Jeff Goldblum: Stealing Thor’s thunder

His effortless authenticity has been the mark of a long and successful acting career. Now he’s at the height of his powers with roles like the Grandmaster in the new Thor movie

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Jeff Goldblum is an actor for every generation. If you don’t know him for The Big Chill (1983) or as the interminably creepy title character from The Fly (1986), you might remember him from Jurassic Park (1993) or Independence Day (1996).

In the past 20 years you’ll have almost certainly seen him in one of his many comedy cameos: Friends, Will and Grace, Glee, Portlandia, Inside Amy Schumer, The League. Or maybe you just know him as an internet meme. Perhaps because of his exuberant character, expressive face, eccentric delivery, or perhaps because… the internet, Goldblum has been elevated to cult hero status by the social media generation. Now he’s conquering PG audiences in Thor: Ragnarok, which was out last week in cinemas.

“I never worked with Weinstein. It’s shocking and very disturbing, infuriating, and sobering.”

“I studied with this wonderful man called Sammy [Sanford] Meisner early on and he said it takes 20 years of continuous work before you can call yourself an actor and then, if you’re lucky to keep working, a whole life of work where you can keep getting better. I think I took that to heart,” says Goldblum during the Marvel publicity tour in London. His training in the Meisner technique goes some way to explain the continuity the actor brings to his roles. Whether the part is comedic or dark (it’s most likely both) he reacts genuinely and instinctively to the surrounding environment, so what we see as viewers is Jeff Goldblum being Jeff Goldblum. Perhaps it’s that authenticity that makes him so likeable.

In Thor: Ragnarok he plays the Grandmaster, the oddball but dangerous ruler of Sakaar – a distant planet built on chaos and indulgence – and controls a gladiatorial contest in which Thor, and other powerful beings from throughout the cosmos, face off in deadly combat. But despite his new position as ruler of this comic universe, Goldblum is not done with the theatre and offbeat titles he’s frequently returned to between blockbuster films.

“It was my hope, I think, to get roles that would teach me something. So without being focused on careerism, just for creative learning’s sake and the experience of it, I wanted to do a variety of things. I couldn’t have known what I’d wind up doing but, looking back, I’m so thrilled at getting a chance to do different things,” says the infinitely polite Goldblum.

“Even now, I’m doing this movie and then I have a part in the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom movie – which I know they hope will be big – but then I have a part in the next Wes Anderson movie, Isle of Dogs. He’s a genius and his own special cinema master. And I just did a movie with Jodie Foster called Hotel Artemis and that’s a kind of more modest production, but an interesting movie, I think. And tomorrow I fly to New York to do this $2 million movie, very kind of adventurous and experimental – called The Mountain – with the wonderful director Rick Alverson.”

The director of Thor, Taika Waititi, is also new to the Marvel universe. The New Zealander, who wrote the initial screenplay for Disney hit animation Moana, is best known for his indie films including What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Goldblum says Waititi managed to bring his independent spirit to Ragnarok.

“They know what they’re doing over there at Marvel – they’re just Marvel-ous. They are so confident and effective at making big, epic, huge production movies that they go smoothly. But they want to make good movies. They want to make popular movies but I really think they have the idea and the ambition to make well-done movies of quality.

“Then they have the idea to get someone like Taika Waititi, who’s just a wonderful director, a brilliant director who’s done these movies that are all improvised. When he first approached me for this he said: ‘Yeah, we’re going to improvise – a lot.’”

Speaking to MTV News ahead of the film release Waititi estimated that around 80 per cent of Ragnarok is unscripted. “It’s a different kind of feel from these prescriptive and sometimes clunky movies,” says Goldblum. “It’s very free. It feels like a kind of actorly workshop or rehearsal. They even built into the schedule some extra shooting after we’d finished it and put it together, so they can see how it works out and add some more things if they need to. It really was a very loose independent feeling experience.”

For the first time in 20 years, Goldblum shares the screen with his Jurassic Park co-star Sam Neill. In one particularly memorable viral internet meme Neill is photoshopped, from the Jurassic Park scene where he lay on top of the triceratops, onto a bare chested Goldblum. Asked by one Twitter user if he was aware of it, Neill replied: “Yes, I am. It is stomach churning.” But Thor wasn’t quite the reunion fans might have hoped for.

“I love Sam Neill, I think the world of him. We had the best time on that movie all those years ago and unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to see each other in the flesh on this one,” says Goldblum. “He’d just worked before I got there and had to leave, but he left a lovely note and artefact of himself that was very special and I’ll cherish. It was a picture of himself with a note and it was just dear and funny. I was thrilled. And then seeing him in the movie I thought was delightful – he made me laugh. He’s at
the height of his powers.”

Goldblum has only recently seen the film himself when speaking to Big Issue North, and says it is one of his proudest roles to date. “I’m trying to get better. I feel like I’m on the threshold of some better things and I’m happy with the recent things. So without sounding like it’s too much on purpose, I do like this Thor: Ragnarok movie. It’s the thing freshest in my system and I was on the edge of my seat, laughing and rocking out to this interesting Mark Mothersbaugh score that Taika orchestrated with him conceptually. And I found it so touching – I was choked up many times.”

