Wednesday, September 19, 2018

In Character: Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum has a persona all his own. The man is a singular talent, to be confused with no one. But beyond his endlessly amusing and eccentric personality, he’s a true actor who can play any type of role. There are so many classic Golblum performances to choose from, below is a collection of only a few.

Five Essential Roles
The Big Chill (1983)
Of the seven college friends who assemble for a reunion following their friend’s suicide, Michael is by far the most clever and entertaining. Equal parts charming, intelligent, and arrogant, Michael is a gem of a character, played to perfection by Goldblum.

The Big Chill contains one of my favorite movie screenplays, and how fitting it was for director Lawrence Kasdan to give the film’s best one-liners to Goldblum. If I listed them all here, it’d take up far too much space, but I’ll offer two. “Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come.” Michael quietly utters at his best friend’s funeral. And, “Are we the first ones up?” which, when taken in context, is one of the reasons Goldblum is so good in this film.

Jurassic Park (1993)
Ian Malcolm
Jurassic Park came out 25 years ago, and most people who have seen the movie remember how Jeff Goldblum’s character spoke, acted, and even dressed in the film. They remember his nonchalant line deliveries and his water-dripping explanation of chaos theory. I’m not sure if this is a comment on today’s film industry (will performances in modern blockbusters be remembered 25 years from now?), or a note of praise for Goldblum’s acting, but the man is simply perfect as Ian Malcolm.

Independence Day (1996)
David Levinson
Here’s another example of Goldblum standing out in a massive project. Matching satellite tech, David, with the President (Bill Pullman), and later with a cocky Marine captain (Will Smith), proves to be effortless work for Goldblum. The man can roll with any insane scenario the movie throws at him, and still pull it off convincingly. Jeff Goldblum doesn’t typically portray the Everyman (his acting sensibilities are too unique), but in Independence Day, he carries that title aptly.

Igby Goes Down (2002)
D.H. Banes
Now we’re getting to the area of Goldblum’s career that he has stayed in ever since. Well-dressed characters that are eccentric, charming, and who always manage to have the best lines of the film. So encapsulates D.H. Banes, who steals every scene of Igby Goes Down that he’s featured in. As the godfather of problematic teen, Igby (Keiran Culkin), D.H. uses his entitled influence to coach Igby through the “hardships” of New York high society. Whether he’s scampering nervously at a cocktail party, passing out $100 bills like candy, or imparting one of his many life lessons onto Igby, D.H. finds Goldblum at his most cockily sincere.

Adam Resurrected (2008)
Adam Stein
Adam Resurrected is a fine example of a great performance in an otherwise poor film. In the movie, Goldblum plays a man attempting to cope with PTSD, nearly two decades after surviving the horrors of the Holocaust. Paul Schrader’s film attempts something admirable, but the tone of the movie is all over the place. It can’t decide if it wants to be a farce or a ice-cold drama, yet, somehow, Goldblum manages to carve out an incredible performance. Better put, Adam Resurrected contains a specific type of performance that I haven’t seen from Goldblum before. Even if the film fails him, he does the material justice.

Wild Card
Portlandia (2012)
There are so many fun Goldblum performances that could fit here, but I have to go with his guest part in Portlandia as Alan, a knot store owner who sells Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s characters a tangled set of Apple earphones. Goldblum is in the scene for less than three minutes, and he steals every single second he’s on screen. Yelling for “Nancy” (is she even real?), interrupting playfully, purring once he reveals the earphones – this performance is yet another reminder that a great actor does not need hours of screen time to deliver great work.

The Best of the Best
The Fly (1986)
Seth Brundle
There’s a key component to make-up heavy performances that often gets overlooked, and that is the fact that there is an actor under there who is responsible for bringing the performance to life. One of reasons we tend to overlook this is because many actors rely on the heavy make-up to sell their performances. But acting takes nuance. It takes restraint, timing, and listening. And when an actor understands this and weaves those components together seamlessly, we get something as profound as Jeff Goldblum’s performance in The Fly.

Obviously, Goldblum isn’t covered up throughout the whole film. In his early scenes, Goldblum captures the manic, fun energy of an experimental mind. And after his transformation, Seth Brundle grows increasingly disfigured with each passing scene. The make-up may conceal Goldblum’s features, but the heart of the man is intact throughout.

