Reconstructing Jeff Goldblum

Star followed path of self-discovery, visiting Israel and Germany.

By TOBY AXELROD
February 11, 2009 10:04
Reconstructing Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Making the film Adam Resurrected was, for actor Jeff Goldblum, a journey of self-discovery. For a man who once played an insect (The Fly, 1986) and now plays a Holocaust survivor who "became" a dog, this is no small wonder. "It was, for me, life changing, really," says the 56-year-old American actor who visited Israel for the first time during production, met with Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles and explored Berlin, looking for signs of the past. He returned to Berlin recently to talk about becoming - at least temporarily - Adam Stein, the protagonist of the film, which is based on the 1968 book by Yoram Kaniuk. "It is as demanding a part as I have ever had, emotionally and psychologically," said Goldblum, sitting in a suite at the Maritim hotel in Berlin, overlooking the memorial to German Nazi-era resistance. The scene below was draped in fresh snow. "It was a real opportunity, not only to test the limits of what I can do," Goldblum said, slowly and thoughtfully, "but it was personally enlightening and soulful..." The film shuttles between Nazi Germany and post-war Israel - specifically, a psychiatric institution where former cabaret performer Adam Stein (Goldblum) is reconstructing what is left of his life. In the story, Stein has survived a concentration camp literally by accepting the role of dog to a Nazi master (Willem Dafoe). Stein, who has lost nearly his entire family, finds the dog role hard to abandon after liberation. But ultimately, he is able to understand and help a boy (Tudor Rapiteanu) who, for reasons of his own, has slipped into a canine reality. In the isolated institution in a vast desert, Stein wanders toward his own "resurrection" just as the biblical Jews inched their way through a wasteland toward their own identity. To prepare for the role, Goldblum - who was raised in an observant Jewish family in Pennsylvania - sat down with his sister, Pamela, an artist living in California. "I read the whole thing through," he said. "I could sort of feel the story through her, and by having her receive it." Goldblum also tried to assemble the life of his character offscreen. In Berlin, he visited the memorial at the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and he also checked out cabarets where Stein "might have actually worked until he got shut down. And then I went to the railroad [station] where he and his family probably got shipped to Auschwitz." Recalling the memorial at the Grunewald station, Goldblum gasps as if seeing it again for the first time. "It was very evocative and powerful," he says. THE ROLE appeared to have waited for him, says this gangly man with flyaway hair and big, expressive hands. Peering through his large, black-framed glasses, he says author Kaniuk told him that Charlie Chaplin once "called him up and barked in the phone that he wanted to play the part. And Orson Welles wanted to make it into a movie." In the end, it was director Paul Schrader who would make the film, using Noah Stollman's screenplay. According to producers Ehud Bleiberg of Israel and Werner Wirsing of Germany, Adam Resurrected, which opens in Israel on February 19, is the first Israeli-German coproduction on a Holocaust theme. That he got the role and not Charlie Chaplin is humbling, according to Goldblum. "I would have liked to have seen [his] version of it, frankly, but I am glad it fell into my little hands." Even though Goldblum generally does not "become" his role between takes, there were moments in which the role took him to another level. "There was a lot of crying from start to finish," he said. When he first encounters the dog-boy Davey hidden under a rag in his hospital room, Stein thinks he really sees - and smells - a dog. "I have a kind of an uncontrollable spasm," Goldblum says, letting out a gasp: It's "a seizure of grief. And," he sniffs, "snot is running out of my nose and I am crying." When they stopped filming, "I stayed on my hands and knees and just - for one reason or another - was crying, for quite a few hours, I think." "It was like that for three months," he said. "The scenes in the concentration camp, where they shaved my head and Willem Dafoe is beating me exactly like a dog, and I was pleading for the safety of my family - [they were] very difficult, very difficult." While Goldblum's immediate family did not suffer any losses in the Holocaust, his father's brother, Chuck Goldblum, was a fighter pilot who was shot down over Europe during the war. "They never found him," Goldblum says, adding that "in pictures, [he] looks exactly like me." He has no feeling of resentment against the younger generations of Germans, and finds it perfectly fine that the Jewish community in Germany is growing. "Everything changes, everything is fleeting, one way or another," he says. But while filming the Nazi-era scenes of Adam Resurrected, Goldblum found himself "doing everything I could to imagine" that the German actors were really brutal Nazis. "I tried to allow that to work on me," he said. Still, he found working with German colleagues an extremely positive experience. He did not "feel any strain," he says, nor did not approach them as the children or grandchildren of perpetrators. As for his own identity, "having been raised culturally Jewish and gone through some religious training… contributed to me having an appetite for right living," Goldblum says. It is "part of the Jewish credo: ethical living, contributive civil societal life and spiritual meat - where you have a direct experience in the moment, and [sense the] presence of something miraculous and divine." "I have a taste for that," he says. "It led me to acting, frankly." Through the character of Adam Stein, Goldblum (as man and dog) sinks his teeth into some serious spiritual meat: Call it manna. Adam Stein, after losing everything, "ask[s] himself what people say is the most important question, which is, 'Who am I?'" says Goldblum. "And he comes up with a mysterious answer, in the desert."


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