Mention Jeff Bridges to almost anyone and they immediately can reference their favorite Bridges’ character, whether it’s the innocent alien in “Starman,” the burnt-out DJ in “The Fisher King,” the mediocre jazz musician in “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” the valiant president in “The Contender” or the now iconic Dude from “The Big Lebowski.”
With “Crazy Heart,” Bridges has added another unforgettable character to his remarkable 40-year career. In the film, out Dec. 16, he plays Bad Blake, a once-successful country singer who’s traveled thousands of miles down dark, bad roads. At the bottom of a downward slide, he drives from gig to gig in his old, beat-up Suburban, a shadow of his former self, but the music is all he has. Bridges so completely inhabits the role and received so much acclaim as the movie played the festival circuit, the decision was made to move up the release date in time for Bridges to be in Oscar contention. If nominated, it will be his fifth acting nod.
Bridges spoke to Hitfix’s movie maven Drew McWeeny on camera in an interview we’ll post soon. We talked with Bridges off camera. We started talking about the music in the film and the role music plays in his life, but as you’ll quickly see, the interview veered into a wide variety of subjects, including marriage, mortality, why he wants to slow down, and, of all things, Haagen Dazs. In person, Bridges is exactly how you’d imagine him to be: relaxed, extremely laid back, kind and chatty, but not in a verbose way. And, unbelievably, he managed to tie up the interview by bringing it all back to Bad Blake.
[Fair warning: the interview contains a spoiler. We’ll alert you again as it gets closer, but we just wanted to give you a heads up.]
Q: You started writing and playing music when you were a teenager. You even had your own label, so in many ways, music is as much a part of your DNA as it is Bad Blake’s.
A: I’m not as successful as Bad would be as far as country music if he did actually exist. In the movie, he was a very famous cat, I guess. As you pointed out, I’ve been making music since I was a teenager with one of my oldest buddies, John Goodwin, who wrote a song for this movie, “Hold on You.” He was the main writer on that one. So it was a thrill to work on this with him. He’s a writer in Nashville. So, gosh, it was wonderful and then just a chance to play with this great team that T-Bone [Burnett] assembled. A lot of them played on the [Burnett-produced] “Rising Sand” album with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Those are the guys that I got to play with on those songs, plus the live players, they were all top notch guys.
Q: Let’s talk about the scene in the movie where you and Tommy Sweet, played by Colin Farrell, perform in front of 12,000 people. You actually taped that during a Toby Keith concert and used his audience. What was that like performing in front of so many people?
A: It was wild because Toby Keith… we really are very thankful to him because he let us use that audience there in the movie to create that moment in the movie that was so important. It was a little daunting. It was “get your stuff together pretty quick because you’ve only got a certain amount of time.” And it was great singing with Colin. Not only is he a great actor, but he can really sing.
Q: Has this made you think about doing another record? You put out “Be Here Soon” in 2000.
A: Sure! Absolutely. Heck, yeah.
Q: Are you and T Bone going to do something?
A: I don’t know if it’s in the cards with Bone. It would be great because he’s such a wonderful friend and so talented and anything he touches turns to gold. I certainly have a batch of tunes I’d like to put out.
Q: One of the things I loved about Bad Blake was even though he’s so drunk in the middle of a concert he has to throw up, he takes tremendous pride in the fact that he’s never missed a show and he remembers everyone’s name. That’s very country.
A: That’s right. He’s a proud old pro. That’s like you say, it’s just being a pro. You rise to the occasion…You hear about these actors who work drunk all the time, they can somehow memorize all their lines and give great performances. There’s something about being up on the stage that’s his domain. He may kind of a failure in the rest of his life…
Q: But that’s the one place he’s not a screw up, even if he has to go barf. What was this like for you? You had to smoke, gain weight, limp after he breaks his ankle. What did that feel like to inhabit that character?
A: That’s always been an element in each character that I do: What is your diet going to be? How are you going to behave? What are you going to ingest when you’re off? The snacks that they have, all that stuff. This one, the direction I gave myself is “Your governor is off,” so I could just eat all the Haagen Dazs that I wanted.
Q: That sounds like fun.
A: It’s sort of fun, but there’s a great high in sobriety and health. That’s probably the biggest high of all. But all that stuff, then you don’t have to think about playing overweight or not feeling great because you’ve been drinking, that’s kind of inherent. You don’t have to act or pretend. Like working with my brother on “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” If I wasn’t working with my brother, you’d figure out, well how can we make it look like these guys are related? But when you don’t have to think about that… So it’s kind of like how can I make this guy appear to be overweight when I’m not overweight. You do as much as you can do without thinking about it.
Q: What did you like best about Bad Blake?
A: His talent, he’s a very talented guy. His ability to stick with it. His respect for others. I think he really did love Jean very much and he understood why he couldn’t be in Jean’s life and respected that, you know. He didn’t say, “Yeah, you can give me an interview. Let’s go in my trailer. I’ll give you an interview.” And screw… try to charm her.
Q: That came later
A: In my mind, he doesn’t cross that bridge. He waits for her. The guy she’s with [at the end], that’s going to fall apart, maybe. In my optimistic mind, they get back together. Maybe.
