Even in an industry full of larger-than-life personalities, there are few stars—of this or any era—with the sort of unbridled idiosyncratic charisma as Jeff Goldblum.
Beginning with his big-screen debut in 1974’s Death Wish, the tall, debonair 65-year-old actor has carved out a unique place in Hollywood, moving effortlessly between projects that are mainstream populist (The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day), and art-house challenging (Adam Resurrected), not to mention everywhere in between (Earth Girls Are Easy!). He’s the cinematic equivalent of a renaissance man, capable of doing grand and nuanced, wild and reserved, with equal aplomb—and that’s not even taking into account his impressive side career as a successful jazz pianist.
In short, there’s no one quite like him.
That impression is only further solidified in person, with Goldblum proving a figure of stylish poise who’s nonetheless prone to expressing his thoughts in peerlessly expressive, flights-of-fancy fashion. His charming disposition is perfectly suited for his latest multiplex venture, Isle of Dogs, his stellar third collaboration with Wes Anderson (following The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Grand Budapest Hotel), in which he voices Duke, one of the stop-motion animated story’s many pooches that’s been exiled to Trash Island by an evil Japanese mayor. With his trademark droll sensibility, the actor requires only a few scenes to make his canine character an unforgettable one, and he’ll soon follow up that performance with a return to the dino-infested franchise he helped launch over twenty years ago with this June’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
On the eve of Isle of Dogs’ theatrical premiere, the ever-gregarious Goldblum spoke to us—in his inimitable Goldblum-y way—about his current string of triumphs, his many upcoming creative endeavors, the filmmakers with whom he’d most love to work, and his desire to make political art in our current American reality.
Between Independence Day: Resurgence, Thor: Ragnarok, Isle of Dogs and the upcoming Jurassic World, it feel like you’re having a moment…
I go from moment to moment, yeah. It’s a bubbly sort of moment…
Does this feel like a particularly rewarding period?
I feel lucky! I feel lucky and at the peak of my full form and full flush of my tendencies, such as they are. Yeah. Maybe babies are lucky?! My wife says babies are lucky. I don’t know…I feel like a lucky guy! I have a 2 ½-year old and an 11-month old, both boys. Going from Thor, which I loved—you know [director] Taika Waititi, that was a very creatively nourishing and nutritious experience. And a fun experience. And then this [Isle of Dogs], and then Jurassic World. I like very much Colin Trevorrow, he’s fun to get into it with—he wrote and directed the last one, and wrote this one. And [Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director] J.A. Bayona, a very passionate and wonderful director. So that was delicious.
Then I did a movie with Jodie Foster called Hotel Artemis, in which I play—you know, I’m trying to get better, and variety can sometimes do that—a kind of bad guy. I’m empathetic in a contradictory and surprising way, and maybe charismatic, but I’m very naughty. And then I did a movie that I’m very excited about called The Mountain, with a director called Rick Alverson (The Comedy). He came to the screening last night, he’s here in New York and he’s just finishing up. I did it with Tye Sheridan—Ready Player One, and The Tree of Life, and Joe, and he’s a remarkable guy and actor. And Udo Kier, if you know him! And Denis Levant, a wonderful French actor from Holy Motors. It’s a heck of a cast, so it’s going to be a real Cobb salad of art. It’s going to be good.
And I’m making a record! I play piano in a jazz group every week at Rockwell in L.A., and we’re doing a record—Decca Records is going to do a record with us, and we’re going to film it and record it live, two nights, May 18 and 19, at the Capitol Records building. So my plate is full to bursting, and my heart ecstatic.
Do you feel like it’s necessary, artistically speaking, to move between blockbuster-scaled ventures like Jurassic World and smaller projects like The Mountain—which, I assume, is definitely not going to be like Jurassic World?
