Jeff Goldblum describes the 'creative ecstasy' of working on Thor: Ragnarok
As if we couldn’t already get enough of Thor: Ragnarok, you’re in luck: The adventure continues in mobile game form. Marvel Contest of Champions has released an updated edition of the game featuring characters from the box office hit, and Jeff Goldblum, who plays Grandmaster, is vital to the plot. Much like in the film and comic books, he has chosen a team of well-known champions for players to battle against, in hopes of winning the player title “The Goldblum.”
Between his Marvel gig, Isle of Dogs, and a handful of other films currently in various stages of production,Goldblum has certainly been busy lately. Here, he talked to EW about his experience playing the eccentric leader of Sakaar, as well as his upcoming projects.
Talk to me about your involvement with Marvel Contest of Champions. How did that come to be?
They just suggested it and I thought, like all of their other ideas, they came from a foundation of taste and good humor and brilliance. I like the whole thing. I like the idea of being involved in this mobile game, and of course, it’s called “Grandmaster Goldblum’s Challenge.” That was their idea. I thought was kind of cute. And then they win the rare player title The Goldblum if they succeed, which they can show off in the game. And the game consists already of those Thorverse champions — Thor and Doctor Strange and Jane Foster, Angela, Hulk, and Loki, and Hela. Hela is spectacular.
I’ve heard both you and Taika Waititi talk about your relationship working on Thor: Ragnarok. It sounds like you improvised a lot.
Taika and I work in a not dissimilar way. We’re nothing if not conscientious and Johnny-on-the-spot with all of our research and ideas, but then we’re willing to throw it all away and just fool around and find something playful and find something that tickles us and see where the chips fall, and that’s where we go. Anything that you see in the movie was a version that was selected by Taika’s tasteful editing from usually 10 other choices of stuff that we tried. We just kind of had a growth spurt and a creative ecstasy together and what you see is the result of something from that.
What’s it like having the greatest entrance of any Marvel character of all time? The choice to use “Pure Imagination” cracked me up.
I was knocked out when I saw it a few weeks ago. I had thought, “Geez, who knows what they’re going to use?” I hadn’t seen any of the introduction nor the music. [Taika] is spectacular about music. He has a very strong, personal, unique taste in music and you can see that throughout the movie. And with Mark Mothersbaugh, they created something really neat I think. But I didn’t know anything about the Willy Wonka song. It was only when I watched the movie that I saw that. I was tickled by it. I thought they really did very well by everybody in the cast. Everybody seems cheesed. I mean, Cate Blanchett is spectacular. Oh my god, and hilarious. And Anthony Hopkins, who is deep and soulful and touching and hilarious. And Chris [Hemsworth] and Tom Hiddleston and everybody. Mark Ruffalo, I found him very touching in his relationship with Thor and the whole family drama with he and Tom. Terrific. And Tessa Thompson is spectacular. And Rachel House, we had a ball improvising, the two of us. She’s a wonderful director and teacher in New Zealand, and we improvised a lot. They had to shut us all down. We would just keep playing until we had to move on to the next setup. We could do all of it somehow supported by this well-oiled, huge machine. So within it — I think Taika tells the same story now — we felt like we’ve always felt in the best creative circumstances, that we were in a little cocoon, a playpen of fun.
Did you know that you’d be featured in the end credits scene?
No! I had no idea. It was only when I went to see the screening with a couple other people and [Taika] said, “By the way, I think you should stay until the very end of the end credits because you’ll be surprised by something.” So I did, still not knowing what it would be, and yeah, I was tickled.
In the film, Grandmaster rules a trash planet called Sakaar. What would you do if you happened upon your own trash planet?
If I had my family and I could have some effective support team and cabinet — I guess if I were in charge of the thing — I would do some cleanup, first of all, because aesthetically, I like orderliness and something in the minimal vein. I like to clean things up. I would get rid of all unnecessary things and have as few things as possible. If there were nature possibilities around — I do love plants and trees and flowers and vegetables and fruit — I’d grow things. I’d do that, and then I would try to cultivate a planet of peace amongst all creatures and all species. That’s what I’d do. And leave plenty of time for music and play and love.
