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(Frontpage 136)

Jeff Goldblum Is “A Whirligig of Delight”

In this FRONTPAGE feature from the new issue of Highsnobiety Magazine, we talk craft and clothes with Hollywood legend, jazz musician, and Prada golden boy Jeff Goldblum.

It’s possible there is no one alive more disarming than Jeff Goldblum. In the first five minutes of our interview, he commends the beauty of my nostrils, insists that I resemble a young Aaron Paul (“Well, it’s a compliment to him!”), and serenades me with a few bars of the ’70s ballad “Indiana Wants Me,” after being inspired by my name (“If I had a name like Jake Indiana, can you imagine where I’d be at this point?” he marvels. “Nothing would’ve held me back!”).

Even without my name, Goldblum seems to have done all right. Heading off to New York to become an actor in the early 1970s, he appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of the era, including Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) and, albeit briefly, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977). The following decade found him lending his unique, quirky presence to both weighty dramas (1983’s The Big Chill) and outré cult films (1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and his breakthrough starring role in David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi/horror classic The Fly). Beloved appearances in Jurassic Park (1993) and Independence Day (1996) went on to mint Goldblum as a bona fide Hollywood star. As his career enters its sixth decade, new generations have become endeared to his idiosyncrasies in the films of Wes Anderson, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the rebooted Jurassic Park films.

Yet this impressive cinematic résumé barely conveys the position Goldblum occupies in the hearts and minds of his audience. Rare among the often hidden world of celebrity, he is perhaps best known as himself — an unpredictable, humorous presence prone to mannerisms and sound effects that make him both the ideal talk show guest and instant meme fodder. His affable aura and curiosity are brought to the fore in The World According to Jeff Goldblum, an educational documentary series airing on Disney Plus in which he travels the country examining topics near and dear to his heart. A restless, artistic soul, his lifelong passion for music led to the release of his debut album as a jazz artist in 2018 (accompanied by the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra), with a second album arriving the following year.

And though he has always been hip, the past few years have seen Goldblum blossom as a maverick of men’s style. Developing a close relationship with Prada (he made his runway debut during the brand’s FW22 presentation), he has rocked the Italian label in some seriously killer ’fits, most recently appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in a sleek jumpsuit. Goldblum has always exuded a fearlessness in his work. Now, that courage is translated into each of his public appearances, with an eye-popping array of sartorial choices, the result of his years-long collaboration with Andrew Vottero. When we try to figure out what his spirit animal is, I perhaps too glibly suggest he’s a fox, being that he’s in an era of peak foxiness. “I don’t know about that,” he grins, his eyes suggesting otherwise.

During a raucous hour on Zoom, Goldblum speaks to us from his Los Angeles home about his life, career, and the essence of a personal fashion renaissance.

JAKE INDIANA: You’re from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I learned from watching your Disney show that they have a Jeff Goldblum Day. How does it feel to be honored by your hometown like that?

JEFF GOLDBLUM: I still can’t figure that out. I went and met the mayor and took part in the ceremony and made a little gracious utterance or two. I still have a plaque — I think it’s hanging in my guest house. I asked if this would be a repeated, annual observance, and I couldn’t get a straight answer. But I guess it is. It’s not international, though. It’s local. It’s provincial. It doesn’t make its way across the solar system. There’s nothing on Venus that marks the day.

INDIANA: In previous interviews, you’ve said you knew from the beginning you wanted to be a performer. When was the moment you first knew?

GOLDBLUM: In my best recollection, my dad got it through my thick skull early on that if you find something you love to do, it can be a compass, or a lighthouse, for a vocational choice.

Having that in my little brain, I took part in this camp experience between 5th and 6th grades at Chatham Music Day Camp, where I excelled, as I remember, in archery, softball, tennis, arts and crafts, music appreciation, and drama. At the end of the six weeks, I was cast as the lead role in The Belle of the Balkans, a musical farce of sorts. I was standing backstage with my parents out in front, and I went, “I have no qualification for this. I don’t know what I’m doing, really.” And into this mysterious abyss I made that leap — and had the time of my life.

At the end of it, my parents asked, “Well, how’d you like that?” I kept my cards close to my vest. Flash-forward to Carnegie Mellon University between 9th and 10th, and 10th and 11th grades, two summer sessions, and I said, “Hey, maybe I’ll take the drama thing in the brochure.” Because I’d kept it secret all that time, my mom said, “Really?” They signed me up and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t the best summer of my life. I was just in love with life and my prospects and my future and my potential. I was on fire. That’s when I started to write on my steamy shower door, “Please, God, let me be an actor.” Then I would wipe it off, because it was still a secret.

