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What Jeff loves about London

By Nick Curtis, Evening Standard 29.01.08

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            Jeff Goldblum

Next stage: Speed-the-Plow is, says Jeff Goldblum, 'so jazzy and fun'

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When Jeff Goldblum drives around Los Angeles, he sometimes pulls up next to the busloads of tourists who ogle film star homes, winds down the window of his car, grins and points at himself. "Uh, yeah, uhuh, I've done that, sure," snickers the 6ft 4in star of The Fly, Jurassic Park and Independence Day. "And sometimes they recognise me and wave and take pictures which is kind of neat. And sometimes they don't know who I am at all. Which is also fun."

This story sums up the 55-year-old actor's quirky playfulness and his undiminished glee at doing what he does for a living. And now he can try the window trick on the tourists on the South Bank. This week, Goldblum makes his British stage debut opposite Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic in David Mamet's satire on the movie business, Speed-the-Plow.

Spacey plays Charlie Fox, a lowly producer who brings a blockbuster script with a star attached to his old friend, Goldblum's Bobby Gould, newly elevated to head of production at a movie studio, only to see Gould veer off towards a more "meaningful" project after an encounter with a sexy temp, Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly, in the role first played on Broadway by Madonna in 1988). With actors of this calibre and the supremely talented director Matthew Warchus at the helm, it's a dream ticket.

"The play is so spectacular, so jazzy and fun, and the starting point for something poetical that addresses themes that are big, the urge to do something right and pure and good, and the possibility of something like love," says a tanned, fit Goldblum, slide-rule limbs sprawled on a sofa in a central London hotel, big hands sculpting shapes in the air. Does he ever stop for breath, I wonder. Apparently not.

"I've met Mamet and I like him and I've been exposing myself more to him - to his writing, I mean - while we're exploring this, and I certainly feel we can do something that won't displease him. I feel he is in our family, certainly in my wheelhouse."

Goldblum's lolloping, elliptical delivery sounds so perfectly suited to Mamet's rhythmic, overlapping dialogue I'm surprised to learn his casting came about by happenstance. He had made a rare return to the stage on Broadway in Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman in 2006, and Warchus initially sounded him out about starring in the New York transfer of the Sixties sex farce Boeing Boeing.

"I was interested and we talked, and he said, you know, I am doing this other thing, Speed-the-Plow," Goldblum recalls. "And I said, 'Really? Wow, I know that play a little.' I did a radio version of it a couple of years ago playing Bobby. I sometimes use it with my students - I've taught acting in LA for the last 15, 20 years, which is continually humbling and challenging and educational for me..."

It must help that, in a four-decade movie career, Goldblum has had his own share of the kind of "impetuous love encounters" that Bobby has with Karen - of which more later. He has also known a fair few Bobbies, moneymen beset by sudden spiritual or artistic cravings.

"I try to steer clear of the business side - because I didn't go into acting as a business but as a leap of adventure, romance and self-expression - but, you know, Hollywood is a place of high finance and egotism and materialistic self-glorification, and it's not unusual for producers to have a fit of suddenly wanting something nobler," he says. And yes, he has worked with coarse idiots such as the Charlie Fox character but he won't name names. I suspect you could bug Goldblum's LA pad for a year and not hear him say a bad word about anyone.

He goes on a riff about how much he's enjoying being in London, where he shot The Tall Guy with Mel Smith in 1986 and went to see Maggie Smith in She Stoops to Conquer; how honoured he is to be on stage at the Old Vic; how much he's enjoyed going to the Wallace Collection and to see Warchus's musical adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

I almost don't have the heart to interrupt all this goodwill to ask after Goldblum's movie career. Great though it is to see him in London, it doesn't have anything to do with the paucity of big roles now that he's in his fifties? He is, after all, increasingly seen in supporting roles since Jurassic Park and Independence Day put him briefly on the action superstar list, and his NBC TV series Raines, in which he played a clairvoyant, Chandleresque sleuth, was cancelled after its first season last year.

