John Goodman the Family Guy

John Goodman is back this month as Dan Conner, the jovial dad in ABC’s revival of Roseanne. We talked to him about reuniting with TV’s most famous blue-collar brood, and how he and Dan have changed.

John Goodman the Family Guy

Photos: Maarten de Boer

John Goodman’s bear hug of a laugh and barrel-chested physical presence have delighted TV and film audiences for over 30 years. This month he resurrects his most beloved role yet, Dan Conner, the hard-working father he portrayed from 1988 to 1997, for the revival of the ABC comedy Roseanne.

True to his hardscrabble Midwestern roots—his postal-worker dad died when John was 2, leaving his mom to work multiple jobs to support him and his two siblings outside St. Louis—Goodman is humble to the point of self-effacing. In fact, when chatting with this former high school football stand-out, now 65, it’s easy to forget he’s a prolific film star who’s notched up over 100 movie credits, including The Big Easy, Raising Arizona, Sea of Love, Arachnophobia and The Big Lebowski. These days, Goodman lives full-time in New Orleans with Annabeth Hartzog, his wife of almost 30 years, and their golden retriever, Daisy. We talked about his return to Roseanne, and how time has changed both Dan and him.

What was it like to walk on set and step back into the world of Roseanne?

It was like walking into a giant time machine, like we didn’t even step off. It was amazing. We fell right into it—20 years went by, and it felt like we had a two-week break. 

Has Dan changed much over the years?

Oh, yeah. He’s the same mellow guy, but I think he has more grace now. He’s just getting by and preparing for tomorrow. You know, I hate that the Conners are still just living paycheck-to-paycheck. But they’re surviving, and they’re doing so with good humor.

Does the show tackle today’s political climate?

When Roseanne started the show, she wanted to stick close to what she knew—modeling these characters on friends and family, showing how these people are barely getting by. That’s certainly what I knew. A couple of episodes deal with the last presidential election because it had a big impact—she wanted to reflect the great divide among people.

If Dan were president, what would be a key part of his agenda?

Making sure he had a beer to get through the day.

How have you changed?

The big answer is gratitude. I’m a lot more grateful than I was then. I didn’t really realize what I had. I guess that happens with age.

How much of Dan is you? Are you handy?

Oh, no. I can’t do those things. I’ve never been handy. When I was a kid, there was no one around to show me how to do that stuff. Later in life when I would buy tools, they’d just sit there. Dan’s a lot more patient than I am. He’s probably a better father because he didn’t have to leave town to work like I did, and he’s maintained things with more of an even keel.

You haven’t always kept an even keel yourself?

I made some poor choices in work and in life. For a long time, I was overcome with rage. That’s just no way to live. It shortens your life and it makes it less pleasant. You know, I still have problems, but I breathe. As I grow older, I just don’t care anymore. I can’t live the inside of my life to try to conform to other people’s outsides. It just don’t work. I try to be less judgmental. Before, I never made the attempt.

How else do you relax?

Right now, I’m taking some time off to experience the comfort of home and my family—not grabbing every role out there. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten how to relax. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m trying to force myself to exercise, meet people for coffee in the morning, filling up my days with little things and enjoying it.

After playing good guy Dan twice now, are you chomping at the bit to play a bad character?

No, I’m not a chomper. [Laughs.] I did like that show The Knick with Clive Owen. He’s a doctor and a horrible person. I also liked House. If something’s well written enough, everybody’s an antihero. That shows human complexity. We live in gray areas. There’s not an absolute.

You’ve said you once weighed nearly 400 pounds, but you lost 100 pounds and have kept it off. What’s your workout routine?

I don’t have one now. I gotta get back into one. I’ve got an elliptical machine. I have a good boxing teacher here in New Orleans and in Los Angeles, too. I just hit the mitts, work the bag, do footwork, stuff like that.

Do you have any hobbies?

That’s the problem—I don’t! The only hobby I have is reading. Lately, it’s been John le Carré, Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and early 20th century fiction.

Do you think you’d like to start writing?

No, I’m too much of a fan of good writing to go up against that. I’d write a page, throw it away, write a page, throw it away.