Jeff Goldblum has one of those rare acting careers where he can shuttle between character actor and leading man roles, move between arthouse and blockbuster fare, and grace the screen and the stage. Your point of reference for him probably depends on your age: If you grew up in the ‘80s, it might be The Fly; the '90s, Jurassic Park; and the '00s, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He recently stirred up the small screen with quirky cameos in Portlandia and as the endorsement-spewing Dr. Dave on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. No matter what he does, Goldblum exudes a compelling and singular eccentricity. Also, I can’t tell you how many women professed teen and adult crushes on him when told we were chatting.
The 63-year-old performer is quite comfortable in his own skin, and he is certainly enjoying the wild ride that is his life, including playing piano with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra and co-starring in his latest Hollywood extravaganza, Independence Day: Resurgence, the ultra-epic alien invasion sequel in which his character, Dr. David Levinson, is once again tasked with preventing extraterrestrial Armageddon.
How’s your life?
How’s my life? My life is quite good, Bryan Reesman. How’s your life?
Independence Day is the second blockbuster franchise that you’ve been involved with and the second time in which your character is the main crossover between the two. Is straddling that bridge a challenge, or do you like getting more of the spotlight?
I’m not even sure about that, but the first one was a big ensemble cast and this one is a big ensemble cast, and I was just thrilled to work with Roland Emmerich again. I think he’s a brilliant director, a friend and a wonderful guy. [It was great] to see and work with Bill Pullman and Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner again, and then with some of the new guys like Liam Hemsworth, who I enjoyed to no end. And Charlotte Gainsbourg, I got a big kick out of her. We had a bunch of scenes together. I’ve liked her in those Lars Von Trier movies Melancholia, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac. I was just thrilled to be in it.
The original Independence Day had state-of-the-art visual effects for the time, but in the last 20 years things have gotten cray cray in terms of digital wizardry. It feels like this movie is in a completely different universe.
I know. Roland Emmerich is a master at that kind of thing, and I think he waited purposely till the new technology met up with his vision, so to speak.
Were you initially worried that perhaps the new effects would dominate over the story?
I wasn’t concerned because they called me, Roland and [producer] Dean Devlin—who I love a lot and created the first one with him and cooked up this one too—and they said we’re going to do this movie and hope you’re interested. I liked the idea. Roland loves actors. I thought it would be an educational and actorly experience and there would hopefully be a balance between spectacle and some fun scenes.
In Independence Day: Resurgence, the alien mothership covers the Atlantic Ocean, world landmarks come crashing into each other and aliens wreak havoc with our gravity. Does it make you wonder how much bigger any invasion or superhero movie could possibly get after this?
I don’t know. I’m sure as long as people want to keep doing this stuff—I don’t know that much about special effects myself, the real ins and outs of them—who knows when the cycle will… when more is… Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is it. [laughs] What do I know? Simple stories are good too, and creative types can always solve it, not necessarily with more, but with something imaginative. Have you seen Midnight Special? Jeff Nichols is an interesting director, and that’s a kind of an alien movie. Low-tech, but they’ve got some design things going on in a special way that I found interesting.
Which of the landmarks that are destroyed in the new Independence Day made you the saddest?
I think we’re meant to grieve over our whole unified family of man that’s under attack again and every bit of our sweet little home planet. Once they broke the Tower Bridge in London—as I say, they seem to like to get the landmarks—that’s a lovely place. We were just on this publicity tour, and I had never been to Dubai before and saw currently the tallest building [in the world, the Burj Khalifa]. If you try to imagine if that were real, it would be heartbreaking to see any of that disappear.
Many members of the two main political parties think the end of the world will come if the opposite party wins the White House. Do you think this will be a therapeutic movie for people in that regard?
Oh boy, that requires a smarter person than me. I’m very interested and engaged in this current [election] season, and I have my own passionate political leanings. Hopefully this movie will be entertaining. I think the little underlying theme that Roland has in it, whereby all of Earth is unified, even in a martial effort, is on his part a kind of heartfelt issue—strength and diversity and cherishing our family, which is small and precious and fragile and has more unifying elements than silly differences. Whether this movie has any impact on it… It would be dreamy if our current challenges were met with peace and unification somehow. I hope so.