"I've just finished a big film before I started this," he replies, unfazed. "Big movie for me, called Adam Resurrected, for Paul Schrader." In Schrader's film, Goldblum plays a Jewish entertainer who sees his wife and daughters murderedin the Nazi death camps, but survives by impersonating a dog, day in, day out, for the amusement of the camp's commandant, played by Willem Dafoe. Later, while recuperating in a rehabilitation centre in Israel's Negev desert in 1961, Goldblum's character forms a bond with a feral boy who can only bark like a dog. "Veeeery heavy," says Goldblum.

Remarkably, this is the first time Goldblum has addressed his Jewishness on film, although he has, as he puts it, done characters who "were Jewish here and there". He visited Germany and the preserved Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, interviewed Holocaust survivors in LA, and went to Israel for the first time.

"I had always been exposed to Holocaust-history but had never had a chance to really study it," he says, "and even in a year it was only scratching the surface. But going to Majdanek was a very powerful experience."

His own paternal grandfather emigrated from Russia, and his maternal grandfather from Austria, between the wars. Goldblum himself was born in Pittsburgh, the third of four children. His father, Harold, was a doctor and his mother, Shirley, a radio broadcaster who later set up a firm selling kitchen equipment.

In the past, Goldblum has said his father was violent but now he backtracks. "I wish I hadn't said that. Maybe every so often he'd do this [he unbuckles his belt] as a threat and once or twice he'd [he mimes a thrashing] but that was not in the far reaches of what was acceptable then."

His parents took him regularly to shows in New York and he became enchanted with the process of acting. They supported him financially when he went, aged 17, to study under the legendary Stanford Meisner at New York's Neighbourhood Playhouse: "They were sort of tickled, actually, because legend had it they had both, when younger, been interested in acting." Robert Altman saw Goldblum's New York stage debut and cast him in California Split in 1974, which led to a steady stream of good parts - Nashville, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Big Chill - until his breakout performance as oddball scientist Seth Brundle in David Cronenburg's splashy 1986 bodyshock horror movie, The Fly. He has never been out of work since.

When Goldblum was 19, his elder brother Rick died suddenly overseas of kidney failure. "That was challenging," he concedes. "He was a great guy and I was very close to him. But everybody has loss in their life. We all lose everything eventually - family, looks, youth, career and relationships, even the best ones. Everything is wildly fleeting." His father died in 1983, although his mother is still alive in Pittsburgh and "married to a man 20 years younger than her".

The talk about the acceptance of loss is typical. Therapy, and a bit of Californian self-help, have brought Goldblum to a place where he tries to accept whatever he is dealt in life, both professionally and personally, and wring the maximum pleasure he can from it.

His friend Peter Weller, with whom he plays in a jazz band, calls him Buddha. This attitude extends to relationships, too. Goldblum married his co-stars Patricia Gaul and Geena Davis, and was engaged to Laura Dern and then to Catherine Wreford, a dancer 25 years his junior. He has no children, and since he and Wreford broke up in 2005, he's been single.

"I've put a lot of time into relationships," he says. "A nine and a six-year marriage, and then a four and a two-year relationship. I've put time into domestic exclusivity and enjoyed it very much, but I also enjoy being single right now. I have been romantic in the past but I don't think I am currently romantically sold on the ideal of marriage. I like kids but I am happy not to have any of my own right now. You know, I'm confident in my acting, I play my music, I'm as hearty as I've ever been and when I go home at night I like it nice and quiet."

He looks around him. The implication is that, if he were tied down, he couldn't just up sticks and come here to do Speed-the-Plow, to "do acting", the thing he loves. "But hey," he says, flashing that grin again, "I can fall in love totally and something may happen tomorrow that changes everything."

Watch out for Goldblum in Waterloo, ladies.

Speed-the-Plow previews at the Old Vic (0870 060 6628) from 1 Feb.




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