Adam Goldberg made his big-screen acting debut in the 1992 film Mr. Saturday Night, steadily increasing his profile throughout the 1990s via roles in Dazed & Confused and Saving Private Ryan. But to perpetuate a cliché, what he really wanted to do was direct. Since then, Goldberg has helmed two films—1998’s Scotch And Milk and 2003’s I Love Your Work—and is currently working on his third, No Way Jose. But he’s still predominantly an actor. In addition to memorable performances in EdTV, A Beautiful Mind, 2 Days In Paris, and Zodiac, among many others, he can also be found as part of the ensemble of the FX series Fargo.
One On One (1977)
Adam Goldberg: The truth of it is that what influenced me most around that age was Rocky and One On One, the Robby Benson film. Rocky more so, but both of those films—that, and seeing a version of Macbeth by a bunch of 7-year-olds at the Jewish Community Center on Pico—inspired what I guess turned out to be my early passion for acting, because I would put on these little performances for my father, who would come over on the weekend to pick me up. My parents were divorced. That’s actually what’s funny about the age-5 thing: I’d love to answer that question, except I blocked out that entire year, because it was extremely upsetting, apparently. I mean, it’s the classic Freudian thing. Literally, I have no memory of that year that my parents got divorced, so… Really nice! Really nice going there.
So anyway, he would come over, and I’d sell him tickets to watch me put on… Well, at one point, I did a hybrid one-man show of Rocky and One On One. At another point, I sort of directed a sword-fight scene between myself, my mother, and my mother’s boyfriend. You want to talk about a Freudian shit-show for my father, who had to purchase a ticket in order to get into the house. [Laughs.] But Rocky was huge. I mean, it was one of the early examples of it influencing my life and what would be my creative passion, while sort of blurring the lines between reality and fiction for me. Because I left the theater shadowboxing and jogging down the street and determined to be a boxer, and I eventually took up an early iteration of kickboxing as a little kid. Yet at the same time, it made me want to act. And I guess, in a weird way, that’s what films have always done. They made me want to live a more interesting life than I have, and they eventually made me want to make films, but they always made me want to be part of a film.
The Dissolve: One On One isn’t necessarily given the same level of regard as Rocky. Have you revisited that film since then?
Goldberg: No, you know, when I think about it, it’s kind of creepy. It gives me shivers a little bit. [Laughs.] Also, I think I may have just seen that on the Z Channel. I saw a lot of films for the first time on the Z Channel. I also lived next to the New Beverly Cinema when I was 15, so those two things definitely impacted my life in a greater way than probably any other thing. So One On One, I think I may only have just seen parts of it on the Z Channel. But Rocky was a full-fledged theatrical experience… and a great fucking movie! Which continues to hold up. And that’s what’s always so strange. I watched it as recently as a few months ago, and it’s like, “How is it that I can have the same exact feeling about that movie now as I did then? It makes no sense!” And it makes me think either I’m this incredibly thwarted adolescent—which I am, in part—or I was an incredibly precocious kid, or there’s obviously something about the Jungian nature of movies that speaks to this thing that’s much deeper than anything your developmental age would signify.
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) (1972)
Straight Time (1978)
Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
The Dissolve: You were a little bit ahead of the curve with your movie viewing for the average 10-year-
Goldberg: [Laughs.] Okay, I want to be clear about Straight Time. I was at my dad’s, and I woke up—because I used to fall asleep in front of the TV—and I saw a man’s hand on a tit. Actually, I don’t remember if I woke up and saw it, or I’m remembering that Dustin Hoffman wakes up with his hand on her tit. Whatever the case, it’s my earliest recollection of a breast other than my mother’s. It wasn’t until much later that I could appreciate the film as a film, but I did watch it. But that was really important for the tit, I think, more than anything else. I guess, like Woody Allen, I had no latency period!
With the Woody Allen stuff, again, I think that was all Z Channel stuff. But I remember I was trying to break the world’s record for quarter-flipping off your forearm—I was obsessed with The Guinness Book Of World Records—and I got up to, like, 25. I think the record was a hundred and something, but I was still pretty good. So I just remember practicing quarter-flipping and watching Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask), and I cannot tell you the indelible impression that film left on me, probably both in its—oh my God, I left Airplane! out! When did that come out? 1980? Perfect. Okay, so Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) is probably my earliest memory of a satire or whatever, and of course there was the sexual element that was enticing to it as well, but it’s another one of these films I could go back to again and again and again, and at every different age—well, up to a point—it would have a different significance. But I still get the same feeling watching that film now that I did when I was 10.
