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"I had some Excedrin, which has got a lot of caffeine in it, so I was jumpstarted prior to the interview," Adam Goldberg tells me well into our interview. His credits are impressive and far-reaching; he's as well known for roles in Saving Private Ryan and A Beautiful Mind as he is for Dazed and Confused, The Salton Sea, The Hebrew Hammer, and Tribeca screener 2 Days in Paris. He's also done a fair share of TV, from his short stint on Friends as Chandler's creepy roommate to the all-too-brief 2009 season of The Unusuals on ABC.
In his latest movie, (Untitled), fraternal jealousy, pretentious art, and love collide in a comedy that takes place in New York's art scene. Goldberg's Adrian, a scowling, self-absorbed composer whose chain-rattling music plays to near-empty rooms, catches gallery owner Madeleine Gray's (Marley Shelton) icy blonde attention both artistically and romantically as she leads him into a strange new world where success is within reach, if he wants it. His brother Josh (Eion Bailey), who is infatuated with Madeleine, churns out the paintings that keep her gallery in the black, even though she won't give him a show. Add in nutty art collectors, a band member who is simply referred to as The Clarinet, and former footballer Vinnie Jones as eccentric artist Ray Barko, and you have a situation ripe for meltdown.
Tribeca Film: (Untitled) is an interesting blend of satire and earnestness. I really believed that Madeleine believed everything she said, but at the same time you have these ludicrous aspects of the art world. How does your character fit into it?
Adam Goldberg: I think that Adrian is sort of a different side of the same coin as Madeleine. Our characters, Eion's character, they all have these personas or masks, and they're all indignant in their own way, and they all hold steadfastly to their points of view in spite of their actual confidence in their point of view. So in a way, it's all just an artificial confidence that's belied by an incredible amount of insecurity.
Tribeca: How did you reconcile who you are as a musician and your own work and performing as Adrian? Because to really become a character, you have to buy into the character's particular brand of bullshit.
AG: The idea of taking an intellectual concept about sound and perhaps calling it music is not something that was totally foreign to me, nor the idea of incorporating sound elements, whether it's through sampling or through other sort of odds and ends. It's something that I've experimented with to an extent, and [here it's] taken to the extreme, to a place which is a bit funny, but you know… there was something very comfortable about committing to his boorishness about what he does. There's something very liberating about a guy who has total commitment publically to what he's doing, but doubts himself in the privacy of his own home.
Tribeca: To prepare for (Untitled), did you immerse yourself in the art scene?
AG: I grew up around a lot of art. My dad got involved in the scene a bit and used to take me to galleries and museums, so that's kind of the extent of my knowledge. As I grew older, I didn't really pursue it on my own, but I have a pretty strong Wikipedia-esque foundation of art history. But no, I wasn't hip to the scene, such as it is, that it's kind of lampooning… It all seemed kind of familiar to me and I didn't necessarily want to go out of my way to see what was going on. A, I'm lazy, and B, I didn't need to because the idea is that I'm supposed to be this sort of fish out of water. So the work I did was really just buying a bunch of records and talking to Jonathan [Jonathan Parker, director and co-writer] a bit about what my guy was about and who and what he was based on.
Tribeca: At one point, one of the characters says, "Please, not another 'Is this really art?' discussion." Is there any kind of art that you've seen where you think, that is dreck, that is totally not art.
AG: To me, there's only good art and bad art. I don't really have that problem. I think if it were not for the fact that my father had been into really super minimalist, kind of abstract expressionist art when I was growing up, I think it might be different, but seeing as how I was sort of brainwashed into understanding that you can drop something on a canvas and it can be art… I came to really genuinely feel that if you are moved by something, it was art. And what difference does it make, in other words, what it's called, whether it's called art or not. Who really cares about a certain nomenclature? If you're moved by something, you're moved by something.
Tribeca: People are pretty hard on actors who are also musicians. What do you think about that in terms of your band LANDy?
AG: There definitely was some wariness early on. There were a lot of backhanded compliments because I feel like the bar was set so low in their minds that I can only sort of go up from there. So in a way, I feel like I have an unfair advantage because people just expected it to stink, so when I guess it didn’t, at least to them, they would say things like—many reviews said this exact sentence: "This doesn't suck." I can't tell you how many times I read, "This doesn't suck," which is such a funny compliment. I don't take it personally, because they don't know me, they're basing it on some sort of actor persona. And then they would go on to review the record as a record, so again, it was a mixed bag.
