Watch Explorer on the National Geographic Channel at 10/9c on Mondays
Actor Jeff Goldblum has played some of the more memorable roles in movies over the past few decades, from The Big Chill to Jurassic Park. And now, the self-described “lifelong learner” is hosting several episodes of Explorer on National Geographic channel (airing at 10/9c Monday).
Starting May 8, Goldblum will be diving into some of the most compelling stories of our time.
We spoke with Goldblum about his work on the show, his method, and what exploring means to him.
What has it been like to work on Explorer?
It’s been fantastic. The people involved are wonderful. They’re playful, energized, and engaged with a global community in an inspirational way. They’re making smart stories, with a lovely combination of light moments and engaging narratives. I’m thrilled about it.
Which Explorer stories are you most excited about?
I liked all of them. It was a really delightful, fascinating class for me, and one I’d like to continue. I knew nothing about the evaporated people story, when people in Japan who have been shamed can choose to disappear themselves. That was fascinating. The heartbreak it causes their family, the whole psychological aspect. I loved the ocean and climate change piece, learning about the intrepid scientists who are risking their lives to study Antarctica to bring us the latest real information.
I love that pepper story we did, about the whole subculture of people who crave sauces so hot it will burn your skull off. I love food and the whole oral adventure. The opioid epidemic was disturbing to find out about, and it was interesting to learn about the ethical challenges facing Big Pharma.
It was wonderful to talk to Norm Eisen, the former ethics czar for President Obama. He was the model for the character Wes Anderson wrote for me in Grand Budapest Hotel. Norm came to Prague, where we filmed, and gave me a private tour of the city. He is one of the great thinkers and people on Earth.
What does National Geographic mean to you?
I’ve always been interested in National Geographic. It’s authentic outreach to exotic places that we would not necessarily visit otherwise. Being immersed in the stories has always been fascinating to me. So I love being included for a moment and getting a lesson in this.
Why do you think exploration of our world is still important?
It feels to me deeply important. I see it in my two sons, who are three weeks old and 22 months old. To see them so passionately curious about all sorts of things reinvigorates my own passion for learning.
Acting has always been a lifelong learning adventure for me. I’m a humble student. So exploration is in my skin and bones and nervous system. I love people who venture out and try to expand our knowledge, try to live the well-examined life. We have learned a lot in the past few centuries, but when people look back in 1,000 years they’ll think we are in a primitive state now.
How important is good storytelling to educating and informing the public?
I can pick up a dry book and get easily overwhelmed by it. There are a lot of difficult and complicated issues. But it’s the story that often finally drives the point home viscerally. A story can get us involved and engaged.
You’ve played a number of scientists and mathematicians over the years, from Jurassic Park to Independence Day to The Fly: how do you think that has impacted how the public views scientists, and how should they be viewed?
I’m not sure if the little things I have done have made a difference in how people view things. But I have tried to make the characters not so exclusively cerebral, because scientists are deeply soulful. They’re not only smarty pants, but also sexy, romantic, and enflamed. I’m seeing that now as I’m watching the wonderful work Geoffrey Rush is doing with Einstein on Genius on our network. [Tuesdays 9/8c.]
I hope that scientists can be seen as trusted leaders in our path forward. I esteem them terrifically. There’s no more fun for me than meeting Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I played James Watson a while ago [in 1987’s The Race for the Double Helix]. He was an interesting figure. Last year I met him again, on a cruise hosted by Paul Allen. James said he liked what I did with that movie. But he said I wasn’t his first choice to play him. He said he wanted John McEnroe. I thought maybe he meant John Malkovich so I asked him again. He said, “Remember that scene where you depicted me playing tennis? John would have been much better.”
Now I’d like to see John McEnroe play all my characters. As Ian Malcolm: “Life will find a way. You cannot be serious!”
How do you bring such smart, quirky characters to life?
I’m a lifelong student of acting. I’m fortunate to get to play a lot of different parts. I try to do my due diligence as much as I can. I talk to people who know and read as much as I can. I try to make them rounded people. Even the smartest among us has a storm in their bosom about all sorts of things.
What would Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park—who warned that life should be tinkered with at our peril—say about our current world?
I’m getting ready to do another version of him [in an upcoming Jurassic World sequel]. He would say that life will find a way one way or another and we would be well off to listen to reason and scientists, but we should be very careful about our ethical use of what we can do. In the last century we amassed tremendous technological power, but we’ve shown ourselves capable of misusing it terrifically. And so we need to be very careful about how we use what we can do.
And of course, nature is the ultimate teacher. We need to listen to that and not mask it and try to live in accordance and alignment with it. He’s much smarter than I am.
This interview has been edited and condensed.