Harling Mays strides into the hospital where Capt. Whip Whitaker is waking up lucky to be alive after miraculously landing a plummeting jet in the addiction drama "Flight," starring Denzel Washington.
John Goodman's character, Mays, has a ponytail, Falstaffian girth and a black bag of illicit substances for his friend and very good customer, Whip (Washington). With his sunglasses and earbuds blasting some dark Rolling Stones, he's Dr. Feelgood by way of the Dude.
Like a number of people in "Flight," Harling finds his way in the world with an out-of-whack moral compass. And much of the R-rated film's heft comes from director Robert Zemeckis and writer John Gatins' desire to wrestle with heroism and moral ambiguity. Whip is not an easy hero. He's an addict.
"That was one of the things that drew me to it," Goodman said on the phone recently. "There are so many people who could do the right thing, but they're holding onto doing things their way for many reasons."
As for his role as Whip's expert, jovial supplier?
"I started to think of him as a very lonely guy who provides things for people, almost to buy friendship," Goodman says. "He has a lot of people who depend on him for cocaine. He travels around with practically a 7-Eleven in his bag. It's also a way to control people, to provide people with what they want."
Goodman knows a bit about cravings. The fact he's quit drinking was mentioned in a 2009 New York Times interview on the occasion of his Broadway turn in "Waiting for Godot."
Asked on the phone about his demons, Goodman jokes, "I'm chatting with one right now on my lap." He says this in the husky cadence made so comfortingly familiar by his nine seasons as Dan Conner on "Roseanne."
Of course, that blue-collar sitcom seems a lifetime ago. Goodman long ago became a busy and welcome big-screen presence.
Last year, he appeared in two Academy Award-nominated films: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and best-picture winner "The Artist."
Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen alone have called on his services for five of their movies. (When he appears in "Inside Llewyn Davis," due in early 2013, he'll add another.)
If you need a Goodman fix, you can find him holding forth in four movies playing currently. In addition to "Flight," he portrays the head of baseball scouting for the Atlanta Braves in "Trouble With the Curve." He provides the voice of Mr. Prenderghast in "ParaNorman."
In Ben Affleck's tremendously entertaining political thriller about the Iran hostage crisis, "Argo," Goodman plays Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers, who helped perpetrate the amazing ruse that rescued six American foreign service workers.
"It's my movie-of-the-month club," quips Goodman.
In "Argo," Goodman and Alan Arkin prove to be brilliant partners in arid comedy as Hollywood staples who help Affleck's CIA agent set up a fake studio for a fake sci-fi adventure flick. It's not the first time Goodman has portrayed a Hollywood denizen. He was a studio boss in "The Artist" and neighbor to the titular and harried writer in "Barton Fink." So it's worth asking, why does Hollywood like gazing in the mirror?
"Writers write about writing. People who are drawn to this business, every once in a while, like talking about themselves. Like Joel and Ethan in 'Barton Fink,' using the movies as a tool to let Barton do whatever the hell Barton does in that movie," he says with a huff of a chuckle. "It's almost like watching a baby suck on its own toe. They're fascinated with their own bodies."
See Sean P. Means's review of "Flight" at http://www.sltrib.com/entertainment.