Sometimes when I interview an actor, I’m surprised to find out that they sound nothing at all like the character they play on TV. Not so with actor Jeff Goldblum. Talking with Jeff on a recent conference call was like sitting down with Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park. The only way I can describe his distinctive style is hyper and low key, all at the same time. Thoughtful, naturally funny and intensely observational, he’s been one of my favorites since he ran with Buckaroo Banzai. Now he’s back on a new season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent which starts tonight, March 30, at 10:00 on USA.
When the series returns, it will signal another changing of the guard. Vincent D’Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe, Eric Bogosian, and Julianne Nicholson are all leaving the show. Jeff will be the only returning actor and he’ll be joined by Saffron Burrows as his new partner, Serena Stevens, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Capt. Zoe Callas.
Jeff spoke to reporters about what these changes mean to the series.
J. Goldblum: How will it affect the show? I think they’re the best actors around. I love the show with them and I love their characters and I’ll miss them. It won’t ever be the same. All of them were spectacular and irreplaceable. So it’s a different kind of show, although the flavor is something of the Law & Order flavor. But I’ll miss them. I think they’re just great.
As part of this grief counseling of the loss of the old show and the old characters, I would recommend that they consider appreciating Saffron Burrows and Serena Stevens, her character. Saffron is such a uniquely beautiful actor inside and out. And wildly intelligent. Wildly intelligent. And so that they know, has passions, if they look her up a little bit, politically and having to do with the world that are very interesting and compelling to me. So fun to be around for me. And she brings all of this to the show. She’s passionate and she’s been a movie star that I’ve been very interested in for a long time.
And then, let me encourage them to get into Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. And seeing her every week. I adore her. We’d done a play together some years ago. But for anybody who’s seen her from the beginning in Scarface or The Color of Money or an eye on the stage here in New York through the years, she is spectacular, as talented deeply, richly talented and an actor as there is. Given to a rainbow of color choices in her paint box. And they’ve written for her just the beginnings already of a character that is very—that is not only unique, but multidimensional and colorful and complicated.
And then there’s you.
J. Goldblum: Well, I love writers and good writing and literature and stories and a good script. So I try to, as much as anything, figure out what they meant, what this thing is about, and there are many nuts and bolts issues that come up in that vein, in our show or a lot of scripts and stories.
What exactly and specifically? That’s an important question in the theatrical dictionary, an important word. What specifically do they have in mind for this, are they trying to depict for this? What reality are they trying to depict here? This is nothing new. Everybody’s done this, but it constantly fascinates me. And more and more, I try to give myself over to and serve what they’re doing. And not only that, but who the writer is and what their whole spirit is, and inner dynamic and what the message they’re trying to, and feeling that they’re trying, and song that they’re trying to sing?
And I’m, in many ways the concierge delivering the message up to the room. And I try to do that as faithfully as I can. And then, beyond that, just use my own instincts because there’s nothing—it’s not math. It’s not a science. There’s nothing empirical. Is that the right word? Measurable. And finally, there’s no foul line that you can either hit the ball within or go out of. You have to, and everybody’s going to have their own opinion about it. But you have to use your own taste and instincts about what it is. And as long as it gets your—once you’re serving the script, if you can, and you must, get your own mojo working. And however that takes place. And it’s different every time. The adventure is kind of a little different every time. That’s what needs to happen, too. Whatever interests you.
It’s kind of like what my character, Zack Nichols, does in an unconventional way. He comes to a crime scene and doesn’t really go well, this is what you are supposed to do. This is what you would do. This is what logically leads to a deduction from A to B. But as much as that, and he does that too, but as much as that, it’s kind of hm, what interests me? What do I notice and what in my stomach and blood and soul and fingertips and taste buds am I attracted to here? And I trust my individuality there. He does. And I try to in the same way that I act.
Which of Nichol’s character traits do you relate to?
