Roseanne Barr and John Goodman Are Back
The TV couple returns wiser, happier and funnier
The scene opens on a hangarlike photo studio in the heart of Hollywood. John Goodman walks in alone, over an hour early and a little cranky from a fender bender he had on the way to the interview. Soon enough, Roseanne Barr arrives, sporting blond highlights and looking glamorous in sunglasses. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving, and Barr finishes a quick smoke outside while she chats about past family feasts. And now she’s making jokes at our expense.
“I really appreciate the fact that AARP didn’t ask me to do their nude centerfold this issue,” Barr, 65, deadpans. Her trademark smirk and nasal delivery are still in excellent form. “Some things are better left not even to the imagination.”
Goodman, the man who played Barr’s husband, Dan, on what was once America’s top-rated sitcom, remains oddly stone-faced. It’s part of a game. On set and off, these two legendary friends “try to get each other to wet ourselves,” as Goodman, 65, puts it later. It’s why Barr won’t quit with the getting-older shtick.
“Y’know, it’s kinda funny calling a 68-year-old guy my boyfriend,” she says of Johnny Argent, her partner of 15 years. They live on a 46-acre macadamia farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, near four of Barr’s five children and five of her six grandkids. “Johnny and I don’t fight or argue much anymore — we learned that we need that energy for things like climbing stairs, chewing and getting off the toilet.”
With that, Goodman’s eyes squinch up and his shoulders start to bounce. Roseanne comes back to ABC on March 27 with the original cast. Though it has been 20 years since the show’s last prime-time run, it seems more like a weekend hiatus for these two — that’s how well they gel.
“It’s like being home again,” Barr says.
“Yeah,” says Goodman, ever droll, “and I think we know what’s really important now — lunch.”
Cue the harmonica and sax. Those fun-loving, straight-talking, blue-collar Conners are back, and just when we need them most. In an age when sitcom “grownups” look more and more like college kids, the return of good ol’ Roseanne and Dan is a beautiful reminder that the funny bone doesn’t go numb at 50. The TV couple who once spoke for working-class America now reflect the changing face of middle age. Though that famous couch with the granny-square afghan is a replica (the original is in the Smithsonian), today’s Conners have a “gender-creative” grandkid and are making sense of selfies, medical marijuana, rising health care costs and the growing divide between the superrich and the rest of us.
Goodman and Barr are adjusting to the moment, too. Between photo setups and video interviews for AARP The Magazine, they slip away for remarkably candid chats — and clearly, it’s a fascinating juncture for both of them.
All Kidding Aside
Barr: After the Roseanne show, I just kind of decided I was going to do whatever I wanted and not do anything for money, which I didn’t need, and so I had a lot of great adventures. I ran for president, traveled a lot. Lots of clearing land, planting stuff, playing music, getting crafty. I bought an old museum in Hawaii and kind of rebuilt it by hand. I turned it into an art project, and it took about six years to transform this big dump into a really awesome place. I made big murals out of rocks and glass, and I did it all with family.
I’m a real fun grandma, too. I swear and stuff — everything their parents don’t want me to do, I like to do. We get in the pool and have squirt gun fights. Shooting each other in the eyeball. They crack up. My grandkids know how to grow their own food, too, and that’s what I wanted them to know more than anything — how not to be dependent. Of course, they mostly want to hear about the other famous people I know, like if I’ve met the Rock.
I thought I made all the statements I wanted to make as a comic, but of course, now, as a grandparent, I realize there’s way more to say, like watching how your kids raise their kids. That’s a big part of the reboot, and it’s a big part of my life, too. This whole younger generation is just … I don’t know what in the hell they’re doing. They’re just so dependent on technology, and it’s all different. They talk a whole different language, y’know?
Goodman: I was in pretty bad shape when I left Roseanne, to be honest. I had a lot of resentment. I just didn’t care. It was a terrible character fault of mine. I always wanted more of something. There was an emptiness inside me. I still have it, but I know what it is now. You recognize it and go, “There it is.” You don’t have to fill it with another pork chop or another drink.
For me it was probably just a fear of not being good enough, not being worthy of what I was getting, maybe survivor’s guilt from having grown up poor. But then after 10 years and the fact that I was sober, I started looking back fondly and realized how lucky I had been — and I really feel that now.
I have a daughter that I worried about for a while [Goodman and his wife of 28 years, Anna Beth, have one child, Molly, 27]. She grew up with an alcoholic father until she was in high school. But things are great now. They’re probably a lot better than I thought they would turn out. When you’re younger, you don’t know yourself that well. I’ve maybe not learned a lot, but I’ve learned to appreciate things that I should have before.
