Published Nov 07, 2018Is Jeff Goldblum the most charming person on Earth? By the end of our 25-minute interview (it was supposed to be 15, but that never comes up), the celebrated actor has sung to me not once, but twice; asked me to "tap him on the shoulder," hoping that we "meet in the flesh"; and urged me to give "a big hug and a kiss to everyone in Canada." Before I've asked him a single question, the 66-year-old is already asking me about my life — specifically, whether I've ever been to Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children and where he's been playing weekly jazz nights with his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, for three decades.
Recorded live from L.A.'s Rockwell Table and Stage, Goldblum's forthcoming album, The Capitol Studios Sessions, is a documentation of one of those nights, full of playful improvisations and guest singers. Yet, the ever-gracious Goldblum credits Decca Records for spearheading the November 9 release: "It was their interest that made it happen. We've been cooking it up for 30 years!"
What are your current fixations?
Let me see, I'm fixated right now, of course, on music. I'm disciplined, so I get up and play every day, but I do dream about it and think about it a lot. Now, during the cycle of the album about to come out, I seem to be immersed in it. And then my two little boys, and my wife, and my house, fixing it up and making it a place for them.
Why do you live where you do?
I always wanted to be an actor, and that caused me to move from Pittsburgh to New York City to study. That's when I fell into doing Broadway and then a movie or two. Robert Altman saw me in a play and put me in California Split; that was the first time I ever saw Los Angeles, to be in a movie with Elliott Gould and George Segal. After that, an agent said, "Come on out to Los Angeles, and we'll show you around," then I never left.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Well, I've been catching up with movies, 'cause there are holes in my cinema education, and I'd never seen the movie Stalker, by [Andrei] Tarkovsky, a Russian director. I made my way through Stalker, and someone on the Criterion Collection interview said it changed his view of the world. It was truly mind-altering. I'm still processing it, but it was very poetic.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I can think of a lot of things I've attended. In the mid-'70s, I moved to California, and at the Roxy I saw Gil Scott-Heron, and Stevie Wonder sat in with him on the drums during a song or two. I still remember that as being striking, because I grew up loving Stevie Wonder. I think I played that record of his, For Once in My Life, over and over and over again, until I wore out the grooves. I came to meet him some time ago on a Paul Allen cruise, and every time I encounter him, it's entirely magical. While we were recording this album at the Capitol Records building, he stopped by for a moment. The whole event became more sacred and miraculous.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I feel like I'm getting better. I'm on the threshold of my best work; acting-wise, these things I've done recently — [Rick Alverson's] The Mountain, the three Wes Anderson movies I've been lucky to be in, The Life Aquatic, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Isle of Dogs this past year — these have been big highs. I've worked with great people along the way: Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, Robert Altman, Phil Kaufman — great directors and actors. I've been very lucky. Lows, let me see; [to himself] low, low, low. Nothing springs immediately to mind; I think we're all responsible not for the cards we're dealt, but for turning the experience from one thing to another. I've been doing what I'm excited about, but it does keep me busy, at times keeping me away from my wife and kids. That's excruciating.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
My very first movie was Death Wish, and Michael Winner was a British director known for screaming at people and being very mean. I was doing my first camera rehearsal for the first shot in the first movie I'd ever done, and I was skulking up the stairs in the movie, along with a couple of other bad guys, and Winner yelled at the top of his lungs, in front of everybody, "Goldblum! Start! Acting! Noooow!" Harsh, and I was burning with humiliation. Of course, later, I realized that it wasn't the worst piece of direction. It's not rocket science; "start acting now" is pretty good. At the time, it felt pretty mean.
What should everyone shut up about?
I'm not one to shut people down. Oh, I know: They should shut up about shutting other people up when they're singing. Instead of an agreed-upon cycle of shame that people seem willing to engage in, saying, "Oh, keep your day job," or making a joke about it, people should restrain themselves from shaming people out of their singing. Everybody, no matter how they sing, has the right to sing. The beauty is in the joy you get out of it; it's your birthright to sing. Nobody should shut anybody else down when they're singing.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like my sometimes-bravery in communicating my feelings. What I don't like is my impatience. Sometimes it strikes my eating habits; instead of heating something up or cooking something, I'll just bring everything out of the refrigerator, spread it out, get a spoon, unwrap it all and just take bites of everything.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Waking up with my wife and my two little boys, not having any urgent schedule to attend to. Maybe going to the farmer's market and getting a few things, and laying around and playing.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
"Go to bed early!" I shouldn't have stayed up late and had that blasted alarm wake me up in the morning, making me tired during the day. I should have gone to bed early, you know, and enjoyed the fruits of delayed gratification. It's not as fun to, you know, turn the lights out, but I wish I'd done that more than I did.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
[Singing, to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree"] "Oh Caanadaaa, oh Canadaaa," I think of the national anthem, because often-times at a gig I'll ask, "Does anyone know an anthem that isn't the United States?" and people will sing that, and sing it proudly. Often a large portion of the audience sings it at my gigs in Los Feliz. I think of my wife, the Olympic team that she was on when she represented Canada. I think of The Fly, which was shot in Canada. And of course, the entirely sophisticated culture in Canada, which seems to have a handle on what good government and refinement and intelligence and civil discourse mean.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I'll bet when I moved to New York and first had some of my own money that I bought Stevie Wonder's Fulfillingness First Finale, which I listened to over and over again. I'll bet I bought Miles Davis's In a Silent Way. Uhhh, and maybe Aretha Franklin's album Gold, which was a lot of her greatest hits.
How do you spoil yourself?
My dad, who was a doctor, grew up rather poor when he was young. Into his adult life, when I was a kid, I remember him using soap — we had cakes of soap — and he would use the soap down to the very nub. Then, he had a little contraption that would take all the nubs of soap and put them together and meld them into a new bar of soap. It was very economical, and probably very right and correct — but I do a very luxurious thing these days. The nubs get small enough that it's not enjoyable for me — I like a big cake of soap — so I throw it away. I go with a new, big cake of soap.
If I wasn't acting I would be…
What do you fear most?
Who was it, Teddy Roosevelt? He said, "The only thing to fear is fear itself." Fear of being frightened, frightened in a way that would stop me from being adventurous or full-hearted.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Hehehehe, take my clothes off and get my sexy-time on? Is that what you're referring to? [Giggles.] Any view of my wife, Emily.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Well, people are mostly delightful when they come up to me, but something they often say is "I look just like you!" This is a wide range of people! But I always say the same thing: "Well that's flattering to me! I wish I looked like you." I did once have a wonderful encounter with Muhammad Ali. I met him and he said, "You scared me!" His wife said, "He saw The Fly, and that scared him." I said, "Oh champ, I love you, I've always loved you." He said, "Well don't be surprised if some day I come and knock on your door!" That was just a very beautiful thing for me; I started to get weepy.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I love scientists. I had a great interview on television with Neil deGrasse Tyson recently, but Stephen Hawking, I just read this morning, has got a new book coming out, and he says some provocative and wonderful and inspiring things about the cosmos, and about right thinking. I would serve him a smoothie. I made a very nice smoothie this morning in my Vitamix blender; our youngest son River enjoyed it to no end. So I would serve a smoothie, which is drinkable through a straw; we have a nice, you know, environmentally correct straw in a golden colour.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She's long gone, but she probably wished that I stayed closer to home, and enjoyed her company more than I did. Instead of venturing off with a stick and [bindle].
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
That's a very good question. Uhhh, [he semi-sings, finding a note], uhhh… It goes like this: [Mr. Goldblum sings 37 full seconds of the 1934 popular song "For All We Know" over the phone].