Jeff Bridges, man.

September 4, 2013

I interviewed one of my damn idols for TheMusic.com.au but as per usual I waffled on too much and they had to cut a few paragraphs so it’d fit on the page. If you must have 100 or so more words of said waffle, here now is the complete, unexpurgated Jeff Bridges chat.

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Devotees of The Big Lebowski tend to know Jeff Bridges as The Dude; devotees of great acting tend to regard Jeff Bridges as The Man. For more than four decades, he’s been turning out performances that range from richly funny to intensely emotional – sometimes he’s subtle to the point of microscopic, sometimes he chews great chunks out of the scenery. For years, though, he was regarded as a terrific but somewhat undervalued actor who could never quite make the leap to full-blown stardom. Maybe it was his tendency to place his characters above his own persona – the great film critic Pauline Kael once said Bridges “may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived”.

Bridges is still a character actor, but he’s also finally getting his due – his performance as dissolute country singer Bad Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart earned him an Academy Award, his performance as the equally boozy lawman Rooster Cogburn in True Grit saw him nominated for the same award the following year. And one can see echoes of those distinctive turns in his work as Roy Pulsipher, a grizzled Old West marshal now stalking the afterlife, doling out justice to wrongdoers who refuse to stay dead, in the supernatural action-comedy R.I.P.D. (as in Rest in Peace Department).

Roy’s the very best at bringing the dead back alive, so to speak, so he’s a little reluctant to find himself partnered with an R.I.P.D. rookie in the form of recently-killed cop Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds). But the pair may be the only ones who can stop an army of undead lowlifes from making Earth a living hell…or, you know, un-living hell.

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“It’s a bizarre premise, but I like bizarre premises,” chuckles Bridges in his inimitably laid-back fashion. “I remember when someone pitched me the project, I couldn’t quite grasp what they were talking about. Then I read the script and I had to keep going back a page or two and saying ‘Did I just read what I read?’ Something like that is certainly attractive to me. And then when you’ve got wonderful guys like Ryan and Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon to play with, well, that makes it even more fun.”

And, of course, Bridges is rarely gonna pass up an opportunity to play a cowboy, even one who’s been dead for 150 or so years. “Whenever I get to wear a cowboy hat, it’s always a good time for me,” he says.

Still, R.I.P.D. is a little more tech-heavy than most cowboy stories – there are your increasingly common lashings of CGI and such bringing the Department’s enemies to life. Bridges is no stranger to special effects, having appeared alongside a massive animatronic ape in the 1976 version of King Kong and alongside a computer-generated version of his younger self in Tron: Legacy. The actor admits he used to be “a bit resentful” of the latest advances, but he’s coming to grips with it.

Despite the hairiness, Bridges did not actually play Kong in the '76 remake

Despite the hairiness, Bridges did not actually play Kong in the ’76 remake. (Also, Jessica Lange was a STONE FOX.)

“I’ve come to realise it’s a bit like playing pretend when you’re a kid – you have to use your imagination more,” he says. “It’s easier to go with the flow than just sit around being mad at it.”

Now in his early sixties, Bridges continues to keep busy (he’s got the fantasy adventure Seventh Son coming out early next year), but acting’s just one string to his bow – he’s also an accomplished musician and photographer. Quite frankly, though, he’s often happy just to chill.

“It’s a funny thing – I generally kind of resist working,” he laughs. “I know I’m going to be away from my wife; I know my dance card will be full and I’ll be missing out on other things, even if I don’t know what they are. So I resist engaging until something as wacky as R.I.P.D. comes along and floats my boat, man.”

Man, no one says ‘man’ like Jeff Bridges.