Yesterday, Jeff Goldblum took a half-hour out of his busy shooting day to talk with a number of bloggers/journalists about his role as Detective Zach Nichols on the new season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent [USA, Sundays, 9/8C]. Goldblum, it turns out, is as intelligent and intuitive as his character.
Also taking part in the Q&Q session were: Jamie Ruby [Media Blvd], Jamie Steinberg [Starry Constellation], Julie Kissane [popculturemadness.com], Christine Nyholm [Examiner], Joshua Fulghum [totallyher.com], Troy Rogers [thedeadbolt.com], and Zach Oat [televisionwithoutpity.com].
J. Ruby: I actually am not that far from Pittsburgh myself so I’m curious, since I’m interested in it, too, how did you get started in acting?
J. Goldblum: Hello to you from almost Pittsburgh. I always wanted to do it; my parents took us to see some children’s theater I remember, early on at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Even though I was very little I got kind of the bug. I was very excited being around theater and wondered what are those actors doing backstage and I was very excited about it.
And then there’s this thing in Pittsburgh, I think it’s still going on. It’s at Chatham, Music Day Camp it’s called; in the summers for six weeks between fifth and sixth grades and another year, maybe the year before that, too, during the summers I had the most magical time ever going to this thing and going from softball to arts and crafts and piano. I already had started playing piano then to this drama course. At the end of this drama course actually I took part in this recital and my father, my parents had already wisely said if you find something you love to do that might be a key to your vocation. After this show they cast me as this kind of lead in this funny little show and after that I had such an exhilarating time of it I remember, they were there. They said, “How did you like that?” I was like yes, that was really something and I kept it secret to myself just how much I loved it, but I think from that time on around fifth grade I thought to myself that’s what I want to do.
Then between ninth and tenth and tenth and eleventh grades I went to Carnegie Mellon University and they had six-week sessions for people and I remember looking through the catalog with my parents. They said, “What do you want to do?” There was art and I had painted and taken some art classes and had some talent in that. And I was playing piano. They said, “What do you want to do, this music program here? Do you want to do the art program?” I was like, “What if I did the one for actors?” It had kind of been a secret.
And so I did that, fell wildly more in love, several steps down the road in my soul and heart and blood and system toward being obsessed with and convinced and passionate about being an actor. That kind of stuck and then right after high school went to New York when I was still 17, just before I turned 18 and joined the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sandy Meisner, the great acting teacher, where he was still teaching. That’s how it all started. I started to do plays and movies and like that.
J. Steinberg: You’re known for your dramatic roles and also for your dry sense of humor. I was wondering why you chose to be on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Do you at least get to express some of your sense of humor while you’re doing the show?
J. Goldblum: Yes, such as it is. Maybe I’m funny sometimes, maybe not so funny other times, but yes. They actually write, Dick Wolf has been fantastic, kind, cordial and brilliant, I think. And they have a brilliant staff of writers and producers and they have intendingly built a part that is suited for some of the things that I like to do and can do. That’s what they’ve tried to do and after seeing the first episode that was aired I think there’s some humor in there. Along with the solving the crime and the very passionate part of this character and serious part of the character, I think there’s some humor in it; I’m enjoying some of the funny parts of it.
S. Wiebe: Hello, Jeff, I just want to say first I’ve been following your career since Tenspeed and Brown Shoe and enjoyed practically everything you’ve ever done. Detective Nichols seems to work from an observational point of view, where he’s working on motivations more than just the facts. So he’s kind of a bit intuitive. How would you describe your character if you were actually Nichols describing the character?
J. Goldblum: I’ll take a crack at it. Yes, I think you’re right. I am an intuitive fellow. Of course people know that both my parents were shrinks so I was sort of raised in an atmosphere where there was that interest in the human mechanism and the human psyche and what makes people tick. And yes, I think I’m particularly creative and adventurous and improvisational and spontaneous in my inner impulses and patterns and deeply curious and appetized in the unfathomably mysterious and delicious phenomena that is the human being and who we really are.
