In the Coen brothers’ excellent new film Inside Llewyn Davis, John Goodman plays Roland Turner, a jazz musician who travels with Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) to Chicago. Along the way, he berates Davis about his choice in genre, his goofy name and his pet cat. It’s another memorable role for the veteran actor, who since the Eighties has become a staple in the Coens’ arsenal. Rolling Stone recently spoke with Goodman about his long career working alongside the acclaimed filmmakers and the characters that have stuck with him all these years.
How many films with the Coen brothers does this make for you?
Well, technically I’m on screen for five of theirs at this point, but I did the narrator for The Hudsucker Proxy, so I like to count that. Also, we did a radio play together a number of years ago.
So for Inside Llewyn Davis, they say they want you to play an eccentric musician who’s passed out in the back of an Imperial. You say?
I said, “I’m your boy.” I didn’t even need to know what kind of car it was, actually. I just know that whatever they write is going to be interesting and fun. They write literary-style characters. After I read the script, I wanted to know what happened to all the people after the movie ends. Llewyn? The Gorfeins? The Gorfeins’ cat? I wanted to know what happened to it.
What did you bring to Roland Turner that wasn’t on the page?
I put in a few character traits, really, just because I thought that I would have to do that at the very least to pass myself off as an actor. That’s what I read in those acting books. They say, “Create a rich back-life to the part.” I brought that he was a talented musician, that he’s an authority on everything, and that he has to make people suffer. Any moron could have walked into that scene and do what I did. And he did! Except for the haircut, which was all my idea.
Do you wonder what happens to Roland after we last see him in the car?
Who cares? I guess you could say that he lets the cat go. I always saw him as a pretty helpless guy. Maybe, just maybe, the cops found him, but I hope he dropped his stash first.
Do the Coen brothers like to direct you as the scene is filming?
There are moments that they tell me to bring it down, but that’s about it. Usually, they let me just ramble on in front of the camera. It’s a true joy.
You’ve played so many different kinds of roles. Do you have a favorite?
Potso in [Broadway play] Waiting for Godot. I love Walter Sobchak from [The Big] Lebowski because that’s what people scream at me on the street. I never get tired of it. I’ve probably spent the most time with the guy [Dan Conner] in Roseanne. But my very favorite character is, surprise, from a Coen brothers production – Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink, because he was very sympathetic, for a man who was a snake, that is. He was someone I could sink my teeth into. Homicidal maniac, but kind of a nice guy. You don’t get many of those.