Fans have watched John Goodman manage the goofy tribulations of the Conner family for 30 years — first on “Roseanne,” then on “The Conners.” And while he’s played everything from the king of England to a drug dealer, viewers have never seen his latest incarnation. The 67-year-old actor portrays a millionaire evangelist who doesn’t see the difference between greed and grace in “The Righteous Gemstones,” premiering Sunday on HBO.
The Gemstones are a family of televangelists who reign over a megachurch and attract money like locusts in a wheat field. The show stars Goodman as the family patriarch, Danny McBride (who is also producer/writer/director) as Goodman’s elder son, Edi Patterson as his daughter and Adam Devine as his younger son.
Goodman said he understands the fascination for such religious adoration. “When I was a child, I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and it was very emotionally involving,” he said.
“Anyway, I think that’s how they got me. It was a lot of splendor and screaming up at the pulpit. And the rhythms of the speech, and it’s something you wanted very badly to believe in. That’s basically what I remember about it. That, and I would get swatted if I didn’t go.”
McBride, who produced and starred in HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals,” also shares a background as a Southern Protestant. “I grew up in a very religious household,” he said. “I grew up going to the Baptist church. My mom did puppet ministry growing up. … My aunt is a minister in Atlanta.”
While the acquisitive Gemstone family gleefully divvies up the proceeds, it’s not about skewering the faithful, McBride said. “The goal of it is not to be like a takedown of anything,” he said.
“It’s about lampooning a hypocrite, lampooning somebody who presents themselves one way and does not act that way underneath,” he added.
“And I don’t think that’s something that is just relevant to the world of religion and televangelism. I think it’s something that’s relevant in just the world we live in, that you’re constantly being exposed to people who present themselves one way on social media but act another way in person. I think hypocrisy is everywhere. And that’s ultimately, I think, what this story is about, about what happens when you don’t practice what you preach.”
McBride, who said he gets much of his inspiration from chatter on the internet, thinks some of the most profitable megachurches stretch in their efforts to involve the multitudes.
“I think the Gemstones are the epitome of that. I think they’re trying to basically water everything down to not offend anyone and just to get as many people bringing money into the church as they can,” he said.
“So when I say that we’re not taking aim at people’s faith, I’m being honest. … I wanted to make something that my aunt, who’s a minister, could watch and find the humor in as well.
“And I don’t think she’ll appreciate the language or the drug use, but I think ultimately, I’m not taking a swipe at her or what she believes in. I’m setting a story in a world that she is familiar with. And ultimately it’s a story about a family, and about a family who has grown very, very successful and have lost their way along the way. And I think that that’s relatable.”