And why certainly people go off the rails and commit murder here in New York City, that interests me particularly, and oftentimes I find it’s a mistake of identity and having their ego built around mistakenly and their sense of identity built around some aspect of form, if you will, in their lives, either their careers or their reputations or their bank accounts. That mistake gets them into trouble and they wind up doing risky and awful things in order to pursue that mistaken notion and defend it and help that survive. It’s a bad, but not uncommon disease of the psyche that I find results in murder sometimes. I’m a humble student of that whole subject.
J. Kissane: You actually touched on this before, that you are a skilled piano player. Were you nervous when you were being filmed during a scene where you got to play the piano in an episode?
J. Goldblum: I don’t know how skilled I am, but I did take lessons. Our parents gave us music lessons early on in Pittsburgh and I took to it and loved it. I kind of guess it’s a hobby of mine. I’ve always played piano … I decided on being an actor, I played the ragged cocktail lounges here and there, a couple of jobs while I was still in high school in Pittsburgh and then have always had a piano where I am, where I live and now where I work, too. I just love to play all the time. For the last several years I’ve had a jazz band called the Mildred Spitzer Orchestra in Los Angeles and when I’m off work we book ourselves into places and play gigs around town.
Then, yes, they knew about it a little bit and worked it into the character so my character, Detective Nichols, is able to play a bit and in these couple episodes, one that you saw already, maybe that first episode, and there’s another one where I play. No, I’m not particularly nervous. I get excited and I got excited about it, but I always was sort of thrilled to play. Even when I play gigs these days I have no career aspirations or no fear of criticism. I really do it because I love to do it. Whenever I do it I love to do it, so it was particularly enjoyable for me having it be part of a scene or two.
C. Nyholm: Touching back on expansion of your first question I’m just wondering what you advise young actors today if they wanted to get into the field of acting. How would you start and where would you go?
J. Goldblum: Very good question, advice to, you know I teach, for the last, I’m a humble student of acting myself and part of that studentship is teaching, in fact, I feel like I learn a lot from it. I just love doing it; I could teach every day. I haven’t done it for a while because I’ve been working so often, but one of the things I feel like is relevant and practical to tell my students sometimes, and anybody interested in getting into it, is to, well I like what Stanislavsky said. He said, “Love the art in yourself; not yourself in art.”
So in fact you can begin to discover and investigate whether you are an actor or not, whether you’re in my view, qualified for a life in this profession or in this endeavor by checking yourself out and acting every day, getting plays and scripts and getting together with people and divvying up the parts and acting in one way or another, or writing things. But an actor wants to get up every day and they can’t think of anything particularly more fun to do than getting into a made-up situation and living it out as if it’s real. And having people watch it perhaps and thereby telling those people a story, by acting out these characters in a story. That’s what actors want to do; they don’t necessarily want to be famous or rich or anything else. It’s a very bad gamble if that’s what you’re after. But if your heart is wildly in it so that you can’t think of anything else that could possibly make you happy or happier than getting up every day and acting, playing this crazy game that you make something up and playing pretending as if that’s true; if that’s for you you should start to do it.
And it’s not rocket science. There are a lot of books about it. I had a great teacher, Sandy Meisner, and there’s a book that he wrote kind of chronicling a class that he, his two-year program takes you through. And you can learn many things, but it’s really doing it. If you have a feeling to do it that’s what you might do. And that’s what you start to do. If you make acting a part of your daily life, first of all, that’s a satisfying end in itself. But you might find that you start to get good at it and opportunities may come. If you’re of that sort of temperament you may investigate how to study formally and pursue the profession if that’s of your temperament and all of that.
But I’d say start to act; be a fan. See if you’re a person who loves, is a fan of and a lover of it, a devotee of literature, of material and you say, “I’ve got to do that.” Then start to do it anywhere you can that’s what I would say.
J. Fulghum: It’s an honor to speak with you today.
J. Goldblum: It’s a greater honor for me. That’s a line from a movie; do you know what movie that’s from?
J. Fulghum: Not right off hand.
J. Goldblum: A Woody Allen movie, Love and Death. “It’s a greater honor for me. No, it’s a greater honor for me. No, you must be Don Francisco’s sister.” Yes, that’s from Love and Death. But in fact it’s a greater honor for me.