The physicality of the performance is what’s most notable. But in order for a role like this to excel, there has to be emotion behind the special effects make-up. There must be real human conviction. Somehow, perhaps as well as any performance of this kind, Goldblum’s emotive character choices are always perfectly aligned with Seth’s transformation into disfigurement. Grotesque, humorous, enraged – this is a virtuoso performance of impeccable craft.

Other Notable Roles
in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Death Wish (1974)
Annie Hall (1977)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Silverado (1985)
The Player (1992)
Deep Cover (1992)
Nine Months (1995)
The Great White Hype (1996)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Will & Grace (2005)
Fay Grim (2006)
Raines (2007)
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2009-1010)
Morning Glory (2010)
Le Week-End (2013)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Inside Amy Schumer (2015)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Isle of Dogs (2018)


  1. If Jeff Goldblum read this. He would give it.... 5 GOLDBLUMS!!!!

    I fucking love that guy. He is in a class of his own. He can hilarious but also can be serious. The Fly I think is his best work as an actor as you get a sense of someone who believes he has found a scientific breakthrough only to lose it altogether as I wonder why he and David Cronenberg never worked together again.

    When it comes to Independence Day, I always felt that film geared more towards Will Smith and Bill Pullman all because they did the action stuff. To me, Goldblum was the real hero. He was the one that was trying to come up with all of the solutions and knew all of the warnings. He was the one who got the idea from his dad into putting a virus into the alien ships. He saved the world. Not Big Willie Style.

    I love some of the stuff he's done with Robert Altman and Wes Anderson as I think they've managed to play into his strengths while he was fucking awesome in Thor: Ragnarok. He was so funny and had a laid-back approach to playing a villain which was a great contrast to what Cate Blanchett was doing in the meatier antagonist role. I hope he works with Taika Waititi again because they seem like a match made in heaven.

    1. FIVE GOLDBLUMS! I'll take it! I couldn't agree with this comment more. He IS the hero of Independence Day, which is oddly overlooked, but, you know, oh well.

      I would've loved for him and Cronenberg to work together again. Their sensibilities seem so matched for each other. But hey, there's still time I suppose.

  2. Goldblum...yes!!!

    Let me explain how I know he's unbelievably great in The Fly. I haven't watched the movie in 20+ years and I can clearly remember the emotional impact he made on me as a viewer. I just bought a copy of it on blu-ray and plan on watching it before October runs out. I am really looking forward to revisiting this.

    Obviously, I love him in lots of other stuff. However, you blew my mind when among his other notable role were Death Wish and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Haven't seen either of those in forever, either, but now I kind of have to dig them up.

    1. You just touched on what I think is one of the most critical aspects of loving a film, the idea of it lasting in your memory for years. A lot of movies wear off over time, the sugar high goes down. But when you can remember the impact a movie had on you 20 years later, that says something huge. So happy to hear you're a fan.

      And Goldblum is one of the main heavies in Death Wish! It's sooo weird to see him in such a nasty role.

  3. Whenever I see his name I always think of James Franco from Pineapple Express going "Aww, fuck Jeff Goldblum."

    I love this guy. He always cracks me up, but I haven't seen a lot of his earlier work aside from the "essentials." Great post!

    1. Thanks! Haha I love that Franco line too. Goldblum is just the man.

  4. Amazing post. I recently watched Thor Ragnarok and absolutely loved him in it...had me cracking up the whole time!

    1. Thanks! I love that he's able to stand out in such big films like Ragnarok. Seems like Waititi really just let ol' Jeff do his thing, and the result was so great.

  5. Oh I love him! but then again everyone does :) Fly is still the most disgusting movie I've ever seen, the effects and make up there are amazing but Jesus, it's so unpleasant to watch

    1. That movie is SO unpleasant to watch, partly because Goldblum sells it the entire time. And I agree, everyone loves Goldblum!

