Listen to this article
“Well hello, how are you?” Jeff Goldblum says flirtatiously and familiarly, as if this isn’t the first time we have met. Everything you’d hope from Goldblum is dancing across his features: mischief, suggestiveness, instant fun. His speech swoops: there’s an uneven pacing to sentences, each one an adventure of peaks and valleys. He is 6ft 4in, lean, muscular and dressed in black, his hair a swoosh of silvery grey. I tell him he looks good. He tells me I look good and where do I go to the gym and oooohhh, he used to live near there and isn’t it great ... This flattery-bombing is not only a warm bath but seems sincere. Goldblum is solicitous, curious and inquiring. It is also a canny deflection tool.
My baffled amusement is very similar to that of Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan who, in the brilliantly observed movie Le Week-End, play opposite Goldblum as a long-time married couple on a jaunt to Paris. Goldblum, an old friend of Broadbent’s character, alights upon them in the street and invites them to supper, where he flatters them, patronises them, is alarmed by them and cares about their wellbeing, all at once – a hastening vector for the cauldron of pettiness and profound intimacy the couple feel for one another.
Goldblum is the same shape-shifting presence in many of his movies: very literally in The Fly, the David Cronenberg film that made him famous, and then in films including The Big Chill, Earth Girls Are Easy, two Jurassic Park movies, The Tall Guy and Independence Day. After his big-screen career quietened, indie directors gravitated to him. Prime among them was Wes Anderson, first in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and now the forthcoming The Grand Budapest Hotel.
As in Le Week-End, troubled marriage is central to Goldblum’s other current creative concern, Domesticated, a Broadway play by the Tony and Pulitzer-winning Bruce Norris, in which he stars opposite Laurie Metcalf as a “married couple in crisis”. The play looks at how women “are greatly advantaged, while men are becoming increasingly irrelevant,” says Goldblum. Does he feel irrelevant as a man today? “I’m not an expert at all,” he says amiably. “I’ve known wonderful women and I’m currently in a very happy relationship of two years with a wonderful woman, so you know …”
No, I don’t, I say. But he must be referring to girlfriend Emilie Livingston, who, at 30, is half his age. Has the age gap mattered? “Well, it hasn’t been a challenge I’d say in two years, but who knows? It’s going perfectly OK seemingly, so far.” Then he pauses, looks a little anguished and says that what he wanted to say was that, “I have a more highfalutin … aspiration, and that is to do with commonality beyond gender and identity. That is what appeals to me when I read wisdom literature, that there is something within us that is common, our differences are only superficial.” Is he a Buddhist? “I don’t think I’m anything nameable, I’ve read wisdom books and [Eckhart Tolle’s] The Power of Now. Part of the general gist is being in the moment, which is good as an actor because you have to pretend not to know what is coming.”
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Goldblum “wanted very badly to be an actor. I was obsessed by it.” As a young boy, he had a “sunny personality, willing enthusiasm and playfulness”. His father Harold, a doctor, didn’t beat him, the actor says, discounting past reports, “though, in those days, the threat of physical discipline was there”. Children’s theatre inspired him. Goldblum’s father told him that once he found something he loved, that was his “career compass”. He had wanted to be an actor himself, but had thought it “out of his league” when he eavesdropped on a class at the acting college Goldblum eventually attended.
When his mother Shirley was growing up in West Virginia, a talent scout asked her mother if she could come to New York to become an actress; her mother refused. “Both of them had these daunted possibilities and were very tickled and supportive of me when I went into acting,” says Goldblum. “I kept it a secret though. Every morning I’d write on the steamy shower door, ‘Please God let me be an actor,’ then I’d erase it.”
He moved to New York aged 17 to pursue his ambition, “animated by this kind of hipsy-dipsy commitment to the joy of expression and the serious business of play”. He studied at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and made his Broadway debut in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In “1971 or something” he “experimented with acid once and mescaline three times and had a great time, very enlightening in a way but I didn’t want to fool around too much. I was serious about this instrumentality.” Now he enjoys the “sober thrill” of working out and exercising his voice.
