Jeff Goldblum is telling Weekend about his lifelong love of Frank Sinatra when he suddenly unlocks a childhood memory.
‘Listen to this, I just remembered this,’ he says, animatedly. ‘I’m from Pittsburgh, and we drove down – the four kids and my mom and dad – to Florida. We stayed at the Fontainebleau Hotel. And we saw a sign in the hotel saying, “Hey, don’t mind us, we’re filming [1967 detective film] Tony Rome this week, with Frank Sinatra.” I was like: oh, you’ve got to be kidding. I’d never seen a real actor, or anybody famous in my life. And I kept looking for him and looking for him during the shoot. I never saw him.’
From anyone else, the pay-off to this anecdote might sound disappointingly anti-climactic. But with Jeff Goldblum, the story is all in the telling; it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts, and it’s impossible not to be charmed as he happily plucks at one stray thought after another. It’s the same quality – as if he’s got one ear permanently cocked to a private conversation in his head – that makes him such a quirky, compelling actor: Who could ever forget him upstaging Steven Spielberg’s dinosaurs as chaos theorist Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (‘Life…uh, finds a way’), or as a wide-eyed inventor gloopily mutating into an insect in David Cronenberg’s The Fly?
It’s also what makes him a perfect fit for his late-blooming second career as a jazz pianist and bandleader – his approach to which, according to the Daily Telegraph, is ‘as loose and improvisational as his approach to acting’. That’s a compliment, right?
‘I think so, maybe,’ laughs the 66-year-old. ‘Its true that, to me, they overlap, creatively, a little bit. I’ve always been interested in improvisation. When I was 17, I studied with Sanford Meisner [the acting coach whose ‘Meisner technique’ famously encouraged actors to ‘get out of their head’], and improvisation was a big part of that. In movies, I’ve tweaked dialogue here and there. I do enjoy that.’
Until recently, music had been nothing more than a hobby: every Wednesday night for 20 years, Goldblum has held court from the stage of LA jazz club The Rockwell, goofing around with the audience and playing piano with his band, The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.
Then, in 2017, an impromptu performance accompanying soul singer Gregory Porter on the Graham Norton show piqued the interest of Decca Records and, as much to his surprise as anyone’s, Goldblum found himself making an album, last year’s chart-topping The Capitol Studios Sessions.
Now he’s back with a follow-up, another set of timeless jazz standards trading under the wonderfully gossipy title of I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This. As well as a reunion with Porter, the record boasts a roster of singers deliberately sourced from outside the jazz world – including Fiona Apple, the British goth-rocker Anna Calvi and US singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, who Goldblum accompanies on a smoky, laid-back version of Let’s Face the Music and Dance. (a song chosen, he says, as a show of defiance in an era of political turbulence).
‘The first record was recorded live at the Capitol Records building, but with this one, we went into the studio and did a little more preparation with the arrangements,’ he explains. ‘We did something a little more sophisticated, possibly, but still left room for all our lively spontaneity. Hopefully. I think we did.’
‘Lively spontaneity’ feels like a good description of Goldblum himself, as anyone who witnessed this summer’s already legendary Glastonbury performance (highlights of which included a film quiz and an encore of the Jurassic Park theme) will attest. It’s presumably also why he’s just been given his own Disney+ TV show, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, billed as a look at life ‘through the prism of Jeff’s always inquisitive and highly entertaining mind’. So is this loose-limbed, happy-go-lucky personality his factory setting? Or is there a more anxious, introspective Jeff Goldblum lurking somewhere inside there?
‘Well, let me see,’ he considers. ‘I think you’re probably right. I’m guilty as charged about the first part. But I think there are other parts, some of which, you know… I’m not trying to hide anything, but I have a range of colours in me. It’s certainly challenging now. I have a four-year-old boy [Charlie Ocean] and a two-year-old boy [River Joe] and what with the four of us in the house and a dog too, you can imagine, there’s chaos here and there, and sometimes a volatile… you know, emotional life. All sorts of things come up. Interesting, fertile and sometimes deep things come up as you might imagine, that I try to learn something from.’
Becoming a first-time dad at 63 inevitably changed his outlook on the world. ‘It’s been a wonderful ride so far,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing and enhancing. I feel more deeply… available, emotionally, and challenged by everything that I’ve ever thought. So I’m trying to examine everything that I am, and everything that I expose them to. As I see them grow up, I get an enhanced appetite to see things through their eyes. So there’s that, and a million other things – my relationship with my wife [former Canadian Olympic gymnast Emilie Livingston – he was also previously married to co-stars Patricia Gaul and Geena Davis], I think, has deepened and expanded. To raise kids together… it’s so ambitious, to do well. And it’s kind of vulnerable-making at times. So all of that, it transforms sort of… everything.’
