Film Scouts Interviews

Jeff Bridges on "The Big Lebowski"

by Karen Jaehne

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Jeff Bridges needs no introduction. Suffice to say he wears the personna of The Dude with the ease of a beach bum in flip-flops.

Q: So you've lost some weight?

Bridges: Yeah, back to the old me, huh?

Q: Well, the character feels like you, too. You seem so unabashedly proud of that pot belly.

Bridges: Well, the physical thing is one of the first things you do to figure out a character. The Dude not the kind of guy to be doing a lotta sit-ups, and he gets most of his nutrition from kahlua, vodka and milk, so yeah, he doesn't mind looking the way he does. He eats pretty much whenever and whatever he wants. And I drew on myself a lot from back in the Sixties and Seventies.

Q: What did you do then?

Bridges: (peers over his glasses at me, to see if I'm really asking this question) Uh...pretty much what everybody else was doing. I think. What I can remember of it.

Q: Seriously, what were you doing when everybody was tripping and being hippies?

Bridges: I lived in a little place like that and did drugs, although I think I was a little more creative than the Dude. But then maybe the Dude went through a creative period and just grew out of it. During my Dude-period, I painted a lot and made music. See, the Coens have this friend Jeff, uh, Jeff Dowd that they based the character on.

Q: Of course! Jeff Dowd, we know Jeff. He used to program the Seattle Film Festival, then he moved to California and did...well, I'm not sure what he did, but he was always around at all the festivals. Then he started working in independent film for a while in the Eighties, and he's just an all-round great guy, a lotta fun to hang out with and yeah. The Dude. So did you meet Jeff Down?

Bridges: Yeah, I liked him, too. So I took some stuff from him for the Dude, and also from some of my own friends like that. But to be honest, it's mostly just me. I think. It was so great to work with the Coens - they're so relaxed. And the way things are set up, it works well. They know what they want and how to get it without a lot of hysteria. It's not like those big studio movies where everybody feels the tension of the money and the studio executives breathing down the neck of the director and producer. Here, the money-people are so happy to be working with them, it's kind of the other way around. The Coens are laid-back and easy, and they like other people to be that way. It makes for a very relaxed feeling on the set. They low-ball everything, so instead of stretching it, they do what they can do within a smaller budget and, frankly, they're creative enough to do that. Not everybody can be that creative.

Q: Who's your favorite character of the ones you've played?

Bridges: That's hard. I like Starman. They come and go and I think different things about them at different times. Obviously, I really like The Dude. I love all the films, although it sort of depends on how well the movie works. Each of them is like a little lifetime that I've lived, so my feelings also depend on how much fun the character had being himself. Does that make sense?

Q: Sure, so where does that put Tron?

Bridges: Tron? Jeez, did someone say Tron? I had to wear a dance belt in Tron.

Q: How about Cutter's Way? Is the Dude related to that guy at all?

Bridges: Yeah, but Bone probably did sit-ups.

Q: What was the most complicated shot for you in The Big Lebowski?

Bridges: Not the most complicated, but the most fun? It reminds me of something that happened in that sequence where I float through all those girls legs. Well that day was on the schedule as the dream sequence, and I thought it would be the Busby Berkeley where I dance down the steps, you know? That seemed cool, so I invited my wife and kids to come on set that day, cause they like to see us making the movies and all, y'know? But the Coens switched it and did the other imaginary sequence, and I thought oh god, what're my kids going to think when I turn over and I'm staring up these girls' dresses? So I didn't know it, but all the girls - the dancers got together and pulled this trick on me. As I float through there and turn and look up a dress, I see this big - well, tufts of hair coming out everywhere - and it's the same under the next girl's skirt. And they all seem to have - well, y'know? It turns out they'd put these big wigs under their leotards between their legs, hidden by their skirts, so only I would see it. And fortunately, Lloyd Catlett, my dear, beloved friend and stand-in whose been on my pictures ever since The Last Picture Show was in on it and had the good sense to tell my wife. So she was waiting to see the look on my face, and now everybody was in on it. It was really funny, but I couldn't laugh. But that's why I have that weird smile on my face in the picture. But the expression on my twelve year old daughter's face was just as weird. She didn't know what to make of it.

Q: You're at a very comfortable point of your career.

Bridges: I've been lucky to be able to do a lot of different types of roles. My father was so good at pulling off Nelson the Deep Sea Diver that he got type-cast. Everybody seemed to think he could only do pictures that had to do with water. Later in his career, he managed to do some airplane movies, and he pulled those off, only to be type-cast again as a pilot-type. So then, about the time I was doing Blown Away, I was talking to the producer, and I said - y'know, trying to be cool about it - I know a great guy who could do these pilot roles, because he understand all that. His names Lloyd Bridges - we're sort of related. Like he was my uncle or something. And the producer turns to me and says with a completely straight face, "Not Lloyd Bridges. He's really only a comedian." So even though I've tried my best, I may get typecast and not even know it.

Q: Going back to the Dude, what does he do? Like to pay the rent?

Bridges: Well, he probably lets it get several months overdue, then he feels bad and asks Walter or somebody if they have something for him to actually do in order to earn some bread. And he probably has a great record collection, and he charges to let people make recordings off it. And he does what comes his way - as long as he can keep buying kahlua.

Q: OK. I'll drink to that.

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