Jeff Goldblum talks dinosaurs, Thor and losing his virginity
As he celebrates his birthday, revisit our 2017 cover interview with Jeff Goldblum, the most lovable eccentric in Hollywood
“It might seem unbelievable, but yeah, I raise the dead,” Jeff Goldblum explains. “I’m one of the elders of the universe who came into existence after the Big Bang, so I’m immortal. I have super powers like I can kill you just by thinking about it and then resurrect you. I can do everything. I can fly, I can levitate, I can do anything that anybody else can do, and more. Although I’ve been around for like billions of years, like vampires, my current pleasure is games.
“I like to play,” he adds with that big, unmistakable grin, tailing off with a long and wistful repetition of the key word: “play”.
As Goldblum reels off his list of god-like endowments, it’s worth noting he does not genuinely believe he’s omnipotent – even though he is sometimes called ‘The Hollywood Buddha’. Instead he is just playing the part of his character The Grandmaster, a mischievous and entertaining antagonist he has just completed filming for Thor: Ragnarok when we meet.
With a whopping 117 screen credits to his name, Goldblum is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. He has been a working actor for almost half a century and in that time partnered with virtually every director including the legendary Stephen Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Roland Emmerich and David Cronenberg. Goldblum’s body of work has made him famous for stealing the show, from a single, but unforgettable, line in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), where he calls his psychiatrist to tell her that he “forgot [his] mantra”, to his performance in Jurassic Park (1993) where his turn as Dr. Ian Malcolm made him a cult hero.
So imagine my surprise when Goldblum, who at 6ft 4in is an unmissable presence, arrives on set almost unnoticed two and a half hours early without any fanfare whatsoever. In fact he slinks onto set at the same time as the catering. It is an understated entrance that illustrates exactly what makes Goldblum the perfect blend of salt-of-the-Earth and gold dust. Whether you meet him on the red carpet or over a carton of frozen mini-pastries, something is immediately obvious about him: he’s unique.
Aside from compelling character-acting performances in films like The Fly (1986), it’s Goldblum’s distinctive way of speaking which contributed most to his many memorable roles. Even off camera, our conversation is dashed with his offbeat musical refrains, like: “Well I’ll be a ring-tailed monkey”.
When I bring up his mesmerising way of speaking, he explains: “I Jeff it up a little bit. In Thor the director encouraged it, so I Jeffed it up. And, you know, I’m sure a lot of it is,” he pauses to remind himself which is which, “wheat from the chaff. It’s chaff, you know? It’s unusable and embarrassing but I trust that they’ll find a nugget or two that might be, erm, usable. Hopefully they’ll stay away from the embarrassing parts and make me look a little better than I might otherwise be. So to answer your question: because it’s fun.”
Fun as it may be, Goldblum’s idiosyncratic delivery really comes from his background studying under and living with Sanford ‘Sandy’ Meisner at the now historic Neighbourhood Theatre in New York in the 1970s. Learning from the inventor of the Meisner acting technique gave Goldblum an incredible acting pedigree, as he pioneered a school which produced talents like Alec Baldwin, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Jeff Bridges, Jon Voight, and Tom Cruise.
But almost in spite of his talent as a young actor, Goldblum’s first acting role came when theatre producer Joseph Papp rung the Neighbourhood Playhouse and asked for “any tall students”. They were casting for a guard in John Guares’ musical adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
“They sent me down and I was in a room with a couple of other tall guys,” Goldblum jokes. “I got that job and that became a big hit for the St. James Theatre and was a spectacular introduction into my theatre and the profession. In fact, I’ll be indiscreet and tell you that the opening night of that play was the night I lost my virginity. So it coincided my adulthood and my entry into the profession.”
Quite literally getting lucky, Goldblum is modest about the beginnings of a career which is still blooming 40 years later.
“I have experienced my piece of the elephant,” Goldblum says. “I think it was always competitive. To paraphrase Woody Allen: ‘Luck, more than we like to think, plays a great part in our so-called lives’. Our life’s story – it’s a game of inches. My story is wildly lucky, miraculously lucky. I had the heated innards which made this story happen, but I wanted to be an actor real bad and I was just wildly passionate about it.”
