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Blinded With Science: With two starring roles in two of the most successful films ever made, Jeff Goldblum has every right to be happy

(by Francesca Riviere, Smoke Magazine , SUMMER 1997 pages 162-174)

Photos: Title Photo Reflective pose Jeff with Cigar (3 photo spread) Rationalization pose Karate pose

It is spring in Los Angeles, the air is balmy and sweet, and the road that leads to Quixote Studios is blurred by the profusion of jacaranda trees in bloom. Inside the studio, nature's palette takes on an electric hue. The photographer and his assistants have artfully arranged an ultraviolet backlight effect. As wardrobe, hair and make-up assistants scurry in and out of the shot, Jeff Goldblum stands in the center of the activity, broad-shouldered, tall and trim, his slicked-back hair emphasizing dark, handsome good looks. A laser-blue flame shoots upward as our Hero for the New Millennium lights his cigar. The column of smoke that rises from his cigar and then breaks turbulently apart in a classic chaos theory example of the transition from order to chaos. As he puffs on-camera and on-cue, and smiles into the lens, Jeff Goldblum looks happy, immersed in the moment, having fun and enjoying his success.

Starring in two of the most successful films ever made, Independence Day and Jurassic Park, whose profits went extraterrestrial, and with his next one on the horizon - The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Jeff Goldblum has every reason to be happy. It is one month before the Memorial Day weekend opening of Steven Spielberg's directorial sequel to Jurassic Park, in which Goldblum reprises his role of the quirky-but-hip chaos theorist, Ian Malcolm.

In his portrayal of Malcolm, with his smoke tinted glasses, his neck chain, black leather jacket, black jeans and silver-looped biker boots, Goldblum does for dinosaurs and genetic engineering what Brando did for motorcycles and T-shirts. Still a rebel, but one who has evolved, both cinematically and in our culture, from an Everyman, an anti-hero, a rebel with or without a cause, Goldblum plays this scientist sexy, virile, and cool, one with emotional equilibrium.

In his thespian repertoire, Goldblum has created a virtual gene pool of other science-oriented characters. His scientist roles in The Lost World, Independence Day, and Jurassic Park are preceded by two others: that of Jim Watson, discoverer of DNA, in The Double Helix, and that of Seth Brundle, in The Fly, where Goldblum turned in an indelible, gothic performance that felt Shakespearean and that remained fixed in your mind like a mosquito caught in amber.

"I’m saying I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it, but now the dream is over and the insect is awake. I’m saying that I’ll hurt you if you stay"
-Seth Bundle in the Fly

Fortunately for him, Goldblum’s rise to success was not a direct flight from insect gratification to instant gratification. his 25-year career span did not travel at the speed of light, but instead, his large body of work is pinioned with solid and diverse character roles that gave him the time and the opportunity to build upon his craft and to grow into the consummate actor he has become.

As the black line-drawing logo of a dinosaur's head encircled in red, over a marquee of jungle-world lettering, began going up on billboards across the country (and on both sides of the street in front of Universal Studios), as theaters exhibited coming attractions of Ian Malcolm saying, ''Ooh, aah, that's how it starts. But then later there is running and screaming'' and while The Lost World.. Jurassic Park was in its final stages of editing, Jeff Goldblum talked about the film and his role in it.

'I think it's definitely a big deal. I hope people like it. I didn't see the whole thing finished but I saw most of what only a few people have seen, the rough cut that it's in now. But I saw a lot of the dailies, and when I looped for three days, I saw a lot of the stuff that l think is really spectacular. We shot only three days in Kauai, where we started the last one, we finished this one. And we shot in Humboldt County, in the Eureka Woods, with big red-woods. Beautiful, the trees. It all takes place on this island, supposedly off of Costa Rica, nearby the first island. But we mostly shot on the backlot, of Universal, on a sound stage.''