But the same thing happened with a couple movies I made too. I remember this New York Times review of I Love Your Work spent more time talking about who I was than they did about the film itself, which I never thought would be an issue, because I don't really get to reap the benefits of being a rich and famous person. I mean, I do fine, but I don't have the easiest time in the world getting work or whatever. I have a certain kind of career, so it's funny that I then have to deal with the flack of what a really famous person would have to deal with, when really I'm just kind of doing my own thing and minding my own business, you know what I mean? [laughs]
Tribeca: One of the discussions happening among online journalists is the line between being fans and being journalists, because the line is blurring more and more, especially with things like Twitter and Facebook.
AG: I had kind of a real lame-o interview with something something dot com [recently], and it was like right out of a junket where it was like, "So, tell me about Saving Private Ryan," and I was like, "What do you wanna know?" It was like I was being interviewed by a rep from IMDb. And I realized that most of the interviews I'd had recently were actually getting a lot more [interesting]—of course I'm talking about things I actually give a shit about, so that could have something to do with it.
I realized that [with] the people I was talking to, and today is a good example, it became more of a discussion and less like, "Okay, so you did this and you did this and you did this," and [instead we'd] free associate. Discussions about art and discussions about music, discussions about things totally unrelated and tangential. [Though] it's actually a bit more time-consuming—because they haven't been as regimented—I've been enjoying them more.
It helps if what you're discussing stimulates discussion. I think (Untitled) is a fun film to discuss. Yeah, you could discuss the machinations of making an independent film or whatever, but I think everybody's heard that story a million times. What's interesting is that [the film] raises some [of the] questions that we have discussed. It combines these two interesting worlds and is about art, so presumably the journalist and the person in the film [are both] going to be interested in art of some variety, so that always helps.
I'm always impressed when I see these little snippets of these big stars who just do junkets all day long and I see them not totally wound-up and not super-tight and not super-terse or defensive, and I don't know how they do it. And that to me is a good example of someone (like a Tom Cruise or whoever) who is as good at that as they are at being a performer—[someone who's] a good PR person. I've always felt that I'm about as successful as I could handle, because beyond that, I wouldn’t really be able to play the game properly.
Tribeca: We were talking about personas earlier, and people often describe you as this neurotic Jewish guy with a furrowed brow and so on. Do you get tired of that?
AG: I think the actor part of me gets frustrated by typecasting, but the more I've bought myself enough time each year to explore the other areas of my life that I'm passionate about and interested in, the less it becomes a concern. And the more, in fact, I'm like, hey listen, if I can get a certain amount of work because of somebody's preconception of me, then that's fine. I really view acting as a job, as a means by which I can live a certain way. If I were to fully commit to my life as a quote unquote artist, I would not be able to.
Culturally speaking, I'm annoyed by anybody or anything that becomes overgeneralized and compartmentalized. And also, how does one define neurotic, for instance? Am I, objectively speaking? If I were a character in a movie, would I be? Yeah, I would absolutely say I'm a neurotic mess or whatever, but there are other people who are far more pathologically neurotic because they lack total self-awareness. [laughs] It's a much more insidious form of that. But I know what you're talking about.
It does seem to be part of this kind of culturalism that's embedded in our ways of describing people, which I do think is offensive. For some reason, it's more acceptable when it's related to things Jewish, which I've never totally understood.
Even Jews themselves, I guess. Like there's Heeb magazine, there's some kind of hipster fetishizing of it, which is I guess the way of like taking back the night or whatever? It's only frustrating to be overidentified with something when you feel a bit inauthentic about it. That said, I went to a Jewish day school growing up, and I was pretty immersed in Jewish culture for a while, although by the time I turned 13, I knew then that it felt somewhat pretentious. Like I didn't have a Bar Mitzvah because I thought, you go up there and you're supposed to mean it, you know? Not just be doing it to make a bunch of money and because you're supposed to do it. So I didn't do it. I sort of regretted it when I had to buy a car when I was 15.