Missouri State alum John Goodman has played several iconic characters in his time as an actor. Whether it’s his terrifying turn as horror antagonist Howard in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the angry Vietnam veteran and bowler in “The Big Lebowski,” his comically frightening head of an AC repair school in “Community” or even world-class scarer Sully in Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc.,” Goodman has a vast repertoire of intimidating figures under his belt. He seems to be able to tap into primal, horrific passion with alarming ease.
When I met Goodman last week during the press conference for the Onward, Upward celebration, the actor began by shaking hands with and welcoming every reporter at the front of the room. It was immediately clear that any scary or intimidating side John Goodman may portray is indeed an act.
Goodman served as chairman for Missouri State’s Onward, Upward campaign, hosting the Celebration event on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Great Southern Bank Arena.
“An appeal from John for emergency aid for students when the university closed, that gets people to open that email, to look at that, to think about that,” University President Clif Smart said. “That kind of ability to get that message out, I mean, that was a big deal.”
Goodman arrived in town the day of the Celebration event. The following day, the actor and alum was honored at a dedication ceremony for Missouri State’s newly constructed John Goodman Amphitheater outside Craig Hall.
“It’s for more than tent theater, I believe,” Goodman said of the amphitheater. “It’s just going to be a center of visual performing arts, a place to hang. It’s a space for community and students.”
Goodman was joined at the press conference by Smart and Vice President for University Advancement Brent Dunn. The pair reiterated that they envision the amphitheater as a student forum just as much as they see it as a stage.
“I leave that in better, more qualified hands than mine,” Goodman said when asked what he’d like to see performed on his stage, exhibiting true Midwestern politeness. “That’s a good question, I wish I had a good answer.”
Goodman said he performed tent theater while he attended Missouri State, remarking on how hot the stage was for the actors at the time. In one such musical performance, the alum had to catch himself before passing out on stage due to the heat.
“Any improvement that we can give them is important,” he said. “It’s also a draw, I think, for talented kids to come down here and know they’ll have a home down here.”
Goodman transferred to Missouri State after attending junior college in St. Louis. He said he “tried to walk on the football team” at MSU and “didn’t even have the grades to do that.” It was during this time that he discovered acting and theater.
“(The football team) told me to wait a year, and in that year I got involved in the theater department,” Goodman said. “There were more girls in the theater department than on the football team. It made it more inviting.”
Goodman’s visit landed in the middle of Homecoming week. The alum said he has fond memories of both the beauty of the Ozarks and the spirit of the school during the Homecoming season.
“It made me feel like I belonged here, which I never got a lot of,” Goodman said. “It felt like the right place to be at the time. A lot of people with a common spirit.”
Goodman expressed his gratitude to be able to assist in the Onward, Upward campaign’s efforts to raise money to assist MSU students, faculty, programs and facilities. At the celebration, it was announced that the campaign exceeded its $250 million goal by raising $274 million.
“(Donating is) considered a benefit to society in general,” Goodman said. “It builds a strong community to have an education center. It’s vital to the community. It helps everybody.”
Toward the end of the conference, I mentioned to Goodman that he appeared in a movie that helped me through some hard times in my life, asking how it felt to know he was helping students through his art as well as financial aid.
“It’s very satisfying,” he said. “It feels wonderful. You don’t think about that when you’re doing it, but that is just a wonderful thing to hear. It’s very gratifying.”
When I told him the film was “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Goodman joked, “Are you a struggling folk singer?” I laughed before elaborating: “Inside Llewyn Davis” depicts an unglorified portrayal of depression, and I have many times found comfort in watching a clear, relatable understanding of that struggle. A poster of the film hangs on my dorm room wall.
“Yeah, that’s in my zone,” Goodman said.
Once the interview concluded, Goodman approached me, the farthest reporter from the room’s exit, and shook my hand before expressing gratitude for my comments.
Goodman graduated from Missouri State in 1975 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In 2013, the university awarded the actor an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters. Whether by chairing a massive fundraising initiative or affecting students through his art, John Goodman remains a positive influence on his alma mater to this day.
“To be honest, this was a great place to fail,” he said. “I’ve done plenty of it, and that’s the only way to learn. By saying that, I mean you can trust the people you’re with, trust the instructors you have, and that’s how you learn. And it forms a community as well.”
Follow Casey Loving on Twitter, @CaseyMLoving
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