J. Goldblum: Traits? Traits, traits. Which character’s traits? Let me see. Let me see. Well, I’m thinking of this character Nichols, and I wish I were as smart. Boy, it would be tough. I don’t think I could do that job really as effectively as he does it. Like our consultant, Mike Struck, they’re eighth degree black belt practitioners. And they’re so smart and then, intuitive and creative about it. I like to think there’s some kind of parallel, at least in even what I’m trying to do as an actor, although I still feel like a beginner every day in many ways. But I aspire to getting as proficient and smart about and creative with and I do share a passion with what I think Nichols feels for his work, for my work.
Let’s see. What else? What else? I think he has fun. I think my character, Nichols, has a kind of a grand time and an inner secret. Funny fun with it. That’s also true of me here and there. At least, I aspire to that also. To always finding the enjoyableness in my activities. But I have. Luckily, I’ve found things to do. Acting, for instance. That I do find a blast. So there’s a couple of things.
Why do you think the Law & Order franchise has held on the way it has?
J. Goldblum: Gee. Well, Dick Wolf is a brilliant guy and a passionate and caring guy and attracts terrific people around him, the whole producing team and the writers that he gets. They just do high quality things. And then, there’s something about solving crimes like they do, and New York City. That at least would appeal to me. I can’t speak for everybody. And what it is, they know more than other people, I’m sure, have thought about it more and know more about it than I do.
But I know for me, I kind of am in love with New York stories and New York City. I saw recently this documentary that Ric Burns did called New York that gives you 400 years of history about this very unique place where people are put together in the closest proximity from the widest ranging places. The most diverse people stuck together. And it creates, not only a hot bed of creativity and spiritedness of all kinds. But trouble, too, and problems and challenges and the need to solve them, and these New York stories, these crimes and criminal life and trying to keep the streets safe are a part of these New York stories. And I love that myself.
And of course, the reason I think it’s also been successful is because the great actors they’ve had, too. I’ve always wanted to watch Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston or Vince D’Onofrio or Katie Erbe, all those people. Jerry Orbach. I’d tune in to see them any time.
After working in films for so long, what’s it like being back on TV?
J. Goldblum: I’m having as good a time as I’ve ever had right now. First of all, for me this is the longest job I’ve ever had. Yes, I’ve never had a movie that lasted this long and I never did a series this long. So now, into the second season, it’s the longest job of any kind that I’ve ever had. So that’s a little different. I see the same people, happily, every day. That feels familiar and family like. And I’m enjoying that. And the character, you’ve heard people talk about this, but I think it’s a very nice creative opportunity where in a series where there, where you get great writers, too. And as Paul Schrader told me at the time a couple of years ago when we were doing Adam Resurrected, he thought the best writers in writing was now on TV.
But if you get great writers and people who want to, who care very much and want to do good things, and you kind of write as you go I think that’s a very viable legitimate creative way to sort of see what works and kind of make it up as you go and kind of elaborate on it and make it more and keep writing the whole novel and the whole huge screenplay as you go. And act it that way. It’s kind of like life a little bit.
It’s kind of like making a journey on a dark highway road in a car with only your headlights ahead of you and you can’t see the road, but you can see the road in front of you, but you can make the whole trip that way. I like that idea. And so, I’ve found it very creative so far, but maybe I’m in a relaxed and creative spot myself. I’m always trying to get better. And I do like that.
I have a work ethic that I think I inherited from my father in a way. He used to get up early every morning and routinely and put in an honest day’s work and I kind of like that. I like having a place to go and feeling like this is not just something I got to get through and make the best out of and hopefully, do my best with. But it’s my way of life. I still want to do my best with it, but it’s what I do every day. It’s part of the daily, my daily routine. I really like that. I really like it.
We like it, too. Watch Jeff Goldblum in a whole new season of Law & Order Criminal Intent Tuesdays at 10:00 on USA Network.
Saffron Burrows as Detective Serena Stevens, Jeff Goldblum as Detective Zach Nichols, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Captain Zoe Callas — Photo by: Jeff Lipsky/USA Network