JEFF GOLDBLUM: DEVOTED TO ACTING
By Paul Freeman [1989 Interview]
Eclectic and eccentric, inventive and indomitable, Jeff Goldblum has created a memorable gallery of screen characters. We interviewed him as 1989’s “Earth Girls Are Easy” was about to be released. It co-starred his then wife, Geena Davis. In the years since, Goldblum has graced such blockbusters as “Jurassic Park,” “Independence Day” and “Thor: Ragnarok.” He has also participated in intriguing projects like “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Jeff Goldblum defines his acting philosophy as ”living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” He has given credibility to such fantastic scenarios as a scientist assuming the genetic structure of an insect, a sleepy man being pursued by pod people and, in his latest movie, “Earth Girls Are Easy,” a blue, furry alien crash-landing in a California manicurist’s swimming pool.
Goldblum’s favorite Earth girl, in the new movie and in real life, is his wife, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis. The wildly off-beat science-fiction/musical/comedy/romance also features MTV`s satirical Valley Girl, Julie Brown, who co-wrote the title song and screenplay.
In person, the lanky Goldblum is intense, funny and slightly strange — just like he is on screen. With longish hair, rumpled shirt, jeans and black leather jacket, he resembles an existential biker. His eyes bulge inquisitively.
Goldblum was hooked on ”Earth Girls Are Easy” the moment Davis handed him the irreverent script. ”It made me laugh,” he says, explaining his attraction to the project. “There was music in it and I’m a jazz pianist. I got to play and, at one point, I’m even tinkling a little something I wrote. I like variety and this role was a welcome change from the serious things I’d been doing. I met the director, Julien Temple, saw his previous film, ‘Absolute Beginners,’ and thought that he could do something original and hip and smart and interesting.
“Of course, another reason I wanted to be in the film was that it would give me a chance to work with Geena again.”
The pair first lit up the screen in the dimly received “Transylvania 6-5000.” They then soared in ”The Fly.”
”I never prepared for a movie as thoroughly and excitingly as for ‘The Fly,’“ Goldblum says, his long fingers pressing onto the table, as if they were forming a piano chord. ”Geena and I were living together at the time and we helped each other explore the characters in thrilling ways. We worked constantly, one question leading to another. By the time we went to rehearse with David Cronenberg, we were already passionately involved in our roles. During that movie, Geena and I discovered each other in a different and deeper way. We realized that we were creatively compatible, that we admired each other’s work processes and enjoyed bouncing ideas off each other.”
Goldblum and Davis were married on Halloween, 1987. ”We were in Las Vegas, celebrating my birthday, which was on the 22nd, and the wedding anniversary of two friends who’d been married there. We were eating at Caesar’s Palace and the friends said, ‘What do you want to do tonight? Get married, maybe?’ I said to Geena, ‘What do you think? Want to?’ She said, ‘Really?’ We went out by the fountain in the parking lot and talked for five minutes and said, ‘OK, let’s do it!’ I’m not one for big, planned, ceremonial affairs. This was sexy, romantic and spontaneous.”
They exchanged vows in a tacky chapel. `”I was looking a little Nathan Detroity in a Vegas kind of outfit. Geena looked lovely, as always. It was three in the morning. There was candlelight. They had a sign like the ones in cafeterias that list the Jell-O du jour. It gave the wedding prices with veil, no veil, live music, taped music. We wanted live. They said the organist was asleep. They asked if we wanted photographs or videotape. We went for the video. It’s unwatchable and very scary. If you think ‘The Fly’ is frightening…”
Goldblum has always demonstrated an ability to blend emotion and intellect in an intriguing manner. Early in life, he found his calling. ”As a kid, I loved watching performances of all kinds. My parents took us to see children’s theater. I was completely enthralled, not only with what was happening in front of the curtain, but backstage, as well.
“When I was in fifth grade, I went to summer camp and we had a drama recital. It was a musical, a Gilbert and Sullivan take-off. Though we’d rehearsed and rehearsed, I didn’t feel prepared. Everybody was out there watching. I finally thought, ‘Here goes nothin’!’ and I literally leapt on stage. My parents had already wisely told me that choosing a vocation should be connected with finding something you love to do. From my first moment on stage, I knew I’d found it.”
Goldblum was born and raised in Pittsburgh. In 1970, upon graduating from high school at the age of 17, he raced to New York to study at Sanford Meisner’s famed Neighborhood Playhouse. After his first year there, he won a role in the Broadway success ”Two Gentlemen of Verona.`” Next came the off-Broadway hit, ”El Grande de Coca Cola.” A week after Goldblum was cast as the rapist in the movie ”Death Wish,” Robert Altman signed him for attention-getting supporting roles in ”California Split” and ”Nashville.”
Performances in such films as ”Next Stop Greenwich Village,” ”Annie Hall,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Right Stuff,” “Silverado,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” “Into the Night” and “The Big Chill” earned him a cult following.
Though his marquee value has grown tremendously, he still veers toward unorthodox roles in quirky films. ”I look for things that can provoke me. I can’t act if I’m not fired up and turned on by it. It has to be meaningful to me, personally.”
He recently completed two films in Europe. In Spain, he shot ”The Mad Monkey.” ”It`s a very serious, adult, ambitious movie — very dark, dreamy and nightmarish. It’s about sexual obsession and emotional breakdown. The character and the situation are complex and disturbing.”
In England, he made ”The Tall Guy.” “It’s about an American actor in London who falls in love with a nurse. It’s a romantic comedy.”
When he is not filming, Goldblum teaches acting to aspiring performers. “It’s great, between jobs, to reconnect with what I love about acting and to try to communicate that to the students, to deal with the ideals of the form.
“The method we use is somewhat based on Sanford Meisner’s,” Goldblum says. “We encourage spontaneous, human experience of the part, playing invented scenes as if they were true. It’s a very ambitious and worthwhile perspective. The approach is not meant for everybody. Your nature has to be suited to it. You have to have talent.”
As he speaks of acting, he becomes so impassioned, he can barely remain in his chair.
Goldblum`s method does not include exhaustive research. “Research can help feed my instincts. But I’ve never been academic or archaeological in my approach to parts.”
To Goldblum, acting is similar to jazz. `”When you’re finally grooving with the other performers, you lose yourself in the flow and kind of dance together. The best acting is always like that — an interpersonal improvisation, even if you have a very fixed text. The lines are just one element of the game of emotional rapport that’s going on.”
Goldblum’s performances have garnered rave reviews. “Pats on the back and awards are nice, but the acting itself is truly a reward of much more fulfilling proportions. It brings personal power and development. It’s worth devoting yourself to.”