On Movies: Goldblum settles in at 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Jeff Goldblum plays the executor of a wealthy octogenarian's estate in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Jeff Goldblum plays the executor of a wealthy octogenarian's estate in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Posted: March 10, 2014

The beard. The mustache. The thick-rimmed glasses. There's something about Jeff Goldblum's look in The Grand Budapest Hotel, opening here March 21, that says Sigmund Freud, that says Luigi Pirandello.

"Yes, we had pictures of Freud and Pirandello," reports Goldblum, who plays a lawyer - and the executor of a wealthy octogenarian's estate - in Wes Anderson's latest, a breakneck caper set in the 1930s in the fictitious middle European country of Zubrowka, in and around the elegant alpine environs of the titular hostelry.

This is the actor's second collaboration with Anderson - he was Bill Murray's nemesis in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou - and Goldblum's role is pivotal. There's Ralph Fiennes as a charming concierge who sleeps with his more seasoned, and moneyed, guests on one side. And Adrien Brody, the flamboyant and furious heir, and his henchman, played with sinister villainy by Willem Dafoe, on the other. And Goldblum's Deputy Vilmos Kovacs, a prominent lawyer and friend of the deceased, in between, trying to do what's right, and upright.

"It's a heroic crossroads moment when I suspect that foul play has occurred with this woman that I loved and observed for many years," says Goldblum, who had discussions - as actors do - with his director, trying to flesh out his character.

Anderson had set up a "research room" in the hotel in Görlitz, Germany, where the Grand Budapest cast and crew were staying: books about old hotels, clothing, and objects, "and then this stack of movies," Goldblum says.

There was Ernst Lubitsch'sThe Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not to Be, and Grand Hotel, of course. "And things I hadn't seen - The Mortal Storm [a 1940 anti-Nazi film with Jimmy Stewart], and Ingmar Bergman'sThe Silence, a surreal story inside a big hotel. They were all springboards and inspirations for Wes, and they became so for us. The look of my character, and some of the musicality, came from all of that. It was a great learning experience."

Goldblum, 61, has worked with some of the great directors of our time - Robert Altman ( Nashville, The Player), Philip Kaufman ( The Right Stuff), Steven Spielberg ( Jurassic Park), David Cronenberg ( The Fly). He says Anderson's films, with their detailed tableaus, cross-section pans, and cross and deadpan characters, make for a different experience.

"Yeah, very different. I mean, it's still acting, and I've worked with a lot of good people, creative in different ways, but . . . Wes has a unique sensibility, an aesthetic sensibility, and a way of pursuing it that's very meticulous and, for me, enjoyable. I'd be a big fan of his movies whether I had ever met him or not.

"At the same time, he trusts actors, and loves them and gets wonderful actors to play with him and collaborate. He makes these whimsically theatrical characters and stories, but wants the actors to fill them in in a very naturalistic and truthful, honest, deep, and substantial way.

"The whole experience is particular and uncommon. Yeah, there's nobody like him."

Goldblum, on the phone from Los Angeles - his hometown, back after four months in New York doing Bruce Norris' play Domesticated at Lincoln Center - is as busy as ever. He costars in Le Week-End opposite Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, which opens March 28. He has a supporting role in the " P.G. Wodehouse-like" Mortdecai, with Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor.

When he's not working, Goldblum plays piano in a jazz ensemble every week in a club in the Los Feliz section of L.A.

As for his Deputy Kovacs, even if he's a product of Anderson's imagination, a voice of reason in a nutty, nonstop ensemble comedy, Goldblum says he thinks he found some relevance: "To consider what the political and moral ramifications are of what you're doing, and how you want to live, and who you want to be, is always at issue," he explains. "And in movies, and in stories, that is oftentimes part of the deal."

"Peabody's" improbable trip to the screen. Big questions kept dogging Rob Minkoff as he met with studio execs, writers, and producers over the last decade trying to get his animated feature adaptation of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle segment "Peabody's Improbable History" off the ground: "Why Peabody and Sherman? Do people really care, or know about them?"

The answer to the latter will be known this weekend, as the opening box office for Mr. Peabody & Sherman is tallied.

For fans of the '60s cartoon - created by Valley Forge cartoonist Ted Key and featured in Jay Ward's classic weekly squirrel-and-moose show - no answer to that first question is needed. Peabody was a talking beagle - genius, scientist, scholar, and gentleman. Sherman was his pipsqueak sidekick, a boy. Together they'd hop in the WABAC (wayback) machine and time-travel to a key historical event, find things were not going as planned, then right the situation and get off a groaningly exquisite pun before heading back to the here and now.

"Time travel never goes out of fashion," says Minkoff, who codirected Disney's The Lion King and directed the Stuart Little films, among others.

"I'm hoping, obviously, through this film that more people will be introduced to the characters. For people who know [the cartoon], they'll feel a little nostalgia. But for people that don't know it, it will seem new . . . . And it seemed like the premise was strong enough that it didn't matter whether you knew it. . . . There was something intrinsicaly interesting about a dog and his boy. The dog being the father, of course."

With its cool, midcentury modern design and the addition of a female foil to create drama and potential grade school romance, Mr. Peabody & Sherman feels both retro and new, just what Minkoff was aiming for. The leads are voiced by Ty Burrell from Modern Family and Max Charl es of The Neighbors.

They're both good, but for the longest time, reports were that Robert Downey Jr. was going to play the erudite canine.

"Yes, he was definitely in," Minkoff confirmed on a recent stop here. "And because of his Sherlock Holmes, and Tony Stark, and his sort of exceptionalism in those roles, we felt like he was suited for the role, certainly. His persona made sense.

"So we were onboard with the idea of it, but we never actually went into the recording studio, and that became the problem. He was so busy   . . . . So just getting him into the room literally became impossible and then we were like, 'We have to make the movie. We can't wait forever!' So we said, 'Let's find someone else.' "





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