Last weekend Flickering Myth was given the opportunity to view a press screening of 10 Cloverfield Lane and interview stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and director Dan Trachtenberg in a roundtable discussion with other journalists. It’s needless to say John Goodman is an icon with many memorable roles under his belt spanning a career of 30 years in both live-action and animated work with his prolific voice. We discuss his role as Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane, his love for his hometown of New Orleans and the passion of the younger generation of actors. You can read our review of the film here and our interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead here. Check back later for our interview with Trachtenberg!
Mild spoilers follow for 10 Cloverfield Lane so if you want to avoid any other information (which I strongly recommend) check back after you’ve seen the movie.
Q: I have never seen you that scary!
John Goodman: Good. And to get paid for it is even better.
Ricky Church: We were talking with Mary about how you usually play loveable, nice guys and in this you’re completely 180 from that.
JG: Maybe that’s why they cast me, because they thought they were going to get a regular fat schmoe who will cut your grass for you instead of digging bunkers and kidnapping girls. Kind of like Room.
Q: Your performance onscreen, for the audience, it plays on two levels.
JG: I don’t know, I haven’t seen it.
Q: For us we can trust you in this part and then we suddenly can’t trust you. Does that come into you calculus when you’re performing?
JG: No, that’s up to Danny the director and the producers and writers. I’m just playing a misunderstood, lonely man.
Q: Did you prepare in any way for the role?
JG: I just came off another movie that I shot in Louisiana right before this and I went right into it. With the script the way it was, I didn’t need to do any prep work. It was right there. I mean, I could lie to you and said I dug my own grave and laid in it for two weeks before filming.
Q: (Laughs) That’s a great story!
JG: Yeah, okay, great. I had some bottled water and a canary. Yeah, that makes a better story doesn’t it? And I kidnapped a few people.
Q: Are you preparing in other ways for doomsday or anything with a bunker?
JG: No, I’ll be watching the TV. I’m going to get a t-shirt with a target on it that says ‘come and get me’.
Q: There are a few things about this production that made it a little bit more theatrical than most. I think it was shot almost in chronological order, you had the confinement of the set, how much did that affect you in particular?
JG: I like shooting chronological order. That’s preferable and we could do that because we had such a small cast. Having a small cast means you have to learn more lines though and at my advanced age it’s off anyway. But don’t let the set fool you. Some of the walls could move so they could get cameras in, but, you know, you got cameramen, grips, assistants, sound people, make-up people all hanging around in there too so it was very homey.
Q: When you’re shooting chronological order, is it like theatre?
JG: You know, the style of the piece seems to be more theatrical. I have to play a couple different roles within the show. It lends itself more to a theatrical flair and I’m not smart enough to tell you where exactly that falls stylistically.
Q: Well there’s that long dinner table scene that’s in the center of the movie.
JG: Yeah, I talked a lot in that scene. That’s the trick, though, when you have that few people in a small area it can get really boring really quick with those long speeches. That’s why Dan was great and prepared to move that camera around so there’s movement up on the screen. You’re not stuck watching the same thing all the time. It was an interesting set too because it was loaded with books, radios, television, crappy games, old VHS’, all the kinds of stuff that was mine and I kind of made it mine. I remember during down time, instead of going to my trailer sometimes I’d pick up a copy of Catcher in the Rye and read it through. Just sit down on my couch and I tried to make the place my home.
Q: That’s appropriately ‘cheery’ reading.
JG: I was going to live there for a while.
Q: So you brought your own belongings to the set?
JG: No, but print that. It’s a good story. I brought my wife and my dogs.
RC: This is John Goodman’s library.
JG: I didn’t have to pay rent. No, but I live there, I live in New Orleans where we shot it and it’s so nice being at home.
RC: I was going to ask because a moment ago you felt like it was being home and you were literally home so what was it like to shoot in your hometown?
JG: Oh god, it’s so nice. Right before this I did a movie called Trumbo, which was shot in New Orleans too, and to go home at night to your own bed, I’d have my doggies there and my wife has got some dinner for me… gee, it’s no comparison. I just came back from… December, January, February, over three months of location shooting and while the locations were beautiful and interesting the older I get the more I get homesick. I really want to be home so that was.