You mentioned Cate Blanchett and Mark Mothersbaugh, both of whom you worked with on The Life Aquatic. In a way, Thor: Ragnarok is like a mini Life Aquatic reunion. Did it feel like one to you?
Well, yes. I love Mark Mothersbaugh. I had done some of these Apartments.com commercials, and there was one that they played during a Super Bowl — two Super Bowls ago, I think — where I play the piano and I get hoisted up alongside this apartment building and go high in the air. And it was with Mark Mothersbaugh that I recorded that. Besides recording on the set, we went to his studio, which is a grand place on Sunset Boulevard if you’ve ever seen it, this green kind of round gorgeous looking thing. He’s got all of his vintage instruments in it, and we had several sessions. He’s spectacular. And I was wearing, of course, in The Life Aquatic his—
That’s right! Wes said, “I know just what I’m going to have him look like.” He’s very meticulous and particular and he said, “I want you to wear my pink scarf and Mark’s glasses and you’ll give them back to him afterward, but here you go.” And seeing Cate again was just wonderful. I had met her on The Life Aquatic and stayed in touch with her a little bit and saw her on stage at BAM doing Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. I just think she’s the most wonderful actor.
Isle of Dogs is your first time acting in a stop-motion animation film of Wes’s. Was that any different from your experiences on The Life Aquatic and The Grand Budapest Hotel?
Wes is brilliant and a genius and technically masterful in his own ways, so it’s always rather effortless. You just feel like you’re entering the workspace of somebody very masterful, and so in all the ways that I can tell you about his other movies, it was not dissimilar on this. I went into a recording studio and he had very specific ideas, as always. I gave him some playful versions of what we were talking about and he knew what he wanted, and after a short time, we were done and that was it. I was shooting the Jurassic World movie in London and almost had a chance to visit Santa’s workshop where they’re doing the whole thing but wasn’t able to, but I’ve heard that it was just a miraculous and magical place, as you can imagine. But all I’ve seen is about as much as what you’ve seen. I read the whole script, of course, which is a beautiful story. And the cast, as always, is a collection of spectaculars, and I’m just thrilled to have any little lucky part in it.
Between Thor: Ragnarok, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Isle of Dogs, it seems like you’ve got your hands in every genre of film. That must feel pretty great to have such a versatile career.
I feel so lucky and so grateful daily. I pinch myself. After all of what you mentioned, I did this other interesting movie with Jodie Foster, whom I have always admired; and right now I’m talking to you from Upstate New York, where I’m shooting this movie that, in contrast to Thor, for instance, is like a small budget movie with a director whom I’ve really wanted to work with named Rick Alverson. He’s done a couple of movies, the last of which was Entertainment. Did you see Entertainment?
I love Entertainment. That is one of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen, and I love it for that reason. I feel terrible every time I watch it.
Yes. Horrible and transformed. I thought that was wonderful. I’ve seen it a few times. This one is in something of a similar vein. I think it’s poetic and oblique and adventurous. It’s called The Mountain and it takes place in 1954, and Tye Sheridan who is in Entertainment, of course, who plays—
The clown guy!
Yes, the clown guy. He’s in all of his movies now. He’s just a wonderful actor and a wonderful guy. The Mountain is kind of a road trip movie with him and me, and it’s been great working with Rick. He’s a real kind of archivist and he’s turned me onto several movies that I hadn’t known about before this. He’s sort of filling in my education. It’s really good. I play a character based on Walter Freeman, one of the guys that pioneered lobotomy in America in the ’40s. It’s sort of a fictional extrapolation of something based on him. It’s also a movie sort of in the vein of movies that I like, that are sort of a critique of the American psyche, like There Will Be Blood and The Master — you know, P.T. Anderson. So I’m having a great time on this. I’m the luckiest guy around. I’m getting to do a lot of different stuff and I’ve got these two little boys and a wonderful family and a wonderful wife. I couldn’t be luckier.