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Jeff Goldblum was drawn to behind-the-scenes tales of correspondents

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- There's a first time for everything, but playing a newspaper reporter in NBC's "War Stories" wasn't an entirely new role for West Homestead native Jeff Goldblum. He played a People magazine writer in 1983's "The Big Chill" and a rock journalist in 1977's "Between the Lines."

Jeff Goldblum plays a jaded war correspondent to Lake Bell's idealistic photographer in NBC's TV movie "War Stories." (Chris Haston, NBC)

TV Review: 'War Stories' arms itself with soap-opera flavor

But running around a desert set as a war correspondent felt the most authentic.

"Journalists have, as part of their spine, a real curiosity and sensitivity to and a real interest in life and people around them," Goldblum said. "These [war correspondents] are amazing. They are going toward the worst kind of events while everybody else is running away from them."

In the film, airing tomorrow night at 9, Goldblum plays Ben Dansmore, a reporter for a Baltimore newspaper who saw the photographer he worked with killed in a land mine explosion. Dansmore is covering a civil war in Uzbekistan.

"I was just fascinated by the dramatic goings-on and the backstage, authentic glimpses of who these people are, what happens between them and the life and death they deal with every day," Goldblum said. "Death is breathing over their shoulder all the time. How they live intensifies life."

He said his interest in the "War Stories" role was similar to what got him interested in acting.

"My mom took us to see children's theater at the Pittsburgh Playhouse when I was young, and I was just enthralled by the experience every time and wondered what was going on backstage," he said. "It's something like me with 'War Stories': my fascination with what the real backstage lives of those characters are."

Goldblum studied drama between ninth and 10th grade and again between 11th and 12th in a summer program at what is now Carnegie Mellon University.

"That just crystallized my obsession with it," he said, "and by the time I left Pittsburgh, I was dead set on it."

"War Stories" was originally a one-hour pilot created for NBC's fall schedule. The network asked producers to make a second hour to expand the pilot to movie length.

"It is a little unusual," said writer/executive producer Peter Noah. The retrofit was possible because last year when NBC ordered its pilots, it also ordered a script for a second episode, should a show get picked up as a series. "Because of the nature of series television and because in the second episode you will be trying to be consistent with the thematic quality of the first one ... it actually turned out to be a fairly straightforward process."

Goldblum, who is mostly known for film roles, said he took a part in a potential television series based on Noah's script.

"I'd been looking, frankly, for the most interesting material," Goldblum said. "My main interest is in working with people I enjoy and working with people I respect and working on material that feels good and chewy and is about something that I can learn about and grow from and have a meaty time living through."

"War Stories" could become uncomfortably prescient if it were to become a series just as the United States begins a war with Iraq, but Noah said real-life events wouldn't necessarily impact a potential "War Stories" series.

"Attempts to analyze the possibilities of a TV audience are always fraught with peril," Noah said. "If there does turn out to be a war in the offing, you're gonna see all of the news channels have their audience levels spike. So it's very hard to really make predictions as to what an audience's interest in the subject matter might be."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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