It’s Friday the 13th and Jeff Goldblum is avoiding strange tidings.
“Take it easy today,” Goldblum states matter of factly over the phone. He’s got a full slate of interviews to promote his new show, and it’s on the same day he released a single and fresh artwork for his upcoming jazz album. “Not that I’m superstitious,” he continues. “Not even a little bit. That’s all nonsense. Absolute nonsense. No, I go with science.”
If there’s a formula to having a long and satisfying career in the limelight, Goldblum deserves an honorary PhD for tinkering with the optimal compounds. The 66-year-old actor is closing in on five decades of film work; from classics like The Fly, Independence Day, and Jurassic Park to more recent hits like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Thor: Ragnarok. Instead of retreating into the Hollywood Hills to enjoy his spoils, Goldblum is jet-setting. More specifically, his artistic endeavors recently landed him in Palm Springs where he was playing piano on a platform in the middle of a pool at Frank Sinatra’s former estate, Twin Palms.
“I thought, ‘I don’t know if they’re ever going to get this piano in that pool, but I’ll be a ring-tailed monkey if it didn’t happen,’” Goldblum says of his album promotional shoot. “Then we fooled around and got those shots. I wonder what Frank Sinatra would think of that?”
The striking album cover sees Goldblum above water, playing keys in a clean black suit with black shades on, and with the San Jacinto Mountains set against the backdrop. It’s not the only connection the actor and musician has to Sinatra: his first agent in Los Angeles during the mid-1970s was Sinatra’s daughter, Tina.
As many co-stars in Hollywood will note, it takes far less than six degrees of separation to enter Jeff’s orbit. Few actors have a resumé as eclectic and varied as Goldblum’s. Ragnarok co-star Tom Hiddelston once told GQ that between takes on set of the Marvel epic, “We would play a game about Jeff Goldblum movies with Jeff Goldblum on the set of a movie we were doing with Jeff Goldblum.”
Even fewer celebrities—save for maybe Bill Murray—have leaned into internet culture appropriating their stardom with a playful awareness like Goldblum. The iconic shot of a shirtless Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park often resurfaces online as a meme. In London last year, it became a literal 25-foot, 330-pound statue in a park near Tower Bridge—launching Goldblum to a new level of Instagram fame.
While he’s flattered by the outpouring of affection from fans and his contemporaries, the husband and father of two young boys is enjoying domestic life (someone has to drive the kids to karate and swimming lessons) and worldly pursuits in his new gig as the host, narrator, and colorful personality of The World According to Jeff Goldblum. The latter comes from National Geographic and premieres on the new streaming platform Disney+ this November. In the series, Goldblum uses his curious mind to explore the backstories and interesting people behind ordinary topics like sneakers, ice cream, gaming, bikes, coffee, and more in the 12-episode first season.
DEN OF GEEK: What drives you to pursue deeper knowledge in areas like sneakers and ice cream?
JEFF GOLDBLUM: Well, I’m curious. I like surprises. I read a little bit of background information, but [the show producers] set-up these out of left field, spitball, off the beaten track places for me to go to, and people for me to talk with, and then it becomes just a extemporized, spontaneous encounter with them. I think it’s through the door of surprise that a portal opens that allows me to be particularly fascinated and in wonderment.
Each episode unfolds like a personal journey. What truths did you learn about yourself along the way?
We do an episode on bicycles and they put me on one of these… BMX it’s called. I had never heard of that. These are bikes you stay standing on, and you go up and down these dirt-built courses, up and down hills. It was a very hot day and I might’ve been overdressed. I rode on that for a long time because there were a bunch of kids and experts doing it, and I was keeping up with them. I almost overdid it. I learned about the limits of my resources.
Through this show I started to investigate areas that I may not have otherwise. While we were shooting, I was reading and learning about [historian and author] Yuval Noah Harari. I watched many of his videos on YouTube and then read all three of his books, Sapiens, Homo Deus, and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I learned truths about myself, our species, our history, and how we came to be here. I learned truths about what the life sciences tell us in terms of how we function, and how free will may have been a myth that we made up but may in fact not have much credence.
