In the art-world satire (Untitled), which opened in New York and Los Angeles today, Adam Goldberg plays Adrian, a tortured (and — you guessed it — neurotic) avant-garde composer who finds success only when a Chelsea gallery recontextualizes his music as sound art. Goldberg, a musician himself, opens up to Vulture about New York identity crises, Brandon Lee–induced paranoia, and his dad’s homemade Ed Ruscha surfboard.
First of all, I’m shocked you live in L.A. — you strike me as such a New York guy. Do you get that a lot?
Probably four times a week. Part of that is a function of my having glommed on to a certain kind of identity when I was a kid growing up in L.A., being a bit of a fish out of water here. As soon as I got my license, I’d drive to downtown L.A., which is sort of this weird city within the city that reminded me of what I imagined New York was like. I definitely felt like I had been switched at birth and I was supposed to be a New Yorker. The truth is I tried — I’ve lived in New York on and off over the years, I was there for the last winter, which was fucking awful. But at the end of the day, I ’m a hard-core Angeleno.
Your character in (Untitled) is a pretty hard-core New Yorker. Sort of that classic brooding-curmudgeon type.
I’m sure I was thought of for a particular reason, but I actually found it a rather difficult part to play. There’s something nonverbal, almost savant-ish about him. I liked that kind of challenge.
A lot of the film takes place in and around the gallery scene in Chelsea. Did you explore at all while filming?
I actually used to live there, but that scene wasn’t something I was really a part of. I wasn’t seeing anything that blew my mind. I found stuff that seemed pretty arbitrary and a little bit lazy. I don’t think I got a full enough picture of the whole thing, but I did feel like, wow is it possible that we’ve sort of maxed out our artistic evolution?
So I take it that like your character, you’re not too keen on conceptual art … ?
My interactions with conceptual art have been pretty causal. I dated a girl many years ago who was a conceptual artist and I was always fascinated by the stuff that she did but I’m fairly old-fashioned when it comes to art. I was looking at these pictures the other day of this super, hyperrealist photographic art. Now I gotta tell you, that stuff just blows my fucking mind. Which is funny to say because I was brought up around a lot of abstract expressionism.
My dad was really into the art world.
Was he an artist?
He was a wholesale food distributor. He became close friends with a guy who worked for Gagosian in L.A. I was a weird kid and I’d go hang out at the gallery after school.
Not too many kids hang out at Gagosian. Any other art-related childhood memories?
Kenny Scharf made this insane painted telephone for my dad. I remember using it as a kid. It’s kind of odd that my dad was into that. If you were to meet my parents, you wouldn’t ever guess. They were into clean stuff: Rothko, Brice Marden, John McGlaughlin. So I don’t know what that Scharf thing was all about. My dad was also really into Ed Ruscha. Ed did some sort of lithograph of a chicken that my dad basically had copied and put on a surfboard. It made sense. My dad sells chicken. He also surfs. He also likes Ed Ruscha.
Do you own any art?
Not really. It’s expensive and my walls are pretty covered with photographs, old Polish movie posters, things like that. I think I’ve been stupid with my money over the years. Buying way too much musical gear and furniture.
You need that stuff, too.
True. I’m a total sucker for functional design.
Back to the film: There are some pretty heavy Damien Hirst references in there via taxidermy enthusiast Ray Barko …
[Writer-director Jonathan Parker] says it’s a coincidence. I don’t know if that’s just him being coy, or if it was really a subconscious thing.
Not to give anything away here, but one artist literally becomes the victim of his (or her!) craft. Is this something you worry about in your line of work?
Are you kidding me? I worry about that all the time. Ever since Brandon Lee got shot and killed … and I had just kind of begun acting at the time. A month later was the first time I was shot in something. I was really paranoid. I had to check the gun a million times, make sure we were going slow enough. When I was shooting Saving Private Ryan, we were moving really fast. I remember writing in my journal, “Somebody is going to get hurt here … ” No one did, though. Except for Tom Sizemore. But he just tripped and fell.