John Goodman Previews 'Righteous Gemstones' Eli & Praises Creator Danny McBride

Robert Edelstein
Q&A HBO

Everyone's a prodigal in the twisted comedy, The Righteous Gemstones, about a wealthy televangelist family where the father (John Goodman, above, as Eli Gemstone) and his sinning scions (series creator Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine) fleece the flock for Almighty dollars.

But when a sex-and-drug tape leads to blackmail, all hell breaks loose. Goodman, the scene-stealing standout of movies (The Big Lebowski, Argo) and TV (ABC's The Conners returns September 24), fills us in.

Eli seems to be ruled by both greed and the grief of having lost his beloved wife and partner in his empire (Jennifer Nettles).

John Goodman: Eli started out wanting to do the right thing. He's a preacher who lost his original purpose. He's not treading water — he's drowning. He can't see past two feet in front of his face right now, which isn't good.

And yet Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals) — who also wrote and directed the pilot — has created this world with three immature, catty siblings competing for their dad's attention. The humor comes in the oddest places.

I'm a bit in awe of him. I'm riding the text like a surfboard. It's great to work with people who are burning the place down.

You also quickly get the sense that a mighty judgment is coming for the Gemstones, with a great fall to follow.

Yeah, Eli walks around like a prince — the expensive suits, the jets, the limos, big property. But we catch this family at the perfect time. They're right on the precipice and things are turning sideways. And for Eli, it's like he's texting while stepping into [an open] manhole cover. And I think there will be some blood.

Given this show, and your work in various Coen Brothers films, you clearly revel in roles that come from a demented place.

Well, when life pitches you curveballs, you've got to learn how to hit 'em.

The Righteous GemstonesSeries Premiere, Sunday, August 18, 10/9c, HBO