Recently, Jeff Goldblum from Law & Order : Criminal Intent took the time to do a conference call interview. He’s very sweet and funny. I hope you enjoy reading it, and don’t miss the season premiere of Law & Order : CI tonight at 10/9c on the USA Network.
I was wondering what continues to challenge you about your role?
Well, let me see, it’s very challenging because the writing is wonderful and the people around me are the best in the world. So I’m just trying to live up to that and to make the most out of what are wonderful scripts and wonderful acting opportunity it is. Plus, my character is always kind of evolving, and it’s challenging to try to do my best with it.
Check out more after the jump!
You have a new partner who is going to be challenging. She’s clearly as intelligent as Nichols— she has a fairly wide ranging network of contacts. And it’s totally different skill set. How do you see them working together?
Well, I now know. We’ve done several cases together. And we work beautifully together, very dynamically. I think she’s great. You’re right. She is brilliant and has her own skill set and we just work very creatively together. And it’s, as much as anything, even given the dark and horrific and nightmarish circumstances that we’re always faced with, dead bodies and gruesome places and gruesome events, we seem to both get a thrill out of the fun and the adventure of the hunt, hunting down the bad guy.
And then, of course, I sort of—we get enrolled together and she gets enrolled in my by and by, in my other peck agenda, which is not so beside the point, which is, of course, finding out what the whole story was and why, criminal intent of course, that’s why it’s named that. Why, psychologically speaking, the person has done it? Not only who did it, but why they did it? And like I said, and I say it’s not beside the point because when we finally take it to court, that’s very much the point. Part of it you got to tell a jury hey, here’s the—we’re not going to get a conviction unless they can buy and believe the whole story and the motive and why this person might have done it.
But it’s beside that, a personal thrill for me. And a personal kind of side and overall contextualizing investigation to deepen my understanding of the deeply criminal types and thereby all of us and me. I’m on a kind of psycho spiritual investigation that fascinates me and that’s infinitely mysterious. And she and I become partners in that. And it’s absolutely thrilling.
I have a two-part question here. First, how was it being dead? And, how was it giving your own eulogy on the Colbert Report?
Those are great questions. Well, I love the Colbert Report. I’m a fan of that show and him anyway, and when they asked me to do that, I was delighted because they are smart. I get a big kick out of their sense of humour and I thought they came up with something funny for that and it was delightful to do it. The whole incident was bizarre and engendered a rainbow of feelings in me, of course. It was upsetting. People called who hadn’t heard right away or had—and would be—and called up sad. Nobody, thankfully, ran their car off the road or had a heart attack or anything, but there was some trauma. And for that, I would dissuade people from doing this. And I’m sorry that it happened and all of that.
But it was not of little interest to me to get in touch with, in some cases, people I hadn’t been in touch with for a while. And said oh, my gosh, is it true. …I’m glad you’re alive and it made me think of you and all that kind of stuff. And it was trippy, trippy.
The first movie I ever remembered getting moved at was a movie called Gigot. I don’t know if anybody will know this. It’s a little known movie, I think, from the early 60’s probably when I was a kid. With Jackie Gleason, and he plays a sort of a mute village poor soul and at the end of the movie, everybody sort of mistreats him. And at the end of the movie, they think mistakenly he’s dead. And then realize how much they cared for him, in fact, and give him a big funeral. And he, in fact, is alive and shows up secretly for a moment, peaking from behind a tree and seeing the funeral and getting teary and weepy himself. And then they see him and the whole movie ends in this sort of light-hearted way.
But I remember crying at that. It was the first movie I ever remember getting very moved at. So there’s something in that whole situation that’s kind of–I’m sensitive to, I think.
I read that Ralph Macchio is going to be on this season. Can you tell us who else we can expect to see?
