Jeff Bridges on Being the Dude, Improvising on Iron Man, Playing a Role Written for his Father, Conquering Love…
Jeff Bridges is a man who beats the Hollywood odds in more than one way. A child of the business, he’s managed to build his own career that spans five decades and counting, mixing genres and scales, never to repeat himself. On top of that, Bridges has also been a happily married man for almost four decades now, and if that might sound like an off-the-topic subject on a site about filmmaking, leading both a successful creative life and a healthy and balanced personal life don’t often go hand in hand, so when the Dude gives advice on both departments, it is worth listening to.
The good news is that Bridges did an AMA on Reddit two days ago while promoting his coming film The Giver and, just like for Spike Jonze’s AMA , answered a variety of questions covering many aspects of his careers and sharing personal wisdom. Here are the highlights:
- I read that you’ve been married to your wife since 1977. To what do you attribute the success of your marriage in an industry notoriously hard on relationships? [by bidet_mate]
“Well, that’s certainly true. This industry is tough on relationships. I’ve always thought that my wife should have a credit up alongside mine, because I couldn’t do what I do without her support. And like the questioner asked, or said, we’ve been married since 1977, we knew each other for 2 years before that, so she’s been able to do all these films with me and we’ve managed to get through them all together. The toughest thing about making movies is being apart from your family. One of the things I try my best to do is call my wife every day, to keep up to speed with what’s going on in her life. And tell her what’s going on with mine. Often when you’re apart from your loved one like that for so long, your connection kind of atrophies unless you keep engaged, even if it’s small everyday kind of stuff. But another aspect of keeping a marriage together, I think it’s important to – you’ll think I’m silly – but to love each other, which begs the question: “what is love?” Words that come to mind are openness, understanding, gentleness, kindness, and kind of working on those things, because everyone has a light and a dark side, I think, selfish aspects, and to kind of recognize those in each other and realize that we are going to have our own particular story at any given time, and those stories, they might not be the ultimate truth but they are certainly true for each of us, so to understand that we are each going through our particular version of reality, to respect that, and to nurture being in love, you know? To nurture that.”
- I am a huge fan and loved your Oscar nominated performance in True Grit! How much did you draw from John Wayne’s performance in the original versus creating your own version of the character? [by The_Maddest_Man]
“I didn’t draw from John Wayne‘s movie. I remember when the Coen brothers first asked me if I wanted to make this movie, I was surprised because I thought John Wayne did a very successful movie, and I said “Why do you want to do it again?” and they said “Have you read the book?” and I had not, so after I did read the book I understood why they wanted to make the movie again. It read like a Coen brothers movie. So I jumped onboard, and I didn’t really reference the John Wayne performance, it was mainly taking my cues from the character in the book.”
- The Fisher King is one of my favorite films ever. Just brilliant and you’re great in it! What was it like working with Terry Gilliam and Robin Williams? [by sacredblasphemies]
“That was SO much fun. Terry is such a great leader – just absolutely brilliant, but he has a childlike excitement that is contagious and spreads through the company, everybody has a lot of fun on a Terry movie. As far as Robin, originally I was a little anxious working with him because he’s such an amazing comedian and I thought “Oh god, when I work with him he will be cracking jokes and I have some serious scenes with him, how is this going to work?“
I remember one particular scene where Robin was in a coma, unconscious, and I had a long monologue, and I thought “oh god, this guy is going to making jokes and stuff in the middle of this thing, winking at me trying to make me laugh” but when we got to that scene, he was so there for me in a completely silent way, that I could feel his support in the silence, there was no winking or cracking jokes, and I finally came to learn that Robin is a very serious, accomplished actor, and comedy is just one of the tricks in his trick bag. He is an all-time master entertainer and actor. And Terry, I can remember working late nights with Terry and Robin, until 4 o clock in the morning, we would work 16 hours, and Robin would start to go around the crew & cast and just riff on everybody, he would go on and on making us laugh with his improvisation. Most directors would look at their watch and say “Ok Robin time to go back to work” but Terry would do JUST the opposite. He would encourage Robin, he would say “Go! What about him? Or him?” so he would go on for 10, 15 minutes. And after that comedic break, everybody’s batteries would be recharged, and we would be good for another couple hours.”
- What was your favorite scene to film in Big Lebowski? [by TheGoodSauce]
“Oh man, that’s a tough one! Because each scene is so good, you know? The Coen brothers wrote such a brilliant script – I don’t watch many of my movies on TV, but whenever I’m flipping the channels, and I’m a big flipper when I watch TV, when Lebowski comes up, I think “Oh I’ll just watch a few scenes” and then I get sucked in, because the scenes are so funny. I particularly like that scene where I’m in the car with the Big Lebowski and he hands me that toe.”
