By Mandi Bierly
Updated March 29, 2010 at 04:05 PM EDT

Image Credit: Giovanni Rufino/USAChange is coming to USA’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent. After eight seasons, Vincent D’Onofrio, Kathryn Erbe and Eric Bogosian say goodbye in a dramatic two-part season opener that begins Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST and concludes April 6. Jeff Goldblum, who joined the show last season as the offbeat Det. Zach Nichols, remains to welcome new additions Saffron Burrows (Det. Serena Stevens, Nichols’ new partner) and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Capt. Zoe Callas, who assumes control of the Major Case Squad). The always game Goldblum phoned PopWatch last Friday on his lunch break — 5:30 p.m. — before settling in for a long night shoot. We chatted about the new season (do we sense sexual tension?), as well as a recurring dream, the origin of his rope tricks, one highly devoted celebrity fan, that recent episode of Community in which Joel McHale was “Goldbluming,” a second death rumor, and his plans should he and Craig Ferguson ever finally hang out.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the episode you’re shooting.

JEFF GOLDBLUM: We are shooting an episode called “Palimpsest.” Do you know what a palimpsest is? It’s a book that seems to occur a long time ago when they wrote books on parchment. Parchment was expensive, so when they wanted to write something new, sometimes they’d just take the parchment and erase what was underneath it. And now with modern technology, you can put a special light on it and, without destroying either text, discern the original and erased text. In this episode, there’s a very important and mysterious book that’s rumored to exist, an account of the trial of Jesus that differs from the gospel. It threatens this very sort of conservative sect of Christianity, one crazy member of which has infiltrated into this guy’s home who is rumored to have this book so that he can find it and burn it…. He winds up in the home of one of my great friends, who’s a wonderful sophisticated dealer and collector of rare books, and he’s got a wonderful house, and I’ve known him since I was seven. He was an old pal of my father’s. And in fact, his daughter, I had a relationship with, as it turns out, for some years, until her schizophrenia progressed [chuckles] beyond the point where we could have that relationship. And now, she’s doing wonderful, and I see her. It’s a very dramatic 24 hours that I spend back there when I find out that he’s dead and see her again and try to solve this crime. How about that?

It sounds like a nice light episode.

My god, they’re all gruesome in one way or another. They’re all very demanding. That’s the challenge of acting. If it ever happens to you in real life, God forbid, some of these things, then you look back on your acting and go, You know, I tried to act it as well as possible, but this is what actually happens in your body and your brain and what you do when confronted with this kind of situation. Gee, I didn’t get it anywhere near right. [Laughs] You always fall short, but that’s the delicious sort of challenge of it.

I read in a recent interview that you’ve had dreams after filming certain episodes.

It’s true. I’ve always had dreams anyway. I sort of enjoy dreaming and when I’m working sometimes, I particularly like remembering them if I write them down right away. And then I try to see if my subconscious life might have something to do with the psychic odyssey that I’m actually taking in this imaginary job that I’ve got.

Is there a recent dream you can share?

Well, let me see… Gee, I’m always back in the house I grew up in, in Pittsburgh, somehow. Remodeling is often being done, landscaping. And sometimes, I’ve discovered once again a secret hidden part of the house that is completely full of old dusty, musty furniture that I’ve never attended to in my modern renovations, and it’s not part of my living area. But I sometimes realize I can get there. Sometimes I have to bend my head down low to go underneath this kind of basement area and into this large musty set of rooms. It’s sort of wonderful if I could make use of them. And recently, I was there again somehow. And I said “I know what to do. I’ve got to first not be saving any of this stuff that got handed down to me. I’ve got to have somebody that I work with here go in there and just get rid of all that stuff, so I’ll have just this big empty space that I then see what I want to do with.” That was kind of a good dream. [Laughs]

Nichols starts anew in Season 9. What will his relationship be like with Stevens?

I love Saffron Burrows. I’ve known her for quite a while. We worked on a movie with Hal Hartley together in Berlin called Fay Grim with Parker Posey. I was thrilled when she came aboard. She’s just one of the brightest people on the face of the Earth. And most gorgeous, of course, and sexy and sweet. Stevens is a very seasoned, high integrity, effective, brilliant cop from Chicago. She’s got a daughter, not currently in a relationship, very sophisticated, has been educated all over the world and speaks many languages, as Saffron herself does. She comes into our squad and partners up with me. I think I immediately have an attraction to all aspects of her — a respect and admiration for many things about her — and then we get busy on cases and collaborate excitingly. My ideas sort of go with hers, and we seem to solve the crimes pretty regularly. [Laughs] But sometimes, my intuitive, creative, out-of-the-box, individual, unconventional, follow my own curiosities and interests kind of thing conflicts with the brilliant deductive journeys that she’s on, and we work ’em out.

