Plus: More on his 'National Geographic Explorer' episodes and 'Thor: Ragnarok'
Monday night sees Jeff Goldblum begin his three-week guest host tenure of Explorer, National Geographic’s long-running documentary series. On his first episode alone, Goldblum hosts an investigation into the “evaporated people” of Japan, a look at ocean scientists diving deep in Antarctica, a taste of the hottest chili peppers on Earth, and an energetic interview with fellow actor Sam Rockwell. That mix is about as eclectic as Goldblum’s current resume, which includes appearances in Thor: Ragnarok and Jurassic World 2 in addition to a developing Amazon Studios comedy series with Danny DeVito.
Goldblum will be hosting three episodes of Explorer this season. Ahead of the first one, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on National Geographic, the actor talked to EW about what interested him about the series and gave a taste of the other projects on his plate.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What interested you about hosting a show like this?
JEFF GOLDBLUM: I’ve been interested in them. They’re special, and they’ve got a sterling history because they’re good. The people I got in cahoots with who are making these things are particularly smart, as you can imagine, and engaged, interested, authentically curious, and fun. The access they get to all sorts of remote places is exciting and interesting to me. They immerse themselves in stories and the characters involved. I just found it really interesting. I like hosting duties in general. I host a jazz gig here in Los Angeles; I’m there every Wednesday when I’m not working. I also like to teach. I like the classroom. There’s something about these shows and what they do that’s kind of educational but fun and exotic. I liked it. And then sure enough in these episodes I did, I was able to interview and talk to interesting people about stories I found fascinating.
Like most National Geographic projects, this show is interested in learning and exploring, but there’s also a sense of urgency to many of the stories – battling climate change, dealing with the opioid epidemic, etc. What did you find compelling about the different segments?
I know what you mean, these are stories of current importance and relevance and interest. I think they try to be both nourishing and substantially educational, along with something kind of playful. Like in tonight’s episode, we do talk about the oceans, with a team that goes down there and risks life and limb to get important information. Then the evaporated story, about people in Japan who provide this service where you can disappear yourself and go into hiding, is interesting to me because I’m interested in all things psychological and cultural and exotic, issues of shame and all that. But then there’s a light-hearted piece about pepper fanatics and the folks who love to torture themselves with spicy food. I’ve been crazy about food experiences and oral experiences forever. Then I had Sam Rockwell, one of my favorite actors. We both studied from similar teachers — William Esper we both took from, and I took from Sandy Meisner, who was Esper’s teacher, so we had a lot to talk about. Even if there were no cameras rolling, the two of us could talk for hours. We just had kind of a blast.
And then in the other ones, I talked to Bryan Christy about the opioid epidemic and Big Pharma getting its hands into the mix with its profit agenda, of course. Nat Turner’s remains, specifically his skull, were finally returned to his family, so that was a very interesting and moving and important story. And then I talked to Dan Savage, who I’ve been a great admirer of, about the recent outlawing of homosexuality in India. He went over there, investigated that, and came back with some disturbing and fascinating material. The marijuana history in the U.S. is always interesting of course. Then I talked to a couple other people, one of whom I suggested to them: Norman Eisen. You may know he was former ambassador to Czech Republic and the so-called “ethics czar” who kept them out of scandal and trouble that whole time and was a legal and moral consultant on various endeavors. I met him because Wes Anderson said he was the model for my character on Grand Budapest Hotel. So while we were shooting that film, I took a weekend where I went over to Prague, and he cordially and spectacularly put me up in the ambassador’s residence and showed me around Prague, gave me his very specialized tour of the city. We’ve stayed in touch. He’s spectacular. We polished the tip of the iceberg here; I could talk to him for hours. He’s a fountain of information and wisdom. And then Stephen Dubner, the Freakonomics guy. Boy, I would just pay to talk to him and pick his brain for a bit. We had a grand old time. So it was one of the best few days I’ve ever spent, professionally.
Did Norman ever see Grand Budapest Hotel or have any feedback for your take on him?