In Lost World, only Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough return from the original cast. They are joined by Julianne Moore (Nine Months, The Fugitive), Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name Of The Father), Vince Vaughn (Swinger), Arliss Howard (To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar), Peter Stormare (Fargo), and child actress Vanessa Lee Chester (Harriet The Spy, The Little Princess).

Playing a more prominent role in Lost World than he did in Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum is understandably reluctant to say too much about a film that is not yet in its final cut. ''I like the things I got to do in Lost World. I like that I have a sense of humor, that I hope comes out in the final version of it, and I’m passionate, adventurous and, you know, romantic. I like that. Strong things to do, you know? I feel like I'm getting better, in fact, or getting more what I want to do. And so, more recently, I find myself liking the recent things that I do.''

Working with a cast of dinosaurs can be a formidable effort for a cast of actors, but with Stan Winston's models of dinosaurs and Dennis Muren's computer effects the task was considerably easier, Goldblum says.

''Stan Winston, does the incredible on-set modeled which are more sophisticated this time, and Dennis Muren and his team do the computer effects, also incredible. We work in different camps but we all work together when we come together on the set. And this time their models were even more interactive and sophisticated and mobile, and so we did stuff with...I can't give much away, but different dinosaurs, more dinosaurs, dinosaurs that were there and doing stuff with us. It was incredible. And for all the world, it was real. Incredible. And we also then interacted with the team that was going to do the computer stuff. For instance, they would just kind of be there, I remember, and we would have to say, 'Well where is it going to be'?' And they'd have this cardboard dinosaur on a stick, and they'd say, 'Well, follow him there, that's kind of the way it's going to be.' But this time, I can't give it away, but there are some scenes with me and some fast moving dinosaurs... so I got Dennis Muren or some people from his team just during rehearsals, and l said, 'Well, tell me, I like hearing about it, but show me, if you could be the dinosaur, you do what the dinosaur's going to do and I’ll kind of work it out with you.' So I'm running and he's doing things with his arms, and we did that a couple of times. That was good. (Laughter.) I needed it to give me an idea, you know, 'cause I had to imagine what it was doing later when we were shooting, so I did it just before the shoot, with this guy, and he's chasing me around...'' (More laughter.)

In the face of his success, Jeff Goldblum is extraordinarily modest and accessible. A model of humanitas and humilitas, he would rather hug than shake hands. In his speech patterns and spontaneous vocal expressiveness, he has a rhythmic riff, perhaps not unlike the improvised jazz piano he loves to play occasionally, with three other musicians and friend Peter Weller, in cigar clubs around town. In conversation, Goldblum will repeat words as if savoring their rich, textural sounds: ''tobacco, Tobacco Road, tobacco-colored...'' Or he will say words in quick little phonetic word groupings: ''toreador, matador, dinosaur...'' In his physical presence he is relaxed, laughing often, easily and gently. His voice can be deep and dry, then change suddenly into a high timbre when he is surprised or moved. As an actor he has located and tapped the DNA of irony and vulnerability, the incongruous but powerful combination that serves as the double helix and genesis of his inimitable expressive style. The Jeff Goldblum voice of irony, with its speedy delivery, can render particular lines of dialogue from his films both memorable and quotable to his audiences for years afterward:

''Don't knock rationalization. Where would we be without it .? I don't know anyone who'd get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex. Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?''
- Michael in THE BIG CHILL

Jeff Goldblum says that he loves acting as much as he loves music, and that he loves teaching acting as much as he loves acting. If he couldn't act, he would teach. But he says acting is a break from life, not the other way around. He knew early on that he wanted to be an actor.

