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For Jeff Goldblum, dinosaur math adds up to a monster hit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The new movie "Jurassic Park" seems to have a lot going for it: Steven Spielberg as director; Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sir Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill as stars; a budget rumored to hover in the $65 million range; and, of course, dinosaurs.

But can the epic production meet the epic expectations placed on it by studio executives, critics and the movie-going public?

"I don't know," Jeff Goldblum says by phone from his home in Hollywood. "The expectations are incredible. I guess it will be possible and very easy to fall short in some way.

"I haven't seen the finished film, but I saw rushes when we shot it, some rough footage when I looped it and some of the dinosaur effects shots, and I think 'Jurassic Park' will be spectacular. I bet people will not be disappointed."

For those who have been living under a dinosaur egg and haven't heard any of the advance hype, "Jurassic Park" focuses on the drama that unfolds when eccentric billionaire John Hammond's (Mr. Attenborough) soon-to-open dream project -- an island theme park loaded with real dinosaurs -- becomes a living nightmare.

The movie is based on Michael Crichton's best-selling novel, which deals with the cloning of dinosaurs using DNA from fossils.

Mr. Goldblum stars as Ian Malcolm, the mathematician whose doom-and-gloom predictions about tampering with Mother Nature are realized. Mr. Neill plays Alan Grant, a renowned paleontologist, and Ms. Dern portrays paleobotanist Ellie Sattler.

When the genetically engineered dinosaurs suddenly run amok, everyone must run for his or her life.

Notable performances

Mr. Goldblum, a popular actor noted for his performances in "The Big Chill" (1983), "Silverado" (1985) and "The Fly" (1986), hadn't read the Crichton novel when Mr. Spielberg asked him to portray Malcolm.

"Steven called me, we set up a meeting and discussed the book," the 40-year-old actor recalls. "Then I read it."

Mr. Goldblum quickly became convinced that he was the right one to play the cynical math whiz whose calculations tell him dinosaurs shouldn't roam Earth in the 20th century.

"I thought that I could do something with Malcolm," he says. "I loved the way it was written in the novel and in the script, too. He gets to say a lot of provocative, wonderful, insightful things.

"His take on the situation turns out to be just right. So there's something from his mathematics discipline or his respect for nature, his world view and his own gutsiness that makes him wise to the situation.

"I tried to figure out why somebody who knew the situation would become a disaster would stick around. It's not really brought up in the script, and I never quite figured that one out."

Surprisingly, Mr. Goldblum says that having to act with fake dinosaurs and blue screens made his job no tougher than usual.

"Acting is always hard," he says. "It's the game of taking something made up, whether it's a story or an illusion -- like a nonexistent dinosaur -- and making it seem true. It's challenging.

"The dinosaur stuff, from my point of view, was like any other element of what you have to do when you're acting. It's like when you have to make like it's cold outside when it isn't. Acting is pretending, making things that aren't true seem true."

Helping make Mr. Goldblum's task easier, he says, were his talented co-stars.

Mr. Neill earned critical kudos for "A Cry in the Dark" (1988), "Dead Calm" (1989) and "Hunt for Red October" (1990). Mr. Attenborough, at Mr. Spielberg's urging, returned to acting after a 14-year hiatus, during which he won an Oscar for directing "Gandhi" (1982).

Ms. Dern now ranks as one of the most sought-after young actresses in Hollywood, having earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for "Rambling Rose" (1991).

"The three of them are fantastic," Mr. Goldblum says. "The dinosaurs are great, but Steven had a real interest in the film's human beings and characters. That's why he hired these interesting and talented people.

"Richard, I think, had a blast acting again. He was robustly fun to be around. Sam is remarkably intelligent, and we became good friends. Laura is amazing, a brilliant actress of astounding capabilities."

There were rumors on the set of a romantic relationship between Mr. Goldblum and Ms. Dern. When asked if he and Ms. Dern are dating, Mr. Goldblum answers, "Yes," but declines to elaborate.

Spielberg 'liked actors'

What he will talk about are his on-the-set experiences with Mr. Spielberg. Heading into "Jurassic Park," Mr. Goldblum didn't quite know what to expect of the celebrated director.

"Not surprisingly, he was masterful," the actor says. "Steven knew what he wanted and what he was doing. He was terrifically prepared.

"But he was also very sweet to me. He liked the actors, trusted us and wanted us to surprise him, to bring to our parts what we felt instinctively. It was a creative and fun experience."

An experience of a different kind happened just days before the cast and crew were slated to leave the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where they had filmed for two weeks.

Hurricane Iniki slammed the island with a fury far fiercer than that of any fake dinosaur.

Bonding

"We all bonded together through that," Mr. Goldblum recalls. "It was very sad for the people who lived there. I think five people died, and a lot of the people lost their property.

"We were, luckily, safe in this hotel room. We spent a lot of time together with the hurricane raging all around us and the lights going off. We played games and talked and tried to keep each other comfortable."

Before the hurricane struck, Mr. Goldblum and Mr. Neill had some lighthearted fun at the expense of the hotel's unwitting guests.

After an on-screen attack by a Tyrannosaurus rex, Mr. Goldblum was left with what looked like a bloodied, ripped-up leg. Mr. Neill wasn't in much better shape. Thanks to the magic of makeup, both actors looked awful.

"One day," Mr. Goldblum says, laughing, "I was still in my makeup after shooting. I was walking with Sam. Laura and Richard were coming back from crossing the lobby and a bunch of tourists were there. Sam said, 'Start acting like it's real.'

"So I did, and there we were, pretending to have a fight. He kicked me at one point, and we argued. Laura told me that people were watching and they were just horrified and astounded. It was great."

Mr. Goldblum, who was born and reared in Pittsburgh, moved to New York at age 17 to study with respected acting teacher Sanford Meisner.

Stage roles soon followed, as did a part as a vicious rapist in "Death Wish" (1974), which marked his film debut.

Offbeat parts

Since then the actor has taken to the stage and screen in productions both large and small, successful and unsuccessful. Usually the roles he chooses are a little offbeat.

Recently he played a serial killer in "Mister Frost" (1990) and a corrupt lawyer in "Deep Cover" (1992).

The tall, dark-haired actor is already at work on his next project, a Showtime movie called "Lush Life" that co-stars Forrest Whitaker and is scheduled to air later this year.

"We play a couple of jazz musicians in contemporary Manhattan," Mr. Goldblum says. "I'm a saxophonist and he's a trumpeter. Kathy Baker plays my wife. So far, it's looking very good."

Off screen, Mr. Goldblum, who is divorced from actress Geena Davis, plays jazz piano at home and, schedule permitting, teaches acting at the Playhouse West in North Hollywood.

Right now he says he has no projects planned beyond "Lush Life."

Though most of the roles he has chosen in recent years have been in small, low-budget projects, Mr. Goldblum doesn't shy away from big productions like "Jurassic Park."

PTC Hits and big box office are fine, he says, as long as his part is worth playing.

Go with the roles

"I have to go where the good role is," he says. "I like people to see my movies, but it can't be 'Ooh, a lot of people will want to see this.' I have to do films that mean something to me, films about which I can get turned on and passionate.

"Hopefully, people will feel the same way too, especially about 'Jurassic Park.' If anybody could bring Crichton's book to the screen, it's Steven. And he has. Again, I think it's going to be

spectacular."

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