Gold­blum’s life as a dog

Jeff Gold­blum has been de­vel­op­ing some ca­nine habits lately. Stephen Ap­ple­baum finds out why

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

What is it with Jeff Gold­blum and an­i­mals? The Pitts­burgh-born Hol­ly­wood star tus­sled with di­nosaurs in Juras­sic Park and its se­quel, The Lost World, and ac­tu­ally be­came an in­sect in The Fly.

Now he is play­ing a man who thinks he is a dog in Adam Res­ur­rected, a Holo­caust film — due out next year — based on an ac­claimed novel by Yo­ram Kaniuk and di­rected by Paul Schrader.

There is noth­ing even vaguely ca­nine about Gold­blum in per­son, though his lean frame could per­haps be termed “whip­pet-like”. A gawky, 6ft 4in fig­ure with metic­u­lously gelled hair and a ready smile, Gold­blum has for months been re­search­ing the role of Adam Stein — a Ger­man-Jewish en­ter­tainer whose suc­cess in pre-war Ber­lin and sense of as­sim­i­la­tion mean noth­ing af­ter the Nazis come to power. The re­search has in­cluded spend­ing time in Ber­lin learn­ing about the lives of Jews be­fore and dur­ing the war — “Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence in Ger­many’s very par­tic­u­lar, not like in Pitts­burgh in 1952, but very dif­fer­ent,” he says — and talk­ing to Holo­caust sur­vivors.

The sub­ject mat­ter is prov­ing tough and sober­ing, he says. But while “it’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to live out as an ac­tor”, Gold­blum is care­ful to keep the chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in per­spec­tive.

“We are shoot­ing it for a few months, which is no pe­riod of time in re­la­tion to what peo­ple went through in those times,” he says. “I have talked to so many sur­vivors now, and I say: ‘How long were you in camps?’ and they say: ‘Four years.’ It’s just unimag­in­able.” per­spec­tive. And I pray that I will, for my lit­tle part, be able to hon­our the op­por­tu­nity and re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The film’s Ger­man, Is­raeli and Amer­i­can ac­tors in­clude some off­spring of Holo­caust sur­vivors. Gold­blum is not one of them. He says that his own grand­par­ents left Europe in the early 1900s. His pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther came from Rus­sia and changed his name to Gold­blum when he set­tled in Amer­ica.

“My name should re­ally be Pa­vatzek,” he laughs. But when the ac­tor is asked to talk about his Jewish iden­tity, he tails off into vague­ness.

He was bar­mitz­va­hed in an Ortho­dox syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh and at­tended He­brew classes. “Af­ter­wards, as per my par­ents’ guid­ance, I went vol­un­tar­ily [to syn­a­gogue] on a High Holy­day or this and that. Since then in my adult life there have been many ways that I could be able to iden­tify my­self still as Jewish,” he says, drop­ping his voice. “There are things about me that are Jewish, al­though I have a spir­i­tual ap­petite, I might say, where I iden­tify my­self with larger groups than just Jews. And those spir­i­tual ap­petites have some­thing to do with this movie, which is why it ap­peals to me.”

Can he elab­o­rate? “With sto­ries of hor­ri­ble, shock­ing, vi­o­lent, com­plete loss, it’s al­ways — as the wis­dom lit­er­a­ture tells us — an op­por­tu­nity for grace, po­ten­tially, and I’m in­ter­ested in that. And that’s an el­e­ment in Adam Res­ur­rected.”

It should come as no sur­prise to learn that when Gold­blum was first turned on to act­ing, it was more than just about por­tray­ing dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. It was the 1960s, af­ter all, a time when drama train­ing came with yoga classes.

“I was kind of in­ter­ested in space and the mag­i­cal world be­yond think­ing, and the mag­i­cal world of be­ing, and of be­ing any­thing and noth­ing,” he says wist­fully.

Act­ing looked to him early on as if it could be a “spir­i­tual ad­ven­ture”. Though no one else in his fam­ily acts, his doc­tor fa­ther did once har­bour dreams of a stage ca­reer. Gold­blum’s mother was even picked out dur­ing a school play in West Vir­ginia by a tal­ent scout and in­vited to New York, but her mother re­fused to let her go. “They were al­ways in­ter­ested in theatre. They would go to New York and come back with play bills and cast al­bums. So maybe their blocked im­pulses vis­ited them­selves upon me.” Gold­blum laughs.

He left home at 17 and re­lo­cated to New York, where he stud­ied with the famed act­ing teacher San­ford Meis­ner. Though ini­tially sup­ported by his par­ents, he soon started earn­ing enough money to sup­port him­self and avoid go­ing down the strug­gling ac­tor route of do­ing “straight jobs”.

Gold­blum be­hav­ing like a dog is likely to be one of the film’s more bizarre sights. At one point, he even shares liv­ing space and food with the pet dog of the camp com­man­dant (Willem Dafoe). “I’m made to be a dog for a lit­tle bit, so I be­come a lit­tle bit dog my­self,” he ex­plains. “I’m forced to hu­mil­i­ate my­self. But I do it in or­der to keep my fam­ily alive.” Later, in the 1960s, in an asy­lum for Holo­caust sur­vivors in Is­rael’s Negev desert, Gold­blum’s char­ac­ter is “faced with a boy who only acts like a dog. The movie has to do with get­ting sane and be­com­ing hu­man in some way, and help­ing this boy to be­come hu­man.”

Given Adam Res­ur­rected’s sub­ject mat­ter, Gold­blum did not agree to take on the role lightly.

The Holo­caust is a “very del­i­cate, holy, sa­cred area”, he says. “Peo­ple [who lived through it] are still alive and the world is still af­fected by it. So when I was read­ing the script, I kept think­ing: ‘Is this ren­di­tion of it re­ally good? Is there a rea­son not to do this?’

“But as I kept work­ing on it and meet­ing the cast, my in­stinct was that it’s very worth do­ing. It’s worth do­ing for me at least, in my hum­ble player.

Since then he has moved be­tween in­de­pen­dent films such as Igby Goes Down and Hal Hart­ley’s new movie, Fay Grim, and block­busters such as Juras­sic Park and In­de­pen­dence Day.

When he is not act­ing, he can of­ten be seen around Los An­ge­les play­ing pi­ano with his jazz band The Mil­dred Snitzer Orches­tra, and, it seems, just en­joy­ing life in gen­eral. Asked whether he has any re­grets in his ca­reer, the 54-year-old gives a look that says: “Are you kid­ding?” He says he prefers some of his movies to oth­ers, but that is far as he will go. As for whether he feels that there is any­thing miss­ing in his life, it ap­pears he could not be hap­pier.

“It feels like my ap­petite for life and creative work and play is as ro­bust as ever,” he muses. “It’s less and less about try­ing to find my­self in some fu­ture project or ex­pe­ri­ence. I know now that things kind of come and go, and if I de­rive life from any­thing, it’s from be­ing right here, right now.”

From an in­aus­pi­cious start as a rapist in Michael Win­ner’s Death Wish (“that was part of the not-so-art­ful scene, but it was a suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial movie,” he says), Gold­blum went on to se­cure a bit-part in Robert Alt­man’s Cal­i­for­nia Split and then a big­ger one in Alt­man’s mas­ter­piece Nashville.

He also had a small role in Woody Allen’s An­nie Hall, but it was play­ing a yup­pie in The Big Chill that fi­nally turned him into a fea­tured

Adam Res­ur­rected is sched­uled for re­lease in 2008

Jeff Gold­blum: “My name should re­ally be Pa­vatzek”

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