For decades, I’ve done a version of meditation, but this recent period, and doing this show, has sort of transformed everything that I’m doing and certainly what I’m interested in exposing my kids to. I’m jettisoning some of my half-baked ideas that were only borrowed and vaguely investigated.
What can this show say about your worldview that watching an interview or seeing you in a film role can’t?
You’ve seen me play different parts. In my latest movie, called The Mountain, I played a guy based on Walter Freeman who introduced lobotomy to America in the ‘40s and ‘50s. So [fans] have seen a variety of versions of me and have seen me play characters. I do this press stuff and I have an Instagram account, but I think there’s a deeper dive into what’s going on in my brain or how it seems to work.
Did you ever think that the internet could launch you from an already famous actor to an icon?
It’s fun. I’m only sort of secondarily aware of some of that stuff. I’m busy and focused every day, planting new plants and nourishing the garden. I’m doing what I love every day. We’re coming out with this new record on Nov. 1. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is play my songs and work out in the gym. Then I get the boys dressed and breakfast and off to school.
Things are popping. I go out on the street and people are very sweet. I enjoy taking pictures with them. Then when we do these jazz gigs, I get to see them in groups, and it’s real fun. I like to stay disciplined and play piano and work on one acting thing or another. It’s just fun to keep solving these puzzles, just for the sheer fun of it.
Do actors and musicians flex similar muscles?
That’s a good question. In my case, they’re overlapping and they are not dissimilar. I improvise some acting, working on Portlandia and with Taika Waititi on Thor: Ragnarok. I enjoy a lot of that. Of course jazz has a lot to do with improvisation, listening, interacting, and telling a story and communicating something. It’s intended to land on the listener’s ear and to make a connection with the listener, and have something interactive—an event between you and the people you’re doing it with and the people who consume it. That’s all somewhat similar between acting and music.
You collaborated with artists like Sharon Van Etten and Fiona Apple on your new album, and consistently work with top Hollywood talent. What does reaching a place where you can be selective about working with creative partners mean to you?
I’m surprised and wildly grateful because when I was a kid, I was just dead set on [acting]. I don’t know where I got this idea from. My dad was a doctor and nobody in my family was doing anything like [acting]. I’m from Pittsburgh. I had this obsessive idea about becoming an actor and then just made my way to New York by myself and started to study.
I’ve had good teachers. I studied with Sandy Meisner and he set the course for me. He said it takes 20 years until you can call yourself an actor after continual work, and then a lifetime of progress if you’re lucky enough to keep working at it. I took that to heart and I feel like I’m getting better and better. I know it’s uncommon to work in more nourishing ways as the decades go on. I enjoy every precious day and moment.
In terms of what you value artistically, what are the essential Jeff Goldblum roles?
I’m seeing the whole palette of stuff that I’ve done. I am happy to do a variety of things and work with a variety of people. I wouldn’t change anything. If I had to give names, Rick Alverson, who directed The Mountain. My own taste thrills to his brave and unique sensibility. I like Wes Anderson so much, as so many other people do. I think he’s a genius. I was rewatching some movies because [my wife] Emilie had never seen California Split and Nashville. There are a couple of movies that I did with Robert Altman early on. He was important in my growth and education. And then this Nat Geo show is just up my alley right now. That would reflect my taste right now.
In a GQ profile a couple of years ago, you said, “I don’t really drink or smoke. I like to keep my perspective wholesome.” Nowadays it feels harder than ever to maintain a wholesome perspective. Is The World According to Jeff Goldblum your roadmap for the rest of us?
I’m not an advisor. It’s really personal. All the things that I’m interested in, we’ll see if other people are interested in them. Everybody needs to find their own voice and their own path through life. But I’m happy to share what feels like is working for me.
The World According to Jeff Golblum, from National Geographic, premieres on Disney+ Nov. 12.