Jeff Goldblum makes a rare L.A. stage appearance in 'Seminar'
Jeff Goldblum is one of Hollywood's most familiar faces. The lanky 59-year-old actor has been associated with some of the biggest blockbusters and most influential films of the last four decades, from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Big Chill" to "Independence Day" and "Jurassic Park."
Born and raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Goldblum moved to New York at 17 with his parents' blessing and studied with Sanford Meisner. A successful film career soon followed, starting with "Death Wish," California Split" and "Nashville." By the mid-1970s Goldblum was in constant demand, though only in his early 20s.
Goldblum's stage career has been less frenetic. He last appeared in a major Broadway role in Marin McDonough's "The Pillowman" in 2005. He recently starred in two productions for London's Old Vic, playing opposite Kevin Spacey: "Speed-the-Plow" in 2008 and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" in 2010.
Earlier this year, Goldblum stepped into a Broadway role vacated by a different yet equally iconic actor: Alan Rickman. In Theresa Rebeck's "Seminar" Goldblum plays Leonard, a fiction writer whose formerly meteoric career was derailed by personal issues. Leonard makes his money as a private teacher of writing, and his success at drawing the best out of his students is overshadowed by his notoriously harsh, confrontational style.
Leonard has been hired to assess the work of four blossoming writers: Kate, a graduate of prestigious Bennington College who's defensive and difficult; Douglas, a blue-blooded young man of considerable privilege; his opposite, clumsy Martin; and a sexy, opportunistic Asian American woman named Izzy.
Goldblum is reprising his role at the Ahmanson Theatre, where "Seminar" runs through Nov. 18. We talked to him about the challenges and rewards of playing a revered and despised mentor.
The Orange County Register: What kind of man is Leonard?
Jeff Goldblum: He's intimidating and scary. He enjoys using his charisma and intelligence to play with people. He's obviously suffered, as we find out later in some oblique and not-so-oblique ways. He has interpersonal problems, social difficulties, and hypersensitivity and ego problems. He had a brilliant fiction-writing career early on, but he sabotaged himself.
Register: Did you see Alan Rickman in the role on Broadway?
Goldblum: I've been a fan of Alan's over the years. I loved seeing him in this; I saw it many times. I found out about the role by watching him play it, saw his many brilliant ideas and learned his blocking. I stopped at a certain point because I wanted to make it my own. But boy oh boy, he was just spectacular to watch.
Register: Did you ever have a mentor or teacher as diabolical as Leonard?
Goldblum: No, I've had nothing but wonderful teachers. But Leonard finally winds up being a very effective and kind of brilliant teacher. The play shows us he's insightful and right on the money with all his assessments.
Register: Have you been changing your approach to the character of Leonard during your hiatus?
Goldblum: I made this little class for myself. I got students together and we rehearsed things during the break. Theresa is so brilliant and the play is so deep and political. It really has taken me on a ride. I'm discovering new layers of it all the time. It's really different now from when I first encountered it.
Register: Is Leonard a good teacher?
Goldblum: I think the answer is yes. He's kind of like a Sherlock Holmes. He knows each writer immediately, and he enjoys figuring out how to awaken them, each in his or her own unique way. Of course, he's non-conventional. He ends up having sex with two women. I certainly don't practice or condone that as a teacher! But for his kind of teaching and what he's trying to achieve, he sees it as kind of a group therapy.
Register: You're going to turn 60 later this month. What else do you want to achieve?
Goldblum: I still have my appetite to learn and play; that's as robust as ever. I'm plenty satisfied and challenged by this big meal on my plate here. After this I go to Paris to work with director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill," "Morning Glory"). I'm scheduled to appear in Wes Anderson's next movie with a wonderful cast. This is the first time I've done any stage work in Los Angeles since working in a little theater many years ago. I love the space and the cast and the director; they're all delightful. I will continue to consider any role that interests and challenges and excites me.
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