Are you saying there will be sexual tension between your characters?

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Maybe. I think we find it very exciting to work together. As gruesome as these situations are, it’s sexy to be involved in them with somebody like her very intimately, where we’re both passionate about what we’re doing and need to trust each other with our lives, and facing life and death situations, and dealing with people who have lost people, and bad people who threaten us. It is very intimate and sexy.

What’s Nichols’ relationship like with Capt. Callas?

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is a spectacular person. We did a play together a while ago. She plays a very interesting character. She’s tough and sometimes has to corral us, edit us, produce us, and creatively direct us into following the right path and what she thinks. We’re all collaborating and sometimes butt heads and struggle with each other. But I think we all come to trust each other in a very warm way.

Now that you’ve been on the show for a season, have the Law & Order fans embraced you in a new way?

People love Law & Order, as we know, all across the board. I hate to name drop, but I was at a party and Patti Smith, hipster extraordinaire, was there and said, “You know, I have to tell ya, there are a couple of things on Earth that I’m obsessed with, and one is watching your show, Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I never miss an episode. If I may not have a TV, I’ll check into a hotel just so I can see all of them.” It’s got a lot of enthusiastic fans because they’ve been doing good, interesting work all along.

Is there anything you’re that obsessed with? What are you enjoying watching right now?

What do I watch? I got a satellite hook up, so I put on the jazz station that just plays uninterrupted, no-commercial jazz. Then I switch to blocks of Turner Classic Movies, IFC, and watch movies. I like sports. When pro football season comes up, I watch the Steelers games particularly. And then I find myself getting drawn into the daily news often times.

Did you happen to catch the recent episode of Community in which Joel McHale’s character did some “Goldbluming”?

I didn’t know about it. What happened?

His character became convinced that a guy in his beginner’s pottery class was actually advanced, so he stayed up all night doing research so he could nail him. The next morning, he’s talking in your sort of controlled frenzy, and someone tells him he’s “Goldbluming.”

[Laughs] I have to see it. I’ve seen a couple people do impersonations of me. It’s always flattering. I’ll bet I get a kick out of it. I like Joel McHale. I see many Soups.

Have you seen this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly yet by chance?

I have not.

I did a Stupid Questions interview with Castle’s Nathan Fillion and you were mentioned. I wanted to give you a heads-up.

What was said?

I told him that he was No. 3 on my mother’s list of favorite male celebrities, behind you and Johnny Depp. I asked him how he planned to get to No. 1… and he made a joke that you were going to die soon.

[Laughs] Oh my god. Another — Oh Jesus. Hilarious.

Would you like to issue a statement now?

Oh, no. I’m sure it’s all in good fun… What I’m struck by is your mom, and that I made it on her list at all. How about that? I’m very flattered.

No. 1. Every time you’re on a talk show, I hear about it.

No. What’s her name?


Say hi to Joyce.

You have another round of talk show appearances coming up. [He’s on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight.] What do you have planned? Have you been working on any new magic tricks?

No, I haven’t. That rope trick that I did on Letterman had been in my back pocket since the Robert Altman movie Nashville. He said “Hey, before we start shooting, take a little crash course in sleight of hand, because I think your character, it’s not in the script, is gonna do a bunch of magic tricks in scenes.” And sure enough, we put some in. I think we even filmed the rope trick, but he cut it out of the movie. So all of the other tricks I sort of let go. I used to disappear a salt shaker and different things like that. But I always kept one of those soft magic ropes around and kept up on my rope tricks and tried to put them in a movie or two. And in fact, I did. It showed up in Adam Resurrected. My character’s supposed to be a cabaret performer, a magician, an impersonator, and a clown, and I find myself in an insane asylum [for Holocaust survivors] years later, and in order to charm a young boy, who I’m trying to draw out and heal and have an interesting relationship with, I pull out my rope and do some magic tricks for him. If you liked it on Letterman, check out the Adam Resurrected. [Laughs] That’s all I have up my sleeve. I think it’s exhausted now.

Last question: Every time you visit the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, you and he talk about how you need to hang out. Has that happened yet, because it needs to. That would be great.

I think it would be, too! It hasn’t come to pass. I adore him. I’d love to still hang out with him, and I hope we will.

Describe your dream day with Craig.

My dream day? [Laughs] Oh, gee. He’s so smart and funny. What would we do? What would we do? Whatever he wanted to do. I’d want to see what he’s interested in. Then, I’d show him my house, show him my backyard and all the plants that I like to walk amongst sometimes, and play piano for him and invite him to a gig of mine. I play jazz in L.A. sometimes when I’m off. It’s very kind of informal sometimes. Maybe he could get up and sing an old standard while we played.