Q: There’s a lot more being made there now too.
JG: Yeah, there was, they had some tax credits. But Louisiana is a poor state and they can’t really afford to give away that kind of money. They’re finding, I think, that the money that comes in from production crews isn’t quite what they thought it would be. It’s like having Olympics where they spend billions of dollars and then they’re stuck with a bunch of crap and it never really works out the way they thought it would.
But people love shooting in New Orleans because it’s different. The weather, depends on what time of year you get, but the weather is very, very temperate. The food is a knockout and there’s music everywhere.
Q: Coming from Trumbo to this must have been a bit of a culture shock.
JG: Not really, not really. There must have been some time between them because I had to come up with a beard. It must have been some amount of time, like two weeks or something, I don’t know.
RC: Throughout your career you’ve worked with some pretty big directors like the Coen Brothers, Jay Roach and Ben Affleck. Dan is a first time director for a feature-length film so did you feel he was pressured at all to work on a bigger budget film?
JG: If he was, he didn’t show it. If Dan was pressured I didn’t know it or see it because he was prepared. He was relaxed. He knew what he wanted and he knew where he wanted to put his cameras. I had no idea this was his first movie and he was very helpful with acting. I get so caught up in details sometimes and I can’t see the forest for the trees so I need a guy like Dan to tell me and guide me “You’re going the wrong way.” You wouldn’t have known he was a first time director and if he felt pressured he didn’t show it, much to his credit.
Q: Have you ever had the temptation to become a director?
JG: No, I am too lazy. Acting was a calling. With age I’m beginning to look back and see why I did this and I don’t think I had much of a choice. It’s like being a priest or a religious guy. (Laughs) Religious guy, you know, a preacher or some kind, a man who’s found his calling. I think acting was a calling for me. Everything lined up and I don’t know anything else. I could direct, but I wouldn’t be able to contribute anything unique to it outside of coaching actors. There’s no real reason for me to do it unless I found a calling, unless it really spoke to me. I just… There’s no real reason for it.
Q: I’ve always thought you were a great actor, but how is it possible you never got a nomination for the Oscar? That is regularly a mystery to me.
JG: They usually don’t give it to guys like me. I’ve gotten a few awards and was very grateful for them, but if I had deserved a nomination I would have gotten one. That’s all I got to say.
Q: Everybody knows you too and has a different favourite movie of yours.
JG: Well, it’d be nice if they gave it to you for a body of work, but… Well, maybe they did this year. I don’t know.
Q: We talked to Mary about the terror of being menaced by you. I wonder, from your point of view, are you working up adrenaline in those scenes where you’re working at being terrifying and have to come down from that?
JG: He (Howard) was working off of his own fears of what she (Michelle) was going to do. They were fierce and he’s a very paranoid man and he likes to control things and knows he needed to control her because, I think, in the back of his mind somewhere, that she was going to fall in love with him just because of the kind of man he was. Prepared, ready and manly. It’s all self-delusion. He thinks one thing and she sees it as something totally different.
I think Howard’s idea was to give her time. Anything was built out of the character’s own delusion. And she (Mary) is great, man, she’s wonderful. I like scaring her. She’s got those big eyes. She was fun to scare and pick on.
Q: How do you see this movie being related to Cloverfield?
JG: I have no idea. I didn’t see Cloverfield. They titled it Cloverfield for their own reasons. I know there are going to be more Cloverfield movies, something that has to do with the tone of the first Cloverfield movie. I didn’t see it so I really don’t know what that means. I’ll see it now, but when I was working on it it was called Valencia, before that it was called The Bunker, but it’s not a good title for a movie.
Q: What is your relationship to science fiction?
JG: I enjoy Kurt Voneggut Jr. and Frank Herbert. It’s fun because it’s such an escape and also let’s you think ‘what-ifs’. It’s more… It’s truth based in thinking that these things could happen possibly. It expands your horizon a little more in vision than with straight fiction. It’s fun. My only relationship with it is that I used to read a lot of comic books when I was a kid. Superman, that’s science fiction. It’s fun to read.