But yeah, Airplane! That’s ridiculous that I would leave that out, because…well, I’m leaving out all kinds of things. High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, those were huge to me at that time. High Anxiety was gigantic, because High Anxiety was prior… [Hesitates.] I never even mentioned a Hitchcock film! Not even Vertigo! That’s why this list is insane.
The Dissolve: This conversation is just going to be one long regret for you, isn’t it?
Goldberg: Well, yeah, but most of my conversations are. [Laughs.] Oh, Christ! How could I leave out going to see Kramer Vs. Kramer with my dad? When did that come out? ’79? Yeah, go see Kramer Vs. Kramer with your divorced dad! [Laughs.] So that’s fucking huge. What the fuck was that about? Nice going, Pop!
Taxi Driver (1976)
Stardust Memories (1980)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Lost In America (1985)
Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)
Blue Velvet (1986)
The Dissolve: You said you became cognizant of being a Woody Allen fan when you were around 15. Did any particular film cause that realization?
Goldberg: Well, it was Hannah And Her Sisters, but… Okay, so here’s what happened. I’d already gone to see The Purple Rose Of Cairo earlier. Was it that same year? It was around that same time, anyway. It was playing at the same theater. I also used to live a couple of blocks away from what was called the Gordon Theater, and would eventually become a Cineplex Odeon Theater, and then would go out of business right after my film I Love Your Work played there. [Laughs.] Seriously, it was one of the last films that played there while it was a functioning theater. I obviously just sent it over the rails. I also saw Stop Making Sense there—which was the first movie I ever saw by myself, so that was obviously pretty formative—and I saw The Purple Rose Of Cairo there. So just as Hannah And Her Sisters was coming out, I was participating in the arts festival at our school, and I was doing a scene from “Death Knocks” from [Allen’s] Getting Even, which I was kind of directing, and I was also participating in speech and debate competitions or whatever.
So I went to see Hannah And Her Sisters with my friends Julian and Jeremy, and about halfway through—maybe not even—I start having a horrible anxiety attack, which I had been getting since I was 13. The irony, of course, is that I’m suffering this horrible anxiety attack watching a Woody Allen movie in which the character played by Woody Allen is a horrible hypochondriac who thinks he’s dying. And I’m self-aware enough to realize how ironic this is, but not stable enough to quell it. So I remember I kept leaving and going in the bathroom, and finally I just bailed entirely, and just walked home. And the next day, Julian and I were rehearsing our scene from “Death Knocks,” and I said, “Fuck this: I’ve got to see that movie, and I have to conquer this anxiety.” So we went back and saw a matinee of it, and I got through the whole thing. But I’ll be honest with you: When I watch it again now, I don’t think it holds up the same way. As time goes on, films like that and even Manhattan, which were just so huge to me when I was 15, 16, 17… When I actually watched them again when I was older, I was like, “I don’t know that this is as complex as it needs to be.” Like, life is more nuanced than this, and blah blah blah.
But I guess we’re talking about my age then, so, what he did was open me up to this whole world of his influences. So that’s also when I started watching everything that ever influenced him, and that’s how I got into so many other things. Someone who was also influential was a teacher at our school who was a history teacher at one point and a philosophy teacher at one point, depending on our grade, but he also taught an elective film-history class. We saw Open City, we saw Breathless… I mention Breathless because that was the film I most responded to of the films he showed us. So that kind of combination of Woody Allen’s influences and the influences provided by Mickey Morgan from my high school, that blew the world of cinema open for me, and that was it. And it was from that year forth that I wanted to be a filmmaker and not so much an actor. That my life happened to turn out that I would direct a film once every 10 years but act for a living… Well, that’s another story, obviously.
The Dissolve: It’s worth noting that there aren’t a lot of people whose lists of formative films would include both Lost In America and Hardbodies.