Well, let me see. I wish I had a whole—I should have been prepared with a whole lineup. Just combing my memory. Now, he was great. He was lovely and what a great actor. And what is—Kevin Conway is in an episode that I think will play sort of shortly end of the season who was absolutely wonderful. Gee, many—Karen Olivo, who was on Broadway In the Heights and West Side Story. She was in this last episode that we did and just a ton of other people.
That’s one of the lucky things about doing this show. It feels to me you’re like in this anthology series and you get–the casting people are fantastic. And you get the cream of the whole acting community showing up. It’s just great.
Now, with the Law and Order franchise, there’s always a turnover of cast members. I wanted to know what do you think the loss of Vincent, Kathryn, and Eric will—how will that affect the show or how will that affect the way you see the show?
Well, let me see. How will it affect the show? I mean, I think they’re the best actors around. I love the show with them and I love their characters and I’ll miss them. It won’t ever be the same. All three of them were spectacular and irreplaceable.
So it’s a different kind of—There’ll be a different kind of show, although the flavour is something of the Law and Order flavour. It will be—follow something of the same flavours. But I’ll miss them. I think they’re just great.
I can talk about Saffron and her character and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and her character. And how excited I am about them.
But it will very different. But I love these two new actors and characters. I feel lucky to be working with them and I’m thrilled about the characters that they wrote for them. And what they’re doing in the show and how we all play together.
Last season, we saw that like yourself, Zack Nichols is very talented playing the piano. What other “Goldblumisms” shall we see this season or what would you like to incorporate into the character of Zack Nichols that are a part of you?
Let’s see. Gee, I don’t know if I have any other show business tricks up my sleeve or any other talents. I’m just trying to play, be as smart as I can, and bring what I know is passion in the writing and in the character and in the real lives that we’re trying to depict.
We have a great guy named Mike Struck, who’s on the set all the time, who’s a real and a masterful detective and police person. And I realize all the time that to really do that job would be very difficult. You have to have a very particular skill set for it, talent for it, and appetite for it. And I’m just trying to pretend in a way that is at least believable. Boy, that would be a tough job, I tell you.
The premiere actually was pretty unique because— it felt like a setup for a spin-off series. A spin-off of actually the series itself.Does the atmosphere on the set feel like a new show or does it just feel like a continuation of the show that you’d previously guest starred on?
Well, let’s see. I mean, I know I did eight of them last year and you’re right, it was different. It was all different cast members that year. But the stories and the quality of the writing and the high quality of the production and the crew is still the same. So it feels familiar but—and I miss the cast members who are gone. I adored them.
But it does feel like a new show in a lot of ways. And I’m crazy about Saffron Burrows and the character. They wrote it for her and the way she’s doing it. And Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is spectacular and I love her and her character, too. So yes, it feels kind of new to me.
This is a real fan question, was the end martian sequence in Life Aquatic a deliberate homage to the end martian sequence in Buckaroo Banzai?
That’s so funny. At the time that we were doing it, I remember Wes Anderson talking a little bit about that and saying—let me see. Did he have another—was there another—He mentioned a couple of movies that he’s—because he’s a hipster and a sophisticate and archivist and knows all kind of movies. But yes, he talked about Buckaroo Banzai. He said that it was a little bit—He really related to that in some way. That’s right.
It’s been many years and you’ve certainly done a lot of films and a lot of TV work, but it was recurring. But it wasn’t until Raines a few years ago when you actually went back into a regular TV series as a regular character. And of course, Law and Order CI. How is it different working on a series than doing films and recurring roles and stuff like that? And do you enjoy one more than the other?
I’m having as good a time as I’ve ever had right now. And there are some obvious differences that I’m sure you’ve heard about before. I mean, first of all, for me this is the longest, now, the longest job I’ve ever had. I’ve never had—Yes, I’ve never had a movie that lasted this long and I never did a series this long. So now, into the second season, it’s the longest job of any kind that I’ve ever had.