No, it’s going to be a special offering [laughs]. Yeah, it’s all acting to me, and the big ones are certainly creative, it feels to me. Certainly this [Isle of Dogs], Wes [Anderson] is a genius, and this is an artistic achievement, and to be associated with it in any way, or to be able to work with him, is educational and great and fun. But you know, Taika Waititi was also really good. So the big ones and the little ones are all in the same vein to me. They appeal to my creative appetite. But I guess it’s nice. I’m not really careerist, but it’s nice to have a kind of mixed portfolio.
This is your third film with Wes. What is it about him that’s so appealing as a collaborator?
I’m lucky that somehow, I fit the bill for these few tasks. He is really something. I think being around the film industry when an artist like that is working and making his best stuff is special. I never was around when Alfred Hitchcock was working, or some other people. But we’re here as Wes Anderson is enhancing and upgrading the continuum of art in cinema. And it’s really lucky to be around and to be a little bit a part of it. He’s a visionary, he’s original, he loves actors and is an actorly director, and he gets naturalistic and surprising performances out of people. And then, he’s just great. Have you talked to him?
He’s a delightful, sweet, down-to-Earth authentic guy, who enjoys living. And in fact, like Robert Altman, with whom I also worked, he makes the making of the movie an art project in itself. He’s got his eye on the finished product, and trying to achieve what he’s got in mind, but the daily experience of being with these other people and artisans, in every department, is kind of a joy to him, I think. And, infectiously, a joy to everybody involved.
As a story about a tyrannical government exiling certain segments of its population, Isle of Dogs clearly has a political element to it. Especially today, do you feel compelled to make movies that confront our current political circumstances?
I do! I mean, it’s nice to make fun things, and to make music that goes right to people’s hearts in a way. And there’s so much about this movie that, you know—the heart of a dog, and the infinite mystery and loveliness and sweetness of a relationship between a dog and a boy! But yes, I’m very engaged in and passionate about the cause of anti-bigotry. And the cause of anti-fear-mongering. And student uprisings that can be effective, and on the right side of history. And then corrupt governments and factions that don’t heed science—like in this movie, and what we see in real life—for profit or corruption or stupidity of one kind of another. Oh, I’m jazzed up about all of that, and this movie has many of those things that I love.
The dog you voice, Duke, loves to share gossip. Do you love it too—and do you have any to presently share?
Ah! Well, wise people tell you, steer clear—it may seem like a benign addiction, but it’s not so good for your character to fall for the easy temptation of feathering your psychological nest, and ostensible identity, by saying, “Hey, have you heard? I know something that maybe somebody else knows! Did you hear that somebody died?” It’s just so easy. So you know, I try to keep myself clean. But it’s too easy, and I’m not always successful. [Whispers] Have you heard that Ben Affleck got that big tattoo on his back?
[Whispers] I heard it’s real!
[Whispers] I heard it’s real, and I saw a picture of it, and it’s enormous! [laughs]
Are there other franchises you’d like to join, or other filmmakers with whom you’d like to work?
I don’t know about franchises. But sure, there are a lot of interesting people. Rick Alverson turned me on to some other people in the art cinema world—Claire Denis is a French director…
I spoke with her last year, actually. She’s fantastic.
You did? She is? I’m just catching up with some of her movies. I’ve seen White Material now, and I saw Trouble Every Day with Vincent Gallo. And I ran into Robert Pattinson at the Deauville Film Festival, and he said, “Oh, we’re right in the middle of making a movie, and here’s the plot,” and I was like, “Ah, that sounds weird and great.” So like that. The Coen Brothers—seeing Frances McDormand last night, and with Martin McDonagh, with whom I did a play on Broadway, The Pillowman. I loved his movie [Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri], would love to work with him. I sure loved Phantom Thread and The Master and There Will Be Blood. P.T. Anderson is a wonderful director. So there are plenty of people that I’d love to work with.
I’ll put in a good word with all of them for you.
Thank you very much! I can hitch my wagon to yours.
Last thing: any chance you’ll be shirtless again in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom?
If I have anything to say about it, I’m going to rip my clothes off at the drop of a hat, yes! When you look like this, you gotta flaunt it!