Jeff Goldblum was leaning in decades before "Lean In" became a catch-phrase of the moment.
You can see it from his earliest movies and TV appearances, Goldblum's angular frame and wide eyes tilting toward and drinking in whoever is opposite him. It can be flattering and flirtatious, or, as New York Magazine's David Edelstein writes of his leaning-in turn in the new film "Le Week-End," "creepily intimate."
"Flirtatious" makes Goldblum laugh. Blame it on a persona that started forming when he played a journalist / classmate pick-up line specialist in the reunion dramedy "The Big Chill" 30 years ago. Blame it on "Jurassic Park," where his "on-the-make" image was forever wedded to that "go-to-guy-for-explaining-big-science" in science fiction films (see "The Fly," "Independence Day," "Earth Girls are Easy," etc). Goldblum himself has an even better answer, one linked to his study under the acclaimed acting teacher Sanford "Sandy" Meisner.
"He said, ‘You're interesting to the extent that you're interested.' So it looks flirtatious, but what I think I'm doing is showing a real curiosity about and an appetite for and an appreciation of what's going on with the other person, with whoever it is you're with. Off camera, on stage, it doesn't matter. Pay attention to who you're talking to and the world around you. It's life enhancing." Goldblum, 61, brings that charm to film, to the theater and to TV, as heroes, villains and victims. And he's not shy about letting it spill into real life, and interviews.
"That's the thing I'm attracted to in other people. If I see genuine interest -- the way a baby or even a cat is fascinated by the things around them -- if I see that in a person, it's pretty intriguing."
He's had a recurring role on TV's "Portlandia," a natural fit for his quirky, dry humor. And he's in two films at the moment, as a lawyer caught up in the intrigues surrounding a will that could determine who gets a great fortune in Wes Anderson's delightful "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and as a pop philosopher and ex-classmate of an academic (Jim Broadbent) who is in Paris in the throes of a marriage about to bust up in "Le Week-End." The latter role is a classic Goldblum part, a "Goldblum-esque blurter," as Edelstein writes in New York, noting the actor's famed line-reading style -- a silky, hesitant baritone whose words come in a rush. It is a part Goldblum plays "with colorful relish," raved Rex Reed in The New York Observer.
"Paris is a very romantic place, and we get to see it, in this movie, through Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan's eyes," Goldblum says. "The Paris of their youth, and now they're older and maybe about to split up. They watch this old 1960s Godard film, ‘Bande a part.' What Godard had in that movie, the existential romanticism, or whatever you'd call it, they're trying to achieve as a couple and that's beyond all intellectual or emotional relationship connections. Pure play and joy and sport and love."
Goldblum sees Morgan, his character in that film, as "part of a strain of something that runs through my work, my ‘style.' There, I've admitted it. I can see it."
His imitable speaking style, rightly compared to jazz (he fronts a jazz combo in his spare time), the intense, staring eyes, the blush-inducing familiarity -- they turn up in almost every appearance.
He's cultivated that charm off screen, as well. Wes Anderson has hired him more than once("The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "Grand Budapest"). It's why Spielberg & co. have never shied away from using him, why Phil Kaufmann remembered his turn in a small role in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and cast him in "The Right Stuff." And it's how "Le Week-End" came to be his second film with Roger Michell, who'd directed him in "Morning Glory" and found something even juicier for him in "Le Week-End."
All this "repeat business" isn't just because Goldblum is on time and knows his lines, something he's scrupulous about passing on to his acting students. He's willing to improvise, make the lines better in the fashion of filmdom's greatest improvisational director, Robert Altman.
"These folks all make shooting a movie a fun art piece, what Altman ("Nashville," a very early Goldblum appearance) said -- ‘It's like making a sand castle. No matter what it winds up being, the waters will eventually wash it away.' "
"The experience of making the movie is the real joy. It's ephemeral, and it doesn't last. But while it does, I like having a good time."