Jeff Goldblum rushes into his publicists' Beverly Hills office and apologizes profusely for being late. (He called twice from his car phone to keep us abreast of his pending arrival). The tall, rangy actor who capped off 10 years of quirky character parts with a critically acclaimed performance as the doomed scientist in David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of "The Fly," Goldblum is here today to discuss his newest film, "The Tall Guy."
The story of a shy, awkward American actor who moves to Britain with dreams of glory on the London stage, "The Tall Guy" is a broad comedy in the vaudevillian tradition of the British music hall (we're talking very broad comedy here--the film features a pair of singing underwear).
Under the direction of British comedian Mel Smith, Goldblum proves himself adept at physical comedy, handling pratfalls, sneezing fits and a wildly choreographed love scene with remarkable skill. Recently seen in "Twisted Obsession," a dark erotic tale, and the HBO film "Framed," Goldblum is capable of great stylistic leaps.
"I was attracted to 'The Tall Guy' because I found the script touching and it made me laugh," says the 38-year-old actor. "Originally it was called 'Camden Town Boy,' so I had to Americanize the part a bit because I didn't relate to the character initially.
"Not knowing how to ask a girl for a date, not being sure if I'm attractive--those aren't great problems for me in my own life (Goldblum is married to actress Geena Davis). I didn't want to play the guy as a complete loser, so I tried to ride a delicate line and imagined how I'd feel if I were down on my professional luck--and that wasn't hard for me to get in touch with," he adds with a rueful laugh. "I've had a miraculous career, but I do know what disappointment means."
While Goldblum points out that his career hasn't been without low moments, he has actually charted an unusually consistent course from his childhood in Pittsburgh to starring roles in Hollywood.
One of two children born to a prosperous Pittsburgh couple, Goldblum was a natural clown from the time he was a child: "I've had a sense of my own charm since I was very young."
He made his stage debut in the fifth grade in a Gilbert and Sullivan production, and he remembers his performance at his bar mitzvah as "quite good really."
Goldblum clearly had the consciousness of an actor from an early age, and as a teen-ager spent summers studying acting at Carnegie-Mellon University. By the time he was 17, he had persuaded his parents to set him up in an apartment in New York so he could study with legendary acting coach Sandy Meisner.
His film career blossomed quickly thereafter. First noticed portraying a cocky young actor in the 1976 film "Next Stop Greenwich Village," Goldblum was launched toward a string of juicy character roles.
Though his riveting dramatic performance in "The Fly" would seem to have opened new doors, his choices have continued to be offbeat and he followed "The Fly" with two wildly improbable comedies, "Vibes" and "Earth Girls Are Easy"; "The Tall Guy" continues in that tradition.
"I've always enjoyed trying to be funny and, being fairly athletic, I have a feeling for physical comedy," he says. "Ultimately, however, this movie is more than a comedy: It's about love and conquering your fears so that you'll be able to connect with people. This is one of the great lessons of life I'm still learning. For me, the important things in life are few and I keep dealing with the same issues over and over.
"And for me, acting is very much like a form of therapy--a very healthy form. To be a good actor takes a great degree of health, yet one acts as a result of certain deprivations in their life. In order to act, you have to be open, receptive, sensitive and intuitive enough to get what another person is saying. That's a fabulous model for living and it's fantastic to get to practice it under the imaginary circumstances of acting."
The down side of acting is, of course, the cult of fame that hangs like a weird distorting fog over the movie industry. People revere actors not so much for the work they do--in fact, most people know very little about the actual work of acting--but rather, actors fascinate us for the simple fact that they've made themselves known.
"Speaking from my own experience--which I'm sure has something to do with this epidemic obsession with fame--I think we're all starved for recognition. I don't know what's lacking in the parenting most of us experience, but it seems that from an early age most people feel starved for recognition. And I suppose fame seems like a solution to that hunger.
Asked how he sees himself evolving as an actor, Goldblum says: "I see a steady progression in my work. It is a skill that improves with practice, but at the same time, there's magic involved, and things occur that I don't understand. In the end, the things I don't understand \o7 are\f7 the technique. Inviting magic in--that's the technique. Bad acting--and bad living--is mechanical acting. Inspired acting--and living--is spontaneous and it requires a lot of faith. And that's the religion of acting--having enough faith to surrender to chance. Life isn't always cordial to that trust and it tries to police us into submission, but I've found that vigilance in the pursuit of faith and magic is spiritual money in the bank."