In The Fly, the first face that fills the frame belongs to Jeff Goldblum. His stare is wide, his black hair towers high, and, in the guise of scientist Seth Brundle, he’s an earnest yet magnetic picture of enthusiasm. “What am I working on?” he responds when asked about his latest project. “Uhh... I'm working on something that will change the world and human life as we know it.” He’s confident, suave and likeable, and it's no wonder that Geena Davis’ reporter Veronica Quaife is instantly intrigued.
She wasn’t the only one. Appearing on screens since playing a thug in 1974’s Death Wish, Goldblum had more than 30 credits on his resume when he starred in David Cronenberg’s take on George Langelaan's 1957 short story of the same name; however, The Fly remains pivotal in bringing him to broader attention. His is a remarkable performance, all the more so once Brundle tests his revolutionary teleportation device on himself and unwittingly blends his DNA with the titular insect, undergoing a drastic transformation. And yet, nestled within a science-fiction horror effort unafraid of gore or the gruesome ramifications of its premise, Goldblum’s innately affable air is irrepressible — even when caked with the film’s Academy Award-winning makeup.
Audiences in 1986 knew what viewers are now discovering all over again: that when it comes to oozing the kind of charm you just can’t put your finger on, Goldblum has everyone else beat. “Are you some sort of magician?” Brundle is asked in The Fly — and it’s a question that fans have been wondering about the man behind him ever since. Indeed, if Goldblum can demand attention while he’s turning into a science experiment gone horribly wrong, what can’t he do?
In the early years of his career, Goldblum could do plenty, and did. He popped up in a Columbo TV movie and an episode of Starsky & Hutch, and made appearances in Nashville and Annie Hall. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he helped tackle human-replicating aliens, and in The Right Stuff, he recruited astronaut candidates. In the process, he amassed a sizeable body of work that proved him both versatile and dependable. The parts would change, but his inimitable presence would remain.
Then came The Big Chill. Routinely stealing scenes from his ensemble cast-mates only helped his star climb higher – no easy feat with Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, William Hurt and Kevin Kline also featuring on screen. In fact, Goldblum’s debonair journalist and aspiring club owner Michael provides a vital dash of personality and energy to the reflective reunion drama. The film’s pop-rock, soul and R&B soundtrack gets much of the credit for doing just that, but if anyone can upstage Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Aretha Franklin, it’s Goldblum.
Jumping from playing an alien in Earth Girls are Easy, to a romantic lead in rom-com The Tall Guy, to himself in The Player, Goldblum’s ability to slide into any situation and look as though he belongs there soon became evident. In accordance, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world when he was thrust further into the spotlight. Despite becoming one of the biggest stars of the ‘90s thanks to Jurassic Park, Independence Day and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, it always appears as though audiences are coming to Goldblum anew. He’s constantly on screen, and yet his charm always disarms, offering a surprise even when viewers know what’s coming. With all that said, no one could prepare for his standout moment as Dr. Ian Malcolm.
The last two decades have continued to be kind to Goldblum and Goldblum-lovers alike, though Richard Wilkins once tried to kill him off. The reaction that followed when Goldblum’s death was incorrectly announced only demonstrates the extent of his enduring appeal; as does the similarly feverish response when he visited Sydney to hand out free sausages from a Chef Goldblum food truck as part of an advertising campaign. His is a type of accessible cool: alluring and eccentric, commanding yet down-to-earth, unlike everyone around him but able to fit in everywhere. In short, he’s an enticingly complex package that no one can get enough of.
That’s what shines through when he plays mentor to his rebellious teen godson in Igby Goes Down, or a competitive oceanographer in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or an attorney in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Recent years have seen Goldblum shoulder supporting roles with aplomb; the type of parts that feel tailor-made for his arching eyebrows, wry smile and penchant for leaving loaded pauses in the middle of his sentences. Or, he has returned to familiar territory, first being the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence, and now stepping back into dinosaur-filed terrain in the forthcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Of course, there’s no such thing as more of the same where Goldblum is involved.
Take what just might be the highlight of his output over the past decade: Le Week-End. It might seem like an obvious choice to cast Goldblum as a long-lost old friend who breezes in and wows all and sundry with his charisma; however, his polished demeanour radiates affection, gratitude and self-absorption all at once, turning what could’ve been a stock-standard blast from the past into an enthralling ball of complications. As he has evolved from character actor to leading man to well-deployed on-screen delight over the past four decades, revealing the depth behind the debonair become his calling card, even in small doses. Next, he’s set to do so on a larger scale as the galactic fight promoter and universe elder The Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok, in what might be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best ever casting choice — undoubtedly introducing a new generation of fans to his charms in the process.
The Fly airs this Wednesday, 12 July at 9:05PM on SBS Viceland.