Jeff Goldblum Is Back
“Oh!” Jeff Goldblum says. “Oh. Ooh, ah-haaa. Mmm. Yes. Ha Ha.” — You have to imagine Goldblum saying this in the way that only Goldblum can. That unmistakable Goldblum tempo. Melodic. Undulant. Luxurious. Filler words as a kind of music, pauses as poetry. It’s a cadence that, as much as anything, laid the foundation on which the 69-year-old actor has built a nearly 50-year career.
“Well? Mmhmm, mmhmm, yeah,” he continues. I’ve reached him at his home in the Hollywood Hills, where he lives with his wife, Emilie Livingston, and their two children, Charlie, six, and River, five. He’s sitting on a sofa in the walk-in closet off the master bedroom, face-to-face with a rack of shirts and jackets — the best place in the house, he explains, to have a quiet talk. “Now, ah, yesss, yes. Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga. Da-da-da-da-da.”
He is carefully mulling over an important question about a shower curtain. A shower curtain with his face on it, more specifically. Earlier in the day, I had mentioned to a friend that I would be interviewing Goldblum that evening. She told me that he was on her shower curtain. She showed me a picture as proof. Had Goldblum, I wondered, ever seen this?
“Oh, I know! Is it a picture of me, perhaps in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the Wes Anderson movie?” he asks, alighting on the answer. “Maybe with a kind of, ah, you know, a, uh, hybrid mashed-up image of the baboon from The Fly?”
That one certainly exists — you can buy it through Etsy — but, amazingly enough, I’m talking about a different Jeff Goldblum–themed shower curtain. Because, naturally, there are several Jeff Goldblum–themed shower curtains. The one my friend has in her bathroom is an enormous black-and-white portrait of the actor’s face.
“Oooh, ooh, I haven’t seen that one,” he says, laughing, when I describe it to him. “I apologize that you had to see that. But that’s good, all that sort of stuff, isn’t it?”
Goldblum is hardly the only actor to have his face on a bunch of merchandise. But the particular sphere of celebrity he occupies feels distinct from your typical brand of movie stardom. He’s famous enough that everybody knows his name, yet weird enough that everybody still likes him. He’s big enough to lead studio tentpoles like Independence Day or this summer’s Jurassic World: Dominion, but not so big that he’s above appearing in bizarre, abrasive indie comedies like Rick Alverson’s The Mountain.
Over the decades, he’s managed to achieve that incredibly rare star status shared only by a handful of others, like Nicolas Cage or Keanu Reeves: an A-lister everyone admires and instinctively roots for. You love to see him on talk shows or in TV commercials. People buy mugs and t-shirts and mousepads with his face on them. At its simplest, the phenomenon comes down to an irrefutable truth: nobody is ever disappointed when Jeff Goldblum shows up in a movie.
“One can find oneself getting to be a stale version of some impersonation of yourself that you’ve done before. That is a pitfall. But I’m not particularly worried about it. I’m not really afraid of it. I think the thing that saves me a little bit…”
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely how and when this started happening. Goldblum himself credits the phenomenon to “the confluence of being in a couple of popular movies — and the Internet, somehow.” He traces it back at least as far as October of 2002, when some maniac fan launched a humble Geocities webpage by the name of Jeff Goldblum Is Watching You Poop. If you opened the page, you’d find Goldblum staring at you with bug-eyed intensity.
“I remember thinking, I’ve shown up where? What? Why does this exist?” he laughs. “Then it was that little picture of me from the first Jurassic Park, you know, where I’m laying there on the table out there and about. It caught on a little bit, and I guess it, ah, metastasized.”
If there’s a downside to this kind of glory, it’s the risk of being caricatured — of being reduced to a meme. The tics and mannerisms everyone loves can start to define you, and it can be hard to do anything fresh. “One can find oneself getting to be a stale version of some impersonation of yourself that you’ve done before,” Goldblum says. “That is a pitfall. But I’m not particularly worried about it. I’m not really afraid of it. I think the thing that saves me a little bit, or at least has so far, is that I remain ambitious and want to keep growing. I feel like I’m still learning and, I hope, still getting better. That has kept me from the terrors, so to speak, of becoming what I hate.”
He’s been growing a long time. Goldblum was drawn to acting early. “From the moment I was 10, or even younger, when I first saw children’s theatre, I got this notion,” he says. “And then when it developed into a bulb of real ambition — a creative ambition — to become an actor, I was fevered.” After school, he moved to New York City to study acting and try his hand at theatre. He was, he insists, “very lucky” to have quickly landed a few parts. He’s been getting regular big-screen work since the mid-1970s, when he made his screen debut with a walk-on role in Death Wish and, more notably, appeared in back-to-back films by the great director Robert Altman, the grubby gambling odyssey California Split and the country musical Nashville.
Over the following years, Goldblum developed a reputation as an intriguing, idiosyncratic character actor, making sometimes brief but always strong impressions in a number of pictures by vaunted New Hollywood auteurs, including Woody Allen (Annie Hall) and Alan Rudolph (Remember My Name). It was in the mid-’80s that he broke into the mainstream with a pair of starring roles in big budget features: John Landis’s comic thriller Into the Night and David Cronenberg’s body-horror masterpiece The Fly.
