In the middle of a world tour with his band The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, the actor-musician talks parenting, piano practice, and hitting his prime at 70
Photography by MAGNUS UNNAR
Fashion Direction by ANDREW VOTTERO
Words by RICHARD GODWIN
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Jeff Goldblum is famously charming: a talk show star, a style icon, a rare Hollywood actor who doesn’t mind at all if members of the public approach him. In fact, he welcomes it! “I hope in these interactions I don’t humiliate myself and overshare,” he says. “But I hope I don’t disappoint anybody and hurt their feelings.” Legend has it he once booked a ticket on a celebrity bus tour of Los Angeles and pointed out to the bemused tourists: “That’s Jeff Goldblum’s house.”
Even so, that charm in action is a thing to behold, even over video call. The alert, amused face (can you think of an actor with better nostrils?), the Jacques Marie Mage “Jeff” frame glasses in gold, the debonair gray fedora, the teasing baritone. “You’re a scholar!” he says, noting the bookshelves behind me. (Behind him: a leopard print carpet.) Before long, he is relating how he read The Great Gatsby to his wife, former Canadian Olympic gymnast Emilie Livingstone, 40, on their first date.
“I like to read out loud!” he says. “I also read her The Catcher in the Rye. There are several I’ve curated now, on a shelf of interest. I read Wuthering Heights to somebody once. I read P.G. Wodehouse out loud.”
I interject that I also read P.G. Wodehouse aloud to my wife. Nothing cures stress like Jeeves and Wooster.
“We should do a play!” says Goldblum. “I think you should be Bertie, maybe, and yes, I’ll be Jeeves.”
I find that I’m so disarmed by the suggestion it is only in retrospect I realize he has cast himself as the cool, unflappable butler and me as the bumbling fool.
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But such is the Goldblum effect. He is a man who sets the world askew, who combines in his 6-foot-4-inch frame the charm of old Hollywood with a splash of something darker and punkier. He might be taking the piss or he might be sincerely showing you a better way to be.
Laura Dern once said of Goldblum, “He makes you so damn happy to be alive.” A lot of his friends comment on how deeply moral he is. And at 70, he certainly seems to have mastered something or other. “I don’t know what’s true across the board,” he says, laughing, “but if you make it this far, I guess you can have available to you a perspective that is soul-enhancing.” He feels at the top of his form, he says — in better shape than ever (the shirt he’s wearing is a one-of-a-kind gift from Miuccia Prada), playing piano better than ever (he’s mid-world tour with his acclaimed jazz orchestra), and happier in his family life (he is on his third marriage, but this one is already his longest relationship). He also has two sons — Charlie, 8, and River, 6 — of whom he speaks with unfeigned delight.
“Music has that ineffable ability to contact you in a way that nothing else can”
What’s his secret? “Like all of us, I have challenges and many moments in the day I need to improve upon,” he says carefully. “But somehow I had something in my system that has served me well in bringing me to this point. I can make myself work. I can make myself go to bed at the right time and eat the right food.” And then he begins speculating that maybe it isn’t free will but rather something he was born with and has little control over. “From the start, even though I had things I needed to stand up to, I was always possessed of a kind of joyful, ebullient nature. I was full o’ beans! As I can see my kids are. They have a lot of energy and good humor and wits.”
I should say we are speaking during the ongoing actors’ and writers’ strike. Goldblum is in “full solidarity and in passionate agreement with” his fellow professionals, which means movies are off-limits. No The Fly, The Tall Guy, Jurassic Park, or playing Oz’s wizard in the two-part Wicked adaptation for the big screen. Goldblum says, “I think the more vigilant protocol is not to talk about anything within the history of cinema, which is a favorite subject of mine. We have to pretend it doesn’t exist.” And I can’t ask him about the cult Disney+ series The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which recently disappeared from the platform — presumably as a result of the sort of studio shenanigans currently being contested. Not that he would know anything about it!
