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Author Topic: Jeff Bridges opens up his Crazy Heart  (Read 5914 times)

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Jeff Bridges opens up his Crazy Heart
« on: February 10, 2010, 01:59:32 PM »

The sixth floor of the Casa del Mar hotel, in Santa Monica, is crammed with movie stars. Tall, willowy Maggie Gyllenhaal strides down the corridor in slingbacks and blue eye shadow, discussing schedules with her publicist. Halfway down the corridor, seated in a chair, is Robert Duvall, barrel-chested, wizened, hearty, the Ancient Mariner of the American screen, telling his assistant about the best hamburger he ever ate. “It was 100% beef, just beautiful,” he says. “Have you been there?” The assistant shakes his head as the door to one of the hotel suites swings open and out walks Jeff Bridges, finished with his interview. He sees Duvall and his face lights up.

“Here he is,” Bridges says. “Hey, you coming to my birthday party tomorrow night?” Duvall frowns, smiles, spreads his hands.

“You didn’t get the invite?” Bridges asks.

Duvall shakes his head.

Bridges’s people stare at Duvall’s people. Duvall’s people stare at Bridges’s people. We are at a celebrity-etiquette Mexican standoff. Nobody moves except for Bridges, who is already down on his knees, his arms laid atop Duvall’s thighs. “Man, I need you there,” he says, proceeding to explain exactly why he needs Duvall to be there. Bridges is a big man — 6ft 2in, or 6ft 3in in cowboy boots — but his body language is intimate, direct, respectful, warm, a cub talking to papa lion.

It’s the first thing I learn about Bridges: he’s extremely tactile. He loves hugs and high-fives, and makes fleeting contact with you during conversation — your elbow, your knee — to bring you closer in. For the press junket of The Big Lebowski, he arranged for all the journalists to have massages, to get them in the same chill zone as the Dude, the Venice Beach slacker he immortalised in the movie. It did so-so at the American box office, got a second wind in Europe and is now at the heart of a large, thriving cult, with scores of Lebowski festivals taking place every year. Bridges visited one recently, performing music in front of an audience of bathrobe-attired Dudes sipping white russians. “I had my Beatles moment,” he recalls. “‘Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t believe I get to say this, but here is... the DUUUDE!’ ROOOOARR. It was surreal. Like performing to a sea of bowling pins and booze. Weird. Oh, God. The fact that there are these people keeping that movie alive.”

A day away from 60 when we meet, his hair swept back in a sandy leonine mane, and with a salt-and-pepper goatee, Bridges looks like a stonewashed version of a movie actor. He projects an air of imperturbable ease — the critic Pauline Kael once wrote that he “may be the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor who ever lived” — but in interview, he revs things up a little, with exuberant improvs to act out his stories, like a kid doing every part in the school play. He’s at the start of a marathon campaign to promote Crazy Heart, a small ($7m) movie in which he plays a once great country singer called Bad Blake, now reduced to gigging in bowling alleys, shrugging off his hangovers to knock back more bourbon and suck on more cigarettes, but pulling it all together the moment he steps onto a stage. It is a terrific piece of acting, a portrait of a man at the lowest ebb of his powers from an actor at the height of his. Before the film was released, it was generating Oscar heat, and Bridges was nominated for the best actor prize on Tuesday. He has already won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

“We shot this in 24 days,” he says. “There was very little rehearsal. We didn’t have much time to go deep. ‘You up for it?’ ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ Voom!” — he claps his hands and shoots one off into the ether — “We just acknowledged that and did it. Got into it.”

Bridges’s philosophy of work is simple: try to do as little of it as possible. He turns down most of the roles that come to him. The ones he does take, he plays and plays hard, but when he leaves the house in the morning, his wife, Susan, always tells him: “Remember to have fun.” Turning up for work on the set of Iron Man, he found that, while the movie had a release date, a cast, a crew and cameras that were starting to roll, there was no script to speak of. They had to write one in the trailer. “The crew would be in the studio, tapping their feet for us to get out of the trailer,” he recalls. “We were in there for two or three hours, writing the scene for the day, man. I mean, come on. You’d think for a $200m movie, they’d have their shed together. If I don’t have any lines, then who am I? It was very, very frustrating.”

He reaches over and touches my knee; his powder-blue eyes, deeply creased, light up. “Then I made this little inner adjustment that said, ‘Hey, man. You’re making a $200m student film. Just relax. We’re fine. We’re playing. We’re messing around.’ Nothing changed. But all of a sudden, I started laughing and going, ‘Okay, I play your part, you play my part.’ The crew would knock on the door — ‘Are you ready?’ ‘We’ll be out in a little bit.’”

“But it turned out so good,” I say.