Goldberg: Well, the truth about Hardbodies… It’s because I was just beginning to jerk off. [Laughs.] So that’s all that is. Let’s just call a spade a spade here: For all this grandstanding about cinema, I was watching a lot of Hardbodies. And that Phoebe Cates film with Willie Aames. What was that called? Paradise or something. Some sort of Blue Lagoon rip-off, basically. But Phoebe Cates does a lot of showering. So yeah, there was a lot of that going on in my bedroom circa 14 or 15.
But Albert Brooks… well, here’s another crazy memory. I’m brushing my teeth, and I thought to myself, “Someone should make a film that follows a guy from the beginning of his day to the end of his day, and it should just be whatever he does, and it should be in real time.” Now, I don’t know how it was articulated in my young brain, but that was my thought. And then later that day, or maybe the next, I watched Real Life on cable. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a play on An American Family or whatever, I just thought, “Holy shit, this guy took my fucking idea!” [Laughs.] And that was the first time I experienced schadenfreude. But I would later come to idolize Albert Brooks. I could go on and on about Modern Romance. I couldn’t remember the first time I saw Modern Romance, though. But I remember very distinctly going to see Lost In America with a girl I had a crush on when I was in 9th grade and she was in 7th grade, but I looked for all intents and purposes like I was 11. My dad and I were on a trip to New York, she was on the trip with her dad, we saw Lost In America, and I thought it was fantastic. Again, it was an early introduction to going, “What are these movies?” Movies like Lost In America, After Hours, it was like, “What are these movies that aren’t like these other movies playing in gigantic theaters? What is this?” I knew I liked them, but I didn’t know what they were. This was before anyone was using phrases like “independent movies.”
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
Goldberg: [Affects pretentious voice.] I was one of the few people who really appreciated the movie in its day. [Laughs.] But it got lambasted, you know? It really got ripped apart. I remember thinking Sheryl Lee gave one of the greatest performances I’d ever seen, and then later that year, she ended up getting nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for that performance. So there was that, at least. I like the show, but I’ve gone back and watched it, and it does not at all give me the same feeling it used to. I mean, it was really exciting when it was on television. It was revolutionary. The greatest thing since The Twilight Zone, which was probably the other greatest influence on me growing up. But that film, I just thought, “That’s as close to getting inside the guts of a fucking nightmare as anything I’ve ever seen,” as well as thinking, “This is a beautiful piece of filmmaking.” And to this day, I still cite that film as one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s magnificent.
In Cold Blood (1967)
Goldberg: I was prepping for my first film right around that time, so I was watching so many movies that it’s impossible to really narrow down what was the most influential. My first film was in black and white, so I was probably watching every black and white film I could get my hands on. But Alphaville actually makes a brief appearance in my film Scotch And Milk. You sort of hear it on in someone’s room. So, yeah, I was really deeply mired in French New Wave and film noir.
I hadn’t seen In Cold Blood until then, so I watched that and thought it was absolutely fantastic, and since I was looking for ideas, I remember looking at the rear-screen projection in it, and wanting to shoot all these cab sequences in my film with rear-screen projection. So on my very first day of ever directing a fucking movie, that’s what I decided to shoot. [Laughs.] We got sort of donated a soundstage at Sony, and a couple of the four-shot rear-screen plates, and we shot a sequence of scenes that run throughout the entire movie that take place in the rain. So with a rain tower on a soundstage with a black-and-white rear screen, it ended up being a 27-hour day… and only two people quit! Yeah, that was the inauspicious beginning of my directorial career.
But I was watching things around that time that were constantly inspiring me. I hadn’t seen any [Michelangelo] Antonioni up to that point, and I was in that place where… I mean, I’m sure if I were to watch L’Avventura now, I’d fall asleep. [Laughs.] It’s just that I was 24, 25 years old, I had this funky apartment on Rossmore that looked like it could’ve been in Double Indemnity, and I’d just set myself up for the night and smoke and drink and watch these movies. And now I’m dead inside.
Goldberg: I was living in New York when Audition came out. It was at the Film Forum, and I think there was a sign on the window that said something about its graphic nature. [Laughs.] Something like that. It was notorious for offending people and for people having walked out of it. And sure enough, I was watching it, and about halfway through, this couple literally said, “Well, I never!” and they walked out. And I just thought, “Oh, it’s like Japanese Lynch!” Again, it was just one of those films that really affected me. I had an issue where I could watch French movies and I could watch Italian movies, but for some reason watching Japanese films was difficult for me. But there was something about the cinematic range of that film that obviously spoke to me.