He did! He was very complimentary. He’s a fan of Wes Anderson’s and as articulate as Michael Chabon, in his own way, about the Andersonian universe and what’s going on particularly in Grand Budapest Hotel since it has to do with the pushback of European fascism and heroics of that kind. He has strong feelings about that, as you can imagine, and he’s a big fan of the movie, so I loved talking to him.
During your interview with Sam, you guys talk about superhero movies and his role in Iron Man 2. What was it like for you to enter that world yourself for the first time with Thor: Ragnarok?
I enjoyed it. I didn’t have scenes with Cate Blanchett, but she was in The Life Aquatic, of course, so we’d been in touch, and I’ve seen her since. I just adore her, so it was great to be in another movie with her, even just by association. The other Hemsworth brother, that now makes two for me, and he couldn’t have been sweeter or more down-to-earth, like the whole family. What I particularly loved is the director, Taika Waititi. He really got me involved in this because I’m a fan of his, from Flight of the Conchords and all his movies, not only Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Boy but especially What We Do In the Shadows. When we first talked, he said, “I want you to do your particular version of this character without being comic-y or grandiloquent. I think you should do something that’s in your creative family tree. And also improvise.” He was very interested in improvisation. We came to all those scenes and riffed enjoyably for the time we had. I don’t know what’s gonna come out in the mix because we gave him a whole bunch of different choices, I’ll tell you that. He’s great. Taika Waititi gets 10 Goldblums out of a possible 10 Goldblums.
It was recently announced that you’re teaming up with Danny DeVito for an Amazon comedy series. Can you tease a little bit about what you’re working on there?
Well, we’ve been developing a bit. Brian Grazer and Ron Howard and their spectacular team at Imagine Entertainment have been working on it hard. I’ve never worked with Danny before, but we’ve crossed paths, and I’m crazy about him, so I spent some time with him. Then Tim Long, this writer from The Simpsons, he’s really the creative force who’s filled this thing out. So we spent time working together on it, and it’s been nothing but fun. It’s still being developed, and we’ll see how the whole thing develops. Some of it is along the way, but some of it is still in its tulip bulb stage.
And, so yeah, [in the series,] we’re old [musical] partners. We were very successful a while back and ran into personal trouble, as happens to so many of these teams that you hear about and that I’ve been fascinated with, actually. I was a big reader of Martin and Lewis stuff, and they all seem to have something familiar. And then in our story, there’s a chance to come back together, so there’s much challenge in it and storminess but a kind of tapestry of love and a bunch of people who surround us they’ve cooked up who seem potentially interesting. And there’s a chance to do something musical! We don’t know exactly what yet, but like I said, I love to play my jazz gig at Rockwell once a week where I do a little singing and piano playing. My character is a pianist in this, so maybe I’ll sit around and plunk a little bit.
You’ve also got an upcoming role in Jurassic World 2. What are you looking forward to about your return to that franchise?
Off I go in a few weeks to London, where they’ve been hard at work, and I’ll try to contribute something to the plate of dino-entertainment. I like my character. I think my character is a saucy, sassy man of some integrity and deep thinking. And of course, that whole world continues to be popular, slam-bang, top entertainment. I talked to the director, J.A. Bayona, over the phone. I enjoyed his movie The Impossible with Naomi Watts, and he’s something else. I didn’t realize he was a good friend of a friend of mine, a director I worked with a while ago in Spain named Fernando Trueba, who’s just fantastic. Knowing that the two of them are brethren and brotherly in their friendship makes me feel very good, too. Even though some might say it’s popcorn-y entertainment (top-notch, of course), in our conversation he was very focused on the serious issues of greed as it oftentimes comes up in those movies, and the marvels of science and reason and the very fascinating point at which our species finds itself both in real life and in this imaginary world too. I’m very interested in that myself, so I’m looking forward to this. I’ve got a few things to do. I’m nothing if not conscientious, so I’m enjoying working on it every day.