Toss Jeff Goldblum any kind of a scene at all and he can chew it up. He has brought curveball line readings and mesmerizing, jittery body language to roles ranging from an Indiana Jones spoof on “Sesame Street” to the tragic scientist mutant in “The Fly.”
His versatility is on display vividly this spring. He’s starring in two of the season’s best-received films, Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and Roger Michell’s “Le Week-End.” And he’s crushing Soundcloud and YouTube. “Hahahrawrrahaha,” a user-made breakbeat remix of his freaky laugh from “Jurassic Park,” has more than a million hits.
“Le Week-End” follows a married couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) who revisit Paris to revitalize their marriage and run into a free-spirited old friend (Goldblum) who acts as a catalyst to their sputtering relationship. The actor had been in Europe working on the film for some time when Anderson approached him about his own project, shooting on the German/Polish border.
In “Budapest,” Goldblum plays a splendidly bearded middle-European attorney who runs afoul of a wealthy family. It is his second film with Anderson, who composes his films like fastidiously arranged art projects, fussing over every wardrobe element, set detail and facet of pacing.
“He’s a specifist,” Goldblum said, “a third-degree black-belt particularist. He has strong convictions and passions about how he wants you to do it.” Yet Goldman places him in the company of the famously shaggy director Robert Altman, who discovered him in a Los Angeles comedy revue. “He loves actors and actorliness and wants a real collaboration.”
Up to a point. Anderson played for Goldblum a full rendition of his film in computer animatics, a real-time storyboard of the movie, with him voicing all the parts.
He showed Goldblum a sequence, later shot in Dresden, where Willem Dafoe’s character stalks Goldblum through a beautiful museum. The scene comes by its Hitchcockian suspense honestly, Goldblum said.
“It was kind of inspired by Paul Newman being chased around in ‘Torn Curtain.’ ”
Antique eyeglasses and beard
Goldblum’s six-week stint on the picture was like a performers’ convention. Anderson likes to have his actors bunk together, so the cast all stayed in the same hotel in Görlitz, Germany’s easternmost city. A chef was hired to cook them special meals.
Goldblum based his character’s severe, intellectual look on photographs of Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello, personally searching out antique eyeglass frames and growing a beard for six months. It came in quite arrestingly, black on the cheeks and white on the chin, much to the actor’s surprise, and was barbered into an eye-catching spade shaped topiary. The look was “imaginative, theatrical and whimsical,” Goldblum said, much like Anderson’s films themselves.
In “Le Week-End,” English screenwriter Hanif Kureshi and director Michell (“Notting Hill”) had Goldblum specifically in mind when they created his unconventional character, a fast-talking, smarmy yet charming intellectual.
“I’m lucky that they thought of me,” he said. “The script is delicious and special and wonderful and sophisticated and very rich.”
“I’m a good guy,” Goldblum said of his character, but he expresses it poorly. He has a streak of creative passion in his life that makes Broadbent and Duncan feel all the worse about theirs. Having launched a hugely successful second act of his life, he hosts the visitors at his superb Paris apartment with a glittering dinner party. As he smilingly recalls college days when Broadbent mentored him, he imbues the memories with tributes to his friend’s social conscience, excellence and integrity, attributes that he is now entirely lacking. His fulsome praise only makes Broadbent feel worse.
But Goldblum’s character is not the most sensitive of intimates. We learn that he left his first wife without so much as a by your leave, after which she flung herself out a window. Not fatally: This is a comedy, after all.
“It’s beautiful writing,” Goldblum said. “There’s so much that is unstated there. Audiences have to fill in what they’re watching. Maybe what I have to offer them with this robust appetite for life is that I can reinfuse them and they can take something from that.”
In the film’s finale, the three actors launch into a dance from their favorite Godard film, moving through the steps with an enthusiasm that implies they’ve discovered something fine from the shambles of their vacation.
“It’s beyond words. It’s pure and it has the dance of life in it,” Goldblum said. Which is the most one can ask of any performance.