Jeff Goldblum, who first worked with Wes Anderson on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, was thrilled to reunite with the director again on his new comedy-drama caper, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Goldblum plays Deputy Vilmos Kovacs, the attorney representing the estate of the late Madame D (Tilda Swinton) whose sudden and mysterious death kicks off the main action of the story and sets in motion a scramble to lay claim to her vast fortune. The charge is led by her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), the film’s ruthless and darkly comic main villain. The impressive cast also includes Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Ed Norton, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Tony Revolori.
At the film’s recent press day, Jeff Goldblum spoke about being a part of the Wes Anderson universe, why he considered it a fantastic privilege and found the collaborative experience creatively inspiring, what the rehearsal process was like, his preparation for the role, what he brought to the character, and why he liked the challenge. He also discussed his recent internet fame, his upcoming film Mortdecai with Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany and Gwyneth Paltrow, and plans to perform with his jazz band at Rockwell in Los Feliz. Hit the jump to check out the interview.
JEFF GOLDBLUM: Fantastic. It’s fantastic, a real privilege. I’m very proud to be a part of this movie, and I don’t have to reiterate, but he’s a very important and serious filmmaker and artist. What actor doesn’t want to be a part of that thing? And then him, he’s particularly a spectacular trip. He’s a great guy, and a real artist, and a real teacher. What’s it like? How would I know? Ten years ago, The Life Aquatic was when we met, and he’s always full of interesting guidance. He’s a style guide, and a travel guide, a location connoisseur. We went to some restaurant in New York, and we were put together, and he goes “Oh, well I like you” and I’m like, “Wow! Really?” The Life Aquatic happened, and we stayed in touch over these 10 years, then I got an email that said “I’ve written this part, Deputy Kovacs.” It’s a big thrill, you know.
What’s it like? It’s very creative, as you can see. I dig it, and his aesthetic, in particular… the voice that he’s found, and had from the start in a brilliant way. I’m into it. It’s a beautiful thing. And then, you go on set and there’s Adam Stockhausen, who’s the production designer, and they collaborate, and he turns it into his vision. On that set, you’ve heard, is that department store in Görlitz that they turned into the hotel. It’s a great little installation and museum that you get to go, and I was thrilled and knocked out by everything around me there. But, creatively, you get this script and it’s all rendered together beautifully. That document on its own is a beautiful thing. It’s beautifully put. He’s a wordsmith and a literate black belt master. The story is gorgeous. And then, you get there, and I was doing that movie Le Week-End which opens a week after this. (Laughs) I really liked that a lot. With Roger Michell, and I loved Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan. I was there shooting that when they were in pre-production.
Can you talk about your collaboration with Wes Anderson and what you did to prepare for the role?
GOLDBLUM: I went over, as per his request, and I saw the building, the set in that place, and everyone getting ensconced in that department store, and Milena Canonero (Costume Designer) and all of her Italian artists. He and I went over to that hotel that we were going to be at. He was already ensconced in that hotel, and we had a rehearsal, and he had renderings — beautiful drawings — of all of the characters with your face on it, and his idea for the costume, and the look of it. I saw that. And then, Milena Canonero and I got together. Her team pulled several things. We tried on overcoats, hats and da da da. There was a guy with trays of vintage glasses, and in fact, I found the exact one there. I was like “I’ve gotta go back to LA, but before I do… I know some vintage eyeglass people, and maybe I can take a look for myself” and I found them! I found those glasses, and I sent him a picture, and he said, “Those are the ones. Bring those.” So, I contributed that a little bit. That’s very creative.
Then, at the time we rehearsed — I don’t think he did this with many other people, and it’s not his usual way — I said, “I’ve already worked on this. I worked it out.” I showed him what I was doing through a few scenes, and he said “Oh, that’s good. How about this? Try this.” And I said “This?” and da da da. We talked about it, and we talked in actorly ways. I think he’s an actor’s director, one could say, even though he has this fully formed aesthetic conviction which you join up with. The marrying of an actor and his whimsical and theatrical vision is very enjoyable, because he wants it to be filled with something honest, truthful, human, soulful, substantial.