- Hello Jeff, I heard for the Big Lebowski, the jellies worn by The Dude were actually a pair of your own. This true? Do you still wear said jellies? [by le_marsh] [photo by obamasballs]
“That is true! And the costumer for The Big Lebwoski (and also True Grit and many of the Coen brothers films) came over to my house, and went through my closet, and there are quite a few articles of clothing that they used for The Dude from my closet. The baseball shirt with the famous Japanese baseball player on it I stole from my brother Beau, that is in the movie. And there might be some other ones, but nothing is coming to mind, I would have to look at the movie and see.”
Holly shit, the Dude. If you could give us all some wisdom, what would it be? [by Major_halil]
“Open at your own speed, but open.
Dig what’s happening to you.
By “dig” I mean get into it. There are lessons for you there. And when it gets uncomfortable, that’s an important time to open and dig. There’s treasure in them thar hills.”
- 1)We all love the Dude because of how easy-going, laid-back, and…well, how Dude-ly he is. Did you have to consciously try and ‘get’ into that mindset, or did being The Dude come naturally to you? Would you say there is any common ground between you and The Dude, as far as your personalities or quirks go?
- 2)Here on Reddit, we are fond of quoting the Big Lebowski more often than is healthy (it somehow fits appropriately even in the most unexpected and unrelated of contexts.) What are some of your favourite quotes from the movie?[by acousticpizzas]
1) Well, that’s an interesting question. When the Coen brothers first came to me and said that they had written a script for me, I was really, you know, thrilled because I loved their other movies. But when I got the script, and I read the script, I enjoyed it, and I couldn’t figure out where they got – they said they wrote it specifically for me, but there were no movies I had ever done that were anything like that, I thought they had maybe, you know, met me at a party in my early 20s or where had they gotten that character from. But I know a part of the character was based on a fellow named Jeff Dowd, and you know, I worked on the Dude the way I worked on most characters, where you read the script & it starts to tell you a lot about the way a character is, and the Coen brothers being such masters, you can get so much just by reading the script. And then I also looked into aspects of myself that might apply to the character, and I might magnify those, and aspects of myself that don’t apply, I kick those to the curb. And of course, I always keep my mind open to any other Dude-like characters that might cross my path that I might incorporate into the character.
2) I like “That’s just your opinion, man.” That’s one of my favorites. And my friend, Bernie Glassman, several years ago – and my friend is a zen master – told me that in buddhist circles, the Dude is considered a zen master. And I said “What are you talking about?” and he said “Oh yeah, the Big Lebowski is filled with koans.” Koans are zen questions that you can’t just answer intellectually, you have to kind of experience them. And I said “What do you mean” And he said “Who made the movie? The KOAN brothers.” And then he went on to say all these different lines like “The Dude abides” or “Shut the fuck up, Donny” – like taking ancient koans and bringing them into modern times. So Bernie said “Why don’t we write a book about it” And we did. So we wrote a book together called “The Dude and the Zen Master.” And Bernie’s organization is called http://zenpeacemakers.org/
- If you could “give” someone a memory from your life, what would it be and to who? [by warpedsenseofhumour]
“Wow. I remember my kids being born. And that was such an amazing, amazing moment in anybody’s life, if you’re lucky enough to be in the same room as what was happening. I didn’t know that the eyes were capable of ejaculating tears but mine did when my kids were born. Well, maybe… gosh. This is a good question, but I’m here at the place now where I’m supposed to go. Let me think for a second here.
I had a memory recently that I would like to share with everyone. I was visiting a school in Montana, and I was there on behalf of the No Kid Hungry program, and I was there to share a breakfast meal prepared for the students there and this was to support the breakfast after the ball program – this is to get rid of the stigma of the poor kid who has to come to school early and eat in the cafeteria. So at this school, you saw all these beautiful happy faces of kids eating together, the teachers were all so into it, you could see they were all well-fed and ready for a day of learning, and the joy on their faces, I would like to share that with everyone and to encourage you to make sure that the kids around us are taken care of, because kids are our future.”
- What was your experience working on Iron Man? Is RDJ as cool in person as he seems? [by JSpangDerulo]
“Oh yeah. Yeah. We were so fortunate to have Robert and that team, and also Jon Favreau, both those guys are incredible actors and improvisers. And that movie was so much fun to make. It was unusual because it was very expensive, close to $200 million or something, and you would think that a movie that had that high a budget, they would have had their script tighter. But that was not the case. And we would very often find ourselves, at the beginning of the day, going into our trailers with little tape recorders with the suits from Marvel & Jon & Robert, and we would try to come up with what we were going to shoot that day! We would trade parts, I would play his part, or he would play my part, Favreau would be calling up writer friends of his, and meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot, waiting for us to come back to work. That was very frustrating for me, because I like to be very prepared and let it go in front of the camera, so that you know your lines and stuff, and it was very frustrating for me, until I made a small inner adjustment that was: realizing we were making a $200 million dollar student film. And just to relax and have fun, do your best, don’t worry too much, and I think that the film came out terrifically! And again, that’s largely because we had Robert and Jon onboard.”
