Film interviews these days tend to be corporate, sanitised, played out against movie poster backdrops, with marketing flunkies hovering in the wings to make sure you don’t stray ‘off topic’ — i.e. the product at hand.
None of that with Jeff Goldblum, who bursts on to my computer screen smiling and bespectacled, a little off kilter and all the better for it. “How are you, so nice to see you, thanks for doing this,” he says, his politeness real, not forced.
Throughout our conversation, Goldblum will drift around his California home, holding his laptop at the level of his face as he mulls questions, ponders his past, shows me his sister’s art and explains his enduring affection for Jurassic Park. We’re here, ostensibly, to discuss Jurassic World Dominion, the latest instalment in the booming dinosaur franchise, in which he reprises the role of Dr Ian Malcolm, mathematician, chaos theorist and urbane sceptic.
But Goldblum is very happy to discuss lots of things, from his childhood acting dreams to his early career and becoming a dad in his mid-60s. More of that later.
First, though, to Jurassic World Dominion, which is set four years after the dramatic conclusion of the 2018 film Fallen Kingdom. Isla Nublar, the Costa Rican island where the dinosaurs were held, has been destroyed and its creatures have escaped into the American wild, forcing nature — and mankind — to accommodate them.
“Yes,” Goldblum says, shaking his head sadly. “They’ve escaped into the world. Thirty years ago, I said just because you could revivify the dinosaurs didn’t mean you necessarily should, but that advice has been aggressively ignored over the course of these movies.”
As in the original film, environmental themes lurk below the surface in Dominion. “I mean, if you ask our director Colin Trevorrow, he’ll tell you it’s mostly entertainment, you know, slam bang, very spectacular.
"But Colin is very engaged and passionate about these issues and so am I. And my character gets to say a thing or two, and so do others. Laura Dern’s character and Sam Neill’s character, we get to say a thing or two about how we not only lack dominion over nature, but we’re subordinate to it, and that we’ve got to be good stewards for everything that we’ve been given on this wonderful planet.”
It was, he admits, an emotional experience returning to the franchise in Fallen Kingdom for the first time in 25 years. “I have a very deep affection for the original film,” he says.
“It transformed me in many ways and I have a deep appreciation of having been part of that thing and so, being given a chance to do that character again, I was thrilled and somewhat emotional, yeah.”
When he worked on the original film almost 30 years ago, did he have any sense of how absolutely huge it was going to be?
“When we did the first one, it was based on this very popular book, and Steven Spielberg, we already knew about, but I mean little did we know.
"We had an inkling that he had solved the problem, somehow, of bringing dinosaurs to the screen, but the way Stan Winston’s Oscar-winning animatronics combined with Dennis Muren’s new landmark special effects made dinosaurs something to see. And the way Steven Spielberg skinned the cat in telling that story was uniquely masterful and effective. I’ve seen it recently and it’s still really fun to see.”
In fact, he says he risked nightmares by showing it to his two young children with his wife Emilie. “Yeah we’ve got two boys, Charlie who’s six, and River, who’s now five. We don’t show them many movies at all, or TV — we try to keep them off screens, but in the last year, we showed them the first Jurassic Park and then the second one too, and it didn’t scare them too much I don’t think, and of course, they’re so dinosaur-inundated anyway.
“In fact, they’ve never been to a movie theatre and I’m thinking of taking them to see this next one in a movie theatre. I hope it doesn’t scare them too much because it’s intense.
“But with the first one, I guess we thought with all these combinations of things, the book and Steven and the effects, we thought, you know, it might be the sort of thing that sells a few tickets. But nobody could have anticipated what happened.”
When Jurassic Park was released in the summer of 1993, it caused a sensation and supercharged Goldblum’s film career, which had been advancing steadily since the early 1970s. Born in Pittsburgh in 1952, he grew up Orthodox Jewish, nursing secret dreams of becoming an actor.
“Yeah, I got this crazy idea very early on. We were taken to see children’s theatre when I was small, and I was like, what? Who are those people and what are they doing? I was very excited by it and then later I did acting camps and summer sessions at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Around that time, I was about 15 I think. We had a glass shower door and every morning when I took a shower, I would write ‘please God, let me be an actor’. It was secret and it was kind of embarrassing. I didn’t want anybody to find out, so I would wipe it off before I left, but I really was very excited about it. And then, that it all happened in the way that it did, I still pinch myself when I think about it.”
Goldblum’s first film role was no indicator of the great career that lay ahead. “Yes! Freak No.1 in Deathwish! Though, of course, that was the first thing I ever auditioned for. I had done this two-year programme with Sanford Meisner [the great method teacher], and he said it takes 20 years before you can really call yourself an actor — you have to find work and practise it for 20 years.
“But I went up for the first audition for a play and got it, and an agent saw me and sent me up for this movie Deathwish. At the start, I got small things, you know, and I think that was fortuitous — it gave you room to learn.”
His profile grew steadily through the 1970s and early 80s, and he cites numerous films that were important in his progression.
“Paul Mazursky made a movie called Next Stop, Greenwich Village, and Pauline Kael wrote a piece singling me out. Between The Lines with Joan Silver was a good experience, and Lawrence Kasdan saw that and cast me in The Big Chill.” He has fond memories of working with Philip Kaufman on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and The Right Stuff, and with Robert Altman on California Split and Nashville. “One thing led to another,” he says. “That was how it went.”
One of his big breakthrough roles came in 1986 in David Cronenberg’s horror remake The Fly. Is it true that, during filming, he actually had a fly? “It’s true! You know I was doing everything I could to figure out how I would move when half human and half fly, so there was a day or two when I caught a fly and put it in a plastic bag and watched closely how he was doing things, and you know, maybe that gave me something.”
The success of that film coincided with Goldblum’s romance with Geena Davis: for a brief time, they became one of Hollywood’s leading power couples. They divorced in 1991 and in 2014, he married Canadian dancer and former gymnast Emilie Livingston. In recent years, he has never been busier, balancing roles in Marvel and Wes Anderson films with his own streamed TV show, and weekly live appearances with his jazz band.
Now a remarkably sprightly 69, Goldblum is a father, a role he takes seriously, and thought long and hard about undertaking.
“Well, you know, I didn’t just fly into it, ah, without a lot of thought and a lot of thinking and talking between Emilie and me to see if it was right for us, and how it might affect our relationship.
“I’m lucky that she’s a spectacular person and that I found a relationship which is wonderful and I hope lasts forever, and yeah, so these kids! By the time we decided to do it, I was very excited and enthusiastic about it, and sure enough, it’s been life-changing and just well, amazing… as you know.”
Jurassic World Dominion is in cinemas nationwide from June 10.