J. Fulghum: Throughout your career you’ve starred in movies that feature incredible and even monstrous creatures like Jurassic Park and Incident at Loch Ness. Do you have any interest in cryptozoology, which is the study of hidden animals?
J. Goldblum: Not particularly. I don’t have much of an interest in Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster or dinosaurs that actually might be running around, no. I’ve never heard anything credible that would make me think that any of that stuff actually exists. Even though I love playing in those stories including the dinosaurs, no, in real life I’m not particularly interested in Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster.
T. Rogers: How would the Jeff Goldblum of 20 years ago approach Zach Nichols?
J. Goldblum: Jeff Goldblum 20 years ago might have been, but I was playing that Tenspeed and Brownshoe so I would have been the actor involved perhaps, this is hopefully I wouldn’t have any business with doing anything wrong that would have gotten me involved in a guy who’s investigating murders. But I’ve always been involved with crime stories and if I had been, for instance 20 years ago not inconceivably involved in a part where I might have been playing a detective like this I would have been very interested to talk to Zach Nichols, who’s ostensibly a real and a uniquely brilliant detective, for research purposes.
Here on our set, Criminal Intent we’ve got a guy like that, so the current Jeff Goldblum can talk to this fellow Mike Struck who’s a brilliant real-life detective. I love hearing all his stories and he’s on the set when we do our stories here and he tells us what’s real and if he were playing the part and he were in the actual situation what he’d be thinking, what he’d be doing, how he’d be doing it, and that’s thrilling and fascinating to me. So that’s how I can imagine Jeff Goldblum of yore talking to Zach Nichols if he were real.
Z. Oat: I’m a big fan of Raines and I don’t know if this has been touched on already, but were you disappointed when the show got cancelled and did that influence you at all in considering this part on Law & Order?
J. Goldblum: Let’s see, I have a very, at this point maybe I have a philosophical approach that allows me here and there to be satisfied with whatever happens, believe it or not. Yes, I have my ups and downs and I can be disappointed in one thing or another, but generally speaking whatever happens I will mostly, and you can, it’s not strange to think to look at my life and go, “You’re a lucky guy,” and to mostly feel incredibly grateful. So even during a period when for instance Raines came and Raines went, I just felt incredibly grateful. If they had told me in fact that Raines would have been a six, seven-part miniseries I probably would have signed up and been very happy to do it like that too. I would have been very happy. But I’m always interested in the unexpected and know that things, especially in show business, but in life generally, are inevitably fleeting to one extent. It may be short, it may be long, but there’s no such thing as long. I think all of life is a fleeting proposition, so I’m sort of happy with whatever comes and goes in fact. And I think in loss and in the goings is sometimes the greatest opportunity for expansion.
Anyway, in another way it did give me, it whet my appetite for more cop parts, it’s true, and even before I did Raines I did this … show called The Pillow Man, where I played a detective, a homicide detective in fact. And I had a great time doing that. It was this Mike McDonough play and I was in it with Billy Crudup and Zeljko Ivanek and we had a great time for six months at the Booth Theater in New York. After that I was still very appetized when Raines came along, and after Raines, to do this, and there was sort of some kind of appetizing continuum for me in those things, that’s right.
J. Ruby: So out of all the roles you’ve played, because there’s been a lot, what’s been your favorite and why?
J. Goldblum: My favorite and why. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to get better and I feel like I am, but I currently am pretty in love with this part that I’m doing now. Then I’ve got a couple of, I like the parts at the stage when they’re at the stage of development, so I’m doing a couple more movies right after this, this summer, one called The Baster with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, and I’m at the stage where I’m rehearsing it and trying to figure out who the character is and what the part is, and I kind of love that. And then I’m doing this movie with Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams called Morning Glory right after that, and I’m a bit in love with that. I think you have to be. That’s part of the criteria and qualification for taking a part. It has to be a passion and something you’re in love with.
But besides that, having said all that, I did love very much Adam Resurrected that I did this last year with Paul Schrader directing that Willem Dafoe was in and it was a wonderful movie and experience for me. I loved doing that movie, Pittsburgh that I think you can still get on NetFlix, a very handcrafted affair that I sort of cooked up over several years. Besides that, holy cats, many things that I could think of, but those are a few that come to mind.