Jeff Goldblum Talks Motorcycles, Jazz and Ignoring His Mom’s Advice
The legendarily curious actor sits down with The Drive to talk about his journey into motorcycle culture for his Disney+ show.
An infectious curiosity bubbles out of Jeff Goldblum. Whether you’re watching him deliver a silver-screen performance, listening to an interview he’s done, or hearing him speak directly to you—ruminating about life, jazz, and motorcycles—you’re captivated as he repeatedly starts, stops, and rephrases his dialogue. It’s quintessential Goldblum, and it belies a thoughtful, deliberate man who has a hunger to experience everything available to him and, most importantly, savor its deliciousness. If you’re Disney, you build a show around just that and title it the only thing you can: The World According to Jeff Goldblum.
Just as they do in the physical world that you and I perceive, motorcycles also exist in the world according to Jeff Goldblum, and so they’ve become a subject for an episode in the show’s sophomore season, streaming now on Disney+. You might think Dr. Ian Malcom an odd choice to guide a journey into the world of motorcycles, which, fair. But come on, it’s Jeff Goldblum. You’d listen to him read the phone book. And as I learned after I sat down with him, he’s brought back some reports that only Jeff Goldblum could from a quest for two-wheeled enlightenment.
“I was, uh, fascinated with them early on. My cousin had a motorcycle and I rode on the back of that when I was just a young teenager” Goldblum said. Early in the episode, the actor recalls his mother warning him against riding (“Don't do it! Motorcycles are a magic carpet ride of death!”), and for much of his life, he heeded her advice—save for a few instances here and there for films and television, such as the custom air-cooled trike in the 1975 screwball comedy Nashville. But his curiosity brought him back to motorcycles for the show.
Through the course of the episode, Goldblum is introduced to parts of the motorcycling culture, including the custom scene with a tight-knit show in Los Angeles. He meets Taras Kravtchouk, who’s looking at how to decarbonize motorcycling completely, a few acrobats who ride and one of whom lost his leg, and Anya Violet and Ashmore Ellis of Babes Ride Out, a motorcycling collective built by women for women and who taught Goldblum how to ride properly in California’s high desert on a Husqvarna FE250. “Oh, they were great,” Goldblum said.
Violet and Ellis were equally pleased with their pupil. “[He was] a fast learner. You could tell he was really feeling out the bike and how it worked as he went through the process. Once he shifted into first, a huge smile was on his face," they told me in an email. As for what he was like as a person: "It was more like the cameras weren't even there. Jeff has the ability to make you feel like the most interesting human he has ever met." They added, "[He's] naturally gifted in making everyone around him feel important and full of random facts. Our friend Porche gave him the biker name 'Trivia,' which was very fitting."
It’s not every 69-year-old who will climb onto a bike and give it the old college try, and while Goldblum isn’t your average sexagenarian, he’s got another passion whose influence I hadn’t considered before: improvisational jazz. I asked him if it helped him in the saddle.
“I think so, yes,” he said. “You know, this improvisation that my teacher Sandy Meisner taught me was the cornerstone of his acting technique, uh, training technique. And it really appealed to me. I said I liked jazz from early on, and I liked the idea that you could kind of make it up and, and invent it, you know, out of your musical conversation with people with whom you're playing. And I love that and that seems to be relevant to all sorts of aspects of my life, including, yes, riding, you know.”
Being loose, being present, being able to think about what’s ahead—these are all essential skills, in life and on a bike. After talking with Goldblum for a while, what comes across is very much a man in the moment but still with an eye on the future.
“You read that book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? It’s not just being a good driver in a car,” he explained. “It demands that you're very current and you pay attention to every moment of the ever-changing road, and landscape, and challenges, and then come up with in, in conjunction with those things a kind of resourceful way of navigating. So, you don't know exactly what you're gonna do until you're faced with a situation. And all the demands of the ever-changing machine that you're driving, you know, certainly a motorcycle, and the terrain and your company on the road. I love that. Driving in traffic is an improvisation, isn't it? Like, kind of a dance, and it's certainly a dance with the machine itself, it seems to me.”
And that ability to be in the now and look forward extends to his children, too. “Well, I've had a lucky life, and I've done a lot, but, you know, my appetite is as sharp as ever. I don't know if you've got kids, but I've got these two boys and now I want to take them all the places that I've seen, and show them movies that I've seen, and teach them things, and learn from them, and experience life and different places that I've never been with them.”
As for himself, “I’m at the threshold of what I feel is my best work, so I love this [Disney] series, and I love all the things that we did there. We're already talking about all these subjects and places that I could go to that I've never been, and people that I didn't imagine I would wind up talking to. But I would love to do more of that, and I can't wait 'til Jurassic World: Dominion comes out. That makes me very interested, and all these things, the science around what Malcolm deals with has made me hungry for these books that I just read by, Yuval Harari: Homo Sapiens, Homo Deus, and Twenty One Lessons for the Twenty-First Century.
“There's still movies that I'm catching up with,” he added, “and certainly music that I'd like to hear, things that I'd like to learn, and places that I'd like to play with my band. And things that I'd like to play that I never have. So, uh, my appetite is piqued, but you know, as we know, it's all fleeting, it can all be over before you know it, so I'm trying to just focus and urgently present as I can.”
But what of motorcycles? Will they become part of his person, part of his present, part of his insatiable appetite, or will he actually listen to his mom? After his experience in the episode, does he think motorcycles are worth the risk, or was his mother right to have warned him off?
“Well, I think that's a case-by-case basis," Goldblum told me and laughed. "Everybody has to decide that for themselves. If I tell ya, if the person who's deciding that is, uh, just like my acting, you know, a little bit, you know, then it can be a risky and wild, bumpy ride, full of surprises and emotional challenges, and psychological challenges.
"So if you're willing to meet that with a real focus and thorough humility, and a thorough learning student’s mind… You know, as somebody told me early on, when you think you can ride it, talking about motorcycles, that's when you better sell it. And the body's fragile and precious."
The motorcycle episode of The World According to Jeff Goldblum is now streaming on Disney+, and Goldblum will reappear as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic World: Dominion, out June 10 in theaters.
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