What’s impressive about Goldblum’s career since those breakout roles is how he’s been able to land parts that are not just bigger, but stranger and less predictable. Over the past 30 years, Goldblum has been equally likely to play a mathematician evading a T.Rex (The Lost World), a gossiping stop-motion husky (Isle of Dogs), a pugnacious New York real estate mogul (Igby Goes Down), or a flamboyant planetary ruler organizing gladiatorial battles between enslaved Avengers (Thor: Ragnarok and this summer’s Thor: Love and Thunder). In 2012, he appeared in the surreal opening scene of Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as “Chef Goldblum,” a bespectacled marketing exec promoting the “Schlaaang Super Seat,” a deluxe movie theatre chair equipped with stirrups and an automatic popcorn maker. The very same year, he appeared in the computer-animated comedy Zambezia as a talking cartoon bird.
“I think I have a strong instinct for variety,” he says. “I follow my own taste, which is various, and some of these movies that seem very different are educational. Whether it’s working with Burr Steers on Igby Goes Down or Steven Spielberg on the Jurassic movies, even though those are very different projects, there’s something for me to learn from them. It’s not that I’m strategically careerist. It’s variety for the sake of education.” This instinct to seek out the unfamiliar was instilled in him by his acting teacher, the legendary Sanford “Sandy” Meisner. “Sandy, if I can invoke his tutelage, said that he wished the stage or movie camera were like a high-wire tightrope, so that nobody who wasn’t seriously prepared would dare to attempt it.” Being aware of the risks of a role, for Goldblum, keeps him on alert. “I’ve become comfortable with that kind of alertness. You may fall. You may crash and burn. But I’ll give it a try. I like that.”
“For me, this has always been an endeavour of the heart — a kind of odyssey of ecstasy”
You might expect someone Goldblum’s age — he’ll be 70 this October — to settle into his legacy, satisfied to reap the rewards of a long and fruitful career. But Goldblum doesn’t even seem to be slowing down. Over the past few years, he’s voiced several video games (Call of Duty: Black Ops and three Jurassic Park sims), had a recurring role on a hit TV show (the final season of the HBO Max series Search Party), produced and hosted a hit TV show of his own (The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which recently launched its second season on Disney+), and released two critically acclaimed jazz albums (The Capitol Studio Sessions and I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, both with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra). He narrated a documentary. He lent his voice to an animated family film. He joined the MCU. In Milan in January, wearing a dark double-breasted suit and a pair of furry armbands, he even closed Prada’s Fall 2022 Menswear runway show.
That’s all, of course, in addition to having two kids. Although, as Goldblum is quick to point out, the kids add to his stores of energy, rather than deplete them. “These kids, you can imagine, their appetite for everything, they’re sponges, and they hardly even walk anyplace, they skip or they hop or they sprint,” he says. “I work with them on their piano every day, and every day that’s a new and enlightening and hilarious and, uh, well, a volatile kind of experience.” That very morning, for instance, Goldblum found himself “a little bit inflamed” after getting the kids ready and sending them off to school. So as soon as they were out the door, he hopped onto the piano and recorded himself “playing and singing and trying on different outfits” — not for any particular reason beyond a desire to do something fun and creative.
Goldblum likes to follow such whims — those “creative, delicious experiences,” as he describes them, that put his energies to good use, even if that use is simply Instagram. (“One of my band members, Alex Frank, hipped me to Reels. They’re 60-second videos; have you heard about these?”) He swears by the importance of self-discipline, which he says allows him to be so productive. “I was lucky enough to get the idea early on that you gotta make good habits for yourself. So I play piano every day. I work on my acting every day. I work out in the gym. I get my sleep. And every day, first thing, I think a few good thoughts.” All the acting and voice acting, the music and Instagram Reels, comes out of that process. “It’s the gravy produced from that little recipe,” he says.
Consequently, he’s in the middle “of a rather satisfying and nutritious period of growth,” he says. The “creative spurt” has been invigorating, giving him the energy to take on more and more. “Not to sound too high-falutin, but I feel like, hey, I’m following my own evolution with as much zest and appetite as I’ve ever had.” At the same time, with a body of work that spans nearly half a century behind him, he’s been liberated from the ordinary demands of a career: “I feel less than ever that there’s some place I need to get to, or that there’s something I have to accomplish and prove,” he says. “For me, this has always been an endeavour of the heart — a kind of odyssey of ecstasy. But right now, I have joy and freedom and a relaxed kind of enjoyment of my work. Right now, when I am working on something, I really am doing it just because I feel like doing it.”
There’s a sushi restaurant near Goldblum’s house that he and Emilie like to go to. He always orders the same thing: the Trust Me special. The Trust Me special is where they serve you whatever the chef wants. “I always like that, and that’s what I’m trying to do in my work,” he says. “I’ve gotten a chance to do a lot of things. My plate is full, and I’m kind of satisfied. But things seem to be coming up, things I wouldn’t order specifically. That’s good. I like to be surprised.”
There’s still much more to come: a new Wes Anderson movie in post-production (“I think it’s going to be delightful”), a big project he can’t yet talk about but says was “really very fun to do.” From there, who knows? Goldblum, as ever, is up for pretty much anything. “At this point, I am at the restaurant,” he says. “And I’m still hungry. I’m very hungry.”
Lead image: Full look by Prada; sunglasses by Jacques Marie Mage (both price upon request).
Photography/Video Director: Lea Winkler
Styling: Andrew T. Vottero
Photo Assistant: Gabby Talassazan
Styling Assistant: Shannon Shier
Grooming: David Cox (Art Department)
Lighting Director: Robert Kozek
Video: DP: Russel Tandy
1st AC: Chandler Desforges
Editor: Zoey Peck
Color: Connor Burns