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Highsnobiety / Noah Dillon / Top, coat, and necklace PRADA Sunglasses JACQUES MARIE MAGE

INDIANA: Why were you keeping that a secret?

GOLDBLUM: I was embarrassed to say to anybody, “Hey, what I’m going to be is an actor.” I thought that was beyond me. I didn’t know anybody who was an actor. It was so authentically a passion that to disclose it to my friends or family made me too vulnerable.

INDIANA: You got your start doing live theater. Do you feel particularly passionate about it compared to film?

GOLDBLUM: Yes. I was very romantic about live theater. I’ve been involved off and on with it all this time. And I consider my jazz gigs to be a little bit like live theatrical experiences.

INDIANA: Do you see a parallel in your approach to acting and making music?

GOLDBLUM: It’s certainly adjacent. Sanford Meisner [the actor and acting teacher], a mainstay of his foundational work was this improvisation. Jazz, as you know, is improvisational. Music is non-careerist for me, even though I’ve miraculously happened into a lovely band and chances to make records and this and that. But I have less identification and career ambition with it. It’s for pure fun.

INDIANA: You’ve worked with such incredible directors in your career. Is there a particular experience or lesson you learned from one of them that you hold particularly dear?

GOLDBLUM: So many of them — I’ve been lucky. I’m thinking about the first movie I did with Michael Winner [Death Wish, 1974], not usually considered an actor’s director, or even somebody highly esteemed in the creative universe, but he screamed at me in the first scene. It was a camera rehearsal and he screamed in front of everybody, humiliatingly, “Goldblum! Start acting! Now!” I don’t know what I was doing, but it burns me with feelings of shame. Now that I look back on it, it’s not a bad direction: Just start acting! That’s pretty good.

INDIANA: I have to ask: Did you have any inclination making Jurassic Park that it would make you such a sex symbol?

GOLDBLUM: I think being a sex symbol is still in my future… No, I’m only kidding. In 100 ways, I could not have anticipated how it stuck around or hit a nerve or became what it did. Or how my little part would have some legs — some hairy, muscular legs.

INDIANA: Let’s talk about your ascendance as a style icon. Not that you weren’t stylish in the past, but in the past decade you’ve become a fashion god. How did this happen?

GOLDBLUM: No god of any kind, certainly! But my whole life I’ve had an aesthetic appetite. Early on, I had a flair for drawing and took special art classes in Pittsburgh. On more than one occasion, I drew various collar and tie combinations. Around that time, I went with my mom to Gimbels or Horne’s department store, and picked out this Nehru jacket that I’d seen Sammy Davis Jr. or someone wearing on the Johnny Carson show. I got that and a turtleneck and maybe some medallions. That was right at the age I was watching James Bond. I was hot, hot about many aspects of that world, including, I remember, Sean Connery’s baby blue Ban-Lon polo shirt from Dr. No [1962] that I tried to recreate in some way.

Then when I went to New York I was released. The world of New York was open to me, and I took off like there was a portal opened up inside of me. I went to, among other places, the Army Navy store, and I got articles that interested me. I don’t know if I was stylish, but I had my own area of interest. It was probably misguided in a lot of ways. And that continued, because I didn’t really have any help or guidance or collaborators through the years.

And then what happened? Seven or eight years ago I was doing a GQ photoshoot and I got a little team. We got together the day before and did some fittings, and I started to talk about my little collection and interest in clothing. It’s not like I was making a very thorough study of it, but I said, “Boy, if one of you people could come to my closet, look at all my jeans, and tell me which ones I should throw away…” Because I’m always looking to curate my collection. Andrew Vottero said, “Yeah, I’m not a stylist. I don’t do any of that kind of stuff, but sure, I’ll come over.” And that started to become something.

I was doing jazz performances and Andrew made a little lookbook that might be right for this character, Jeff Goldblum, as I presented myself in the jazz world. Then I’d get opportunities in movies, especially if the wardrobe was contemporary, and I’d say to the costume designer, “Hey, can I vote for something and contribute something? Maybe I’ll have an idea or two. And here’s my pal, Andrew.” And so it went. This little chapter has elevated it and made a very satisfying and a joyful experience — this odyssey into self-realization in terms of clothing. Because [now] I not only work from the inside out, but from the outside in. If you find the right shoe for the character, even if it’s the Jeff Goldblum character, that can be an opening to understanding the character.

