Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
No one would ever mistake John Goodman for a microorganism. But when you point out to the larger-than-life actor that his on-screen appearances are seemingly everywhere these days, he goes for the particle reference.
"It makes me sound like a microbe," Goodman, 60, says about appearing in Argo, Flight and Trouble With the Curve this fall. His explanation for his outbreak: "It's the luck of the draw. These things run in cycles, and I caught the up-ride on the Ferris wheel.
"They wanted me or someone like me," he says. "I was available. So that other someone like me is out of luck."
His fellow filmmakers would argue that they are the lucky ones to be catching Goodman on one of the most ambitious streaks of his three-decade Hollywood career, bringing memorable, and often lighthearted, moments to serious dramas.
"He just has the greatest sensibility and timing," says Flight director Robert Zemeckis, "and he brings that humor to the screen."
A case in point is his role as a fast-talking drug dealer in Flight, which opened to a superlative $25 million this weekend. Goodman earns laughs immediately with his screen entrance to the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil ("It's my character's permanent soundtrack") and his wild ponytail. The hair, he points out, was a painful weave.
"I had the stigma of wearing that hair for two months," he says, sighing. "It was stapled to my head on the first day of production."
When asked if he rocked the look around Atlanta while filming, Goodman becomes indignant during a phone conversation from his New Orleans home. "Would you?" he bellows. "My character is a guy who looks like he lives with his mom."
Denzel Washington, who laughingly describes Goodman as a "scene-stealer" in Flight, says that his co-star from 1998's Fallen comes ready to roll. "All I had to do is sit there, and he just goes."
Goodman has been just going since 2011, when he appeared as a studio executive in the silent, black-and-white film The Artist, which won the Oscar for best picture.
"I didn't have any of those pesky lines to learn," says Goodman. "I've never done something like that before and certainly don't think I'll do it again."
He has carried the mojo onto best-picture contender Argo, in which he plays John Chambers, a real-life pioneering Hollywood makeup artist who used his talents to help the CIA. Chambers is shown working on a B-movie, but he was a serious makeup artist (winning an honorary Oscar in 1968).
"I just liked the idea he was a guy on top of his game that had this incredible secret," says Goodman. "He was a very patriotic man, who served his country using the craft that he did almost better than anyone."
Director Ben Affleck says Goodman expertly balances the "humor and pathos" of Chambers. "He manages to do very funny comedy while retaining a perfect sense of reality, which is rare. People who knew John Chambers tell me that Goodman embodied him from the inside out."
Goodman's own professional performances have been aided by personal growth - he's been sober since 2007.
"I live with the freedom now I didn't have for 30 years. And I don't have to worry about hangovers, forgetting lines," says Goodman. "There was a lot of murkiness upstairs. When you're acting, you want to take care of yourself and bring the best physical you that you can. And living as an alcoholic, I had my hands tied behind my back."
Now he's able to devote his energy to keeping the Ferris wheel turning. He just completed a Vince Vaughn comedy, The Internship, as well as Inside Llewyn Davis, his fifth film with the Coen brothers and his first with the duo in 15 years. "They didn't have any need for any screaming fat guys for a while, I guess," he says.
Despite speaking with a heavy chest cold, in part from night shoots for the villain role in The Hangover Part III, he musters excitement talking about starting Pixar's Monster University and how he just signed on for The Monuments Men with director George Clooney (his former co-star from 1988-97 sitcom Roseanne).
About the only thing that could stop Goodman was Hurricane Sandy, which forced event cancellations on the East Coast last week.
"I am hoping to try to take it easy for a while," he says. "Maybe I'll learn how to play golf."