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Jeff Goldblum (Law & Order: Criminal Intent)

Jeff Goldblum (Law & Order: Criminal Intent)

After a long career in both film and television, Jeff Goldblum has joined the cast of the hit USA Network television show, Law & Order: Criminal Intent as detective Detective Zack Nichols.

After September, 11th 2001, Detective Zack Nichols left the police force to discover the meaning of life. But a cerebral, quirky and efficient cop doesn't stay away for long. Now, Det. Nichols' Socratic approach to crime scene investigation has his new partner, Det. Wheeler, and his old partner, Captain Ross, just trying to keep up.

We sat down with Goldblum to chat about his career and his much talked about new role.

SHAKEFIRE: You’re known for your dramatic roles and also for your dry sense of humor.  I was wondering why you chose to be on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.  Do you at least get to express some of your sense of humor while you’re doing the show? 

JEFF GOLDBLUM: Yes, such as it is.  Maybe I’m funny sometimes, maybe not so funny other times, but yes.  They actually write, Dick Wolf has been fantastic, kind, cordial and brilliant, I think.  And they have a brilliant staff of writers and producers and they have intendingly built a part that is suited for some of the things that I like to do and can do.  That’s what they’ve tried to do and after seeing the first episode that was aired I think there’s some humor in there.  Along with the solving the crime and the very passionate part of this character and serious part of the character, I think there’s some humor in it; I’m enjoying some of the funny parts of it. 

SF: Your charcter, Detective Nichols, seems to work from an observational point of view, where he’s working on motivations more than just the facts.  So he’s kind of intuitive a bit.  How would you describe your character if you were actually Nichols describing the character?

JG: I’ll take a crack at it.  Yes, I think you’re right.  I am an intuitive fellow.  Of course people know that both my parents were shrinks so I was sort of raised in an atmosphere where there was that interest in the human mechanism and the human psyche and what makes people tick.  And yes, I think I’m particularly creative and adventurous and improvisational and spontaneous in my inner impulses and patterns and deeply curious and appetized in the unfathomably mysterious and delicious phenomena that is the human being and who we really are. 

And why certainly people go off the rails and commit murder here in New York City, that interests me particularly, and oftentimes I find it’s a mistake of identity and having their ego built around mistakenly and their sense of identity built around some aspect of form, if you will, in their lives, either their careers or their reputations or their bank accounts.  That mistake gets them into trouble and they wind up doing risky and awful things in order to pursue that mistaken notion and defend it and help that survive.  It’s a bad, but not uncommon disease of the psyche that I find results in murder sometimes.  I’m a humble student of that whole subject. 

SF: You actually touched on this before, that you are a skilled piano player.  Were you nervous when you were being filmed during a scene where you got to play the piano in an episode?

JG: I don’t know how skilled I am, but I did take lessons.  Our parents gave us music lessons early on in Pittsburgh and I took to it and loved it.  I kind of guess it’s a hobby of mine.  I’ve always played piano … I decided on being an actor, I played the ragged cocktail lounges here and there, a couple of jobs while I was still in high school in Pittsburgh and then have always had a piano where I am, where I live and now where I work, too.  I just love to play all the time.  For the last several years I’ve had a jazz band called the Mildred Spitzer Orchestra in Los Angeles and when I’m off work we book ourselves into places and play gigs around town. 

Then, yes, they knew about it a little bit and worked it into the character so my character, Detective Nichols, is able to play a bit and in these couple episodes, one that you saw already, maybe that first episode, and there’s another one where I play.  No, I’m not particularly nervous.  I get excited and I got excited about it, but I always was sort of thrilled to play.  Even when I play gigs these days I have no career aspirations or no fear of criticism.  I really do it because I love to do it.  Whenever I do it I love to do it, so it was particularly enjoyable for me having it be part of a scene or two. 

SF: How would the Jeff Goldblum of 20 years ago approach Zach Nichols?

JG: Jeff Goldblum 20 years ago might have been, but I was playing that Tenspeed and Brownshoe so I would have been the actor involved perhaps, this is hopefully I wouldn’t have any business with doing anything wrong that would have gotten me involved in a guy who’s investigating murders.  But I’ve always been involved with crime stories and if I had been, for instance 20 years ago not inconceivably involved in a part where I might have been playing a detective like this I would have been very interested to talk to Zach Nichols, who’s ostensibly a real and a uniquely brilliant detective, for research purposes. 

Here on our set, Criminal Intent we’ve got a guy like that, so the current Jeff Goldblum can talk to this fellow Mike Struck who’s a brilliant real-life detective.  I love hearing all his stories and he’s on the set when we do our stories here and he tells us what’s real and if he were playing the part and he were in the actual situation what he’d be thinking, what he’d be doing, how he’d be doing it, and that’s thrilling and fascinating to me.  So that’s how I can imagine Jeff Goldblum of yore talking to Zach Nichols if he were real. 

SF: Out of all the roles you’ve played, because there’s been a lot, what’s been your favorite and why?

JG: My favorite and why.  Maybe it’s because I’m trying to get better and I feel like I am, but I currently am pretty in love with this part that I’m doing now.  Then I’ve got a couple of, I like the parts at the stage when they’re at the stage of development, so I’m doing a couple more movies right after this, this summer, one called The Baster with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, and I’m at the stage where I’m rehearsing it and trying to figure out who the character is and what the part is, and I kind of love that.  And then I’m doing this movie with Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams called Morning Glory right after that, and I’m a bit in love with that.  I think you have to be.  That’s part of the criteria and qualification for taking a part.  It has to be a passion and something you’re in love with.

But besides that, having said all that, I did love very much Adam Resurrected that I did this last year with Paul Schrader directing that Willem Dafoe was in and it was a wonderful movie and experience for me.  I loved doing that movie, Pittsburgh that I think you can still get on NetFlix, a very handcrafted affair that I sort of cooked up over several years.  Besides that, holy cats, many things that I could think of, but those are a few that come to mind.

Peter Oberth
Interview by Peter Oberth
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