Reporters don’t usually have to sing for their interviews. But when Jeff Goldblum invites a duet, you just kind of go with it.
“Name an old standard that you like,” he asks, cozy on a corner couch in the lobby lounge at the famed Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip.
“If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot” is suggested.
Goldblum leans in, leading a whispery a cappella riff of the tune, humming most of the words so he can hear his nervous partner try to sing them.
“You sound nice,” he smiles, those famously earnest eyes dancing. “You can sing.”
And, so, there are two more songs.
But what does music have to do with Michael Raines, the hard-boiled police detective Goldblum plays in NBC’s “Raines,” his first prime-time series since 1980’s “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe”?
An accomplished pianist, Goldblum wanted to infuse this musical sensibility into his character — a throwback to the eccentric detectives of L.A. noir films — and he’s at the keyboard in at least one episode this season.
“I like that idea — like that Clint Eastwood character in ‘Line of Fire.’ He played in a club,” says the 54-year-old actor, looking very much the hip musician, his hair slicked back, sipping iced green tea.
Goldblum occasionally performs in Los Angeles clubs with actor Peter Weller on trumpet and their jazz band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, named for a neighbor from Goldblum’s hometown of Pittsburgh.
“Playing jazz, there’s a story you’re telling musically, and what you do is connected to and depends on what the other person feeds you,” he says. “Likewise, in acting ... it’s how interested you are in the other guy that causes something to happen to you unexpectedly and surprisingly.”
In “Raines,” which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT, that “other guy” is often dead, since the lead character has the bizarre ability to solve murder cases — by conversing with the victims.
Whether the technique is an unsettling consequence of Raines’ overactive imagination or some kind of psychotic hallucination, the quirky detective role had Goldblum written all over it.
“Listen, I didn’t write it as ‘The Jeff Goldblum Show,’ ” says “Raines” creator and executive producer Graham Yost. “But the minute that we cast him — and even more importantly — the moment that I saw him on camera ... I just turned to (pilot director) Frank Darabont and said, ‘This is “The Jeff Goldblum Show.” ’ He inhabits it fully. He is Raines, and he was from the first day.”
Goldblum, Yost continues, “has always had this idiosyncrasy as an actor, there’s something different about him. There’s a reason why (David) Cronenberg wanted him for ‘The Fly,’ why (Steven) Spielberg wanted him for ‘Jurassic Park,’ why Roland Emmerich, the director of ‘Independence Day,’ wanted him — there’s no one else like him.
“He carries from his career that feeling of, well, there’s a lot going on there behind the eyes. ... That’s great for a character who is hiding from the world the fact that he might be going crazy.”
Goldblum acknowledges Raines “is a good part” for him and that he was equally eager to collaborate with Yost, the Emmy-winning creator of “Boomtown,” and Darabont, the Oscar-nominated director of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.”
“I mean, now more than ever, I’m doing it because I really want to work with the best people and the best material, at least the most interesting to me,” says Goldblum, who first appeared in film at age 17.
Next month he travels to Israel to begin filming “Adam Resurrected,” “the most challenging, interesting movie I’ve done in, maybe, ever,” Goldblum says. He’ll star as a Jewish entertainer who survives Nazi encampment by entertaining victims as they are sent to their deaths. After the war, he ends up in an asylum for Holocaust survivors, battling the madness around him.
If “Raines” manages to pull in audiences and is renewed for the fall, Goldblum says he’ll be ready to step back into his gumshoe’s scuffed loafers.
“It was a rich part, an interesting part, funny sometimes, and I would be up to do more, for who knows how long,” he says. “I like working. I like working every day. Even when I don’t have a job, I have people come over to my house and we get together and read things and act. I like to act.”