The National Geographic series The World According to Jeff Goldblum follows Jeff Goldblum (of course!) as he goes on adventures and has fun, insightful encounters with people connected with the featured subject of each of the 12 episodes, and learns about how familiar objects have fascinating connections to science and history. From sneakers and ice cream to coffee and cosmetics, and so many things in between, even the simplest things are not as commonplace as they seem, when you find out about their backstories and hear from experts.
While at a Disney+ press day, Collider got invited to participate in a small roundtable interview (with a handful of other outlets) with show host Jeff Goldblum. During the chat, he talked about how this series came about, the cool collection of personalized items he has from doing the project, finding an organic style that includes always being surprised, how the highlighted subjects for the episodes came about, what most surprised him about this experience, the possible topic that he’d like to explore, if they get to do more episodes, how Jeff Goldblum Day came about, and how he feels about the internet’s obsession with him.
Question: How did The World According to Jeff Goldblum happen?
JEFF GOLDBLUM: It was Nat Geo, who was the studio and producer on this, and they started to collaborate with Disney, half-way through the production. Nat Geo and I happened upon each other because I had done three hosting duties, exercises and opportunities for Nat Geo Explorer, a couple of years ago. I loved them, and we liked each other, and we got this idea, when we started to talk about doing something. It was not called that, originally. It had a different title. It was just, “Hey, we’re gonna do a science show, maybe on ordinary things, and we’ll have some surprising enlightenments about science and history. Do you wanna host it?” And we started to talk. I said, “Maybe the best use of me is being a little more involved than just wrap-around things. Maybe I should go out and about. I’m very interested in people. I’m interested in all of these potential subjects.” And then, we started sharing stories and it became a partly personal revelation and odyssey of my own, in exploring these things. So, that’s what happened. Then, somewhere along the way, they said, “Maybe this is the title,” when we were trying to search for titles. And then, the lovely people at Disney+ bought it, and this whole new venture will start, simultaneously, with the launch of the show and their streaming service on November 12th, with 12 episodes.
When you signed on for this, did you know that you’d get to amass a collection of really cool personalized items, with things like the shoes and your own ice cream flavor.
GOLDBLUM: No, certainly not. First, we collaborated on, what are the subjects that could yield larger interesting ideas, have surprising histories and scientific aspects to them, futures, unintended consequences, and fun that you could have with them. Once they started to figure out who I was gonna meet and where I was gonna fly to, all over the United States, they came up with it. I wanted to be surprised. I like to be surprised, in all sorts of ways, so they surprised me. When they planned the show, they found this guy called the Shoe Surgeon and they said, “You’re gonna talk to him about how he makes these shoes for high-end athletes and charges a lot of money for them. They’re these incredible art items. And he wants to make one for you.” So, that became part of the show. They’re very good documentarians. I said, “As long as we do it authentically. I don’t wanna pretend. Let’s not contrive anything. So, let the camera see me seeing it, when I see it.” So, that’s what we did, as much as we could. I didn’t have to act, at all. I just encountered these things.
And for the ice cream, they had this idea in mind, but I didn’t think much about it, before we did it. I met this lovely guy, and I didn’t meet him before the camera sees us meeting, and we went to the woods and got the nettles and made the ice cream. Thank goodness for the editing because I ramble on and free associate, and find all sorts of things that interests me, and then they separate the wheat from the chaff. There was an aspect of that ice cream thing that they cut out, whereby my sons were asked, “What’s your favorite color? Can you make a painting that you think would be an ice cream? What would the name of it be?” They did all of that, and that was the start of that ice cream flavor, but that got jettisoned. We wound up with just Goldblum ice cream. I loved that Salt & Straw guy, and making that ice cream and finding out about that, because that was all new to me, but the most interesting part of that, to me, was going to the aircraft carrier afterwards, and seeing the brave men and women who were there, and as a ritual in the services, they’ve had these regular ice cream socials, whereby the loneliness and challenges of what they do could be helped by ice cream and its nostalgic and a bonding properties. And they made me a bicycle, for another episode. I went on this slow roll around Detroit that was very moving, ‘cause they’re bringing up the city without emissions. So, I now a new bicycle. For jewelry, we went to Houston and I got a grill, which I have in my drawer at home and, at some point, may put on the grill.
How structured is this show, when you’re shooting it?
GOLDBLUM: We discovered it, along the way, organically. They realized that a documentary could be made, that had a plot and an idea of what may happen, and then, with each sequence that they orchestrated, they hoped that it would be an interesting event for me and an encounter, and a thing that might spark my interest, fascination, inquisitiveness and curiosity. They would have some information that they had gleaned from the participant, and they said, “Here’s what you might want to draw out of them. They have a good story about this, and here’s some information that I think we want to establish with this exchange.” But other than a couple of things like that, they mostly unshackled me and encouraged me to be interested in these people because I’m actually interested in all of these things and people, particularly.
