Throughout his decades-long career, John Goodman has played a variety of memorable characters, from lovable dad Dan Conner on Roseanne to gun-toting, Shabbes-observing vet Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. (According to Goodman, that role "tickled [him] the most.") But the actor's latest project hits closer to home: He stars in Treme, a new HBO series from The Wire creator David Simon. The show takes place in New Orleans—where Goodman has lived since 1997—three months after Hurricane Katrina hits, and depicts a city learning how to cope and rebuild after an unthinkable tragedy. Goodman plays Creighton Bernette, a college professor who's pissed off about how the aftermath of the storm is handled. "He is passionate about the city," Goodman explains, "and he is outraged." The actor called us on a day off from filming to chat about his beloved home.
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I'm not from New Orleans, so I have to ask: What's the right way to say Treme?
Thank you. I feel better knowing that I'm saying it correctly. How did you get involved with the show?
They asked me. [Laughs] Everybody's still sorting out the storm in their own ways, and this is one way for me to do it. I left the day before the storm. I had to do a job in Los Angeles, so I was leaving anyway.
You weren't there when it hit?
[No], so I'm living [Creighton's] life vicariously.
You've lived in New Orleans for a while now. How is it working there?
It's great. You know, it's nice to work at home. I've worked in New Orleans before, but I've never lived here and done it. You've still got to do the same chores you do at home, and then work on top of that. But it seems like the people in the city are taking to us. You take up a lot of oxygen when you're shooting a movie, and the people have been very nice to us.
Will viewers understand the city better after seeing Treme?
Well, you never know what people are going to think. The more we specify things, I think, the more universal it is. A tragedy happened; there are people from all walks of life trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. And the one thing I think we all have in common is that there's something about this city.
I think more of us got a sense of that after the Saints won the Super Bowl. Congrats on that, by the way—I almost started out this interview by cheering "Who dat?"
[Laughs] That's what, down here, we call lagniappe. Man, people got tired of wearing bags over their heads, going to games. It's just a lovely, lovely thing to see because they're a great team. And they're involved in the city as well. And, you know, for a long time we didn't have a whole lot going on.
You're also in the HBO movie You Don't Know Jack, about Jack Kevorkian. How did you get involved in that?
They asked me.
Is that how you pick projects—people ask and you say yes?
Sometimes you're bored and got to do something. And sometimes it's a long time between coffees.
The film portrays Kevorkian in a way that I don't think a lot of people would expect.
He's a genius; he's no dope. You saw this grim guy in the news, but he has a vicious sense of humor. And Al [Pacino, who plays Kevorkian], well, what are you going to say? He caught it. I'd be doing scenes with him, and I'd pinch myself. I get to work with Al Pacino! When I was a baby actor, I always looked up to him. They tell you that you're going to be disappointed when you meet your heroes, but that's not true in this case.
It's a pretty dark film. How did you guys keep the mood up while filming?
There are a couple of times when you take something home with you at night. It's not something that you put your time card in and walk away from. We goof around a lot.
Treme is still filming, and you've got a few other projects out this year. Are you planning on taking a break any time soon?
Oh, man, I'd love to. Like today, I've been on the go all day. I just wanted to watch TV.
What do you watch when you want to veg out?
Seinfeld, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Simpsons.
Treme premieres on HBO Sun 11. You Don't Know Jack premieres on HBO Apr 24.