Handsome, but never a conventionally lantern-jawed leading man, Goldblum was billed in his first film, Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) as “Freak #1”. Of The Fly he says the five hours of make-up every day “took endurance. It was very intense, creative and challenging.” He didn’t know it would make him a star: “It was fun to do and I wanted to make something we were proud of.”
Goldblum doesn’t miss the high-stardom years that followed. “I don’t know what the other thing [fame] is. I don’t know if it’s PR, or you choke on your bank account, or how many people who know you. I never experienced how popular I was. I don’t expect anything to be enduring. I was never in it for fame at the beginning, I didn’t experience it while it was happening and don’t miss anything about it if it has changed.” Goldblum experiences “garden variety fear. I wouldn’t say I was a depressed person. If my delusion falls away, there’s probably some despair underneath, but I haven’t stayed in the house for a couple of years.” He has gone to a therapist, a “lovely woman” who he has seen once or twice a year, “when I’ve needed to check in with her about an end-of-relationship challenge. She’s wise and careful and I enjoy that. I need all the help I can get.”
I ask if he is good in relationships – he has been divorced twice, and has no children as yet – and he smiles that he couldn’t “grade” himself, but “I like all kinds of relationships, intimate relationships. I don’t know who can claim to be good at them. I enjoy making a connection, self-expression and exposure. I like intimacy. I’m wildly curious about the unfathomable mystery of the other person. I like acting because it’s made of relationships.”
Goldblum was married to Patricia Gaul from 1980 to 1986, then to Geena Davis from 1987 to 1990, both his co-stars. He had a relationship with Laura Dern and then with another younger woman before meeting Livingston, an Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion, at an LA gym. Does he want to marry again? “That’s an open question at this point. Emilie and I couldn’t be more in love and I’m devoted to her.” Has he missed being a parent so far? “I’ve done what I’ve done. I must say I’ve never particularly suffered from regret about much of anything, including not having kids.” He smiles archly. “I feel right on schedule with my barrenness but who knows what the future may hold? I’m open-minded about that.”
Goldblum looks at his watch: “In fact, we’re getting our first puppy right around now.” Born seven weeks ago, Woody Allen is a red-haired standard poodle, “and …” he blows a raspberry … “he is going to be delivered to the house today. I hope it’s going to be all right ecologically. I so love to see the young things grow. It’s as cute as Christmas, this dog.”
He doesn’t have any “major complaints” about ageing, he says, although he anticipates “the loss of one thing after another until finally everything drops off and you lose everything”. He has never “felt the pressure” to have plastic surgery “and would certainly resist any such pressure. I have the strong feeling that it never works. I don’t like how it makes people look. I keep my ablutions up. I enjoy the passing of the natural parade, the fall season when the leaves fall and change colour. The cycle of life is thrilling and enjoyable …” He will not confirm if he will reprise his role as Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic World, to be produced by Steven Spielberg and slated for a June 2015 release. “Whether I’m in it or not, I’ll be first in line for a ticket,” he says.
Goldblum has a keener sense of mortality than many, having lost his older brother Rick when Rick was 23 and he was 19. “I still miss him now. He was very important to me. I feel close to him, I admired and looked up to him. He was going to be a writer perhaps. Unexpectedly and inevitably you lose everybody, yourself included, and that’s the way it goes. Maybe that’s what fuels my interest in how to make the most out of life.” He talks about “the form of life melting away”, about monks who go into morgues to meditate amid the dead. He is smiling. “Well, here’s what happens to us, and what else is there?” he says quietly, shrugging though not sadly. His agent is hovering nearby – a reminder that the more steely business of being Jeff Goldblum is at hand, though he is soon asking how she is, telling her how “delightful” I have been, and looking wonderingly at us both. He’d hug a cactus if one was nearby. Resistance is futile.
‘Le Week-End’ is released on October 11. ‘In Bed With Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood, and The Private World of an American Master’ (Magnus Books), by Tim Teeman, is published on November 5