This is an understatement. Even in the world of show business, it is rare to find someone as knowledgable and interested in films. Before we’ve even started our interview Goldblum has told me the history of an actor with whom I share a name. “Henry Jones, okay, Henry Jones,” he says slowly as though he is inspecting me for similarities to the thespian he’s recalling. “I’ll tell you about Henry Jones. Henry Jones was a wonderful character actor in Hollywood movies. The one I’m aware of that’s best known is The Bad Seed (1956). Then in my favourite Hitchcock movie Vertigo (1958). Oh he’s distinctive and I had a special connection with him because I went to school in 1970 with Jocelyn Jones.” He pauses deeply for emphasis, before adding: “His daughter”.
It’s easy to dismiss this as a party trick, but he genuinely has a wealth of stories from his time in the film industry, such as visiting Chris Hemsworth’s home and meeting the entire family. But moreover, this is undoubtedly what makes Goldblum a truly rare and special treat to interview, he has a seemingly limitless ability to talk and talk and talk.
Goldblum happily acknowledges this aspect of his character, describing the long conversations he shared with Tom Hiddleston on the set of Thor: Ragnarok. “We just hit it off,” he explains. “We really talked. We yakked up a storm. You see, I’m gabby myself but we seemed to enjoy each other.” He seems to have shared similarly long conversations with the rest of the cast too.
When he met the film’s director, Taika Waititi, for the first time they reportedly spoke for hours about Goldblum’s previous oeuvre and Waititi asked the actor for “a little something of what I’ve seen you do”.
“That sounded good to me,” Goldblum says. Given how brightly Goldblum’s character shines through even off camera, you can see why Waititi offered him the role. “I’m thrilled to be in the movie. It was a very interesting, educational, creative experience. And Taika Waititi… I loved Flight of the Conchords. All of those episodes really made me laugh.
“I like improvising and he’s very good at it. When we met at the Chateau Marmont, I liked the way he said: ‘Perhaps we could script’. But then I had 10 other ideas which he encouraged and we would improvise. He’d keep the camera rolling and sit just beside going: ‘Say this and this and how about a little of that’. I really liked it, it was a lot of fun.”
Goldblum’s character in Thor is fertile ground for comedy and improvising. “The Grandmaster rules the planet of Sakaar,” Goldblum explains. “It has become a sort of colourful discotheque empire and as a ruler he’s not the most high integrity benefactor. He’s transcended conventional morality and what he likes to do is play games. He’s a master of play, he can name every obscure game you can think of and he’s got an intellectual prowess second to none.”
Seemingly the only disappointment about his time on Thor is that he didn’t have a chance to work alongside some of his favourite actors. “I didn’t have scenes with Anthony Hopkins,” he says incredulously. “But my gosh in heaven I met him once and am a very big admirer of his. I’m humbled by his genius. I have liked so many of the things he’s done, particularly The Dresser with Ian McKellen.”
Deciding he didn’t want to miss out on spending time with Cate Blanchett, who he “crossed paths with” in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Goldblum “showed up early on set in Australia”. “I saw her with her beautiful children, and watched her do some of her part,” Goldblum says. He’s clearly still enamoured with the performance. When he first mentions her name while describing the day, he silently strikes a fist against his heart and pauses thoughtfully for emphasis. “To see, in the flesh with your own eyeballs, not only to see her on set but to see her do movie acting… Oh, I thought it was thrilling, breathtaking.”
Continuing to appear in out-of-this-world films, in 2018, Goldblum reprised his most famous character, Dr. Ian Malcolm, in the recently updated Jurassic Park film franchise: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He jokes about being asked to play the same character 20 years later. “If it were a movie – and I’ve never thought about this before – it would be like that Richard Linklater one Boyhood, where they’d say we are doing a movie but instead of ageing you we will wait 20 years and you’ll play the later part of you while you actually age.
Nevertheless, the 20 years since Goldblum first came up against his adversary haven’t cowed him in the slightest. “T. Rex? Never. I’d break him in two. I could just run away. He’s like The Mummy, you know,” he says, stretching out his arms and groaning mockingly. “Yeah whatever, come and get me.” Shortly after goading his old Tyrannosaurus enemy, Goldblum begins to cough and asks for a sip of water. “I should get some water, argh. [Coughing] I have a lingering cough.” Then, pretending to hit the keys on a typewriter, he jokes: “And then he had a hacking cough, he was just on his last legs”.
Luckily for us, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The interview first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue of Gentleman’s Journal. For more Hollywood cover stars, listen to Christoph Waltz discuss Christoph Waltz talks villainy, and President Trump…
Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.