- Jeff, which movie do you prefer to watch, Tron or Tron Legacy? Did they let you have any input on either storyline, most importantly though Tron Legacy as we all had plenty of time to think about where we thought or felt the story direction should go? [by FigMcLargeHuge]
“Well, you know, certainly those 2 movies qualify for the home movie aspect of watching those movies for me. Where I remember all the good times I had when I was making them, what I had for lunch, what I did after work, those sorts of things. And so the first TRON, I really have fun memories from it, it was such an innovative movie at the time, it was shot in 70 MM black & white, and then hand-tinted by a bunch of ladies in Korea, the whole thing, to create that world. It was very innovative. And then the other movie was fascinating too, it felt like a lot of it I was actually in the TRON world for real. I think I was one of the first actors to have my whole body scanned, so they could make me look young, they actually, you know, put my body into a computer, I remember having that process done and it felt like I was living the TRON world for real.”
- What memories do you have of Starman? How do you remember the cooperation with John Carpenter? [by shivan21]
“With Starman I can remember going into the audition, and I remember this idea of Starman being a guy who was impersonating a human being, and was almost operating the human body as if he was inside it, like as if it was a ride. And so with the simple act of crossing your legs, as humans we do that to relax, Starman would cross his legs with no real idea of what the purpose of that was, even though it’s an unconscious reflex as humans, but Starman would cross them in a stilted way. And my girls were quite young then, I often observed them, and got a lot of cues off them. I looked at birds a lot, I had a great time on that movie, we got to go all across the country since it was kind of a road movie. Karen Allen was so wonderful to work with, and Charlie Martin-Smith, that’s the movie that I started really taking a lot of pictures on and making these little books that I would give to the cast & crew of movies I’ve been involved in. That was I think the first book I gave to the cast & crew. And John was great to work with. I love that movie, Starman, I felt like John did a really good job. The special FX I thought were quite good. I especially appreciated the giver’s spaceship ball, the big chrome ball that was taking off, and also, I’ve often thought about how Starman would make a good sequel, because now Karen is pregnant with the Starman’s kid, and then what happened?”
- Can you describe The Giver in just six words? [by kcwebgirl]
“What would you sacrifice for comfort?”
- You’ve been involved with efforts to bring The Giver to the screen for years, originally envisioning your father in the role you’re now playing. What drew you to the book, and how does it feel finally seeing it made after so many years? [by Scrnriter]
“Well, it feels just wonderful to finally get it made. And I had a great time making it, had wonderful people to play with on this movie. And what initially drew me to it was the desire to direct my father in a movie, because my kids were quite young, and I wanted to make a movie that they could see, and so I was reading children’s book catalogs, and I came across this photograph of a cover of a book, with an old grizzled guy on the cover, and I thought “oh, my dad could play that guy.” And i also noticed the big Newberry award stamped on the cover, and I thought it was a must read. So I looked at the book, and found it to be a wonderful children’s book, but it also really affected me as an adult. And then of course I later found out that the book was being taught in schools, and they had curriculums about the book, I was excited, I thought it would be quite easy to get made, but that turned out not to be the case. Probably because a lot of the financiers were concerned about the darker aspects of the book. And I’m so grateful that Walden Media & the Weinstein Company were courageous enough to help me get this movie made.”
- How do you feel about playing the Giver when the role was initially intended to be played by your father? Does the role and/or story have a bigger impact on you? [by jessicaniskar]
“Well, I often use my father in my acting quite a bit. I kind of conjure him up and invite him to come into my being, and so I’m sure he was with me a bunch when we were shooting the Giver, or I was with him, however you want to put it. Like I was saying, so many of my roles, I think of my dad – but this one was a little different for me. I think about my dad all the time when I am working, and maybe with this role it was a little bit more.”
- I’m very excited for The Giver since you and Meryl Streep are some of my favourite actors! How was it like to work with her? [by amysadams]
“Oh, it was terrific. We’ve known each other for years. Our kids used to play soccer together. Yes! We met briefly during those times. And I admired her, as most people have, for so long, and was eager to work with her, and was so happy that she was onboard for the Giver because she’s just a really remarkable actress. She brought a realism to this whole fictitious world. And I was just amazed by her freshness – it’s like, she’s been doing this so well for so long, one might think she would get complacent, but she really cared so much about the movie, and was so engaged and that kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and it spreads throughout the company, and whenever she was on the set, everybody upped their game and rose to the occasion. It was great to be able to do it with joy, you know? You could sense the love of her craft, you know, her art.”[thanks to Austin Kleon]