Pop culture always has a retro thing going on. Last decade we were reliving the '80s, and now we’re reliving the '90s. Given that the '80s are actually still going strong, however, I wanted to list off three of your movies to see which one you would consider doing a sequel to.
I like multiple choice. I like games of any kind, so go ahead.
Here are the movies: Into The Night, The Big Chill and The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension.
That’s so funny. I think Buckaroo Banzai probably. I have a fondness for all of them and had a good time with all of them. And I love Michelle Pfeiffer, but I would say—and I’ve certainly had a nourishing platter full of aliens and such—that Buckaroo Banzai was imaginative and pretty neat. Somebody was talking about it today, and I know Wes Anderson may have a fondness for it. That little curtain call that we had at the end of The Life Aquatic might have been influenced a little bit by Buckaroo Banzai. Olivia Munn told Seth Meyer that there is a piano that hasn’t been played in the White House in 100 years, except by you. I heard that you went over to it and just started playing.
I did. We were getting a nice specialized tour. What was I doing? The White House Correspondents Dinner! That’s what I was doing, a couple of years ago, and I went to it again this year. We were getting a little tour, and I’m sure I asked. I was nothing if not respectful of all the stuff around. I asked if I could play it, and they said yes. They didn’t tell me that it hadn’t been played [in 100 years]. This is the first time that I’m hearing about that.
You have a jazz combo that actually performed at Coachella five years ago.
Yeah, we did that Funny Or Die! thing. I’m just about to get into the Roxy Hotel and sit outside and do my daily practicing while I’m staying down here. It’s the closest piano to me. They have a lovely little setup, and they let me play for an hour a day. So after all my publicity is done, I’m going to go in and have a little practice session. If you come out to L.A., every Wednesday at Rockwell [Table & Stage] we’re doing our stuff.
You’re a dad now, aren’t you?
Yeah, 11 months ago on fourth of July, while filming the movie. That’s the day when Charlie Ocean was born. Do you have kids?
I’m still a swinging bachelor.
You have a crazy busy schedule with all of your projects. How have you adapted to fatherhood and the inevitable lack of sleep?
Somehow he’s been a dreamy angel child. From four months on he was sleeping through the night and he still does, from 7:30 till 6:30 or a quarter of seven [the next morning]. He takes naps regularly every day, and my wife Emilie is wonderful with him. So I’ve been sleeping fine and dandy really. It’s a big project and a serious project, but it’s been all kind of delightful and entertaining and life-enhancing.
When a lot of actors and rockers have kids, they start thinking about more family-friendly entertainment. Can you promise me that you’ll still do edgy films in the future?
Oh, I’ve done a few. I’m just doing stuff that interests me at this point. My own personal taste is towards surprising and what might be called edgy, so I hope so.
You’ve done a number of horror films over the years, including The Fly, Mr. Frost and Hideaway. Do you have any desire to return to the territory?
Sure. I’m not genre averse or specializing in any way. I’ve got a broad range of tastes. To my mind, there are good and interesting people who do movies of all different types. Some of my favorite movies are The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.
After all these years, what do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
Oooh, that’s a good question. Let me see… I find that people still don’t know that I play piano here and there.
You’ve been playing most of your life, right?
Yeah, I have, but I haven’t made an effort to broadcast it in any way. It’s mostly been under the radar. That’s true too. I’m not trying to do anything careerist with it or anything. It’s just for my own enjoyment.
You saw Hamilton recently. What did you love about it?
What an accomplishment. I just found it stirring. I liked the performances. It makes me want to learn more about Hamilton’s life and read about him.
Hopefully we’ll see you back on Broadway too.
I hope so. I love theater. In the meantime, if you’re out there [Los Angeles] come to the Rockwell. I’ll see you there.
Playboy contributor Bryan Reesman loved when Jeff Goldblum tried to convince people he was Satan in Mr. Frost. He also loved watching Tenspeed and Brown Shoe as a kid.