At 17 Goldblum moved to New York from his family home in Pittsburgh, where he was raised by Jewish parents – his mother a radio broadcaster and his father a doctor. After moving to Hollywood, he married his Silverado co-star Patricia Gaul in 1980. Following a divorce he remarried in 1987, to Geena Davis, his co-star in The Fly. In 2014 he married for a third time, to Canadian Olympic gymnast Emilie Livingston.

“I’m with this lovely, beautiful, wonderful woman now for six years and we have two kids. A little over two years ago we had Charlie and then six months ago we had River Joe and I couldn’t be happier and more sort of in a state of ecstatic wonderment.

“I didn’t enter into it lightly, or off the cuff,” he says, without irony, of becoming a first time father at 63. “We talked about it so I was prepared in a way for the pros and cons of what this could be and I want to do it well and apply my best effort to it. And it’s just fantastic so far. The kids are just amazingly gorgeous to be with and everything about my life seems enhanced.”

Goldblum credits his “down to earth life at this point” for his ability to remain one of the good guys in Hollywood – that and his love of acting. “I wanted to be an actor so much since I was a kid, starting at 10, so I enjoy myself a lot and I’m very grateful to do the things that I’m doing – so that maybe keeps the crankiness out of my face.”

In recent weeks the world has looked on in horror as the scale mounts of the claims of sexual misconduct by film producer and studio exec Harvey Weinstein. Goldblum admits “none of us can really be entirely shocked”.

“I never knew him, I never worked with him, and in a way it’s shocking and very disturbing, and infuriating and sobering. But who amongst us doesn’t know that in all sorts of fields and realms there’s disrespect and abuse amongst all people, beset by one kind of madness or another? The abuse that’s had to be endured by women over the centuries and in so many ways, is so intolerable and ugly and unacceptable. Hopefully we’re beginning to turn a page into a new time and place where that just can’t be allowed to happen and women are fully empowered with every bit of their innate courage and gloriousness.”

While the Weinstein revelations have led to an unravelling of his career, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that another American man has risen to the ultimate position of power, despite similar accusations. Asked about Trump, Goldblum, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton, says he hopes changes in Hollywood culture will influence politics and beyond.

“It’s been part of the culture and the bad, obsolete, vulgar thinking of men in that position, all over the place. Hopefully, starting in one area, it can be addressed in every area and we won’t find anything unacceptable from anybody anywhere.”

Unfortunately for us Goldblum, for now at least, is only the Grandmaster of a fictional planet of chaos and indulgence. But what would he do if he was Grandmaster of ours?

“I would play music, which I like to do. I have a jazz gig every Wednesday in Los Angeles. Do you come to LA much?” he asks, seemingly unaware of Big Issue North budgets. “Well, if you come down there it’s at a place called Rockwell. I play the piano – I play jazz. I’m there every Wednesday if I’m not working. So yes, if I had my way, I’d offer music and encourage people in peaceful and respectful activity.”

Until then, we’ll just have to cheer ourselves up with Jeff Goldblum memes.

Getting hammered

In the God of Thunder’s new adventure Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his mighty hammer and finds himself in a race against time to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok – the destruction of his homeworld and the end of Asgardian civilisation at the hands of an all-powerful new threat, Hela. First he must survive the Grandmaster’s deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against his former ally and fellow Avenger, the Incredible Hulk.

“There are a few physical changes with the character in this film,” says Chris Hemsworth, who plays the titular hero. “The first one is he loses his hair. He’s in a gladiator world where part of their processing is to chop the hair off, which happens off screen. And he turns up with his hair hacked off. It certainly gave me a different attitude. Different costumes, different weapons, a different cast of characters to work off give you a different energy. And so something as simple as having a different haircut can affect the way you move.

“Then he also loses his hammer. It’s destroyed by Hela. That forces him to question everything in existence and his own strength and his own history and past, and sends him again on a different journey. It was about stripping him back physically, but also emotionally, in order to rebuild him in some way or have him have to rediscover something. So that is a great way to break him down.”

Hela, the first lead female villain in the Marvel universe, is played by Cate Blanchett.

“I was trying to play cool but I was so excited because you don’t get offered these things very often,” she says about the part. “Then after doing a little bit of research, I realised that there hadn’t yet been a female villainess in one of the Marvel movies before. I felt the role could be really exciting.

“The best villains are always those that you kind of love but hate what they do. You sort of understand it. There’s a logic to it. They’re not just completely nuts. There’s an incredible, fantastic element to Hela but you still want there to be an outline of a person in there that people can grasp on to.”

Director Taika Waititi says: “I thought that the way that I would approach this film would be very different to the first two films. And Marvel was down for that. One of the things that also attracted me to the project was when Marvel told me that they wanted to really change the franchise. They wanted to take Thor in a new direction and put him into outer space with as little time on Earth as possible. They wanted to make him fun and have an adventure.”

Waititi is known for casting himself in his own movies and in Thor, shot largely on Australia’s Gold Coast, he plays Korg the Kronan, who befriends Thor when he’s imprisoned. “When we were writing the story, I asked myself, who do I want to play?” says Waititi. “What kind of character have I not done yet? What would be fun?

“I like playing characters who provide a little texture and make it a bit more interesting to watch. I knew I had never played a guy who was made of rocks… That seemed like a character that I could play around with while getting to do some stuff with Chris Hemsworth. I was an actor before I was a filmmaker, so I still enjoy that part of it.”

Thor: Ragnarok is in cinemas nationwide now

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