INDIANA: How would you describe your personal style?

GOLDBLUM: It’s fluid and ever on the move. I’m given to this sort of nincompoopery where one day I say, “Eureka, that’s it. I found myself.” Sure enough, the next day or the next week, I’ll go, “Well, that’s enough for that. What can I do next? What interests me now?”

For a while, with those jazz gigs, we would look at the black-and-white suits of the Rat Pack and how they got appropriated by Reservoir Dogs [1992]. At that point I mostly had black and white things in my closet, then something happened, and I had a hankering for color and prints. And now, boy, I’m in this new chapter. I just got back from Milan a few days ago. Mrs. [Miuccia] Prada is an exemplar of creative wardrobe-making and clothing-making that includes ideas of high integrity, global responsibility, and artful intelligence. It was delightful spending time with her and being able to get outfitted for some publicity things that we’ve just done. I’ve got this little collection of things that I’ve compiled from them. And I’m mixing and matching them every day here. I’m just enjoying it.

INDIANA: Speaking of Prada, I’ve seen my fair amount of fashion shows, but Jeff… I have never in my life seen someone strut down the runway the way you sauntered down that Prada catwalk at this year’s FW22 show. What was going through your mind? How did you prepare for that?

GOLDBLUM: Well, first of all, I was trying not to trip. And even at the end, when I made my last round, something happened with the shoe and the carpet that I covered. No one ever noticed! But besides that, they took me in the day before. They tried that stuff on me and made a few adjustments, their fantastic team. Mrs. Prada was there. Raf [Simons] was there. They do a little kind of rehearsal, and I did something. They said, “Okay, do it again…and do a little less this time.” That’s all they had to say. I did, I think, what they were after.

Fast-forward to the day, they put the now-tailored outfit on me. It was, as you can imagine, just a whirligig of delight with the people in the show. Those events are electric with sweet, sweet eventfulness. Then I was backstage all of a sudden and in line with the other lovely models and actors — new pals and old pals. It was very creative and evocative and inflamed my imagination in a few different ways. And then the music did something to me. I thought of John Travolta at the end of the sequel to Saturday Night Fever [1977] and Staying Alive [1983]. He says, “You know what I’m going to do now? Strut.” And I thought of En Vogue, with that video “Free Your Mind” — they’re doing something fabulous on a runway of sorts. And then I guess I thought back to my old walk with the cigar at the end of Independence Day. All that started to quick-cook in my microwave, and there I was.

INDIANA: Do you have anything that you would consider a guilty pleasure?

GOLDBLUM: Ooh, well. I guess that traditionally means something you enjoy that is beneath what might be thought of as your higher sense of taste, but I don’t think taste is ever defined by good taste. There’s only personal taste, which has sort of guided my thinking. You should look inside and accept your personal taste, which means anything is includible, including what might be thought of as ugly, low class, or out of the current realm of popularity.

I only bring that up because it makes me say that the premise of the question needs to be addressed. There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. You should rebel against any feelings or sense of, or anybody else’s sense of, guilt that you have about anything that appeals to you or amuses you. So I have no guilty pleasures. I have many pleasures. Many, many pleasures, but I’m not ashamed of any one of them.

INDIANA: What do you think is the most challenging part of what you do and/or the most rewarding part of what you do?

GOLDBLUM: It’s all challenging. Every so-called creative endeavor — musical or theatrical or cinematic — is challenging in that the sky’s the limit, and anything you do falls short of solving the mystery, or fulfilling the potential of what you might be doing. So that’s challenging, having the feeling that any one effort is going to fall. And then rewarding, ah. It’s rewarding to do all of this stuff with other people. They’re the real gift and treasure and beauty of anything you’re doing. I guess one of the reasons I picked drama and was drawn to it back when I was 15, and still get a big kick out of it, is that it occurs between me and other people who are infinitely interesting, exciting, stimulating, and rewarding.

  • WordsJake Indiana
  • PhotographyNoah Dillon
  • StylingAndrew Vottero
  • ProductionThe Morrison Group
  • CastingGreg Krelenstein at gk-ld
  • GroomerDavid Cox at Art Department LA
  • Photography AssistantMaggie Jo Cnossen
  • Production CoordinatorAlaura Wong
  • Shot atThe Beverly Hilton
  • Lead Image Fashion CreditsTop and gloves GIVENCHY Sunglasses JACQUES MARIE MAGE
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