Being John Goodman

Though he won’t roll on Shabbos, John Goodman will gladly work with the Coen brothers.

Though he won’t roll on Shabbos, John Goodman will gladly work with the Coen brothers.

John Goodman sounded drained when we got him on the phone. He had just been subjected to five separate interviews, and so we said we understood his plight.

“And I understand that you work for a large pink weekly,” Mr. Goodman quipped, in a surly yet avuncular tone befitting Roland Turner, the quick-witted, heroin-addicted jazz musician he portrays in Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen brothers’ latest film about the early 1960s folk scene in Greenwich Village.

That is true, we said, although some people might call it salmon—to which Mr. Goodman giggled—or even peach.

Another giggle.

Mr. Goodman, who stars in the Amazon TV series Alpha House, has worked with Joel and Ethan Coen six times now, in such films as Barton Fink, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. But this is his first collaboration with the brothers in 13 years. Had their directorial methods changed at all, we wondered?

“Not that I’ve noticed,” he replied, adding, “My main goal in life is to try to do takes that make Ethan laugh.”

“Not Joel?” we asked.

“Nah,” he said. “Ethan’s a laugher.”

“Well, did he laugh?”

“Yeah, I don’t think I got him.”

“You got him?”

“I don’t think I got him.”

(He didn’t get him.)

We’d read somewhere that Mr. Goodman had designed his own hairstyle for the film. Was that true?

Mr. Goodman let out a big laugh. “Yeah, I don’t expect an Oscar for it or anything like that,” he said, typically modest. “It sounds like a bigger achievement than it was. I just always liked the hairstyle of the great baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. I thought it’d look good on this guy. It’d be one more way to piss people off.”

“Do you have a favorite Coen brothers movie?” we asked.

“It changes,” Mr. Goodman said. “Right now, it’s Barton Fink.”

“Is that because of the character?”

“Yeah, it changes, though. Sometimes it’s Big Lebowski, and I never had a better time than Raising Arizona. They’re all great. I had a wonderful time on all of ’em.”

“Why would you say it changes so much?”

“I don’t know. If I think about one more than the other, I like it more.”

In all of the Coen brothers movies Mr. Goodman has appeared in, he seems to play manic characters, constantly on the edge of rage. We told him this.

“I guess Joel and Ethan see me as an angry guy,” Mr. Goodman laughed.

“Is that true?” we asked.

“No, no,” Mr. Goodman said. “I’m a tired, old man.”