him my weakness is Doritos and that unless I’ve emptied a bag of neon orange crumbs into my mouth, I haven’t really finished the bag. Goodman laughs for the first time—a departure from our conversation that has cycled through topics at a breakneck pace. The Conners is still The Conners. The Righteous Gemstones is still on hiatus. Yes, he likes working with the Coen brothers. As the interview starts nearing its end, he says, “I wish I would have been more helpful,” his tone somewhere between lethargic and empathetic.
He’s all business, until it comes to the topic of snacks, and life in quarantine. And the people he misses in his hometown of St. Louis. The prospect of listening to jazz in New Orleans again.
The casual chit chat comes across in the same way you might imagine Dan Conner would address a stranger in line at the grocery store, somewhere in fictional Lanford, Illinois. Brief, but friendly enough. Paring back the glamour and cutting the shit is, in some ways, Goodman’s modus operandi. It is literally the vibe that defines Roseanne and its spinoff The Conners, whose third season returns to ABC on Wednesday night. And in a time of interviews over the phone, masks everywhere, and TV shows shot in a bubble, maybe that’s all there is to say: I’m getting by. I’m doing my job. Let’s get to the point.
When the world went into a COVID-19 lockdown last year, The Conners had wrapped its second season. The Righteous Gemstones had gotten through two days of filming. Then everything shut down. It is nearly the inverse of the story of how Goodman’s role on Gemstones came to be. Days after Roseanne’s 2018 finale, ABC officially canceled the series following Roseanne Barr’s racist remarks about Obama-era aide, Valerie Jarrett. Suddenly, right as one gig ended, Goodman was offered the role of Eli Gemstone on Danny McBride’s HBO comedy, The Righteous Gemstones. Goodman recalls the news, adding, “I said, ‘Well, what the hell, I might as well take it. It’s a great script.'”
Goodman plays the family patriarch, Eli Gemstone, in HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones.
Months later, the McBride-ian comedy premiered, diving into the bizarre world of an absurdly corrupt megachurch family. By the end of Season One, Gemstones had its own cult following. The series skewers religious capitalism while managing to maintain a bizarre moral center, never losing an ounce of comedy along the way. “They do a lot of flimflammery and whatnot,” Goodman says of his character’s family, “and they’re very, very well off at the expense of other people, but they do have faith.” But during the filming of that first season down in Charleston where Gemstones shoots, he got the call that despite the cancellation of Roseanne, ABC wanted to give The Conners a green light: he and Laurie Metcalf would front the series. Roseanne was gone.
Now in its third season, Goodman leads the cast as Dan Conner: a lovable, if not curmudgeonly, patriarch of the Conner crew. All these years later, they’re still working class. Still unapologetic. And still juggling the impossible burden of society’s looming issues. When asked if playing Dan has changed over the 30 years since he first took on the role, Goodman says: “Just the fact that I survived for 30 years, that’s good enough. They’re pretty much stuck in the same old rut.” Fans of the series know that surviving as Dan Conner hasn’t been particularly easy. His character was famously killed off in the show’s series finale in a polarizing twist; when the series returned for a rebooted tenth season, it joked that the death was merely a dream.
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But death struck again in the premiere of The Conners. Part of Roseanne’s write-off included her character’s fatal opioid overdose. Her departure stoked outrage from conservatives who said the removal was a step too far—a topic Goodman has been cautious not to weigh in on too heavily. “It was tough. It was a shock,” Goodman says of Barr’s departure. “It was just like, there was a death in the family.” When asked about the show’s enduring political nature, and its ability to get into the complexities of American life, he says, “The political stuff doesn’t… the polarization doesn’t really enter into it as much. We’ve got other fish to fry.”
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Despite the suggestion that The Conners has shed any of its political undertones, the series has tackled storylines about ICE deportations, labor protests, and the ever present COVID crisis. The series remains the highest-rated comedy on ABC and will finish the season with 19 episodes. Once the season ends, Gemstones will resume its production and then for a moment, Goodman will have a bit of time to relax—at least as much as one can right now.
At the time of our interview, it’s three days until Thanksgiving. He admits somewhat stoically, “Around this time of year, I get really sick for St. Louis.” He pauses and then quickly follows up, “But it is what it is.” This turns out to be signature Goodman. When discussing his role in Monsters Inc., which turns 20 this year, I ask him about having one of the most recognizable voices in Hollywood. “I wasn’t aware that I had one,” he says, plainly. “I guess my voice has always been a constant disappointment to me.” When discussing O Brother Where Art Thou? (one of five Coen brothers films he’s featured in), he seems surprised that anyone might remember his bombastic snake oil salesman role.
“I’m just disappointed in myself, because I wanted one of those voices that just sounds so great on The Crown,” he says. “I think… I’d be a more well-rounded person if I had one of those.” But it’s Goodman’s bass voice and bearish demeanor that has aided him in carving out these corners of Americana. Even when it comes to stage work (Goodman has spent time on both Broadway and the West End), he suggests that of the few roles he’d actively pursue, it’s complexly simple American portraits he’d like to tackle. Long Day’s Journey Into Night or Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman. Though he says, “I think I’ve aged my way out of Willy Loman… I don’t think I’m going to go looking for it anymore. If it happens, it happens. That’d be great.”
Goodman starred as Sheriff Hartman in The Front Page on Broadway in 2016.
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Despite the stilted humility and daydreams of Willy Loman days gone by, Goodman isn’t jaded, per se. It’s just that these questions about fame and legacy suddenly seem—I don’t know—trite. Or daft. Perhaps too self-important. So we end on the snacks and life in quarantine, which is, in a lot of ways, more human. The laughter about the Oreo Thins and Doritos stops and there’s a pause. It’s that moment when someone typically says, “Well…” and begins their goodbyes. But instead, before I go, Goodman asks, “Where are you today?” I tell him Brooklyn. “Do you have to go into the city at all for your job?” he asks, like a concerned dad might in these perilous times. I explain that for now, I’m just working from home. He tells me to stay safe. He tells me bye-bye.
And then he presumably goes on with the list of things he said he needs to get done on his off week from The Conners. Car maintenance. Some grocery shopping. Real interactions with real people whose small peculiarities are just as important as all of this.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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