IS JEFF GOLDBLUM THE MOST CHARMING PERSON ON EARTH? BY THE END OF OUR 25-MINUTE INTERVIEW, the celebrated actor has sung to me not once, but twice; asked me to “tap him on the shoulder,” hoping that we “meet in the flesh”; and urged me to give “a big hug and a kiss to everyone in Canada.” Before I’ve asked a single question, the 66-year-old is already asking me about my life — specifically, whether I’ve ever been to Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children and where he’s been playing weekly jazz nights with his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, for three decades. Recorded live from L.A.’s Rockwell Table and Stage, Goldblum’s forthcoming album, The Capitol Studios Sessions, captures a night full of playful improvisations and guest singers.
Why do you live where you do?
I always wanted to be an actor, and that caused me to move from Pittsburgh to New York City to study. That’s when I fell into doing Broadway and then a movie or two. Robert Altman saw me in a play and put me in California Split; that was the first time I ever saw Los Angeles, to be in a movie with Elliott Gould and George Segal. After that, an agent said, “Come on out to Los Angeles and we’ll show you around,” then I never left.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
In the mid-’70s, I moved to California, and at the Roxy I saw Gil ScottHeron, and Stevie Wonder sat in with him on the drums during a song or two. I still remember that as being striking, because I grew up loving Stevie Wonder. I think I played that record of his, For Once in My Life, over and over and over again, until I wore out the grooves.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I feel like I’m getting better. I’m
on the threshold of my best work, acting-wise. These things I’ve done recently — [Rick Alverson’s] The Mountain, the three Wes Anderson movies I’ve been lucky to be in, The Life Aquatic, The Grand Budapest Hotel and now Isle of Dogs this past year — these have been big highs. I’ve worked with great people along the way: Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, Robert Altman, Phil Kaufman — great directors and actors. I’ve been very lucky. Lows, let me see; [to himself] low, low, low. Nothing springs immediately to mind; I think we’re all responsible not for the cards we’re dealt, but for turning the experience from one thing to another.
What’s the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
My very first movie was Death Wish, and Michael Winner was a British director known for screaming at people and being very mean. I was doing my first camera rehearsal for the first shot in the first movie I’d ever done, and I was skulking up the stairs in the movie, along with a couple of other bad guys, and Winner yelled at the top of his lungs, in front of everybody, “Goldblum! Start! Acting! Noooow!” Harsh, and I was burning with humiliation. Of course, later, I realized that it wasn’t the worst piece of direction. It’s not rocket science; “start acting now” is pretty good. At the time, it felt pretty mean.
What should everyone shut up about?
They should shut up about shutting other people up when they’re singing. Instead of an agreed-upon cycle of shame that people seem willing to engage in, saying, “Oh, keep your day job,” or making a joke about it, people should restrain themselves from shaming people out of their singing. Everybody, no matter how they sing, has the right to sing. The beauty is in the joy you get out of it; it’s your birthright to sing. Nobody should shut anybody else down when they’re singing.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
[Singing, to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree”] “Oh Caanadaaa, oh Canadaaa,” I think of the national anthem, because often-times at a gig I’ll ask, “Does anyone know an anthem that isn’t the United States?” and people will sing that, and sing it proudly.
How do you spoil yourself?
My dad, who was a doctor, grew up rather poor when he was young. Into his adult life, when I was a kid, I remember him using soap — we had cakes of soap — and he would use the soap down to the very nub. Then, he had a little contraption that would take all the nubs of soap and put them together and meld them into a new bar of soap. It was very economical, and probably very right and correct — but I do a very luxurious thing these days. The nubs get small enough that it’s not enjoyable for me — I like a big cake of soap — so I throw it away. I go with a new, big cake of soap.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Well, people are mostly delightful when they come up to me, but something they often say is “I look just like you!” This is a wide range of people! But I always say the same thing: “Well that’s flattering to me! I wish I looked like you.”
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I love scientists. Stephen Hawking has a new book coming out, and he says some provocative and wonderful and inspiring things about the cosmos, and about right thinking. I would serve him a smoothie. I made a very nice smoothie this morning. So I would serve a smoothie, which is drinkable through a straw; we have a nice, you know, environmentally correct straw in a golden colour.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
That’s a very good question. Uhhh, [he semi-sings, finding a note], uhhh… It goes like this: [Mr. Goldblum sings 37 full seconds of the popular 1934 song “For All We Know” over the phone].
“Everybody, no matter how they sing, It’s your birthright.”