Q: You’ve never done a comic book movie right?
JG: No, no.
Q: Would you ever like to do one?
JG: Yeah, me and typecasting was not going to work. I could be Sanitation Man. Or Good-Man.
Spoilers follow here so jump back in after picture below!
RC: (Laughs) Before the title changed from Valencia to 10 Cloverfield Lane, was there always a factor of aliens coming?
JG: Oh yeah, it was in the script. The challenge there is because Howard is such a nutcase you automatically think he’s lying or it’s just another one of his delusions.
RC: Yeah, because we mentioned to Mary how the first couple alien references were played off as jokes and then the third act comes and you realize ‘Oh, he was right’.
JG: Yea, I think there was one instance in the script where I was screwing around one day or I couldn’t remember the line but I started calling them Martians and it worked because, to his mind, Martian could be anything and Martians is what we learn when we’re little kids. Those are the people from outer space, those were the little green men, they’re Martians. It worked.
Q: You have accomplished so much so much in your life –
JG: (Laughs) Now that it’s over.
Q: (Laughs) Is there still a to-do list for you, not a bucket list?
JG: Yes, I want to do more Coen Brothers movies. There are a number of people I would like to work with, some I’d like to work with again. There’s some exciting young actors coming up. There’s a generational thing going on with the kids now. You can see them wanting to do good work like I wanted to do good work when I was a kid. They’re not in it for the dough, they’re not in it for getting famous, they’re in it because they want to do good work. You can see it in the way they prepare and the way they’re hungry to do good scenes.
There’s a hunger you have to have and there’s some kids out there that really got it. It excites me because I’m a fan of acting and most of my heroes are dead or aging. To see kids come up with film references that they’re excited by, they love film, they love theatre, it’s exciting to me so I’d like to stick around longer and work with some of these guys.
Q: Its true Marlon Brando was an idol of yours?
JG: Yeah, he was the man when I was in college. He opened my eyes. It’s funny because he was the idol of so many young actors, but no one could ever do what he did. Maybe he was, at the time, the only acting genius out there, but there are others that he influenced like Al Pacino, Meryl (Streep), Mr. De Niro, Mr. Duvall, Gene Hackman. A lot of the greats, but a lot of them are slowing down or retiring and taking it easy. To see these kids coming up, they inspire the hell out of me.
Q: What about the new generation, like Christian Bale, etc.?
JG: I like Oscar Isaac. I’m crazy about Brie Larson. I just, she is… You cannot see her act. She’s seamless and she’s on fire. She wants it, she wants to be good and she’s very passionate about it. But she’s such a normal, big-hearted person that you want someone like that to go on and win an Oscar at the age of 26. She inspires me, just the way she lives in her zest for life. I’d want to work with her again.
Q: When you think back on your time as a struggling actor in New York, when you were cooking beans on the stove –
JG: Right down the street from here.
Q: Yeah, what was your main memory from that time?
JG: You know what, it was fear. Wanting to get off this island. It was the 70s, the city was going broke, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because I had a real passion for what I wanted to do. You know, as soon as I got what I said I wanted to do, which was to make a living as an actor, I started drinking. That really sidetracked me for 30 years. I crippled myself, but I just remember how alive I felt and meeting other young actors, meeting other guys my age who had that fire. Some of them just fell by the wayside, but I’ve been very lucky. I’ve abused that luck, but I’m still here and I’m tired right now. (Laughs) I came off this movie last week and I said “I don’t want to do anything”, but it looks like in about three weeks I’m going to be doing something else.
Q: Will you be doing Checkov in Central Park anytime soon?
JG: Doesn’t look like it, does it? That was a great cast, but I think it was too spread out to have the impact it needed to have, but goddamn, we had a great cast. It was exciting. Thank you.
Thanks to John Goodman for sitting down with us to talk about 10 Cloverfield Lane and his many other life experiences! It’s clear he’s still got a passion for acting and film and we can’t wait to see what does next.
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