  6. I love Jeff Goldblum! There was this awesome pair of months were, every weekend, I watched Bill Chill, I couldn't get over how great the characters were, how they interacted, the different sets of characters and how each one has an actual relationship with any other person there.
    Of course, The Fly and Jurassic Park are great films of his.
    I need to watch Igby Goes Down, I'm not sure if I've even heard of it before.
    I remember being surprised to see him in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and maybe two episodes of Glee and as a juror member of that awesome 12 Angry Men sketch of Amy Schumer.
    He was also the reason I gave Law and Order : Criminal Intent a chance.
    He's also super fun in Thor Ragnarok.

    1. So happy you're a fan! Igby Goes Down is a good little indie that never really got the credit it deserved. It has a lot of notable things in it, but Goldblum is the highlight for me. He captures that upper echelon, New York entitlement so well.

  7. Awesome post! I love your introduction, it's almost like the man doesn't need an introduction. He's just Jeff Goldblum. It's great to see you highlight his work. I think a lot of people forget what a talented actor he truly is. I met him at a convention earlier this year, and he's unforgettable in person as much as he is on-screen.

    1. Thanks! He really doesn't need any introduction. A man entirely of his own. That's so cool that you got to meet him! He has such a magnetism to him.

  8. Truly awesome work here Alex. I love Jeff Goldblum in everything that I've seen him in. Sadly, your post highlights how much of his work I have yet to see (Igby Goes Down and Adam Resurrected are two examples of that). I think one of the reasons for my oversight is that Goldblum, for better or worse, ends up surfacing in projects where you kind of don't expect him. After all, this is a man whose style and persona don't seem to be appropriate for action/thrillers, yet his body of work is filled with those types of projects.
    I am also going on record to say I have been one who has underplayed the awesome performance given by Goldblum in The Fly. I don't say that because I didn't think it was good, but I certainly never paid that much attention to it. However, it is telling that in a film as epic and downright bonkers as The Fly, Goldblum can sell the performance matching the film's crescendo beat for beat.

    1. Thanks so much! Could not agree more about your thoughts on his work in The Fly. He really does sell it, from first scene to last. And I highly recommend his work in Igby Goes Down and Adam Resurrected. Adam, primarily, shows a side of Goldblum I had never seen.

  9. Ugh I'd kill to see one of these on Liv Ullmann :) Found out I have Norwegian ancestors so I'm kinda super proud to come from the same place as her 😂

    1. Ohhh that's a fun idea. I absolutely adore Ullmann. I once called her work in Face to Face one of my favorite performances of all time. But ALL of her work (particularly for Bergman) is amazing.

  10. HahahahaRAWWRRRRhaha.

    This guy's one of the best. Dr. Malcolm was like my Han Solo when I was growing up. I still quote him on a semi-daily basis. From JP AND The Lost World (though the less said about Fallen Kingdom the better).

    But as far as the definitive Jeff Goldblum performance, I agree it'd be The Fly. I can't imagine anyone else giving that role what he did.

    1. Dr. Malcolm RULES. I love that you still quote him. And yeah, it has to be The Fly, right? Whatta hell of a performance.

  11. You heard the rumor, right? About Jeff Goldblum?

  12. Ah, yes, uhm, Jeff Goldblum, of course, uhm, what an, hah, EXCELLENT, choice. I love Jeff Goldblum. No mater what movie or TV show he appears in it always elevates it to another level. Even just watching random interviews with him is entertaining. My personal favorite performance from him will always be Jurassic Park. That is one of the first movies i remember watching in theater as a kid. But for his actual best performance, i would probably go with The Fly as well. He is fantastic in that.

    But the most Jeff Goldblum-y performance has to go to Thor Ragnarok. I was not a fan of either of the first Thor movies. In fact i can't even remember anything from them because they were so boring, so i had no plans of ever checking out the third one until i heard who was directing it and that Jeff Goldblum was gonna play a bad guy in it. That sold me right away. And i think it has ended up being my favorite Marvel movie to date. Most of them i only watch one and forget about them, but i have watched Thor Ragnarok countless times already. The Jeff Goldblum scenes are easily the best part of the movie as well. They really just let him do whatever he wanted. I really hope they bring him back for future Marvel movies as well.

    1. Yes! So happy you're such a fan. I agree his work in Ragnarok was pure, Goldblumian bliss. He really went for it there, and that made me appreciate that film more than most all other Marvel flicks.