Director Wes Anderson may be the crown prince of Midas touch, but Jeff Goldblum has a more artisanal track record. The “Star Trek” and “The Fly” star has worked with Anderson on “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and appears in four of Anderson’s films. His first taste of the idiosyncratic auteur came when he made a cameo as a newsreader in the 1996 thriller “The Ice Storm.” He joked that when he turned around, the other actors – including Bruce Willis and Winona Ryder – saw him and “were like, Oh my God! You are Jeff Goldblum!”
On a recent weekend visit to the TCL Chinese Theatre I caught up with Goldblum to discuss how it feels to recreate the improvisational spirit of jazz legend John Coltrane, the creative license afforded in his own art and why he’s enjoying his time on the big screen less.
The natural improvisation of the jazz musicians Anderson draws upon appears to have had a lasting impact on the actor. Goldblum, who is a dedicated classical pianist, says he relishes the opportunity to improvise his way through a role. “I try to play the role as loose as I can and be the broadest possible icon I can be and provide in as many ways as I can to subvert expectations,” he says. “It’s sort of free associating and being there.”
In Goldblum’s case, he was encouraged to use his impressive rock-steady chops as an ode to his fellow pianist, bebop champion John Coltrane. “I’m asked to do a lot of dramatic piano solos,” he says. “John Coltrane was the first jazz musician who drew on different rhythmic or melodic ideas to infuse great highs and lows.”
On one of the film’s most stirring sequences, Goldblum recalls rolling his eyes when his character was tasked with interpreting John Coltrane’s “In A Silent Way.” “You’re like, Is he insane? Can we actually do this?” he says. “And it turns out to be a tremendously delicious speech, if you like deep, in-depth flights of fancy and crazy feeling about some love story. It’s a very strong emotion.”
A saxophonist himself, Goldblum’s best advice might be to enjoy whatever opportunities he gets to share. “I try to believe that things are going to happen to me,” he says. “I think one of the things I’ve found is that every great gift I have – all of it in its various states – I very often leave it there and I go back and revisit it years later.”