‘When they blow things up, you go, jeez’ – Jeff Goldblum on the new Independence Day
Actor’s career has taken him from Freak #1 in Death Wish to outer space – but the role he enjoys most these days is a new one: first-time father to an 11-month-old son … born on US Independence Day
Chill out, everybody. Jeff Goldblum is back to save the world.
Twenty years ago on the big screen, the actor arrived in the American capital just as aliens were blasting the White House – and many other global landmarks – to smithereens in the blockbuster Independence Day.
On this April afternoon, he’s in town to be a guest at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but when seeing it for real, Goldblum doesn’t feel that guilty for blowing the president’s pad up on the big screen.
“Ehhh, no,” says the 63-year-old actor, relaxing on a swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel couch. “That’s all pretend. And in the next one, we’ve rebuilt. It’s only been 20 years. If you’ve ever done construction on your bathroom or home, you know how long it takes.”
The sequel Independence Day: Resurgence again finds alien invaders tearing up cities and civilisation across the globe. The actor stars as David Levinson, an underachieving cable guy and environmental activist who had the bright idea of uploading a computer virus into the bad guys’ mother ship in the first film.
Two decades have passed, and he’s now head of Earth Space Defense – though again he’s the first guy to notice something’s wrong.
“We’ve had two decades of peace,” Goldblum says. “Everybody’s transcended religious and national and political petty problems and come together. Like the John Lennon song. ‘Imagine there’s no countries … No religion, too.’”
Of course, it doesn’t stay that way, and the aliens are ready for Round 2. “One of the thrills about these movies, when they blow things up, you go, ‘Jeez, I didn’t realise how precious it was to me,’” Goldblum says. “We love this planet, we love the earth, and we love these little things we’ve made and little buildings we’ve grown accustomed to.”
He pauses. “And the people, too!”
The original Independence Day was one of a string of high-profile 1990s hits for Goldblum, a Pittsburgh native, that found him as a brainy, slightly quirky superhero – that first Roland Emmerich “spectacle-palooza” was bookended by 1993’s Jurassic Park and its Lost World sequel four years later, in which he played chaos theorist Dr Ian Malcolm.
“For someone who has a lot of heavy lifting for the science and stuff, he is very keen about it,” says Bill Pullman, Goldblum’s co-star in both Independence Day movies.
But for Emmerich, a lifesaver like David Levinson is just a lot more pragmatic than a Thor or Iron Man.
“All these superheroes, they don’t exist in real life. I at least have not met anybody like that,” the director says. “Jeff is incredibly smart, and that shows. He’s the perfect guy to cast.
“I would not know which young actor is like that,” he adds. “There are a couple of smart kids, but I would not know if someone was on the level of a Jeff Goldblum right now.”
The reason he plays those characters so well is because he’s brainy and slightly quirky himself. Goldblum has a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of old TV theme songs, and he does take requests – a jazz pianist in his free time, he starred in a popular Super Bowl commercial this year playing Movin’ On Up from ’70s sitcom The Jeffersons.
Goldblum also riffs on movie synopses in a way that makes them sound endlessly enticing. In Resurgence, David is in the cockpit of a flying machine with Liam Hemsworth – as he was in the first with Will Smith – “having to slalom and dodge world landmarks floating not where they should be and falling on other cities,” he says. “It’s a horrible crisis and things look bad. Whether we snatch victory from the jaws of more terrible defeat, I can’t say.”
It’s vague yet informative. “That’s the name of my biography,” Goldblum quips with a wide grin.
He has inhabited a wide range of characters since playing “Freak #1” in 1974’s Death Wish; a magazine reporter in The Big Chill; an inventor-turned-monster in The Fly; and an antagonistic oceanographer in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. His next role is a villainous one, as The Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok (due in November 2017). Yet the heroic underdog scientists are among his favourites.
“I have a good time. I’m not a scientist, I play one in the movies, but I sure admire people of intelligence,” Goldblum says. “My dad was a doctor, but really through these movies and my conscientious research here and there, I’ve come to admire the scientific way and what they do.”
So far, so good in playing Famous Scientist Bingo: Goldblum has met astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and loves Cosmos, he finds evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins “an interesting guy”, and he ran into philosopher Daniel Dennett on an Asian boat trip with Stevie Wonder, Quentin Tarantino and Chrissie Hynde.
James Watson was on board, too, a geneticist who shared in the discovery of the structure of DNA and whom Goldblum played in the 1987 TV movie Life Story. “He said to me, ‘I liked that movie. I didn’t want you to play me, though.’ I said, ‘Who did you want?’ He said, ‘John McEnroe.’ I said, ‘Wow, I’m sure he would have been great. Well, anyway, nice to see you …’”
One new role Goldblum is loving these days is father to 11-month-old Charlie Ocean, his son with his third wife, Emilie Livingston. “A couple of years ago when my wife sort of introduced this idea of ‘Hey, maybe we could …,’ I had to wrap my head around it,” says the first-time dad, who proudly shows off iPhone videos of his boy.
“I’m a shower person,” he explains. “I remember taking baths when I was a kid, when my mom would have me take a bath with my sister. And I’ve had this big bathtub in our house for the last 25 years, but now I get in the bathtub every night with my wife and Charlie and bathe him. So my bathing is a little different.”
As far as the effect on his professional life, Goldblum says, “there’s a perspective maybe about acting and career things that gets shifted with home life being so full and nutritious and nourishing and wholesome. It’s really fun.”
The inherent irony of Charlie’s July 4 birthday is also not lost on anyone. His wife’s due date was around Independence Day, and even though Resurgence was still being filmed in Albuquerque, Emmerich gave him a window of time off around then.
“I didn’t have to resort to emergency means to get back home,” Goldblum says. “July 3 happened and she said, ‘You know, things are happening …’ Midnight came, and around 12:30 she said, ‘I think this is maybe what they’re talking about. I think we have to call the doctor.’ Woke him up on the beach, he drove in, five hours later and Charlie Ocean came out. And then everybody’s like, ‘Hey, July 4! No kidding!’ ”
Time will tell if the kid ever lives it down.
“Hopefully he’ll like all the Fourth of July things going on, and people will say, ‘Oh, you know your dad was in that movie.’ Who knows by then how he’ll feel about the whole thing?”
Independence Day: Resurgence opens on June 23