"I always wanted to be an actor and didn’t really take advanced math or science courses in high school. It was a big high school and I did okay, but it wasn’t a think terrifically turned on by; more by painting reading, and sports. I got the seed of the idea early on. Our parents took us to see children’s theater. I remember being very excited about it. And then around 5th grade, in the summer, I was in this camp, a drama course, and then I got the lead in the little show at the end, and it was a beautiful kind of college theater, and they filled it up, and I had a great experience that night. My parents had said, if you find something you love to do, it should be your vocational choice. Wisely enough, it’s not a bad idea; it’s a wise idea. And so I remember that night, they said ‘how’d you like that?’ And I sort of harbored, kind of secretly from then on, this idea.... ‘I’m going to be an actor.’ And then by he time I was in high school, in the summers, then between ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades, I took these six-week courses from Carnegie Mellon University. It was the late 60’s, and there were kids from all over the country, impassioned and lively...and I felt this excitement about this community of people and the professors, the drama professors from the regular school classes in the summer and I was just enthralled by it. And from then on I was obsessed with the idea."

At 17, Goldblum went to New York to study acting with Sanford Meisner. ''Sanford Meisner said that the most important word in the dictionary is 'Why.' Why am I doing this, what am I doing? So you know, you have to justify with your imagination, justify. What aspect of my character or the made-up situation demands that I say this or do this in such a way?''

Within a year of Goldblum's arrival, New York Shakespeare Festival Founder Joe Papp cast him in Two Gentlemen of Verona, which became a Broadway hit. After that came his first film role, as the terrifying rapist in Death Wish. He then went on to play the 20 year-old boy wonder in California Split, directed by Robert Altman, with whom he would work again, as the silent biker/magician in Nashville. Thus began Jeff Goldblum's feature film acting Career.

The parts he played in the '70s afforded him exposure and visibility: roles in Annie Hall ( "I forgot my mantra''); Next Stop Greenwich Village; between The Lines ('"I can't eat records, I can't smoke records''); Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; Remember My name, and Thank God It's Friday.

The parts Goldblum played in the '80s led to enhanced audience recognition and appreciation of his impeccable comic timing: roles in The Big Chill; The adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai; Silverado; Earth Girls Are Easy; Vibes; beyond Therapy; and as Ed Okun, the insomniac aerospace engineer in Into the Night (''I feel weird, like I'm from another planet or something'').

Aside from the blockbuster hits, Goldblum's choices of films in the '90s have spanned a broader, deeper range with more compelling, complex and darker characters, in independent and foreign-made films: a Jesus Christ figure in the French-British production The favor, The Watch, And The Very Big Fish; a New York sideman musician in Lush Life; a drug czar attorney-at-law in Deep Cover; a screenwriter in Twisted Obsession; a bachelor artist in Nine Months; and a sports commentator/entrepreneur in The Great White Hype. In these roles Goldblum succeeds in making the audience identify with the characters; we know these men he's playing. He gives the impression on screen that he owns the shoes of the character he is playing, and in person, that he owns himself, as if it were an easy thing to maintain your identity and keep your integrity intact, along the way.

Here is how he decides whether to take a part in a film or not: ''Just something instinctive, I guess...if it feels like I want to have that experience, 'cause, you know, we try to really have the experience that's made up. So if I really want to go through that, if it feels like I can learn something from it, enjoy it somehow, it means it has something to do with my personal interests. It could be fun, or frightening to do, or challenging to do, and it might be if I can imagine people...being lifted up in some way by watching it; it makes me want to do it.''

He keeps his expectations low to nil. "I was sparked by this thing this swami said to me recently. I said, 'How are you'?' He said, 'I'm fine. I'm wonderful because I don't, I never expect anything, and whatever comes is much appreciated.' I thought it was nice...! think that's pretty good, isn't it? Pretty good, because I sometimes don't enjoy a part of me when it goes: 'Hey, where's my piece of the pie? When am l donna get back something? What am I being given? What do I, don't I, deserve’ etcetera, etcetera. It kind of runs around in my system like that, or not. Or, better, it's more pleasant when I'm focused on what I can contribute to what's at hand, gratefully appreciating the opportunity at hand, and like that, without a period.''

In 1982, Goldblum cc-founded Playhouse West, an acting school and repertory theater, with actor/teacher Robert Carnegie, who also studied with Sanford Meisner. ''We do have a particular way of attempting to get the students to do gut-based, gut-expressive, alive acting, from moment-to-moment. And I have been saying pristine, meant to mean that nothing is missed. That every moment is connected. Nothing is missed, really, and everything comes out of them, that every moment that comes out of them is that they/re sensitive, receptive, open, vulnerable, and responsive, expressive, and every moment is felt and genuine and authentic'' says Goldblum.

