Jeff Goldblum played a math whiz in Jurassic Park, and in Independence Day he turns up as—surprise!—a computer whiz. But the brainy, bespectacled actor insists that in real life he's impossibly hard-noggined when it comes to hard drives. "I tried to get familiar with computers, but I'm a pretty old-fashioned guy," says Goldblum, 43. "I feel like someone living in the era when the telephone was invented and asking, 'Do I have to talk loud?' " As for always playing brainiacs, Goldblum says he tries to vary his characters, but inevitably, once the cameras roll, he ends up playing what he calls "a Jeff Goldblum kind of fellow." Which would be what, exactly? "Unconventional, free-spirited, charming, witty, virile, gutsy and passionate." He forgot modest.
"I know segregation. Growing up, my whole upbringing and my whole social life was black," says Samuel L. Jackson, who stars in the racial drama A Time to Kill. Jackson, 47, was raised in Chattanooga, where, he says, "the only white people I came into contact with were store owners. White kids would ride the bus by us on the way to their school and throw whatever they had at us. We'd throw whatever we had at them. We didn't see any of it as trauma. That was a way of life." While filming Time in Canton, Miss., Jackson learned that race relations in the South have improved: "In Mississippi, there are interracial couples hanging out. That shocked me. In clubs, I got more phone numbers from white women than from black women. That's amazing. I guess that could be accounted for because of what I do," says Jackson (who is happily married to actress LaTanya Richardson), "and not because I'm so attractive."
"I am proof positive that white men can't jump, can't throw, can't dribble, can't do anything except eat popcorn and cheer," says Seinfeld's, 5'7" Jason Alexander, who goes one-on-one with 6'7" Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen in TV commercials for Rold Gold pretzels airing during the Olympics. "The biggest tip Scottie gave me was, 'Do not attempt this as a career choice in any way.' " Alexander, 36, didn't need to give Pippen any acting advice in return. "He seemed quite comfortable with the camera," says Alexander. "I don't know if people would run out to see his Hamlet, but he does a very good job of playing Scot-tie Pippen."
THE OBSERVER OBSERVED
Michelle Trachtenberg, the precocious 10-year-old who plays the title role in Harriet the Spy, says that, like the movie's heroine, she used to spy on her neighbors. But she wants everyone to know that she doesn't do it anymore. How come? "I got caught," says the New Yorker. "From my window, I could see across the street. I was looking through my mom's opera binoculars, and I saw a couple kissing. And they turned around and looked at me. They shook their fingers at me, and then they closed the curtains." Trachtenberg does, however, continue to share one obsession with the character she played in the movie, which is based on Louise Fitzhugh's popular 1964 children's novel: "We both love tomato sandwiches."