Movie Picture

Jeff Goldblum talks life on The Life Aquatic

There's a certain quality in every one of Jeff Goldblum's characters. It's tough to pin down exactly what that quality is: "offbeat" is too strong a word, "quirky" too lazy, and "nutty" too cruel. But whatever it is, it's real. Greeting me in his Ritz Carlton hotel room, he's as pleasantly—well, Goldblumish—in person as he is onscreen.

I'm here to chat with him about his role in The Life Aquatic, and, coincidentally, he looks like a man who's been at sea. Wearing a fitted gray t-shirt, he has a deep brown tan and a healthy energy, gesturing excitedly as he speaks. In a window behind him, the gray water of the Hudson River blends into the misty morning sky, giving the impression that we're actually in the open waters. After offering me a cup of coffee, he says that, "I used to drink coffee, but now I'm straight as an arrow. Coffee is too much for me."

No caffeine at all?

Jeff Goldblum: Nope! I find that I have to go all-natural. The quality of energy that I get from caffeine—it just cheats me from the process of trying to come up with whatever I think I need to come up with.

Speaking of "coming up with" ...your scenes with Bill Murray—that interaction is terrific. Really funny.

Jeff Goldblum: You like that? Thank you so much.

Can you talk about your chemistry, and the off-screen camaraderie?

Jeff Goldblum: Well, where do I start. [Takes a sip from his tea—decaffeinated—and thinks for a second.] First of all—Wes Anderson. I think he's a genius. I think he's brilliant. He creates a spirit for camaraderie, for a movie about community and teams-manship. He's so passionate and wonderful in what he's trying to do. He's a leader that people rally around. The best people are attracted to him. He also has, like the movie, a deeply human, gentle elegance about him. And it spreads.

Kind of soaks into the rest of the project?

Jeff Goldblum: I believe it does. That's what I felt like.

Which of the characters do you most identify with?

Jeff Goldblum: Well, connect with? I guess the guy I play [laughs]—that's what you do when you try to act!

Okay, aside from Hennessy [Goldblum's character] – which character do you personally connect with the most?

Jeff Goldblum: They're all so delightful. I get a big kick out of William Defoe's character, how unrestrainedly devoted he is, and sincere, and enthusiastic—

—the zeal he has...

Jeff Goldblum: Yes, zeal! I can relate to that! Owen [Wilson]. In this movie. I always enjoy him, but the way he's so ...[At this point, Goldblum launches into a spot-on impression of Owen Wilson in the film] kind, and tender-hearted. And, "Gee, I feel like my heart is almost going to break . . ."

I don't see you do many impressions! That's perfect—you should do them more often!

Jeff Goldblum: [Laughs] Thank you . Never done it before—that was just a momentary channeling.... And then she, Anjelica Huston, the way she is so helpful, and her largesse, and her wisdom, and her .... .

Luminousness.

Jeff Goldblum: Yes, luminousness. I don't know if I can relate to it, but I can inspire to it.

So how would you compare working on this film with Wes Anderson, and working on some of your larger, franchise, popcorn films?

Jeff Goldblum: Well, he's unique. He's not like anybody else. But these other movies that have made a ton of money, and been wildly popular, they've been with directors—Steven Spielberg, for instance—who's a very special—smart, obviously—brilliant director. He's very interested in the creative process, very inspirational to be around. So it's not like my experience like that was less in any way.

It looked like you had a great deal of fun in this film. Playing a kind of smarmy, almost obnoxious antagonist. Do you have more fun playing that character, or do you like the playing guy that everyone's rooting for?

Jeff Goldblum: [Hesitates, squirms, almost] Well, you know, different people will have different ideas. The brilliance of Wes Anderson is that his characters are complicated—

Right. No clear-cut goodguys or badguys.

Jeff Goldblum: Not really, right. And should we really be rooting for Zissou, who doesn't even know his interns' names, and he hits them on his wounds and stuff?

True. And there's also the fact that you're stuff was stolen, so that gives your character some empathy...

[MILD SPOILERS]

Jeff Goldblum: Of course! Then again, I did hit the dog, and there's nothing friendly about that. But ...we shouldn't be swayed too much by Bill's character, and the nasty remarks he makes to me: "This guy's an asshole, this guy's my nemesis" and so on. He's threatened by me. I'm doing so well and he's struggling, and I have this soulful connection with his wife and all that. So I think that I have nothing but nice thoughts about him. I'm no villain myself. I'm a little guarded around him, because he can be a little dangerous and prickly. And I won't accept any mistreatment. But finally, I feel bad for him, and sort of encourage him to do an act of goodwill, and I say that he should get back together with Eleanor.

You're almost redeemed in the end. You're the one who connects them back...

Jeff Goldblum: Well I encourage them, yes, to do that. And then we have a little forgiving moment like that. And then everyone has this magical communal moment with the unspeakably beautiful fish, the jaguar shark.

Can you talk a bit about Mini's First Time?

Jeff Goldblum: I had a lovely experience on that! Nick Guthe is the director who went to the Playhouse West, where I taught for the past ten or fifteen years, and this is his first script that he directed as well as wrote. He's a very confident and impressive and fun man. And Alec Baldwin was a blast to work with in this. Carrie-Ann Moss I adore. Luke Wilson was in it; we didn't have much to do with together, but I love the whole Wilson family, including their parents—they're good people. And Nikki Reed, from Thirteen. I had a blast working on it.

What's your character like?

Jeff Goldblum: I live in Hollywood, and I'm a very successful producer of reality-tv shows. [Laughs.]

So is there a smarmyness to that role also?

Jeff Goldblum: [Pauses, and again seems uncomfortable with the word "smarmy"] Well, there could be, but I think it's complicated also. I think I'm full of life and fun and goodwill in a way, and sincerity. [Points to a book on his coffee table] And I'm going to do this play on Broadway come mid-April. It's called "The Pillow Man," with me and Billy Crudip at the Booth Theater.