Parenthood has also helped him find his singing voice, stepping up to the mic on the new album for a heartfelt rendition of the Perry Como classic Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day. ‘I suggested to the band, “Maybe I should sing something… or maybe not, maybe yes, maybe no”,’ he explains. “And if I *did” then, oh, off the top of my head, maybe it could be this – and out came this song I had been singing to my boys over the last few years at bedtime.’
The album’s cover image shows Goldblum playing Frank Sinatra’s white baby-grand piano on a floating stage in the piano-shaped pool at Ol’ Blue Eyes former home in Palm Springs. ‘That was a delicious day,’ he recalls. ‘He’s meant a lot to me throughout my life. It’s a beautiful house, and there’s a bunch of pictures of him all around. Believe it or not, his daughter, Tina Sinatra, was one of my first agents.’
While he missed his own chance to meet his hero (though he did see him perform in LA), plenty of people have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with Jeff Goldblum – who, by Hollywood standards, remains unusually approachable; at his Wednesday night jazz shows, for example, anyone who wants a selfie is encouraged to come up to the front.
‘I get a kick out of all that,’ he admits. ‘People are very sweet, and I enjoy it – at the shows, and on the street, too. I’m enjoying that more and more – the way, you know, a statue shows up in London, and all that stuff.’ [In 2018, a 25ft statue of Goldblum in Ian Malcolm’s iconic, shirtless reclining pose appeared by Tower Bridge to mark 25 years of Jurassic Park.] I’m just kind of having a blast. I guess I respect the gift of life in general,’ adds. ‘I just want to not let myself down. For me, acting was a vehicle to, among other things, stay open – to stay connected with myself, and with other people. So I’m kind of a humble student of it. I’d be a different person if I wasn’t an actor, I think.’
Would he go so far as to describe himself as a little… eccentric?
‘Well, I can recognise that,’ he says. ‘Maybe I used to prefer “unconventional”, or something like that. But sure, I don’t mind any way that someone wants to describe me. I can certainly see through anybody’s eyes what might seem unique or different or out of the ordinary about me. That’s true.’
‘I do have a good time,’ he adds. ‘And I feel continually grateful. When I was a kid, I was full of forceful, powerful curiosity and enthusiasm. And I’ve continued to have something like that. I’ve just been lucky I’ve gotten the chance to let it out, here and there.’
Last month, it was announced that the original Jurassic Park trio of Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill will reunite for the first time in the upcoming Jurassic World 3.
‘How about that?’ says Goldblum. ‘I’m very excited about it. I did a commercial that was on the Superbowl last year, where I played Jeff Goldblum who was having a fantasy about himself as Ian Malcolm being chased by a dinosaur. And then I ran into Steven Spielberg, who of course is producing [the new film] and he said, “I love that commercial you guys did, I can’t stop watching it!” We had a long talk about what this next movie’s going to be. I think it’s going to be quite something.’
The role follows Goldblum’s cameo in the previous movie, Jurassic Work: Fallen Kingdom. ‘I shot one day in London, where they filmed the James Bond movies [Pinewood Studios],’ he recalls. ‘I shot my scene we were going and I went, “Wait a minute, every time we come out of the door and I drive away from this place, I recognise it. Where is it from?” And then somebody told me, I went, “Oh my God, that’s it. This is the golf course where Sean Connery and Gert Frobe played golf in Goldfinger. Then Oddjob cut the head off the statue – and it’s still there, that statue, whose head he like, he decapitates with his hat. It was right there. I took a picture of myself under that statue.” Well of course he did.
Recently, the 66-year-old told a US talkshow host he felt like he ‘lived more in 10 minutes than some people do in a lifetime’.
‘When did I say that? I think I was kidding around,’ he tells Weekend. ‘Though I do have a good time, that’s true. And I feel lucky. I feel continually grateful. When I was a kid, I was full of forceful, powerful, you know, curiosity and enthusiasm. And I’ve continued to have something like that. I’ve just been lucky I’ve gotten the chance to let it out, here and there.’
An edited version of this article was published in Waitrose Weekend, 31 October, 2019
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