So that’s a little different. I see the same people, happily, every day. That feels familiar and family like. And I’m enjoying that. And the character, you’ve heard people talk about this, but I think it’s a very nice creative opportunity where in a series where there, where you get great writers, too. And as Paul Schrader told me at the time a couple of years ago when we were doing Adam Resurrected, he thought the best writers in writing was now on TV.
But if you get great writers and people who want to, who care very much and want to do good things, and you kind of write as you go I think that’s a very viable legitimate creative way to sort of see what works and kind of make it up as you go and kind of elaborate on it and make it more and keep writing the whole novel and the whole huge screenplay as you go. And act it that way. It’s kind of like life a little bit.
It’s kind of like making a journey on a dark highway road in a car with only your headlights ahead of you and you can’t see the road, but you can see the road in front of you, but you can make the whole trip that way. I like that idea. And so, I’ve found it very creative so far, but maybe I’m in a relaxed and creative spot myself. I’m always trying to get better. And I do like that.
I have a work ethic that I think I inherited from my father in a way. He used to get up early every morning and routinely and put in an honest day’s work and I kind of like that. I like having a place to go and feeling like this is not just something I got to get through and make the best out of and hopefully, do my best with. But it’s my way of life. I still want to do my best with it, but it’s what I do every day. It’s part of the daily, my daily routine. I really like that. I really like it.
And this particular show, the actors are so good and the writers are so good and the producers caring. It’s a very nice, nice thing for me. I like it a lot.
And could you talk a little bit about your memories of doing your first series that I just mentioned Tenspeed and Brownshoe? How is that different?
Let’s see. Let me see. I enjoyed that. We only did—what did we do? Seven, thirteen. What did we do? Yes. I think we did like 13 of those. So fewer already than I’ve done of this. Well, Steve Cannell was great. And I think he’s talked and feels like talking. He thinks highly of—he’s proud of what we did there and Ben Vereen was fantastic. And I remember having a good time with it. I liked it. I remember Bill Clinton. I met him a couple of times. He came up and said you know you’ve done a lot of things, Jeff. But my favorite thing was Tenspeed and Brownshoe. I never missed an episode.
You have a very unique acting style. So how does it come in handy on Law and Order and do you get to ad lib at all?
Oh, that’s funny. Well, I’m trying to do my best on it. And I feel like I can make use of the way I am learning, still learning to tackle things. And yes, it’s very—they have wonderful writers. It’s meticulously written, but here and there, we can and are encouraged to do little tweaks and additions and be loose about it in one way or another, yes, which I enjoy also.
Can we expect to see more piano playing by you this season?
Let me see. Did I play with—well, see, less so far. We have a few yet to go. So I don’t know what they have in mind for me, but there’s less piano playing so far, except I’m thinking of one episode that we just finished, what did I do? Oh, yes, I just—I lean over. There’s a young student, piano student, girl, at a performing arts college and she’s playing something and I say oh, I get interested in it. And while she’s still there, I lean over and play a few notes of something. And I think, hum along with it. And do some humming and playing. But that’s about all I’ve done musically this year.
So which one of your character’s traits are you best able to relate with?
Let me see. Let me see. Well, I’m thinking of this character Nichols, and I wish I were as smart. Boy, it would be tough. I don’t think I could do that job really as effectively as he does it. After many years on the—trying to do it, he’s a very—like our consultant, Mike Struck. They’re eighth degree black belt practitioners. And they’re so smart and then, intuitive and creative about it. I like to think there’s some kind of parallel, at least in even what I’m trying to do as an actor, although I still feel like a beginner every day in many ways. But I aspire to getting as proficient and smart about and creative with and I do share a passion with what I think Nichols feels for his work, for my work.
Let’s see. What else? What else? I think he has fun. I think my character, Nichols, has a lot of—has a kind of a grand time and an inner secret. Funny fun with it. And I—that’s also true of me here and there. At least, I aspire to that also. To always finding the enjoyableness in my activities. But I have. Luckily, I’ve found things to do. Acting, for instance. That I do find a blast. So there’s a couple of things.