It’s like with my character, Dan. He’s just got some age and experience on him. I wouldn’t say he’s “woke” because that sounds so New Age. Dan’s just more aware and more accepting of things and kind of celebrates different types of people. That’s like me now.
I wish I could find something that fascinates me as much as acting. I’d like to learn to draw, maybe pick up a guitar like I used to. I’d still like to learn French, German and piano. I used to play harmonica and sing a little bit. But after I got sober, I realized that I actually have no talent.
Better, Stronger, Faster
The scene dissolves to Goodman on a break, getting his sore back pounded in an old-fashioned, Jack LaLanne–era sort of way by his groomer.
“I’ve got bionic parts now,” Goodman says between thwacks. He’s talking about his set of titanium knees. “You live through enough and survive, you have to make peace with your flaws and your broken pieces.”
Goodman doesn’t see the point in bragging about his significant weight loss. “It was basically just portion control, and ‘I don’t need it,’” he says. “I was just shoving everything into my mouth. But I don’t want to be an example to anybody when the weight comes thundering back on — when I start eating Crisco out of the can with a spoon and a side of confectioner's sugar.”
Barr is nearby, all dolled up and glittering in sequins.
“I’m leaving my body to science fiction,” she says.
Someone asks Barr about the picture that surfaced from her 65th birthday party last fall. It shows two shirtless hunks presenting her with cakes and serenading her as she sits on a gold throne. There’s a crown on her head and a scepter in her hand.
“I deserve it, right?” she says, and, after all, she did invent the title “domestic goddess.” “You can still be kinda hot at 65, in your own mind.”
Goodman saunters over, looking dashing in a charcoal overcoat and black sweater. A photographer begins clicking away. Any sign of soreness vanishes as the venerable costars ham it up for the shot. As if to demonstrate the versatility of those Six Million Dollar Man components, Goodman lowers himself to the floor and drapes an arm around Barr’s ankles.
Barr, who broke her kneecap in three places from a fall in 2016, is happy to stand in place.
“There’s an upside to the creaks and pains of age,” she says. “It forced me to slow down, which is good. If you fight your body as it ages, you’re not gonna win.”
Just Like Us
Barr: As you get older, you’re not only more grateful, but you’re more in the moment. Things are more meaningful. You don’t want to just get through it. I was always racing to get to the punch line. Now it’s just, like, well, I’m leaving it in there.
Goodman: Yeah, it’s nice having been around awhile. I can just speak for myself, instead of throwing these little roadblocks in my way and crap.
Barr: And I’ve carved a lot of the chaos out of my life. Now it’s more relaxed.
Goodman: Although it’s harder because I’m older. Daddy gets tired; Daddy gets a headache and can’t remember his lines sometimes.
Barr: Right. We definitely have to practice more. Memory is a muscle.
Goodman: One other thing is, I thought for some reason I was an expert on humor when I was younger.
Barr: Me, too.
Goodman: I don’t have to work so hard to be funny now.
Barr: Maybe we did all the hard work in the past, and now we’re enjoying it, like a lot of retired people are.
The shoot is nearly wrapped, and Barr and Goodman are ending with more energy than they came in with. All the conversations about then versus now and the passage of time have them feeling thankful and inspired about where life has taken them.
It’s hard to fathom today that Barr had never acted before getting her name on a prime-time comedy all those years ago. That doesn’t happen anymore. Goodman wasn’t much more experienced. The most iconic part he played before joining Roseanne might have been the “Thanks, I needed that!” guy in the old Mennen Skin Bracer ads. But Roseanne hit a nerve, and no matter what happens with the relaunch, the sitcom will endure as a classic in the realm of All in the Family and Married With Children.
Not that Goodman is buying the hype. Barr is letting loose again with one-liners, but her longtime TV husband slaps the poker face back on.
“I decided to take a break from not working so I could spend less time with my family,” Barr jokes.
Goodman — still nothing.
“Yeah,” Barr continues, “we’re tackling tough issues on the show that confront people every day, starting with what I call hate-triotism. We need to stop letting ourselves be herded into these two hostile camps. We have to come together and place the blame where it really belongs — on people who exercise.”
The slightest curve of a smile comes to Goodman’s face. Barr knows she’s got him.
“Hey, man, at this age, I try to focus on the things I love, like humor, naps — and not dying.”
Wherever you’re reading this, you can probably hear Daddy’s laughter from there.
“Every day, I pinch myself and wonder, Is this the most fun in the world or the onset of dementia?” Barr says, and Goodman is giggling in agreement. “Either way, I’m loving it.”