Jeff Goldblum: ‘Imelda May is one of my favourite people on Earth’

Jeff Goldblum was a pianist before he was an actor. Now he’s back at the keys – and loving it

If there was an award for Hollywood's last great eccentric, Jeff Goldblum would be the perennial holder of the title. You can easily imagine his acceptance speech: eyebrow cocked, deadpan smirk, thanking people effusively in that trademark rollercoaster vocal cadence of his.

I've always thought of myself as unconventional in some ways. I try to stay away from cliches if I can. But I'm just trying to hammer out my way as I go along

It’s the same unmistakable tone I hear when he first speaks. “Hellooooo,” he purrs, thanking me profusely for my time. When I tell him that I like his new album – his second jazz record in two years – he sounds like he’s clutching the words closely to his chest, hugging himself in delight.

“Oh, you doooo? Really? You do? Oh, gee!” he says.

It is comforting to find that Jeff Goldblum is, in fact, exactly how you’d imagine Jeff Goldblum to be.


Whether it’s put-on or not – and given that he seems the same in every single interview that he’s ever done you suspect that it’s not – the actor and sometime musician is so endearingly sincere that it’s impossible not to be charmed by him. Even down a bad phone line from his Manchester hotel room.

This weekend, he says, he'll return to London for a gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

“And I hear the queen is supposed to be there!” he says, practically giggling in delight. “Can you imagine? The queen. No pressure, right?”

The truth is there is no one out there quite like Goldblum. A true one-of-a-kind, the 67-year-old actor has spent his varied career, from his first credited role in 1974’s Death Wish, through Annie Hall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fly, to box-office smashes Independence Day and Jurassic Park in the 1990s, simply being himself.

If he ever wanted to pass his mantle on the list of potential heirs to his idiosyncratic throne is practically non-existent.

“Well, I feel as full of vim and vigour as ever, and my appetite is as keen as ever. I feel like I still have a lot to give – not only musically but in acting too,” he says.

"Y'know, I had a great acting teacher called Sanford Meisner, who said 'don't copy anybody. It might take a while with continuous digging, but after a while you may find some sort of voice of your own – and that's what you should shoot for.'

“So I think I’ve always thought of myself as possibly... unconventional in some ways.” He pauses. “I try to stay away from cliches if I can. But I’m just trying to hammer out my way as I go along.”

On a scale of one to 10? The statue gets 10 on the weird scale, and 10 on the flattering scale too. It tickled me, it made me laugh. What a thing!

He laughs when reminded that not every actor is honoured in the form of an 8m-long statue. Last year, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, a massive likeness of a reclining, chest-baring Goldblum was installed on the banks of the Thames in London.

"On a scale of one to 10? That gets 10 on the weird scale, and 10 on the flattering scale too," he chuckles. "It tickled me, it made me laugh. What a thing! I mean, I found myself on the Graham Norton Show last year, and they'd cut the head off and brought it out to me. It was almost as big as me. That was funny, wasn't it? Wasn't that a crazy thing?"

In recent years music has played a more prominent role in Goldblum's life. Although he has played jazz piano casually since his early teens and held a residency at a Los Angeles bar and restaurant, the Rockwell, for many years, it wasn't until he performed with his fellow Graham Norton guest (and jazz musician) Gregory Porter in 2017 that a recording contract was on the cards.

His new album, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This, which features such accessible jazz as Let's Face the Music and Dance, with backing from his long-time band the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, follows on from last year's well-received debut, The Capital Studio Sessions.

As immersed as he was in the scene, he says that being a “jazz star” was something that he never considered – particularly at this point in his life.

"I don't think I imagined it much because I never fashioned myself, or fantasised even, about being a professional musician. I always had my heart set on acting and luckily, miraculously, that's kept me busy for quite a while. This thing just happened. It kind of evolved accidentally a couple of years ago when Tom Lewis and Rebecca Allen from Decca saw me playing with Gregory Porter, and that's what caused the conversation."

He somehow managed to play Glastonbury festival earlier this year. “People have been very nice and we’ve had fun doing it. Glastonbury, as you can imagine, was thrilling. It’s just really, really fun!”

Does he have any regrets about not going into the recording studio earlier in his career?

“I think things happen right on schedule, somehow. I have been kind of a happy student in terms of trying to grow my musical life. And it sort of came out of that. So it feels just right; not unlike this new cycle of me with a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old boy. That’s new for me, too – but it’s a very fertile time.”

His boys, Charlie Ocean and River Joe, had input on this album too, most notably on one of the song choices. Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day sees Goldblum take to the microphone for the first time.

