LOS ANGELES -- After years of playing nerdy or neurotic characters in such films as "The Big Chill," "Jurassic Park" and "The Fly," Jeff Goldblum was ready for a leading action role. He was also ready for a return to the more regular schedule of series television.
He got the role but not the series.
Goldblum plays intrepid newspaper reporter Ben Dansmore in the NBC movie "War Stories" (8 p.m. Wednesday), about war correspondents covering a fictional conflict in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan between U.S.-supported government troops and al-Qaida-backed Islamic rebels.
The project was originally developed as a pilot for a potential series, but Goldblum says the network "felt it was too risky" as a weekly show.
Executive producer Keith Addis says the answer the network gave him was it "didn't think the American public was ready for material this serious incorporated into their prime-time entertainment programs."
NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker would only say: "We think the show works great as a two-hour movie, and we are eager for America to see it."
Written before Sept. 11
The script by Peter Noah was written before the terrorist events of Sept. 11, but not filmed until early in 2002. The terrain of Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles, doubled for Uzbekistan.
Goldblum, who draws a parallel between actors and journalists as "truth seekers," says he researched his role as a reporter by talking extensively with Los Angeles Times writer John Balzar, who covered the Gulf War, reading numerous books on war reporting, and watching battlefield films such as "Under Fire," "Salvador" and the Oscar-nominated 2001 documentary "War Photographer."
The actor said he was seeking a sense of the "idealism and toughness" that battlefield reporters need.
"At this point in my life, I've gotten fairly used to comfort traveling, but those guys are intrepid. It's a lonesome road," said Goldblum.
Addis said the role of Dansmore -- "a very cerebral and also very active guy" -- fit Goldblum "like a glove." It provided the actor with "opportunities to do what I think he does best: be a very contemporary, sophisticated, smart guy, dealing with important contemporary issues."
Said Goldblum: "To the extent you can actually be a human being interested in the human condition, pay attention to what's going on in the world, use your curiosity about people, that's the extent to which you at least have a chance to be a quality actor."
Appearing on 'Friends'
Yet he doesn't hesitate to make fun of actors' self-importance, as he will on the Feb. 13 episode of "Friends" (NBC, 7 p.m.). He plays Leonard, lead actor and director of a Broadway show for which Joey auditions.
"It's funny. ... Very fun to do, dah, dah, dah ...," Goldblum said, not wanting to give away any details of the episode.
Goldblum's credits range from roles in the blockbuster action hit "Independence Day" to oddball fare like "The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension" and the short-lived 1980 TV detective series "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe."
Now 50, Goldblum grew up in Pittsburgh, the son of a physician. In fifth grade, he was in "a Gilbert and Sullivan type thing, full of singing and romantic stuff ... it kind of went swimmingly. I felt by the end exhilarated in a way which I knew was different."
By the time he left school, he was "head over heels in love" with the idea of being an actor. He studied with famed teacher Sanford Meisner at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse. Now he teaches his version of Meisner's theories in Los Angeles.