TORONTO (Reuters) - To play a role some are already calling a tour de force in the film "Adam Resurrected," Jeff Goldblum visited concentration camps and spoke to Holocaust survivors.
He also had to deal with the emotional toll of playing former nightclub clown Adam Stein, a man driven mad by the loss of his family in the Holocaust.
"It's emotional and I knew I had to try to tell the story authentically, which depicts the worst thing that a fellow can go through, but which people have gone through," Goldblum said in an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere this week.
"I was crying a lot for much of the filming."
The movie is adapted from an acclaimed 1968 novel by Yoram Kaniuk and Goldblum spent a full year preparing to play Stein, who draws packed crowds in pre-World War Two Berlin to shows in which he read minds and threw knives blindfolded.
By the time film viewers meet him in an Israeli insane asylum in the 1960s, Stein can still dazzle a crowd and can seduce a pretty nurse half his age. But he has lost nearly everything that really matters to him: his family, freedom and sanity.
Goldblum, who is Jewish, said he felt a responsibility to do justice to the material, which deals heavily with "survivor guilt" experienced by many of those who survived Nazi death camps during the war.
The commitment appears to have paid off for Goldblum, who has been known for playing quirky, intellectual sidekicks in a hot-and-cold film career. Early reviews for his "Adam Resurrected" performance have been overwhelmingly positive.
Through flashbacks, we see Stein in his days as a Jewish entertainer, performing alongside his wife and daughters. They are arrested as the net closes around Germany's Jews and taken to a concentration camp, where Adam catches the eye of a Nazi commandant played by Willem Dafoe.
While his family is hauled away, Adam is forced to act as the commandant's "dog" to take the Nazi's mind off what is going on around him. Goldblum took lessons on how to act like a dog to prepare for that aspect of the role.
Adam survives the concentration camp but emerges a haunted man, beginning a descent that lands him at the asylum, where his memories are sparked by the arrival of a young boy who also believes he is a dog.
The film is sometimes hard to watch, particularly as Adam deals with the guilt of surviving the camp and questions if he could have done more to help his wife and daughters.
Asked if Adam failed his family, Goldblum's connection to the material is evident as he tears up before answering.
"I think ... that there were no good choices, that the circumstances were so landmark horrible that often times people were faced with a bad choice and a worse choice, and morality became blurry," he said.
The film comes after Goldblum's short-lived outing in the TV series "Raines," which was canceled after only a few episodes last year.
The actor is set join the cast of the highly successful "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" this fall.
Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Janet Guttsman and Bill Trott