It was part of my training, as an actor. Sandy Meisner is a wonderful acting teacher, and he was my teacher when I was 17, just turning 18. He said that all actors have to be interesting. We wanna do things that are interesting to people, but you’re interesting to the extent that you’re interested, in the other actors in the scene. So, I took that to heart. I’ve been nursing that, working on that, and gardening that, for these last few decades. I taught it, for a couple of decades, when I wasn’t working. It served me, in some ways, in this way, too. I’m actually interested in people, so these encounters were fun and fruitful. Thankfully, there were some very smart people who went, “Well, maybe we could do without that. Here are the snippets of quality interesting exchange that might be that good.” And then, we do these voice-overs to fill in the interesting history of this and that, and I do my own thing with those. I’m not pretending, even then, to know something that you don’t or that I don’t. It’s a little bit of an unconventional rendition of that. It’s not maybe the definitive version of any exploration into any of these things, but a very interesting and surprising version, and a version that might interest me and that I might have fun with.
Did Nat Geo choose the subjects for this series, or do you also make suggestions?
GOLDBLUM: We had nice brainstorming sessions that they were very prepared for and had ideas to offer. They’d done some preliminary research and wanted to know what I thought. They were lovely and collaborative, and it became obvious, early on, that they wanted it to be a personal, authentic rendition of areas of curiosity. So, we included my feelings about those things, and some of them became a little less interesting once I did that and some a little more. If we do any more, which I’m hoping we do ‘cause I’m thrilled about this whole process, we’ve got some appetizing ideas that I think could yield an enhancement, for the next go round.
Was there anything that most surprised you about this experience?
GOLDBLUM: It was always surprising, and that’s what I wanted, more than anything. The ability to hack us and know us better than we know ourselves, that was surprising to me, as I actually had an experience with it, which was interesting. That slow roll that happens on bicycles around Detroit, that’s bringing up the city and bringing the city together, was very moving, interesting and surprising to me. For the pools episode, I went to the largest pool anywhere, which is at NASA, in Houston, at the NASA neutral buoyancy lab, and I talked to astronauts and got in the pool with them, as they went to a replica of the space station at the bottom, and practiced, for six hours straight, their weightless stuff. And then, I talked to some astronauts that had been there, and I had a conversation with an astronaut in space station. I didn’t know anything about indigenous sacred Hawaiian tattooing. I didn’t know that there was a place in Austin that farmed crickets, as an alternative to protein sources, which is a hot and important topic. So, I ate some crickets, and that was surprising. They were delicious. They barbecued them, and they were crunchy and tasty. I’m not picky, though. I’ve always prided myself on my adventures in eating.
If you could pick any topic for an episode, what would you want to explore?
GOLDBLUM: Well, there’s nothing that I’ve fixated on. I’m open-minded. Some people have talked about some things already. Somebody mentioned magic, which could be interesting. I have history with magic, myself. I worked in a Robert Altman movie, where I did some magic. I have some magic tricks up my sleeve. There are all sorts of things like that, and there are many other things, like something scientific or brain-oriented, that might be interesting. Robotics and all of that new potential technological disruption is interesting to me.
When did Jeff Goldblum Day originate in Pennsylvania? What was the genesis for that? Did it come up because of the TV show?
GOLDBLUM: It was not created for the show. I didn’t tell them about it. They have a crack research team. Nat Geo research and find these different left-field angles for me to approach these subjects with, so they found this place in Pittsburgh. I was not aware of it, but for the last couple of years, at this one tattoo parlor, they’ve had Jeff Goldblum Day. I may be wrong about this, but I did a movie, called Pittsburgh, not totally unrelated to this method or approach, where I improvised my way through a whole movie, playing Jeff Goldblum, but there were some invented aspects of it. We really did a theater show in Pittsburgh, which was Music Man, and I really auditioned for it. Around the time of the shooting, I went to the Chamber of Commerce, and they made a Jeff Goldblum Day. It was not annual. I think it was for that one day. Now, I don’t know if the tattoo parlor took that up, annually.
How do you feel about the internet’s obsession with Jeff Goldblum?
GOLDBLUM: It’s fun. I know all of this is fleeting, at best, but for right now. it’s a delightful. People are very sweet. When we play, out and about, I get to meet people, and they’re very kind and enthusiastic, and I’m enthusiastic.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum is available to stream at Disney+.