So, in this so-called rehearsal, we got together and I said, “What’s the backstory? How long had I been working for this family?” I had an idea about that. I had ideas about this whole world that he created, and this situation, and then finally I saw in this little event, in this character, in this scene with Dmitri, with Adrien Brody. What I’m thinking is it’s right what’s under the surface, that I’m catching the conscience of Dmitri here by saying, “I think there’s bad stuff afoot here, and maybe we should turn this all over to the authorities. What do you think?” And he reacts how I fear and suspect might be the case, and he says, “Don’t! Just keep your mouth shut and go along.” At that point, I think my character for the first time is at a crossroads, and in an eventful way with the political goings on, and the clouds, and a storm brewing on this continent in the world, and in this family. I have to go, “Which side am I aligned with? Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to join the war. I’m going to be a soldier. My whole life is going to change starting now.” Then, as the story goes, I’m a casualty early on, so that’s the story. We talked about that, and went over it.
Then… and this is all an answer to “What’s it like to work with Wes?” (Laughs) So then, we rehearsed, and when I came back, and got on set, we’re kind of standing… he’s kind of Altman-esque. I’ve worked with Robert Altman, and he’s making the shooting itself, the process an art piece of its own and the communal family, one of the themes in many of his movies, which he really enjoys. It’s kind of a beautiful experience, and it was, and a creative experience and a focused one. A blissful creative experience. He’s the head chef in that feast and then you go to the thing and the actors.
When did you get the email for the part and did you start working right away?
GOLDBLUM: I should have written down the timeline exactly, but it was like a couple of months before I shot Le Week-End and before I had the experience in pre-production. I worked on it for a month or two. I had learned all my lines, and it was enough time to learn my lines and to work on and get ideas about it. And then, I shot Le Week-End and visited Görlitz, and had the experience of the thing, and then it was another month I think that I went back to LA and found those glasses and worked on things more and came back. It was something like that.
Wes designed it so the actors aren’t going back to traditional style trailers and da da da da da. Instead, you have a chef coming to make us dinner every night. It’s really more like a troupe and family than some of these movies sometimes are, and he intends it that way. And then, you hang around the set and watch him working and other people working, which is good. He did a lot of takes on this movie, as you’ve probably heard, but in a way that’s very beautiful, and creative and enjoyable. Finally, when you get to your stuff, it’s the last chance you get to visit with this thing and make the raw material from which they come from. It’s a great little sculpting collaboration of him going, “Okay, there’s that. How about another one about this for this section?” And “Do that” and “Do that here” and “Okay, try that and another one like that,” etc. So it’s like that. You get the idea?
It’s a very unique [experience]. You should never say very unique. That’s redundant. So, it’s unique and very beautiful. Oh, and I know something you may have been interested in, but haven’t heard. In a room that’s communal in the hotel, he’s got not only books of research of old hotels and stuff like that, but a stack of movies. Along with the Stefan Zweig novels that he talks about, he had a stack of movies that he said were the inspiration for what we were doing here, and that I had never seen, ashamedly, [including] Grand Hotel, To Be or Not To Be, The Shop Around the Corner, Mortal Storm, Bergman’s The Silence, which takes surreal events surrounding a hotel. So, you see it was all very educational and I liked that.
And then he made an animatic, and in our little section that he showed me early on in that rehearsal, pre-production thing, the section where Willem Dafoe is chasing me around the museum before he kills me, he said that this is taken from Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. There’s a section where Paul Newman is being silently chased around and stalked in this museum. All of that helped terrifically. It’s like I say, very actorly. Even though you hear his voice do all the parts in the animatic, it’s creatively enflaming and actorly to try and bring yourself to and marry something from you with that vision.
It sounds like a great experience. Was there any challenge to that?
