Adam Goldberg: 'I Generally Just Feel Like I'm Posing as an Actor'


Adam Goldberg is often cast in roles that play on his own neurotic character, and in Jonathan Parker's sharp art world satire (Untitled), he initially appears to have a part that's made for him. His character Adrian is a musician (in real life, Goldberg has recorded two albums with his band LANDy) who's caught between two worlds: the mainstream, which has rewarded his painter brother (Eion Bailey) with irritating success, and the independent art scene, as represented by a self-consciously stylish gallery owner played by Marley Shelton.

Goldberg has a resume that plays like a manifestation of that artistic push-pull: independent films (two of which he's directed) jostle for space with big Hollywood productions and TV shows. Still, as he told Movieline, he's not quite as tortured about it as you might think.

How are you?

I'm driving right now. I just want you to know I'm pulling a Maria Shriver.

Noted. You know, the characters in (Untitled) are so immersed in their art that if you dropped them into any other context, they'd look ridiculous -- in fact, they almost do already. Do you ever feel that way as an actor, that if your methods and craft were exposed in the light of day, you'd feel bashful?

To be frank with you, I feel the other way around. I feel very bizarre when I'm acting. I think things have just sort of changed for me over the last several years as my interests and passions began to sort of shift. I don't have a lot of actor friends -- anymore, anyway -- and I generally just feel like I'm posing as an actor, to be honest.

I think some people are sort of born to do that and immerse themselves in it, and others aren't. When you find yourself straddling between those two worlds, I feel much more comfortable in reality, and I feel much more comfortable directing actors than experiencing it myself...The older I've gotten and the more that I've written and the more music stuff that I've done, acting has become an occupation. I really value my time not pretending to be something that I'm not, because as an actor, that's what you're constantly doing.

As someone who's directed two independent features before, how does that inform your experience as an actor in one?

It has its positive elements and its negative effects. In the cast of (Untitled), it was a very collaborative thing: Jonathan had directed two films and I had directed two films, and I've directed under a very similar set of circumstances. I think it can be really helpful when you have an actor who can view the film as a whole, and a day as part of a schedule. Sometimes, though, it can be too much because I want to give myself over entirely and be there as an actor, and other times you want to jump in and say something. I think that's true of actors in general, though -- I've worked with Giovanni Ribisi many times and he has a very strong aesthetic point of view, having not necessarily made any films himself.

In this case, I was a bit more involved than I guess I normally would be. I saw a variety of different cuts of the film and gave notes, and I had this sort of vanity credit, this executive producer credit. It's partly a vanity credit, and partly because my manager and I were involved in some of the business elements of the movie. It was an unusual process in terms of my input, I guess, and it sort of went beyond what could be considered normal. At the same time, that's much the same way I've operated as a director. In the case of Giovanni again, I've definitely brought him into a couple screenings of [I Love Your Work, which Goldberg directed] because he knew that character's point of view, and he knew that character as well as -- if not better than -- I did.

A lot of (Untitled) is about the commercial compromises you have to accept while making art. When you're doing an independent film, are those concerns always at the periphery of your vision?

I've certainly felt it in major ways when I've made my own films. I'm not gonna B.S. -- that [executive producer] credit is a somewhat arbitrary way of crediting more ineffable contributions that I've made to the film. Like Marley was my suggestions, and I did something on the set, and my manager was involved in putting this film together, but really, it's absolutely Jonathan Parker's movie. I wasn't involved in any of the machinations financially.

It sounds like you have an uneasy relationship with the "executive producer" title.

I know [that credit] is a bit hypocritical -- like, I got a lot of flak for my last movie that had a billion producer credits on it, because that's just what I needed to do to get that film financed. Somebody supplies the post-production facility, they get a producer credit. Somebody is the producer's assistant, they get an assistant producer credit. [Laughs] That's the way deals are made to make everybody happy. For me, it was a way to protect something, because I felt very passionate about this movie from the beginning.

Marley's gallery owner has a front room of art she believes in, but a hidden back room of commercial art that finances it. Do you feel like that kind of system applies to your career at all?

I feel like my back room is my front room, for the most part. [Laughs] My front room is my back room, which is my house. That's where I feel like I'm the most creative, oftentimes. I think there's a fairly decent balance that's been struck and I feel fortunate to have been involved in interesting projects and that I've eked out a resume I can be somewhat proud of, but I also look at things realistically. There are things I have to do in order to maintain a certain standard of living I became accustomed to, but also to subsidize other ventures. I mean, I've spent the last six months concentrating on the release of a record and making another one, and I would not have been able to subsidize that venture were it not for [The Unusuals] I did in New York earlier this year. It's always been a struggle for me to strike that balance. I have yet to write the kind of film that would be that calling card kind of movie that would let me do that more mainstream, lucrative movie if I wanted to.

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