John Goodman would rather be in New Orleans. Flying all over the world, making movies like “Kong: Skull Island,” is nice, but he’s rarely in the city he’s called home for 20 years.
“I get home for a couple days at a spot now. It kind of sucks,” says Goodman. After Hurricane Katrina, film and TV shoots flocked to the battered city. The city lost its tax credits a few years ago, turning nearby Atlanta, Georgia into the new production hotspot. Nowadays he rarely gets the pleasure of going home after a day’s work to sleep in his own bed. “I did two in a row there once, which was f—ing wonderful.”
Not that he’s poo-pooing something like “Kong,” the latest reboot of the ape colossus. The legendary actor plays a government agent in 1973 who lures a motley crew of soldiers, scientists and miscellaneous figures (including Tom Hiddleston’s rugged guide and Brie Larson’s war photographer) to a remote South Pacific island, dead-set on finding forms of life untouched by humankind. They quickly find not only Kong, but also giant reptiles, giant ants and a giant spider.
Goodman found himself traipsing about the world, hitting up Oahu, Australia’s Gold Coast and, best of all, he says, Vietnam.
“I was only there for about three weeks, but I want to go back,” Goodman remembers. “I started out in Hanoi, then went elsewhere. The day I got home I watched Brie win the Oscar.”
The “Room” star scores second billing in “Kong,” in her first huge blockbuster. “She was going back and forth between rolling in the mud and going back to Los Angeles every other week for another award — have her fingernails cleaned and get dolled up,” he recalls.
Goodman gushes about Larson, who in real life is excitable and endearing.
“She hasn’t been crushed by life yet, so she’s kind of fun to watch,” he jokes.
Goodman has a healthy streak of self-deprecation and honesty. He can also be insecure and shy. These may be surprising things to learn. Onscreen he tends to play forces of life who won’t shut up. The real Goodman is a man of few words. He doesn’t like to talk about his craft. He’ll give you short answers. He likes to chat but he rarely holds court, rattling off the kind of perfectly worded monologues he’s scored in, say, the six movies he’s made with the Coen brothers.
“I’m not a good storyteller. Never have been,” Goodman admits. “I learned that a long time ago. I’d try to tell jokes and put too much detail into them. Nobody gave a s— when I got to the punchline.”
At least he can pass for a bon vivant who’s a wizard with words. “Somebody writes them for me. I’m OK with a script,” he says, with a laugh.
One upside to this is an interviewer can feel relaxed talking to Goodman, knowing you can avoid the usual stock questions about production stories and deeper thoughts. Instead you just chit-chat, see where the conversation takes you. Surely he remembers one of the previous “Kong” outings: the semi-forgotten blockbuster made in 1976, starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange, who played the blond bombshell that ensnares the big beast’s heart?
“Poor Jessica. She was so good that people thought she was this f—ing bimbo,” he recalls. The actress’ breakthrough almost destroyed her career soon as it started. “Boy, she came back strong.”
Still, he agrees if you watch her in it you can see how sharp she was. “You can tell, if you’re looking,” he says. “You don’t have to look hard. She’s just talented.”
Goodman even remembers the “King Kong” parody from a 1976 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” in which John Belushi played super-producer Dino de Laurentiis. Goodman has been on “SNL” 13 times, either as host or doing a quickie cameo. He calls himself a “scholar” of the show, a fan since its inception.
“The first season had such a huge impact on me,” he remembers. He was a “National Lampoon freak,” and he was tickled that many of the rag’s writers wound up behind the scenes on a national phenomenon. When it first started in 1975, he had just moved to New York, and was struggling to get by.
“Danny [Aykroyd] was 10 days younger than me. Having somebody my own age on the show was f—ing brilliant,” he says.
Goodman, who recently swung by the show to play Rex Tillerson during one of their savage Trump takedowns, even gets to make a political joke in “Kong.” In one of the opening scenes, his character swings into D.C. in the midst of massive protests. He jokes that Washington will never be this chaotic. (Wink wink.)
“We shot that during a reshoot,” he says, noting that its timeliness wasn’t that accidental. Then his brutally honest streak comes swinging back: “I thought it was a little too on-the-head. But apparently it works.”