Now, I recently recommended that film to someone after having recommended Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. She’s the co-star in the movie I just directed, and I remember saying something like, “Oh, well, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is not a bad frame of reference,” in regards to my film, “and it’s a great movie if you haven’t seen it.” So she saw it, she loved it, blah blah blah. And I just happened to also mention Audition—not as anything to do with my film—and I’m pretty sure she didn’t ever want to speak to me again after watching it. [Laughs.] Like, she showed up to the set, and always just underneath the surface was, “How could you recommend that film to me?” She thought it was incredibly sexist, but it’s funny: I just don’t see it that way. I mean, I’m not going to argue with her personal interpretation of the movie, but to me it just seemed like this incredibly nightmarish sort of feminist anthem about being pedantic.
Modern Romance (1981)
Notting Hill (1999)
Goldberg: It was right around this time, give or take a couple of years, but Notting Hill… I’m not sure to this day if I actually enjoyed it, or if I was making fun of it. [Laughs.] The lines got blurred. The film was about an actor, and I was making a film about an actor [I Love Your Work], so I just wanted to watch anything that had anything to do with that kind of film. My film was kind of a fever dream, but I still wanted to watch to make sure we weren’t doubling up on anything. So my co-writer, Adrian Butchart, and I found ourselves watching Notting Hill, and it became like our Rocky Horror. We’d go out, we’d get drunk, we’d come back home, and we’d watch Notting Hill. And it was funny, because at some point… I think someone was reviewing 2 Days In Paris, and they made some reference to me being a Jewish Hugh Grant or something, and I had to go back to Adrian and laugh.
It was also shortly before I directed I Love Your Work when I watched Umbrellas Of Cherbourg for the first time, and it pretty heavily influenced the film within the film. There’s a scene that ends the movie that’s a film within the film that’s sort of the key to the film in many ways, and I changed it to a musical sequence and shot it with reversal film so it would have these old classic sort of Technicolor French New Wave colors. But it’s a magnificent film.
The Dissolve: You said you were also obsessing over Modern Romance around that time.
Goldberg: Yeah, and I recently did again. I’ll always watch Modern Romance, because I want to understand how you can make a film that’s as subjective as that film is, but without it being an annoying, cloying, navel-gazing, indulgent, solipsistic venture. I think it’s just a credit to who [Albert Brooks] is. That’s just all there is to it. But while I was writing another script, I watched that film and outlined it scene for scene for scene, the way you would outline your movie, just to try and understand how you can make a film where there’s 25 minutes where the lead character is by himself and has dialogue only on the phone or to himself, and yet the movie still works. I don’t understand. But it’s fucking brilliant. You know, Kubrick was a gigantic fan of that movie. Kubrick wrote Albert Brooks a letter and said, “How did you make a film about jealousy?” Which is interesting, because… I guess Eyes Wide Shut is his Modern Romance? [Laughs.]
Crazy Love (2007)
Man On Wire (2008)
Goldberg: By this point, my schadenfreude and restlessness have gotten the better of me: name a great documentary, and I’ve seen it. [Laughs.] You know, it’s sort like films have gone the way of books for me a little bit. There was a period where I felt like I shouldn’t be reading, I should be writing, and it kind of got to the point where I felt like I shouldn’t be watching films, I should be making them. But I also think I just got burnt out a little bit on fiction, and I became more curious about the world.
The ones that stick out… Man On Wire, I remember watching that because I was doing a TV show, The Unusuals, in New York. I was by myself—my girlfriend at the time was in L.A.—and I watched it on my laptop or whatever before I went to sleep, and I remember crying watching this film, because this guy was just so the antithesis of who I am. I can’t even begin to relate to someone who lives their life in such an incredible, purely visceral way. Sadly, I live so antithetically to that. I question every move I make, and live very safely. But it made a huge impact on me, as did Crazy Love, which I just re-watched recently. Another incredible story about love, or something like love, anyway. Certainly, I can relate to the idea of… Well, look, I’ve been in some fucked-up relationships, but not that fucked-up! [Laughs.] But I must’ve found that relatable in some way. Where you can’t seem to extricate yourself from something that you know is incredibly toxic. That’s practically every relationship… Well, every relationship prior to the one I’ve been in for six years now.