What do you feel it is about the show going into the season nine now, that resonates well with viewers? What has kept it going?
Gee. Well, they’ve all–Dick Wolf is a brilliant guy and a passionate and caring guy and attracts terrific people around him, the whole producing team and the writers that he gets. They just do high quality things. And then, there’s something about solving crimes like they do, and New York City. That at least would appeal to me. I can’t speak for everybody. And what it is, they know more than other people, I’m sure, have thought about it more and know more about it than I do.
But I know for me, I kind of am in love with New York stories and New York City. I saw recently this documentary that Ric Burns did called New York that gives you 400 years of history about this very unique place where people are put together in the closest proximity from the widest ranging places. The most diverse people stuck together. And it creates, not only a hot bed of creativity and spiritedness of all kinds. But trouble, too, and problems and challenges and the need to solve them, and these New York stories, these crimes and criminal life and trying to keep the streets safe are a part of these New York stories. And I love that myself.
And of course, the reason I think it’s also been successful is because the great actors they’ve had, too. I’ve always wanted to watch Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston or Vince D’Onofrio or Katie Erbe, all those people. Jerry Orbach. I’d tune in to see them any time.
Apparently, there’s a lot of strong feelings within the fan communities since you’ve joined the cast of the show, and they seem to—a lot of them seem to feel that it’s kind of lost its edge and become lighter. They’re sort of addressing it as the Jeff Goldblum Hour. So here’s your chance, if you will, could you—I mean, what would you say to these people?
Oh, well, gee. First of all, I don’t—it’s news to me because I kind of don’t stay very in touch with all the—I’ve been consumed with making the show. I don’t know. I mean, everybody has their own opinion. I’m doing the best that I can and I know the writers are trying—there are some very heavy and gruesome episodes that we’ve done. But it’s true. I think part of their idea about my character is that I have a—I love. I’m very passionate for the work, for solving these crimes and for particularly investigating the intent, like the title says of having to do with why these criminal people, these people so far off the rails would have done what they’ve done and what that means for knowing about the human being generally and for myself.
I think I’m on a very passionate and mysterious and infinitely interesting, at least in my own character kind of mission. But that along with it, I have a great time, too. Whatever I’ve been through before. And we’ve made up a lot of stuff that hasn’t come to the surface, that doesn’t come to the surface conspicuously or literally. I’m at a place where I find myself very present, feeling very present and alive and enjoying myself no end. I think I enjoy myself. Even in these gruesome circumstances and I guess, even especially when there’s been shocking loss and all the physical world has been thrown into chaos. It feels like an opportunity to Zack Nichols to find what’s important in life and find the deeper meanings in life in a very enjoyable way. And I like solving the puzzle, too.
Now, the other question that a lot of people seem to want to know is you’ve been involved with a lot of things and not in just making films as an actor, but producing different things or being on the festivals, judging and things like that. What are you doing now that you’re working on outside of the show? Anything?
Well, let’s see. This is so consuming that I feel like my plate is kind of full and we’re going to keep filming till May, mid May. Let’s see. What else am I doing besides this? Well, I play my piano all the time.I like to keep up with that. And there are things that I am considering after we finish, but nothing that’s really worth talking about at this point.
Could you talk a little bit about how you approach a character and how you use the script to aid in your approach? How you would approach a character and then use what’s in the script and then maybe bring something to the table from your own references to create a character.
I see. That’s a very interesting question. Well, I love writers and good writing and literature and stories and a good script. So I try to, as much as anything, figure out what they meant, what this thing is about, and there are many nuts and bolts issues that come up in that vein, in our show or a lot of scripts and stories.
