Last week at ComiCon, Legendary Pictures released the trailer for Kong: Skull Island. Set in 1971, the film is a fresh look at the King Kong franchise, aiming to set the stage for King Kong vs. Godzilla, set to come out in 2020. The trailer shows John Goodman as Randa, the government official in charge of an expedition into King Kong’s territory. The role is another in a series of recent dramatic roles. Starkly different than his role on Roseanne, for which he’s still known, it begs the question: what changed in Goodman’s career? Why is the man who played Dan Conner able to so deftly play the doomsday prepper in 10 Cloverfield Lane? How far will his dramatic skills be taken in the new Kong movie? To really answer these questions, we have to look at Goodman’s career as a whole.
John Goodman was born in 1952 in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. His dad died when he was two years old, so he was raised by his mom. She worked three jobs to provide for Goodman and his two siblings. In high school, he participated in a few theater extracurriculars and played on the football team. This earned him a scholarship to Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State.)
While at SMS, he entered their drama program. This introduced him to Kathleen Turner and Tess Harper, with whom he’s still close friends. Unfortunately, he was injured while playing football, but by that point had decided he really enjoyed acting. Goodman graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1975.
After graduation, he borrowed rent money from his brother and moved to Manhattan. Working in food service between gigs, John Goodman first found work as a voice actor and in commercials. His first recurring gig was as the spokesman for Skin Bracer aftershave, where he popularized their tagline “Thanks, I needed that!”
Through the 80s he continued to appear in commercials, as well as in off-Broadway stage productions. From there, Goodman began to secure movie roles. He was in Eddie Macon’s Run. He also appeared as the football coach in Revenge of the Nerds. His first major role was back on stage, in 1985, as Pap Finn in Big River, the musical based on Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
The next year he had a significant role in the musical comedy True Stories, directed by David Byrne. In 1987, Goodman worked with the Coen Brothers for the first time with Raising Arizona. The team would work together repeatedly, with Goodman appearing in a total of five Coen Brothers films.
In 1988, John Goodman appeared in what is arguably his most famous role as Dan Conner on Roseanne. Starring Roseanne Bar as a working mother, the show was #1 in the Neilsen ratings in 1989. Roseanne earned John Goodman an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor four years in a row, among many other awards.
Through the 90s, Goodman had multiple guest roles on TV and was notably the first guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He was in The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. During the ninth season of Roseanne, he had a major role in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski.
It’s probably his work with the Coen Brothers that most established him as a serious actor. A couple years after The Big Lebowski he was in O Brother, Where Are Thou? While the film didn’t receive any major award nominations, it did become a critical favorite.
In the 2000s, Goodman returned to voice acting and the stage. He was the evil Robot Santa in Futurama, Pacha in The Emperor’s New Groove franchise, and the big blue monster Sully in Monster’s Inc. He also returned to commercials, doing the voiceover for Dunkin’ Donuts.
In 2008, John Goodman was in the Kodak Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol, as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He also was Pozzo in Studio 54’s revival of Waiting for Godot, the Samuel Beckett play.
In 2009, Goodman revealed he had struggled with alcoholism through most of his career, but stopped drinking in 2007. A couple years later he had a notable role in The Artist, and the next year was in Argo. This made him one of the few people to appear in two films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in a row.
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Goodman has always been prolific, and his career hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this decade. Since Argo, he’s been in about a dozen films, with a half dozen more set to release later this year.
The most recent major film he’s been in was 10 Cloverfield Lane, the spiritual successor to Cloverfield. Cast as a survivalist trying to protect guests (or prisoners?) he brought into his bunker following an apocalyptic event, Goodman’s role was one of his most challenging to date. People are still trying to figure out if Goodman was the hero, the bad guy, or maybe the monster itself.
Later this year he’ll be in Going Under, a comedy with Bruce Willis, Bunyan and Babe, an animated film about folk hero Paul Bunyon, and The Coldest City, a spy thriller.
His biggest upcoming role will be in Kong: Skull Island. Even though we just have the first trailer, it’s already clear his role in the film will be a big one – and in some ways similar to Howard from 10 Cloverfield Lane. As Randa, Goodman will take on the role of the government official in charge of the expedition to Skull Island, alongside Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson. While most of the other characters don’t know what lives on Skull Island, it’s clear Randa knows more than he’s letting on.
Kong: Skull Island is set to be released on March 10, 2017.