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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Celebrity Q&A: Jeff Goldblum on Theater and Arts Programs

"I would sweat and have dark thoughts about the teacher."
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

Jeff Goldblum began his acting career at seventeen, when he moved to New York City to study acting under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse. In less than a year, Joseph Papp cast him in the Broadway hit Two Gentlemen of Verona. A move into film brought a long list of credits, including Jurassic Park and Independence Day. Long and lean, Goldblum has played a series of likable oddballs in films such as Holy Man, The Big Chill, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Goldblum returned to series television for the first time since the early 1980s to star in NBC's new drama Raines. He is also at work with director Paul Schrader on the film Adam Resurrected.

What is your idea of a perfect teacher?

I would say Sanford Meisner. He was masterful and inspiring and brilliant. He conveyed in a magical way, in a million ways, his passion for acting and life and his depth of humanity. Just spending time with him was inspirational. He gave you the fun of it and the hard work of it, and the real tools to grow in it.

What was your most memorable school experience?

When I was in school, I had art classes and was chosen by our school to take part in this program with this great teacher named Joseph Fitzpatrick. He was a wonderful, classy, elegant, talented guy who was different from anyone in Pittsburgh whom I'd come in contact with. There were thousands of kids in this thing, and eight or ten got called up to reproduce a picture from the week before on an easel in front of everybody and then talk about it. The first time I got picked was a memorable school experience.

What was the low point of your school career?

I took piano lessons when I was kid. Early on, I would dare to show up for my lessons without having practiced. I hadn't gotten the idea of a routine, a work ethic, and discipline. When I would show up without having practiced, I would sweat and have dark thoughts about the teacher. It was bad.

Did you go to public school, or private school?

Public.

Where did you fit in your schools' social hierarchies?

I was an outsider of sorts. During the summers in high school, I went to Carnegie Mellon University for these six-week sessions in drama, and that was the first real contact I'd had with people in that arena. In that social circle, I fit in; I was in the middle of a wonderful group. I felt like a lively participant in the whole group, which was a little distinct from the person I was in the regular academic public school, where I was a little bit of a keep-to-myself guy.

What was your favorite subject?

Drama.

If you could change one thing about education in America, what would it be?

That question is so big and serious, I would not want to say anything glib about that, and I don't know everything. That takes a lot of knowledge about the education system, which I don't have, and a lot of thought about what could be different. I bet you could do a lot. But with any system, perhaps we have to see it for what it is and give it the room to change as much as possible.

What is impossible to learn in school?

I don't think anything! Students can always be proactive. Having taught, I encourage students to realize that this is a how-to-learn program, not a how-to-get-spoon-fed one. I bet any student interest could be explored if they have the will to do it.

I think a passion can be ignited. It may be dormant or latent in you, but if you run into someone who is passionate, who talks about it, and who nurtures you and communicates with you and brings it out of you and works with you, it can be ignited.

What should they teach that they don't teach now?

Stillness. Whatever it means to you.

What did you learn today?

I went to my doctor today, and I learned that I'm in very good shape, and that I'd lost several pounds. I'm on a whole new diet and exercise program, because I'm starting this movie that's about, among other things, the Holocaust, and there's a period in the movie where I'm in a concentration camp, and I'm trying to lose some weight for that.

What did you teach?

I like to teach two things particularly in this Sanford Meisner program: One is improvisation, and I like to teach what he used with more advanced students -- Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, a piece of material with a lot of speeches in it.

What is in your dream lunch box?

Octopus. Because I'm on this regime now, and it's a nice, lean protein, I'm told.

If you wrote a textbook, what would it be called?

It would be called, for mysterious reasons that I really can't say, I Miss Trees. And that has to just be cryptic.

If the prom were tomorrow, whom would you take?

I would take this girl I met the other night. I can't tell you her name, but it was this girl I met at our jazz gig. She was very physically beautiful, radiant, and radiating intelligence. She seemed very smart and kind and simple.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I grew up in Pittsburgh, attended public school, was chosen to attend Mr. Fitzpatrick's art classes and had the same experience that Jeff describes. He was an amazing teacher and being invited up on to that huge stage at such a young age was life changing, I am sure that I should credit some of my confidence and success to Mr. F. Thanks for reminding me!!

Marie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was in Catholic Elementary School I was in the school play every year. The Nun in charge-Sister Thomas Marie found a part for everyone and succeeded in producing excellent shows.

Sister was very good at guiding us. The last year I was in the school- I played a nurse who held the head of my male classmate who was an injured soldier. It's amazing how modest a person can feel while being the center of attention. We were right in front!

After watching Jeff Goldblum in several movies, I wished I pursued acting lessons so I could work with him in movies.

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