“It turned out great. That’s just it. You have to dance the dance that’s in play.” And that, pretty much, is Jeff Bridges, a man so laid-back that if he chilled out any more, you’d be using him as a drinks table. Outside the hotel room, the publicists chatter about the Academy Awards — will Colin Firth be the man to beat, or will it be George Clooney? — but Bridges, who has been nominated four times before, for The Last Picture Show in 1971, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in 1974, Starman in 1984 and The Contender in 2000, knows how these things work. “It’s part of their strategy to win awards,” he says matter-of-factly. “That’s how the studio gets people to see a small movie like this. I’m like the barker at the carousel — ‘Come on, see the thing that we did.’ Which I’m happy to do, loving the movie and loving the story we told.

“When I got nominated for Picture Show, I can remember sleeping in my bed, getting the call at about 6.30 in the morning.

‘Hey, man, you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought it was a dream. There was no campaign. None of that. It was out of the total blue. There was a wonderful feeling to it. One of my resistances to becoming an actor in the first place was not wanting to be the product of nepotism, which I surely am. I didn’t want to just get a job because of who my dad was. I don’t want to get nominated because there’s a big campaign, and more money was spent on my campaign than the other guy’s campaign. That’s not very satisfying.”

Bridges’s fame has probably long since eclipsed that of his father, the television actor Lloyd Bridges, who died in 1998. Lloyd’s wife, Dorothy, to whom he was married for 60 years, died last year aged 93. At Thanksgiving, their three children — Jeff, Beau and Lucinda — scattered their mother’s ashes into the sea by the family beach house, the same place they put their father.

“She was a remarkable, remarkable woman,” Bridges recalls. “She used to do this thing called ‘time’, where each day she would give each kid an hour. She wouldn’t answer the phone, wouldn’t spend time with her friends, she would do whatever we wanted. So, if you were my mother and it was our time, I would go, ‘Okay, let’s get under here’” — he lifts the cloth on the table next to us and makes to climb inside — “‘This is going to be our spaceship. You be the alien.’ Or, ‘Let’s go into your make-up and I’ll make up like a clown.’ Later on, as a teenager, it would be, ‘Rub me, would you? Give me a massage.’ Still, right up to her death, we’d be doing ‘time’. Unconditional love. Hard love, man. For each kid. You never got the feeling it was a duty. She was getting off.”

Bridges’s family background presents an unusual picture of constancy in a town known for its crack-ups and meltdowns, its train wrecks and flame-outs. His parents’ marriage had its ups and downs, he says. So has his, but when he says he doesn’t like to take too many jobs because “I don’t like to be away from my wife”, he means it. He seems unafflicted by the hunger for approval that drives many actors. He’s not famous to scratch some inner itch. When he acts, he gives the impression of a man whose battles have been fought and won internally, far away from the public gaze. There’s an unfathomability to some of his best performances — Jack Baker in The Fabulous Baker Boys, stubbornly hanging on to his integrity; the beatific plane-crash survivor of Fearless; his president in The Contender — which means the public has never got to feel it owns a piece of him. That gives him a freer hand when it comes to choosing roles.

“We’re all complicated cats, you know,” he says. “There’s a lot of facets to all of us. You magnify some sides and kick some to the curb. The ones I used to play the president, those sides of me, you don’t see those in Bad [Blake]. I’m not an alcoholic, but I’ve certainly been drunk. And hungover. Done a lot of that. Been drunk a lot and been hung­over a lot.” He may have ducked some of the more obvious self-destructive behaviours, he adds, but he is as neurotic as the best of them. He finds it impossible to make up his mind, and he still feels fear when he walks onto a movie set.

“Oh, I can really work myself up. I’m an actor. I can take those little seeds of paranoia and blow those f***ers up. Big time. Freeze myself so I won’t be able to come out of this room, for fear of what someone might say. Do you remember the way Tyson used to come out of the corner? My God, the way his first punches flew out like that. He was frightened he was going to have an asthma attack. That’s why he wanted to get the fight over with as quickly as he could. ‘Fear is like fire,’ he said. ‘You can warm your hands on it, cook your food with it, and it can burn down your house.’ That’s the constant challenge as an actor. I find the Dude side of me says, ‘I don’t want to be f***ing challenged, man, I don’t want to cry harder, or laugh harder, or be more real than the last one.’ The other side of me says, ‘Yeah, but that’s where the groove is. There’s wonderful gold in them there hills.’ That’s where all the good stuff is.”

He smiles a big grin — the one he smiled all those years ago in The Last Picture Show, and that runs through his work like lettering through rock. Come Oscar night, win or lose, one thing is clear: the Dude will abide.

Crazy Heart opens in London on February 19 and nationwide on March 5
In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was, in me, an invincible summer.

There’s no next time. It’s now or never.