I Jeff Goldblum’s eyes nearly
popped out of his head. I had come to interview the star of the remake of the cult Fifties’ horror classic, The Fly, and there dangling from my shoulder was a real live spider. He
was most impressed. ‘You didn’t bring that with you on purpose?’ he asked as the tiny creature scuttled across the table in his general direction, ‘No,’ I replied, ‘it must be afanﬁ
The 34 year-old 6ft 4in actor has many fans, but they’re mostly in the States where for the past fifteen years he’s appeared in a succession
of classy films such as The Right Stuff, Silverado and The Big Chill, and become just about as well known as a so-called character actor can be without actually becoming a star. But all that has changed since John Landis cast him opposite Michelle Pfeiffer as the romantic lead in his black comedy, Into The Night. Suddenly people realised that the tall, skinny young actor had something else besides charm whimsical eyes and a winning way with one-liners— he had sex appeal. Somebody else who realised this was Canadian ‘schlock-horror‘ director David Cronenberg, who cast him as the mild scientist turned repulsive Superfly in his enormously successful remake of The Fly.
‘Goldblum’s character,’ says Cronenberg, ‘had to be articulate with a sense of humour and a touch of eccentricity, and be believable not only as a scientist but as a romantic lead. He also had to have an imposing presence and become very passionate and very insane. Jeff was one of the very few actors we felt could do this.’ That’s praise indeed, coming from a director best known for the stomach-turning special effects of films such as Scanners, Rabid, and Videodrome, rather than his sensitivity in handling actors.
‘I thought it was a very hip notion to re-make that movie,’ Goldblum casually remarks as he leans back in his chair and stretches his long thin frame almost the entire length of the room, ‘my youngest sister Pam, who was a painter in Paris for seven years and now lives in LA, liked the original film a lot. She’s a very stylish, original and self-possessed
person and I trust her terrifically, and so I was sparking to the idea immediately. Then I read the script and I thought it had sophisticated, intelligence and the part was very me.’
Goldblum stars as the shy and retiring scientist, Seth Brundle, who falls in love with reporter and real-life girlfriend Geena Davis, (the pair met during the filming of Transylvania 6,500) whom he invites along to his lab to witness his discovery of teleportation. The machine works fine on inanimate objects, but when he tries to teleport himself he runs into a problem because unknown to him, trapped inside his ‘telepod’ is a rather unpleasant bluebottle. Before long, the charming and witty young boffin becomes a despairing man/insect that looks like a cross between Alien and Elephant Man.
The Fly: repellent movie or new breed of horror? Colin
The Fly is nothing like as restrained as the original, where the transformation scene consisted of a man walking around with a fly’s head on his shoulders, and Chris Walas of Gremlinss fame was called in to create the special effects. Goldblum was ﬂown out to his Californian studio to have his entire body, including his teeth, cast in preparation for Brundle’s transformation. ‘1 always knew I had a great insect movie in me somewhere,’ admits Goldblum who wanted The Fly to be more of a ‘nature film’. ‘The effects allude not to other films. but to nature. I didn’t want to do a film about a man who turns into a 1851b ﬂy, it had to be a fusion of two creatures to create something new.’ And according to Walas, ‘His make-up had to suggest insect-like qualities and retain human form. The character is emotionally battling between himselfand the creature he is becoming and we had to capture that with the special effects.‘
‘The special effects need to be disturbing. after all it‘s about a man dying,’ says Goldblum. ‘I think that‘s a terrific part ofthe movie. Geena and I went to see it in New York and the Manager ofthe theatre came up to us and said. ‘It’s great, it‘s breaking all house records and people are loving it.’ One guy had come up to him and said. ‘I’m sick, I’m totally sick,‘ and the Manager said, ‘I‘m sorry sir, would you like your money back?‘ ‘No,’ the guy replied,‘I‘m going back. I want to see it again.‘
Born in Pittsburgh where his late
father was a doctor and both parents considered high culture to be de rigeur for their chidren‘s education, Goldblum grew up studying classical piano, loving jazz and nursing a secret ambition to be an actor. ‘I did well at school, but I never went to
.college. I didn’t want to fool around
with any more tests, and I went straight to acting school. I felt I had a lot to play and I wanted to be emotional and passionate.‘ By the age ofnineteen, he was being emotional and passionate off Broadway, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he won his first movie role, playing a psychotic punk who wastes Charles Bronson’s family in the original Deathwish. That was in 1974. The following year Robert Altman chose him to play the motorbike musician who runs off with Shelley Duvall in Nashville, and before long he had become the cameo-role kid as directors such as Woody Allen (Annie Hall) and Phillip Kaufman (Invasion ofthe Bodysnatchers) cast him for his off-beat looks and zany potential.
In the low-budget independent movie, Between the Lines, he played a wise-cracking young rock critic struggling to make ends meet by selling his records to pay the rent. Made in the days when Americans were still coming to terms with the aftermath of the Sixties, Goldblum was an intelligent and idealistic loser, exactly the kind ofguy who was to be the butt of Lawrence Kasdan’s witty and perceptive homage to that same generation in The Big Chill. In a role that won him
widespread acclaim, he played the radical journalist turned tabloid hack who was thoroughly compromised, yet immensely likeable at one and the same time. In a way it sums up Goldblum as an actor in that no matter what role he plays, he’s impossible to dislike.
Success has kind of crept up on him and the quirky, good humoured characters he has tended to play over the years, have since become a kind of trademark. ‘What, people think I’m charming, cute and intelligent? Well that’s alright by me.’ Yet fame is something he came to terms with a long time ago. ‘To the extent that I am famous,’ he says in his James Stewart-like drawl, ‘I enjoy it. Right from the beginning— I’m being frank now, I thought it might go with being an actor and I thought it was an attractive thing. I’m also very drawn to Stanislavsky’s principle which says “Love the art in yourself and not yourselfin the art”. I believe in the acceptance of contradiction, I tell people don’t become an actor if you want to be famous, but at the same time don’t think that making a name for yourself and being recognised is a bad thing.’
Goldblum belongs to that generation of actors such as William Hurt and Kevin Kline (his co-stars in
The Big Chill) who are known to be seriously and passionately committed to their work, and who swear by the Method as the only true way. But his flair for comedy stands him apart from his peers, and allows him a versatility that few others can match. He’s unusual too in that he’s won acceptance as a leading man even though he’s not your conventional Hollywood heart-throb. He’s much more in the Woody Allen mould ofvulnerable anti-heroes, and like the great little man himself, his desire is to make films of ‘quality and artistic ambition.’
He’s articulate in an absent-minded professor kind of way, often losing the drift ofwhat he’s saying as he painstakingly chooses his words. Maybe that explains why playing scientists comes so natural, he’s just finished a BBC-American TV joint production called The Double Helix, in which he stars as an American scientist who helped discover DNA in the 1950s. He’s also just finished another movie with Robert Altman called Beyond Therapy, a romantic comedy in which he stars with Julie Haggerty as the New York lonelyhearts obsessed with their therapists (Glenda
Jackson and Tom Conti) as well as each other.
But after five movies on the trot spent on location, he’s feeling a little tired and looking forward to being home in LA. ‘I like to go home and relax and play the piano, take dance lessons, work out or just play golf. I seem to be out ofwork a lot,‘ he adds as if the anxieties of being a struggling actor had suddenly returned. ‘I’m out ofwork right now, in fact from tomorrow I’m unemployed.’ I don‘t think he need
worry, with the offers pouring in, it won’t be for long.
The List 20 Feb - 5 March 9