As Flight’s drug dealer, John Goodman flies sky high

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BEVERLY HILLS—John Goodman is just the man to loosen up a crowd. “Where are the ashtrays?” the actor asked in his trademark rumbling voice, wearing a pink dress shirt and entering a hotel room awash with reporters. Exactly, and what about that round of highballs?

Perhaps it was a canny nod to the character Goodman plays in his new movie, Flight (which opens on Friday [November 2]): a man with a ponytail, ever-present shades, and a personal and fiscal interest in unhealthy substances. Of course, Harling Mays is usually seeking a rolled-up Benjamin to properly conduct the business of being best friend and drug dealer to Whip Whitaker, a permanently flying, so to speak, commercial-airline pilot played by Denzel Washington. “The banana boat’s a comin’,” Harling tells Whip, whipping out the cocaine. And, really, where would a twisted tale of the downward spiral of several lives and one passenger jet be without a hit of Goodman?

“I’ve watched this movie with an audience a bunch of times,” John Gatins, Flight’s screenwriter, said, seated down the table from Goodman. “And one of the greatest moments is, you’ve got John Goodman…and he’s walking down a hallway. We all know he has a bag of cocaine in that knapsack, and people are cheering! People are cheering at the fact that we have John Goodman, who’s about to deliver a huge bag of cocaine to Denzel Washington.” Gatins sounded as pleased as any writer might whose coke-delivering character on the page turned into Goodman with a ponytail on film. Goodman smiled modestly.

The first time Harling appears, he’s carrying that knapsack down a different hallway, accompanied by the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”. For a moment, the character feels like a cousin to Goodman’s crazed Vietnam vet, Walter Sobchack, in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Unlike the enraged Walter, the only baggage Harling seemingly has is, indeed, that notorious knapsack. “See y’all on the dark side of the moon,” he says happily to several people perhaps a tad less comfortable in their morally questionable skins than he. As with all of Goodman’s performances—especially those played for very dark laughs—it’s difficult to imagine another actor inhabiting the role.

But what, one reporter had to know, was Goodman’s inspiration for Harling? “Everything was pretty much in the script,” he said. “Uh, I’d like to say that I spent hours in a room by myself deconstructing, but everything was there. He’s this really needy guy who carries a 7-Eleven around with him in his bag. And has a lot of friends. Thank you,” he added politely.

Around then, a Georgia Straight reporter had a powerful urge to ask Goodman (who’s also currently starring in Ben Affleck’s Argo) just how he became so proficient at fashioning “cocoa puffs”—that handy little trick of rejigging a cigarette or a joint into a cocaine-delivery device. But from elsewhere in the room more earnest questions prevailed, such as, uh, what exactly drew him to Flight?

“Oh, I, uh, liked the script,” Goodman said unsurprisingly. “And I liked the question that it asked everybody: ‘What would you do in this situation?’ ” Right. And so much for inquiries about being cuckoo for cocoa puffs.


Watch the trailer for Flight.

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