Eight months ago hardly anyone in Hollywood, let alone the media, knew that “Crazy Heart” would be released at the end of 2009 or that its star, the one and only Jeff Bridges, would walk away with the Best Actor Oscar.  Still, on the Vancouver set of “Tron Legacy” there was a feeling of genuine excitement when Bridges stepped into the film’s production “war room” to chat with the visiting press.

“I don’t want to deprive anybody of the enjoyment of seeing the film with any kind of twists and turns,” Bridges says of the new film’s storyline.  “So, I’m probably not gonna answer too many of your questions about that because I want to make it fun for people without telling the whole plot.”

What secrets can be revealed, however, are that “Legacy” picks up 27 years after the original “Tron” and Bridges’ character, Kevin Flynn, has been missing since 1988.  His grown son, played by Garret Hedlund (“Friday Night Lights”), begins to search for him ends up transported to a new generation of the “Tron” digital world that is almost nothing like the original that wowed audiences way back in 1982.

There have been lots of rumors of a sequel to “Tron” over the years that Bridges would get wind of, but this was the first time anyone approached him about a real opportunity. “Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski, who had previously worked in the commercial field, spoke to the “Big Lebowski” star first about appearing in a concept trailer they were making to sell the film to Disney brass.  He recalls, “He made this wonderful pitch on the story, where it was going and that was intriguing to me and he showed me his commercial reel. And I saw some of the technology that he had available to him that he could use. And then it was basically the same reason that I did the first one.”

The studio didn’t give a greenlight, however, until a surprise screening of the preview wowed audiences at 2008’s Comic-Con. Even with the impressive reaction from the hardcore fans, the veteran is just as impressed with Disney management giving Kosinski the reins as he is with newbie’s on set skills.

“I don’t know if it’s the most expensive ever made but it’s right up there,” Bridges reveals. “To have a first time guy, got to give Disney credit for taking that risk. They were smart because he’s such a calm, can do guy. He’s gonna pull this off.”

The first “Tron” wasn’t necessarily a mammoth hit in theaters, but it was a landmark film in CG animation.  While there are more practical sets in “Tron Legacy” than its forbearer, the picture is just as advanced in its use of 3-D digital technology to create the incredible world in the film. Bridges says he experienced a tiny bit of current CG effects on “Iron Man,” but “Legacy “ is completely different.

“We made ‘Tron’ there was no Internet, man. No cell phones. No laptops or any of that stuff,” Bridges says. “So, it’s completely different world that we’re showing up in here and the look of the film it certainly, you know, benefits from that.”

One way Kosinski and Disney are keeping the, um, legacy of the first film intertwined with the new incarnation is by having original director Steve Lisberger on board as a producer (it seems like “one long weekend,” Bridges jokes).

“I’m excited because I think he’s gonna be in it somewhere in the movie. It will be fun to play with him.  Just him being involved in it was a big plus for me,” Bridges says beaming. “Another chance to work with Steve. And Bruce too, Bruce Boxleitner is in it.”

“Legacy” will differentiate itself by shooting in 3-D (as opposed to adding the effect later) and mixing that footage with an original digital landscape.  Yes, it’s strikingly similar to the process used in “Avatar,” but with much less motion capture. Bridges for one is very impressed wit the 3-D he’s seen so far describing it as “better, more sophisticated, more refined.” That calls for someone who can clearly plan out numerous constructs and view them three-dimensionally.  It’s not a surprise then that the fact Kosinski’s background is in architecture hasn’t been lost on Bridges.

“It’s interesting different filmmakers where they come from and what they bring to the film and he’s an architect and so the film has a very, you know, heightened design feel to it,” Bridges says. “And he hired this wonderful production designer, Darren Gilford. And he is out of car design so it adds another thing. It’s not somebody, you know, who is an interior decorator.”

Still, Bridges passion for the future of the medium is most apparent from his time discussing “Legacy” that night.  

“One of the reasons I wanted to do it because I felt this is where movies are starting to go now, you know, where they’re taking the actors and putting them inside a computer very much like ‘Tron.’ I mean they can do whatever they want with them.  They can say, ‘Let’s put Al Pacino in there.  Let’s put in Joey Pants, what the heck.  Let’s see what kind of guy we can come up with,’ Y’know and that’s happened.  They can do that. It’s right around the corner.”

What the actor didn’t have to wait for, thankfully, is a replacement for the skintight bodysuits he wore the first time around.  

“No dance belt, thank god,” Bridges jokes. “Here we have these wonderful suits that light up so they have their own kind of problems, you know, heating up and stuff like that but the suits are quite a bit different.  I mean in the original you’re basically working with the duvetyne team, that black stuff and white adhesive tape. Those were the design basically. Shot in 70 millimeter black and white and then all hand tinted by Korean ladies.”

And with that, he was gone.

“Tron Legacy” opens nationwide in 3-D and IMAX 3-D on Dec. 17.

Look for a more in-depth set visit story later Tuesday on HitFix.

For a glimpse behind-the-scenes of "Tron Legacy" check out these exclusive new photos of Bridges, Hedlund, Olivia Wilde and Kosinski at the end of the line bar set here.
 

Jeff