If you think Jeff Goldblum always plays his characters the same way, the fast talking, stammering, quirky genius of
In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Goldblum plays Alistair Hennessy, rival oceanographer to Steve Zissou. They cross paths several times when Zissou is in various emotional states, so their dynamic in each scene is a little different.
By the time we got to talk to Goldblum, the schedule was running a tad behind and the conferences were getting abbreviated to 10 minutes. The pressure of covering everything in such a short time led Goldblum to pack his answers with as many thoughts as he could. Most people will probably edit his lengthy diatribes into a few brief quotes, but I felt like sharing the whole thing to give you a sense of his thought process.
Q: What is it about these characters Wes Anderson creates that actors love to play?
Jeff: For me, they’re just, for my taste, interesting, non formulaic, not the expected thing, complicated, surprising in what they say and what they wear. You’ve never seen somebody exactly like that, it feels like to me, like he’s unique, Wes is, the way he styles himself and his own visual imagination, is unique and special and intriguing because his taste is so sophisticated and personal. It’s at once naive, childlike but very droll and sophisticated. And they’re richly human, I think, the characters in these movies. They’re richly human even though the atmosphere is sometimes whimsical and vivid, the things, the relationships are deep emotional psychologically complicated interesting, there’s much to discover underneath the surface, like in this movie of the sea itself. And you know the characters are passionate and deeply, like Wes is himself, deeply gentle and sensitive and finally have a kind of experience in this movie for instance that he probably wouldn’t describe as spiritual but in fact has something to do with, I watched some Joseph Campbell interviews on TV again the other day, has something to do with the world of mystery, the miraculous, our mysterious connection that we have amongst us, and you know a magical fish, you know, that’s beyond words, you know.
Q: Are you the bad guy?
Jeff: I don’t think I’m such a clearly just bad guy. I know Bill’s character says a couple of nasty things to me and about me. I’m complicated. I do hit the dog, there’s no getting around that, there’s nothing nice about that, and I’m sorry for that and I wish I could have gone back and saved the dog although maybe the dog belonged to those pirates. Maybe that’s his proper place anyway. So Bill’s character says some nasty things about me but I think that’s because we shouldn’t trust that exactly and objectively rating my character because he’s cockeyed at this point admittedly. He says he has one foot of the merry go round, as Wes is such a word smith, and he’s so threatened I think by my character. We have a long history and currently I’m succeeding wildly in this field that he’s struggling with and connected still very soulfully and deeply and beautifully to his wife with whom he’s formerly married as you know, and that says something about who my character is. She is such a conspicuously angelic, delicious, delightful, rich, real, authentic, down to earth, beautiful, powerful person that I must be okay too in some ways. And I can be guarded around him that’s true because he can be passively aggressive or prickly and I won’t take that. I’m sad for him a little bemused by him. He’s a funny guy and finally I get to rescue him, however much I enjoy the idea that I can rescue him, and then he returns the favor. But then you’re right, at the end of the movie all of us have this shared redemption after we’ve lost sons and crew and health and things, we find union amongst ourselves and forgiveness, another theme that’s common in Wes’s movies, between us and something deeply human and sweet and gentle and awesome, that is who we are and who the big fish is and what we have to share between us that’s kind of lovely.
Q: How did Bill or Owen help you get acclimated into Wes Anderson’s World?
Jeff: Owen, you know, goes back, they have such a deep long connection. It’s so interesting to watch them together, imagine all the things they’ve done together, what they’ve written together, and how he uses Bill. I’ve always been a big fan of Bill’s but he’s never been more interesting to me than in Wes’s movies, both Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. But no, Wes himself is so, if you’ve seen him and met him and spent a little time with him, he’s also very gentle and sweet and kind and considerate and welcoming and it’s a family experience. A new member coming in to this family, I felt entirely welcomed and immediately, cordially acclimated to it. And people are inspired around him to be that way. You know what it’s like on a long movie set. He cares about it so much, it’s psychologically sometimes rough waters and people are bumping into each other and quarters are close and conditions- – People work harder when conditions are worse, but still it can be challenging. Wes is a great leader and a great commander because he’s like a master world class mountain climber wise man. He’s a very gentle, continually, unflappably sweet considerate fella which I appreciate no end. I can be very sensitive to the opposite of that so I really appreciate it.
Q: Do directors even direct you, or would you want them to?
Jeff: I love to be directed and I find that they can trust me and go. But no, I love to be directed and both.
Q: So did Wes?
Jeff: Sure, because he’s so specific and meticulous and his vision is so particular and I certainly wanted to extract from him and collaborate with him. I wanted to plumb the depths of his vision of this thing. Early on we got together and he said yes, and just specific things, he said, “Grow your hair.” Many things are written into the script, more than any script you’ve read, the lengths of people’s cuffs, the color of this. Things keep occurring to him, he keeps inventing, he’s very inventive, very creative, he keeps inventing and he said, “Besides everything I’ve written, grow your hair and cut your sideburns to this length exactly.” Very specific and I said, “Okay, da da da da” and he and Milena Canonero, a wonderful costume woman, a real artist collaborated on this and came up with all those creations with the greatest care. That’s also what marks him, just very caring and careful. And we had many fittings we got together at the Chateau Marmont, the three of us, months before and talked about clothing and he had Mark Mothersbaugh’s glasses. Those are his glasses. He said, “I have those in mind because I think your ship is going to look like this” and he showed me photos of some ’60s Italian movies and from some Jacques Cousteau things and he said the movie’s going to look like this and like this and your character might be like this.
He showed me pictures from Italian movies, so we got together and started to talk about things and we had many fittings and Milena came to my closet and said, “I like that tuxedo that you’re wearing and this thing he’s describing when we first see you, we’re going to make something.” We had a few fittings on that and they made this velvet Edwardian thing that were described with all these medals. Then I got on the set and Wes would go, “I like what they’ve done but let me…” and he replaced some of the medals, and then he said, “I was thinking about the hair,” they had a wonderful hair person, the person who did Pacino’s hair and his wig in Godfather III, best person in Italy, wonderful woman. But he said, “Excuse me if I do this. I want something a little elegant.” He said Jeff, “Do you mind?” He got in, started to do some things with my hair and rearranged my hair so I’m a pipe cleaner man. It’s a delight to trust somebody so completely. I’d go, “Do whatever you think, do it.” And he’s so pre-designed and envisioned with the thing but like Robert Altman in a way, he reminds me of being very collaborative and inventive like I say, on the spot and spontaneous and open to, makes use of the accidental and what is awkward to him unexpectedly. He’s just very receptive and interested in who you are and what you have to bring and includes all of that and goes, “What did you just say? Say that thing in the movie.” It’s like a magician a gentle kind of magician. What’s that? Bring that here? Do that. That’s fine, just that, what that is.