What exactly and specifically? That’s an important question in the theatrical dictionary, an important word. What specifically do they have in mind for this, are they trying to depict for this? What reality are they trying to depict here? This is nothing new. Everybody’s done—and anybody’s trying to do this, but it constantly fascinates me. And more and more, I try to give myself over to and serve what they’re doing. And not only that, but who the writer is and what their whole spirit is, and inner dynamic and what the message they’re trying to, and feeling that they’re trying, and song that they’re trying to sing?
And I’m, in many ways the concierge delivering the message up to the room. And I try to do that as faithfully as I can. And then, beyond that, just use my own instincts because there’s nothing—it’s not math. It’s not a science. There’s nothing empirical. Is that the right word? Measurable. And finally, there’s no foul line that you can either hit the ball within or go out of. You have to, and everybody’s going to have their own opinion about it. But you have to use your own taste and instincts about what it is. And as long as it gets your—once you’re serving the script, if you can, and you must, get your own mojo working. And however that takes place. And it’s different every time. The adventure is kind of a little different every time. That’s what needs to happen, too. Whatever interests you.
It’s kind of like what my character, Zack Nichols, does in an unconventional way. He comes to a crime scene and doesn’t really go well, this is what you are supposed to do. This is what you would do. This is what logically leads to a deduction from A to B. But as much as that, and he does that too, but as much as that, it’s kind of hm, what interests me? What do I notice and what in my stomach and blood and soul and fingertips and taste buds am I attracted to here? And I trust my individuality there. He does. And I do in the same—I try to in the same way that I act. And something like that.
Since earlier you said it feels like a new show. How will this season continue with what fans enjoy? And there’s lots of little aspects our fans enjoy of CI. While documenting and exploring a sort of changing of the guard. I know that has to be pretty fascinating.
Yes. Well, who knows for whom it will be fascinating? It fascinates me. And I love these characters that they’ve written for Saffron and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. They’re great actors and great people. It’s fun to hang out with them all day because we work 12, 13, 14 hours some days. And you spend your whole life together and doing these characters and telling these stories. I think people can still enjoy, I would hope the stories, the creative kind of crimes that are depicted. And they’re interesting in a way.
And the criminals have interesting intents and the whys and wherefores and inner motives and configurations, endlessly unique configurations of what makes a killer do what they do and how they’ve gone off the rails. And what it means for us human beings and what lessons we can learn from it. That’s, I think, in the same vein and endlessly interesting to me.
And then, these are new cops, seem to be, however we’re doing it stylistically, a horror in a personally different way. We’re certainly effective. And each week, we seem to not give anything away, but we certainly seem to be—to catch them. And then, with my particular interest, does seem to sort of uncover at least, the beginning of who these people are and what makes them tick and what made them tick in this situation and what that endlessly and infinitely and mysteriously means for who we are.
So actually, in relation to a couple of the previous questions, as you may or may not be aware of, a lot of the fans are actually really upset about Goren and Eames leaving. So I’m just wondering if you can give the fans any reassurances or encouragement, reasons to keep watching the show.
Well, let’s see. I mean, I totally under—First I’ll say to them, I totally understand you’re upset. Those were as fantastic a bunch of characters as I’d ever seen. And fantastic actors as we’ve ever had individually or together. And I’ll be watching for all of them wherever they go. I know Eric Bogosian is in a play right now here in New York and haven’t had time to see it, but I look forward to seeing it. And likewise, Vince and Katie.
As for what we’re doing, I’m doing my best and I’m enjoying it no end. And I think the writers, who are terrific, have written different characters but fascinating characters, at least to me.
I know in Saffron Burrows’s case, she’s such a special actress. I would encourage anybody—I would recommend and as part of this grief counselling of the loss of the old show and the old characters, I would recommend that they consider appreciating Saffron Burrows and Serena Stevens, her character. Saffron is such a uniquely beautiful actor inside and out. And wildly intelligent. Wildly intelligent. And so that they know, has passions, if they look her up a little bit, politically and having to do with the world that are very interesting and compelling to me. So fun to be around for me.