“I’ve known about that song for quite a while. I do find myself singing it to them and putting them to bed every night along with [wife] Emilie, and they seem to like it, and that sort of touches me. Then when we started to think of what we wanted on the album – all the fellas in the band said ‘maybe you sing a song.’

“Bing Crosby famously sang it, but I don’t think people know it these days. So I fooled around with it, and we came up with that arrangement. I loved doing it, and sometimes we sing it live here and there, and it’s really fun.”

He waxes lyrical about Imelda May, who appeared as a vocalist on his last album (and in an appearance on The Graham Norton Show). He would be more than willing to work with the Dubliner again.

Imelda May is a true champion, a poetess; she's just great. We actually talked about me coming over there to Dublin, and I'd love to see that happen. I'll try to make that happen

“Oh, that would be a dream come true. She is one of my favourite people on Earth, she’s a great artist and an international treasure. Every second we spent together, and what we made together, was just ecstatic for me. She’s a true champion of a human being and a musical artist. A poetess; she’s just great. We actually talked about me coming over there to Dublin, and I’d love to see that happen. I’ll try to make that happen.”

Of his motley crew of collaborators this time around, however, there is one particular name that stands out amidst the likes of Fiona Apple, Anna Calvi and Sharon Van Etten: pop rebel Miley Cyrus.

"I had met her a little bit socially, and then – not knowing exactly how we should go about it because I thought she'd be very well and carefully represented – someone in the band had the idea that I should send her a message on Instagram.

“So I wrote her and said: ‘Hey, it’s me! Remember we met? I’ve got this idea to do a little music together’ and she wrote right back and said: ‘Hey, great idea – I’d love to.’ Then we sent her the tracks and she seemed very excited about it and happy to do it with us. I’m just thrilled that she did.”

Given his unorthodox approach to what can often be an overly genteel genre, is he concerned with being perceived as a blow-in or just another Hollywood actor with a vanity project by the wider jazz community?

“Y’know, it’s just an unscientific sampling – and anecdotally people have come to gigs and they’re nice to me if we find ourselves in conversation – but they seem to be appreciative.

“And so far, from what I gather, the press reception has been cordial. And I’m so proud of the men and women that I make music with; the players are the cream of the crop, so that helps. I think we do something that has integrity in it. So I think we’re doing okay.”

Around 14 or 15 is when I started to sneak into cocktail lounges to do a few gigs. I would have been very surprised, and amazed, and delighted that all this time later I would have wound up doing all this

There are other things to be concerned about in any case. One of them is his forthcoming Disney+ series, The World According to Jeff Goldblum’, a 12-part documentary series that sees him exploring the origins and manufacturing of everything from denim to tattoos to ice-cream.

“Oh, I had a blast making that! I had hosted a few times, just experimentally, for that show Explorer on National Geographic. While we were making it Disney+ started to collaborate with Nat Geo and we’ve been shooting for the last several months.

"I've been going all over the United States and it's very kind of spontaneous; we have to think a little differently for that kind of show. But I love that there's unexpected science in it. The 12 episodes deal with 12 different items that might yield some surprising scientific facts and history and this and that... and might even connect to my own story here and there. And it really was fun. I hope people like it."

He has already begun reading the script for Jurassic World 3, , where he will reprise his role as Dr Ian Malcolm. He is keeping shtum on the major details, but filming will begin next year.

“I’m very, very excited. I got the script a couple weeks ago, and every morning that’s the first thing I do. I wake up at about 5am, 5.30am and I go through the script and work on my part. After that I go to the gym, and after that I do my piano work, and then I get the kids up, and we both make ‘em breakfast and get ’em dressed and take ‘em out to school,” he says, about to embark on another of those tangents.

"But Jurassic World, yes, Jurassic World is going to be fun. Laura Dern, Sam Neill join me, and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and Colin Trevorrow, who's the very beautiful and sweet man who wrote and directed the first two in this trilogy. I think it's gonna be good!"

Given the amount of times that he has mentioned “fun” during our conversation, life as Jeff Goldblum is pretty sweet right now, even he would agree. But what would the 14-year-old Jeff say to the 67-year-old Jeff, Hollywood great and unexpected jazz star, if he could see him now?

“Oh, golly... Well, at 14 I was talking to the moon every night and imagining some larger and magical life that was possible – in acting, mostly, although I did love playing the piano.

“Around 14 or 15 is when I started to sneak my way into cocktail lounges around Pittsburgh to do a few gigs. So I think I would have been very surprised, and amazed, and delighted that all this time later, I would have wound up doing all this.”

He chuckles, humming and hawing in that particular way of his. “I think I would have been tickled pink. Life’s funny, ain’t it?”

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This is released by Decca Records

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times