The working relationship between Wes Anderson and Jeff Goldblum began over a decade ago with The Life Aquatic. Anderson’s known for reusing top-teir actors, and Goldblum is one of them. The director called him back for another film, which happened to be The Grand Budapest Hotel. Goldblum plays Kovacs, a lawyer who gets tangled up in deadly family affairs over a painting that has Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero (Tony Revolori) on the run. ScreenCrave recently spoke with Goldblum about immersing himself in Anderson’s cinematic world and the inner workings of Kovacs.
What’s it like being a part of the Wes Anderson World?
Jeff Goldblum: It’s fantastic. A real privilege. I’m very proud to be a part of this movie, and he’s a– I don’t have to reiterate, a very important and serious filmmaker and artist. What actor doesn’t want to be a part of that thing? And then 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. I think 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.
What’s it like? It’s very creative, you know, as you can see. I dig his aesthetic, 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 Adam Stockhausen, the production designer – 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 kind of 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 it’s own is a beautiful thing. It’s beautifully put. He’s a wordsmith and a literate blackbelt master.
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… etc. So, in this so-called rehearsal, we got together and I said, you know ‘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?’ 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… 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.’
This is all an answer to ‘What’s it like to work with Wes [laughs]‘… Sorry I’m so yappy. This is still on the first question. 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. The communal family, one of the themes in many of his movies, which he really enjoys. Kind of a beautiful experience, and it was. 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, he designed it so the actors aren’t going back to traditional style trailers. Instead you have a chef coming to make us dinner every night. So it’s really more like a troupe and family, than some of these movies. 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…and it’s the last chance you get to visit with this thing and make the raw material from which they come from. So 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 ‘OK, try that and another one like that’ etc.’
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, but he had a stack of movies that he said were the inspiration for what we were doing here. And I had never seen, ashamedly, Grand Hotel, To Be or Not To Be, 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, stalked, in this museum. So all of that, it helped terrifically. It’s like I say, very actor-ly. Even though you hear his voice do all the parts in the animatic, its creatively enflaming and actorly to try and bring yourself to and marry something from you with that vision.
How much creative freedom do you have with the character?
Jeff Goldblum: I like little collaborations where the other thing happens, where it’s half-baked or its improvised and let’s develop it together and what do you want to wear, do you have an idea – all that. That’s fun to and I like that, but it doesn’t take anything away in fact its, for me, enflaming, like I say, and creatively inspiring to have somebody…that’s great. You wanna 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 leap onto something that you know, ‘Hey here’s a team and here’s a thing that’s gonna work, and I gotta idea and he’s gotta idea and it’s gonna 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 that’s…where you fill in something that’s already been done that ‘s delightful is really good…and then how do I describe…he’s not in any way…tight, constricted in his way of using you. He’s not only meticulous and full-blown and know what he wants, with a lot of passion and conviction. But he’s somehow, simultaneously free-spirited and loves actors and trusts you, appreciating 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.
Is part of the fun also working with a terrific cast?
Jeff Goldblum: He wants this kind of experience, so we were all staying in the same hotel. Edward Norton is a sort of fountain of wisdom and information, I’m always interested in craft and I kind of was interested to see how people work and 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 six 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, great to be around and to make something with them. What a cast.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is out in limited theaters now.