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Still, none of it throws Goldblum off his stride. He is a world class small-talker. He can discourse insightfully on the low standards of street-crossing in Los Angeles (“a lot of people aren’t doing it properly”), the history of the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Prague, or the correct way to use dental floss — but more on flossing later.
And there is his late-budding career as bandleader of The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, which has seen him record four albums, collaborate with singers of the caliber of Robert Glasper and Kelly Clarkson, and tour the great concert halls of Europe and North America. “Music,” he says, “has that ineffable ability to contact you in a way that nothing else can.”
But I imagine being married to a former Olympic athlete 30 years one’s junior has certain rejuvenating effects. He met Emilie at Equinox on Sunset Boulevard one early morning 12 years ago. He’s a 5:30 a.m. workout type guy. She came in early because her sister had given birth the day before and she was too excited to sleep. “I saw her working out, doing extraordinary things,” he says, “so I toddled over and started to pester her.”
Did she recognize you?
“No. She did not. For one reason or another, she was interested in other things culturally. But she likes to remind me that I introduced myself with both my names. I said ‘Hi, I’m Jeff Goldblum!’ And she thought, That was weird.”
Family life sounds cozy. “We all kind of snuggle up and gather around her as she reads, mostly French books,” he says. “Her mum was from Nantes and she grew up in Toronto. And the kids go to the Lycée Français here in L.A., which has sister schools when I’m abroad. But Emilie is a great reader. She does all the parts!”
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As for fatherhood? “Fantastical,” he says. “And sometimes challenging and exhausting.” He certainly seems conscientious about it. Screens are severely limited. “We’re vigilant that the parts of L.A. I’m not so crazy about don’t imprint themselves too early and too deeply into them.” In place of the infinite scroll: karate lessons, surf classes, improving excursions. He recently took both boys to see the Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat shows downtown and was pleased with the results, noting “they do a spectacular version of focused, passionate art-making!”
Goldblum himself grew up in a cultured middle-class Jewish household in Pittsburgh involving ballroom dancing, piano lessons, and trips to Broadway. His father, Harold, who came from a Russian-Jewish immigrant family, wanted to be an actor but became a doctor; his mother, Shirley, worked in radio before setting up her own company selling kitchenware. A picture of Thelonious Monk on the cover of Life magazine and an Erroll Garner LP his father brought him snared young Jeff’s interest in jazz. It also prompted him to take a serious interest in his piano lessons. “My teacher used to show up for the weekly lesson and I was full of anxiety and fear. He was disappointed. I was miserable.” Once they moved on to jazz, however, “I spent as long as I needed to at the piano to learn to do them. I really fell in love with them.”
“Like in acting, you want to be prepared enough that you can improvise. So you can let it go and take a flight of spontaneity”
By the age of 15 he was playing in the cocktail lounges of Pittsburgh. He has kept up playing throughout his acting career (he trained in New York under the great method acting coach Sanford Meisner), although it was only a chance encounter with the jazz singer Gregory Porter on a British talk show that led to his autumnal musical career. Their spontaneous duet led to a record deal, and now Goldblum plays with some of the best in the business.
Still, I’m sure he would be first to admit that were he not a movie star, the people at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall would probably say thanks, but no thanks. Does he get nervous? “Nervousness has blended into a tapestry of focus, excitement, and responsibility,” he says. “So, yes, I do, but it’s less unpleasant than it once was. But I’m nothing if not disciplined and I’m well prepared. I did my homework assignment on my piano this morning. I know what our set list is going to be. I know what I need to investigate and practice and I’m ready. Like in acting, you want to be prepared enough that you can improvise. So you can let it go and take a flight of spontaneity.”
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Goldblum stresses that he wasn’t always so in command. His parents placed a lot of nourishing things in his path, but they also had an “old-fashioned family identity” that he found stifling and wanted to escape. He recently revealed that his father subjected his oldest brother, Lee, to gay conversion therapy. Goldblum described his father’s treatment of Lee as “conspicuously cruel at times.” The middle brother, Rick, died of kidney failure when Goldblum was still a teenager. When he was at acting school in his early 20s, Goldblum asked his parents to stop contacting him because he needed to find his own “self-reliance.”
