John Goodman talks about his short-term unemployment between the cancelled Roseanne and its sequel, The Conners — and the Danny McBride comedy The Righteous Gemstones that is putting him all over the dial.
John Goodman didn't set out to monopolise your television viewing. No, he was perfectly content just playing Dan Conner — America's Everyman, resurrected from the dead on last year's reboot of Roseanne — when a racist tweet by Roseanne Barr got the show killed.
After which Danny McBride immediately rang Goodman about his new HBO comedy, The Righteous Gemstones.
"I was unemployed and it sounded great," Goodman recalled. "I read the pilot and I said, 'Yeah man, I'm free. I'll take it.'" A week later Goodman learned that ABC wanted to move forward with The Conners, a Roseanne spinoff without the star who gave that show its name. "So I'm all over the dial."
In a cast of cut-ups, Goodman is what he calls "a mopey straight man": Dr. Eli Gemstone, the patriarch of a televangelist kingdom who is mourning his dearly departed wife (Jennifer Nettles) while suffering the fools of his loins (Adam Devine, Edi Patterson and McBride).
Sex, drugs, deviance, greed and Southern-fried buffets — in true McBride tradition, they're tweaked to high hilarity. So are the matching family mansions, Mercedes-Benz G-Classes and jets (christened The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit).
Goodman had recently wrapped Gemstones in Charleston, South Carolina, and was about to begin shooting Season 2 of The Conners, when he called from Los Angeles after an early morning flight from his home in New Orleans with bad news.
It was hot. It was steamy. And he'd made it onto tour guides' lists. "I live in the Garden District, and I have a near-constant stream of tourists peering into my house with evil intent," he said, sighing. "It's like living in a zoo."
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: [A bad connection] Can you hear me?
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A: Yeah. Are you calling from your Upper East Side townhouse?
Q: I wish I were.
A: I wish you were calling me at an Upper East Side townhouse.
Q: Don't you have a palatial spread out in L.A. or somewhere?
A: No, it's less than palatial. When I got hillbilly-rich on the TV show, I got a palatial spread in Encino and I sold it to David Hasselhoff.
Q: Eli's home is mighty palatial. Where are those three Gemstone mansions located?
A: On the Charleston Bay. I was arrested for loitering outside there.
Q: Wait, what? You were arrested while you were shooting?
A: No, no, not this time. I was prevaricating.
Q: I was going to say, Don't they know who you are?
A: [Laughing] I hope I never say those words.
Q: You seem tailor-made for the role of Eli. Did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?
A: It was all pretty much in the script. I didn't have any role models to choose from but I'd never quite heard of anybody quite like him before. The guy is hollow and he's falling apart further because he lived for his wife. What's the one where we went back in time? Did you see that one?
Q: Is that the one with your wife, Aimee-Leigh, and you've got on that great wig?
A: Yeah, like 30 years ago, maybe further. That was kind of cool. You could see where the guy just created his own tomb. The sole purpose of the mission eluded him and he's just treading water now. They're going to cartoon it up with CGI and make us look young. They taped the living [expletive] out of my face.
Q: Did you watch televangelists like Eli while growing up in Missouri?
A: Not really. When I was a kid we'd go to tent revivals. I was raised Southern Baptist, and it was powerful, emotional stuff. People would weep. Get out in an aisle and just dying to confess and convert or save themselves again. It's not rational. I think my guy is trying to get away from that. His father apparently was a Pentecostal, and I think he likes the idea of suits from Barneys and the jets and maybe trying to clean up. Just trying to be what he would think would be a little classier to pinkie rings and gold cuff links.
Q: He is the classy one, isn't he?
A: If that's true, the whole thing is in the [expletive] house.
Q: It took me a while to recognise Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland as Aimee-Leigh.
A: Yeah, I thought she was an actress — and she might have been at one time — and I didn't know she was in that band until my daughter told me. And I felt really stupid because I was asking her what she did. Oh well. Can't put that toothpaste back in the tube. She was great to work with. She's just a great person.
Q: Will we get to hear you sing alongside her?
A: No. I decided I didn't have any musical talent the day I quit drinking. I thought I was pretty well represented by the muse, and I was just fooling myself.
Q: You'll soon be shooting Season 2 of The Conners, which was renewed for even more episodes than the first.
A: Yeah, they surprised us, which means I'll be getting out of there about the time to start the other one, "The Righteous Gemstones," if we get picked up.
Q: Do you know where Dan's going in Season 2?
A: I have no idea. I didn't know where I was going last year. Not far.
Q: What was it like moving on from Roseanne to The Conners without Roseanne Barr?
A: I always think things are scary but it wasn't that scary and we had each other. We really, really wanted it to work, and we were still all very grateful to be there in the first place. It was a determination, and we miss the hell out of her. There's no doubt about that. Those are shoes you can't fill.
Q: Did you talk to Roseanne after it happened?
Q: So you simply regrouped and filled the hole she left?
A: You can't really do that, but everybody adjusted. It was actually just like having a death in the family except you don't have to eat as many covered dishes.
Q: The first episode, in which Roseanne dies of an opioid overdose, was heart-wrenching. Was that difficult to get through?
A: Well, it was interesting from an acting point of view. It gave us a lot to do. But no, she was great. I had so much fun with her. She's missed.
Q: Since you shoot The Conners in Los Angeles does that mean you live there permanently now?
A: I will be. I have to be out here for publicity and then I'm going to go home [to New Orleans] and get my car and then come right back up. I do that every year.
Q: May I ask what kind of car?
A: An Audi A8. It's going to make me sound snooty. It's got a couple of dings in it so it's not perfect.
Q: What's the joy of the road trip?
A: Personal achievement, I guess. How long can I drive before I start swerving into the middle lane or trying to find oncoming headlights. Yeah, it's just how far I can push myself and seeing the country and listening to the radio. Old rock 'n' roll, old jazz, old country music. Everything is old.
Q: You're reprising the voice of Sulley in Disney's coming Monsters at Work series. Any movies planned?
A: No, nothing. I guess I got maybe iced out of them until either my heart fails or one of these shows fail.
Q: You've said you used to resent doing publicity. What changed?
A: I'm not very clever anymore because I don't care anymore and I'm old and I get bored easily. I'm a lot better at it than I used to be. I just look at it as, OK, that's what they pay me for. The rest of the stuff is fun.
Q: So are you bored yet?
A: No, no. Well …
Q: A little?
A: [Laughing] I bore myself long before you bore me.
The Righteous Gemstones is available on Neon.
Written by: Kathryn Shattuck
Photographs by: Rozette Rago
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