''Good acting encourages you to be, to find more and more of yourself, use more and more of use different parts of yourself and you try to expand the use of yourself. But I think it all kind of comes out of you somehow. And you're changing along the way, so it becomes a nice outlet for your always-changing, hopefully deepening and humanizing, journey.''

A tangible result of working with his students was the material they developed for the short film Goldblum directed, Little Surprises, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short, a category for 30-minute films. Starring Rod Steiger, Julie Harris, and Kelly Preston, the film's no-stars were actors from Playhouse West: Christine Cavanaugh, Kenny Moskow, Mark Pelligrino and Sam Whipple. The artwork and main title design were done by Goldblum's sister, Pam Goldblum, and his brother-in-law, Jeffrey Kaisershot, both of whom are artists who paint together on the same canvases. In addition to directing the piece, Jeff Goldblum plays piano and sings vocals under the credits.

Jeff recalled his first memory of cigars. ''My grandfather, Leonard Harris, who was married to my mom's mom for a time, before he was hit by a bus and killed, smoked a lot of cigars. I think he owned a candy store, so l think they were inexpensive cigars. I still love bubble gum cigars. Not that I mind real cigars, they smell nice, they're neat things. And I do just like to kind of play with a cigar before it's lit. I like them cause they’re nice to smell, nice to hold, and I like the action of smoking. it's really fun. The first time I smoked for a role was this Ernie Kovacs TV movie I did, in which I really had to chain-smoke cigars. He (Kovacs) was never without a cigar in his hand. I also smoke cigars in the final scene of ID4 (Independence Day), it was a whole big part of the story, where we light up after having saved the world. But I have a cigar history and relationship." (laughter.)

Later on a break between shots, Goldblum joins a group of workers who are sitting, chatting, smoking, and says in his best ironic voice: "A man needs a good smoke. Nothing else will do."

Jeff Goldblum’s compassion for his fellow man is mirrored in his heroes. Talking about the nationally televised band robbery and shoot-out that occurred a few miles from his workshop, he said, "Those guys, those policemen...they hardly get paid anything, yet they really were protecting people as if their own families were at risk. I’m moved by that. I remember shortly after that, seeing a policeman, and I asked, ‘how’s everybody doing?,’ and he said, ‘Oh, they’re okay, they’re in the hospital but everybody’ll be okay.’ And I said ‘thank you very much for doing that.’"

"Everyone has a heroic part in them and people...are always doing things to nurture and enhance other people. Wasn’t it in one of Anne Tyler’s books where she said if people from another planet came...and saw, for instance, all the activity happening around a hospital, they’d say ‘aren’t those humans sweet? Look how they’re all trying to help each other.’ And people do...there seems to be reasons to do it, but I think it’s a part of our nature. People are heroic in their natures and thoughtful of others, you know?"

Goldblum admires the writing of the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera". His favorite artists are Picasso and Phillip Gusten. He loves Brazillian music. He can’t imaging going back to Broadway, as an actor or director. "I would love to, if there was something exciting to do. Although, I’m having a very creative time now and I’m liking the parts that I’m doing in movies...I’m fed by them, and stimulated by them, and challenged by them. I also love being off work...I love working but being off is nice. So I have a very full and active live, with teaching - I love teaching - and music - I love playing piano."

"Chaos is randomness in an isolated system. Nature appears to choose chaos as the most economical solution. A great challenge is to mimic nature and to find new and useful ways to harness chaos. Much work in chaos theory seeks to determine relevant probability distributions for chaotic systems, such as weather or world economy"
-Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park

If the dinosaur stampede in The Lost World is anything like Jeff Goldblum’s chaos theorist performance, we can back on redistribution of world economy with the film’s international release.

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