The knowledge that Goldblum’s father also lost a brother at a young age has since tempered some of his anger. Goldblum’s older son, Charlie, is named after this lost uncle. “I keep learning many things,” he says. “People often report that once you have kids, you start to appreciate your parents differently. I remember being in Little League baseball when I was 10. My father lost his brother Chuck in the war. Chuck was a very talented athlete and a basketball star at Westminster University. He went down in a plane, was never found at 23. It changed my dad’s life, emotionally and psychologically. I was most athletic of the three and my dad loved to come to the games. But it made me nervous. At some point, I said, ‘Dad, can you not come to the games?’” He winces. “I can’t imagine if my kids said, ‘We don’t want you to come.’”
“I was always possessed of a kind of joyful, ebullient nature. I was full o’ beans!”
He is swift to blame himself for the rupture with his parents. “Any difficulty, I’m sure, came from my own lack of imagination and empathy or compassion,” he says. “But I think I had a healthy appetite for independence in my thinking. I didn’t want to hurt them. But I felt I needed to get on my own two feet somehow. And I hope my own kids have a version of that.”
He is certainly keen that they develop some good habits of their own — not least, practicing piano every day. “You can’t really get anywhere by just doing it once a week,” he says. “You have to take what the teacher has given you and practice, practice, practice. Emilie is no stranger to discipline and good habits, and that helps. And they’re coming along, I’ll be darned!”
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Cultivating good habits is a theme Goldblum returns to, and raising children has clearly reinforced his ideas. If he does have a secret, it is this, he reflects.
“Well, you know, if it’s up to us — if we have authorship of our lives at all — then I think committing to do one thing or another is important. Like working out. You say, well, a day isn’t a day if you’re not taking care of that — like brushing your teeth. With kids, you see how that habit is instilled. You become your own inner voice: must brush your teeth, must wash your face, must take care of your hygiene.”
As a “late bloomer,” he says, this idea of “ever-upward spiraling progress” appeals to him. “So I can tell you, with my oral hygiene for instance, I am making continual steps even at this late stage.” He laughs. “My flossing is getting better and better, as is my brushing. I’m getting better at locating all the edges of the gum that really need to be attended to — including all the way back there.” He mimes the correct way to floss at the very back. “And then the front teeth, you have to go gum down, gum down. And that takes a little mechanical habit. And I get better at it.”
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It stands to reason, he thinks, if you can take something as humdrum as flossing as an opportunity to be present and improve yourself, a lot more can improve. “And, you know, mortality insists. This may be the last time you brush your teeth. So enjoy it!”
He is beginning to sound a little like he might just have a 12 Rules for Life–type bestseller in him — one that dares to admit the world might be funny and delightful, too. Rule 1: Floss well. “Just like teeth-brushing, I’m always trying to make my preparation and my practice time better and more effective. If you do something, sleep on it, come back the next day — it will be a little bit better if you’ve practiced correctly. It will be a little better. I’m just fascinated with that. Organic growth! If you really, deeply understand the growth process, it’s miraculous and magical and fun.”
The same also applies, “in a nuanced way,” to relationships. “How you encounter people. How you want to leave people and situations. Figuring out the best way to do that from moment to moment. That’s a multifaceted case-by-case process.” Perhaps it is why Jeff Goldblum is blossoming at this august stage in his life. He’s had the time to get better at everything. There is hope for us all.
“I’m trying!” he says, laughing. “Maybe it has nothing to do with my own choice mechanism, but I’m interested in it. I stay interested in it. I have an appetite for it. So, lucky me.”
Lucky him. Lucky us.
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Grooming by DAVID COX for Art Department using R+Co.
Shot on location at The Corazza House in Beverly Hills. @thecorazzahouse
Feature image: JEFF GOLDBLUM wears a GUCCI jacket and T-shirt, JACQUES MARIE MAGE Jeff sunglasses, and a CARTIER watch.
This story originally appeared in the Fall Men’s Edition 2023 issue of C Magazine.
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