Q: You didn’t write any of the songs for the film, but you were in the room with the songwriters. What were you contributing as the guardian of Bad Blake?
A: Bone invited me to write. I do write music. I wrote a lot of music with my buddy John Goodwin, but I wasn’t too anxious to write. It’s kind of curious that I didn’t participate more in the writing bit. I felt like I had my hands full learning my lines and figuring out the character and working on the songs that were being written rather than putting more pressure on myself and then I had to come up with the songs too. But I was welcome in all the sessions and while these guys were writing, I’d throw in ideas and stuff, but not as much as those guys. Just being around it and playing it, that’s how I participated in those sessions.
Q: You had Haagen Dazs to eat.
A: I had Haagen Dazs to eat, baby!
Q: As you know, there’s so much Oscar buzz for you. How’s that make you feel?
A: It’s great. If that happens, [getting] recognized for what you do is a wonderful thing. And also…there’s the whole PR aspect of the thing, which is part of show biz. It’s the barker at the carousel: (booms) “Come and see the show!” With a movie like this, that doesn’t have that big a budget to get ads and get publicity, this is certainly a way for raising attention for a movie that you love. When you dig the project as much as we all do, it’s not a bad thing. You feel good about it. You’re proud of it. You want people to see it.
Q: When you were doing press for “The Men who Stare at Goats,” you said you don’t want to work as much as you’ve been working, yet you still do.
A: This last year, my wife told me, she said, “we’ve been apart 11 months out of the12.” That’s a long time. Fortunately, we’ve got a really strong thing going, been married 33 years. We’ve been doing this a long time together, but it’s no fun to be away that long, you know. My MO has always been, I try really hard not to work and it just so happens they offered things like, like the Godfather, they made me deals that I couldn’t refuse. How could I turn this down? ‘Goats,” It’s such a weird story, such cool guys. How could I turn that down? How could I turn down the sequel to “Tron?” It kind of drew me in the same way the original did, through the kid in me…So it’s very hard to turn some of those things down, but I guess I’m going to have to do it if I don’t want to be away from my wife and stuff, it’s kind of a fancy problem.
Q: There are a lot of your drawings and cartoons on your website, and the other day, you put up a cartoon that said, “Holy [expletive]. I’m 60.” You turned 60 on Dec. 4. What is your thinking about hitting that number?
A: Well, I just can’t believe how fast it’s all gone by and how it picks up speed, you know. I’m just, you know, we just had a celebration, scattered my mom’s ashes out at our beach house, along with where we scattered [my dad’s] ashes a few years before. And shit, we’re up next. And your mortality is closer and it’s kind of a double edged sword. In one sense, you can get a little sad and morose about it and it’s also saying, ‘No time to lose man. You want to do your stuff, man, do it now. “You want to make a difference the way the world is, you do it now and any aspirations you have, you better get on it. Before, there was a little bit of the Dude in me: Laid back. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll get it done tomorrow if I’m in the mood. And then you realize, a piano may fall on me when I walk out this door, you know. You get to die of old age if you’re lucky. It could happen that you don’t get to live to 85 and 93 like my mom and dad…It brings it all into focus how quickly this thing goes by.
Q: But you do so much philanthropic work, such as the Hunger Project. That’s clearly something where you’ve used your fame to do good. Do artists have a responsibility? If you have a bully pulpit, should you use it?
A: I don’t see it so much as a responsibility as an opportunity to do it, you know what I mean? The funny thing, being generous is a real high, you know. When you open your heart and you treat the other guy like how you’d like to be treated, it’s the old golden rule thing, that gets you off. You get off on that and other people get off on that and you go back and forth. I guess the idea is a critical mass is reached and we can get it together. It’s like the character I played in “Goats,” based on a real guy, and it sound very far fetched, walking through walls and bending spoons, , but the basic thing, we got to find a better way of solving our problems than killing each other in war. That’s not a very admirable direction to head, you know.
Another great compass for sanity, as far as I’m concerned, the sanity of our society, is what condition our children are in and it’s one in four are [on food stamps]. When I heard that, I could not believe it. One in four and that’s from the Department of Agriculture that’s tracking this thing. Like Bad Blake, we numb ourselves to this in various ways. We numb ourselves to the situation and to wake up to it is painful and shameful, but there is the high of hell to be had if we do wake up to that and take care of our kids and that’s how you find where you’re doing. How are our kids doing? It’s like Jean and her kid. She’s looking out for her kid, that’s why she didn’t get back with Bad.
Q: Coming up, you’re filming the remake of “True Grit.” How do you take on playing on John Wayne as filtered through the Coen Brothers?
A; Well, I’m going to side-step John (laughs). I’m not going to look to him. It’s kind of comes from the direction of the brothers. They’re looking at the book and that’s what I’m going to do too. Take the character from the book. Not that John wasn’t a wonderful actor and a very strong presence… I might look at some of his other films. When I’m taking on a role, everything I see is filtered through the part I play. Everything I see will be used in some way, I imagine.
Q: Hulk Hogan recently said if his autobiography is made into a movie and he doesn’t play himself, he’d like you to play him. Thoughts?
A: (Lets out a loud laugh) I can eat a lot of Haagen Dazs. I’ll have to hit the gym for that.