I had intended to talk to Jeff Goldblum backstage about his role inDomesticated and I did. He plays a scandal-laden politician/physician called Bill, whom the actor said is filled "with a lot of sadness, anger, and anguish. It's a terrific role and I'm grateful for it."
About halfway into our meeting, however, the conversation veered into jazz: a theorist might say that the tonic chord (Bruce Norris's play) moved into the dominant chord (music). Goldblum says that even after piano lessons as a child (he grew up in the Pittsburgh area) and his discovery of jazz as a teenager he made no plans to make that field his profession. "It was never the major part of any game plan," he told me.
Yet his love of music has remained constant: from his two years after high school studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York through his very successful career in movies like The Big Chill (1983), The Fly (1986), and Jurassic Park (1993), to his renewed career in the theater with hit Broadway plays like The Pillowman (2005) and Seminar (2011).
"Music is as important for me today as ever," Goldblum said. In Los Angeles, where he lives, he plays piano and headlines with a jazz combo called The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. "We perform on Wednesday nights at Rockwell: Table and Stage, in Los Feliz." "We do mostly standards, and we invite people up to sing or perform with us. It's a kind of hootenanny jazz hoedown."
Goldblum may not earn his living primarily through music, but he is serious about it. "In California, I take a voice lesson once a week, and I've been doing that for several years." When he's away from home, Goldblum practices voice lessons -- he has 103 of them -- by using his smartphone. The day of our interview, he was doing Lesson 71.
"The lessons are deceptively simple," he said, demonstrating a bit of one. "But then, after years of doing them, you can discover something in a 'la la la' that you'd never noticed before."
Many actors prepare for a performance by going over their lines shortly before curtain; some mull the dialogue as they walk or drive to the theater. "I go over the entire play in the morning, just after I meditate," Goldblum said. "That seems to set it in my brain for the rest of the day."
Before show time these days, Goldblum can often be found in one of the rehearsal rooms on the lowest level of LCT, playing the piano and singing. Sometimes, he is in the music room, with an upright. But as our interview wound down, he took me through a technical-workshop room to a storage area of musical props: a kind of inner sanctum that houses a grand piano. "I like to come in here when I can," Goldblum said. He placed his book of standards on the instrument's music stand, and played a few bars of "Younger Than Springtime," a song that nightly rang through the LCT premises not that long ago when South Pacific inhabited the Beaumont. Goldblum has a skilled jazzman's ability to ring changes on the notes as written.
"One of the things I like about playing with a jazz group is how collaborative it is," Goldblum said. Earlier in the interview, he had said: "One of the things I learned with Meisner is what you do as an actor is greatly determined by the people you collaborate with."
With Domesticated, he said, he has top-notch collaborators. "You cannot have a better partner than Laurie Metcalf. And we have a great director, Anna Shapiro, and a great playwright in Bruce Norris. And a terrific cast."
Goldblum remarked that the Domesticated cast is filled from top to bottom with musical talent. Robin de Jesus, for example, with whom Goldblum shares the Newhouse's men's dressing room, is performing a cabaret act this month in New York. Mary Beth Peil, another colleague, has had a long career in opera and musical theater. Goldblum also mentioned Aleque Reid -- "she has a terrific voice."
So I ask Goldblum: could Domesticated be a musical?
"I think it's perfect just the way it is," he replied.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com