And she brings all of this to the show. She’s passionate and she’s been a movie star that I’ve been very interested in for a long time. We did a movie together called Fay Grim in Berlin some years ago with Parker Posey that Hal Hartley directed. And I’ve loved her in The Guitar and The Bank Job and Troy. So I would encourage people to really get into her and appreciate her. She’s sexy as can be and does this part they’ve written for her. A very interesting part, this detective from Chicago who has an interesting back story that we can only guess at a little bit and a daughter that we can guess at a little bit. We have to imagine about. But a very whole and multifaceted life.
And then, let me encourage them to get into Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. And seeing her every week. I adore her. We’d done a play together some years ago. But for anybody who’s seen her from the beginning in Scarface or The Color of Money or an eye on the stage here in New York through the years. She is spectacular, as talented deeply, richly talented and an actor as there is. Given to a rainbow of color choices in her paint box. And they’ve written for her just the beginnings already of a character that is very—that is not only unique, but multidimensional and colorful and complicated. So I would, as a fan, I would tune in to see those two. That’s for sure.
[Note from Me: Well how about tuning in for Jeff Goldblum, there’s an idea 😉 ]
We know that you debuted in the Tony Award winning musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, and we’re wondering if you would ever consider doing a movie musical?
Well, yes, I would. I like the movie musical. I enjoyed this last year of Nine. I enjoyed West Side Story that I saw on stage again. Made me think of the movie. Yes. In fact, go see—you haven’t seen my movie called Pittsburgh?
Oh. So it’s not really a movie musical, but it’s about an actor who does, takes a part in a two-week run of a musical.
And it’s called Pittsburgh. And I’m in it. I play the actor so I sing and dance a little bit. And I helped produce it.
when you’re keyed into another actor, I’ve noticed, you become more alive. Your energy just explodes. And it happened with Gena Davis, obviously, in The Fly. You guys had a tremendous chemistry. And I’m wondering, as your character in this series or in any acting ventures that you’ve done, which actors have really keyed you up and really made you– brought your best game out and really energized you as an actor?
You are so nice. Yes. I like what you’re saying because it’s kind of the cornerstone of the training that I got early on by Sandy Meisner. A lot of people know, Sanford Meisner now. But I studied with him and part of his, that some people know that’s sometimes misunderstood or miscommunicated. But he teaches a training system whereby the early material is an improvisation of a particular kind that focuses in a big way on interaction. And all good actors are doing it anyway. But his is a very good method.
And I teach a little bit myself. And enjoy teaching actors to do that with each other, not only that but other things too. It goes beyond that. But that’s part of his early thing. So I do like—I love the part of acting that has me with other actors and allows you to play with other actors. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of wonderful actors, but I’ll tell you the ones I’m talking about today, these two are particularly spectacular.
And of course, that’s the great thing about Law and Order because it’s kind of like an anthology series. Like I said before to somebody, where the cream of New York and the theatrical crop of actors you get every week. So where we’ve worked with great actors and it’s always fun. But Saffron– and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Saffron Burrows are both spectacular. And working with both of them, I feel like I have to be worthy of them, come up to my best that I can do and feel like they bring something good out of me.
Are there crimes that your character, Zack Nichols—Do you think that there are crimes that bother him more than others?
Yes, I do. There were crimes—I mean, the first couple of episodes that depict this killing of my friend that I’m personally involved with. That’s a horrible thing. I think I’m very bothered and personally—it’s not just a matter of—I’m always bothered in the sense that I’m passionate and outraged and full of a fierce kind of sense of justice and wanting to solve this thing. But more so, I’m a very kind of a susceptible, vulnerable human kind of guy that they’ve written. And when my friend, and old partner, gets killed. Yes, I think it bothers me in a whole different and deeper way.
Jeff Goldblum is very articulate and honest, I appreciate his work. I hope you’ll all tune in to Law & Order: Criminal Intent Tuesday nights at 10 pm on the USA Network.