GOLDBLUM: Well I like the challenge. I like a good, meaty experience for me. The challenge was to do what he needs and make it as good as he wants and as good as it can be. An opportunity like that is challenging and it makes you alert. A fellow like me trying to do his best, and everyone else is kind of in that vein, too. What else is challenging? All the aspects of how this thing can work to try and skin the cat and hit the bull’s eye, is it challenging to me? Yeah, and I don’t do it lightly. He’s passionately devoting himself to the whole thing, and I’m nothing if not conscientious, I must say. I won’t bore you with it, but I’m going at it with everything I can, and then the story off the character. To really get that is pretty good. That’s good. It’s not to fall short of it, but the idea is similar to something like Brando in On the Waterfront. You know, I’ve been going along with this family, and now I’ve come to a point when I better decide where my bread’s buttered. And geez, I like that. It’s a big idea. And like somebody said, his movies are full of real and big ideas, if you’re receptive to it, of course. Outside, there’s this frosting on the cake that’s glorious and trippy, but on the inside it’s like a meat cake like someone said. Inside, you get a nice helping of protein and grilled meats. (Laughs)
How much room do you have to bring to the character yourself?
GOLDBLUM: I like little collaborations where the other thing happens, where it’s half-baked or it’s improvised, and let’s develop it together. “What do you want to wear? Do you have an idea?” All that’s fun to do, and I like that, but it doesn’t take anything away. In fact, for me, it’s enflaming, like I say, and creatively inspiring to have somebody that’s great. You want to be in a movie where your part works. That’s the main thing. No matter how you beat yourself working on the thing, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And that’s not up to you, so it’s great when it doesn’t depend on you, and you can leap onto something that you know, “Hey, here’s a team and here’s a thing that’s going to work, and I’ve got an idea, and he’s got an idea, and it’s going to work together in a way that people haven’t seen you yet,” and that’s all delicious. If his tastes were different, if I didn’t dig his tastes, then that would be something else, but to jump on board something where you fill in something that’s already been done, that’s delightful. It’s really good. And then, how do I describe it? He’s not in any way tight or constricted in his way of using you. He’s not only meticulous and full-blown, but he knows what he wants with a lot of passion and conviction. He’s somehow simultaneously free-spirited and loves actors and trusts you. He appreciates you, but trusts you, and needs you to bring everything to it. Let’s talk about what I’m thinking and feeling underneath and putting it all out, detailing all of that stuff, finding the glasses and all that, but it really feels like a responsible adult, actorly, creative way to meet what he’s done.
GOLDBLUM: Oh yeah, and as I was saying, he wants this kind of experience, so we were all staying in the same hotel. Oh yeah, Edward Norton is a sort of fountain of wisdom and information. I’m always interested in craft and I was interested to see how people work. For me, it’s a little like lessons at school. Ralph Fiennes was there the whole time I was there. I was there for about 6 weeks, shooting finally and watching him work, talking to him about all sorts of things that I wanted to ask him about. Tilda Swinton I’ve never met, but she’s exquisite, and it was great to meet her and talk with her. Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson were great to be around and to make something with them. What a cast!
Are you aware of the internet fame you have? I’m referring to the recent memes and videos that have appeared everywhere.
GOLDBLUM: It’s fine with me. It’s okay. I don’t really look for it. People send me a thing or two and that’s okay. I’m sure it will come and go.
What’s coming up next?
GOLDBLUM: Le Week-End. I did this play at Lincoln Center, Domesticated, by Bruce Norris, who won the Pulitzer last year, interesting stuff. I shot a part in this movie called Mortdecai with Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany and Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s by David Koepp, who wrote the screenplay for Jurassic Park. Then I went to Berlin and then New York, and now I’m here and I do Conan (O’Brien) tomorrow and (Craig) Ferguson next week. Tomorrow night I play Jazz at Rockwell in Los Feliz. All the rest of the Wednesdays this month I’m playing. I also have a gig at Santa Anita (Race Track), the horse races, where I’ve never been, for a few hours on Sunday.