Jeff Bridges is that rare type of actor who is both amazingly gifted and extremely down to earth. The son of Lloyd Bridges and younger brother of Beau Bridges, he has been nominated for an Academy Award four times (for 'The Last Picture Show,' 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,' 'Starman' and 'The Contender'). An actor known for disappearing into his roles, his easy charm has made him an audience favorite for years.

At age 60, Bridges may have found his Oscar-winning role in 'Crazy Heart,' a moving tale of a country singer named Bad Blake who has seen the peak of his success and makes his living driving himself from gig to gig, indulging in liquor and women at every stop -- until he meets a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who changes his life.

In an exclusive interview, Bridges talked animatedly about his love of music and his father's influence on his career.
Jeff Bridges is that rare type of actor who is both amazingly gifted and extremely down to earth. The son of Lloyd Bridges and younger brother of Beau Bridges, he has been nominated for an Academy Award four times (for 'The Last Picture Show,' 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,' 'Starman' and 'The Contender'). An actor known for disappearing into his roles, his easy charm has made him an audience favorite for years.

At age 60, Bridges may have found his Oscar-winning role in 'Crazy Heart,' a moving tale of a country singer named Bad Blake who has seen the peak of his success and makes his living driving himself from gig to gig, indulging in liquor and women at every stop -- until he meets a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who changes his life.

In an exclusive interview, Bridges talked animatedly about his love of music and his father's influence on his career.

In 'Crazy Heart,' Bad Blake is playing bowling alleys, but he still has groupies. Does Jeff Bridges have groupies?
What's the definition of a groupie? Like a fan or a sexual partner?

Well, I know that you've been married forever. So maybe a fan that goes a little too far.
There's been nothing too bad. It's wonderful to have people who appreciate your work. I hope I have people out there who do that. I know sometimes I myself have gushed inappropriately over people whose work I'm knocked out by. And that happens sometimes. But I relate to that, so it doesn't bother me.

The movie really lit up during the scenes where you guys play music. What was it like to film those scenes?
I love playing music and T Bone (Burnett) and Stephen Bruton, the guys in charge of the music, put together wonderful bands. The stuff that was pre-recorded was basically the band that was on the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant album, 'Raising Sand.' The people we played with in the movie were excellent musicians and we played those songs live. We were jamming between takes, playing stuff and having a great time.

You're an accomplished singer and guitarist. How did you get started playing music?
Back when I was a teenager, 14 or 15 I guess ... My brother had an old Danelectro guitar. Probably the first song I worked on was 'Pipeline.' You know that old surf song [he hums a few bars, plays air guitar]?

Oh yeah. Did you ever think of becoming a professional musician instead of an actor?
Oh, absolutely. My father, unlike a lot of people in the acting field, really encouraged all his kids to go into show business, he loved it so much. And you know how kids feel about what their parents want them to do, you know? So I had a lot of resistance to that. "No, Dad, I want to get into music." He said you can put your music into it [acting]. My dad was also a singer. Not too many people know that he replaced Richard Kiley in 'Man of LaMancha' on Broadway. I remember as a kid, him singing 'Guys and Dolls,' he'd go on tour with 'Guys and Dolls.'

What was your way into Bad Blake? What did you relate to about this character?
I approached it the same way I approach all my roles. I looked at aspects of myself that I can use or magnify. So I had the music thing. I certainly love music, country music. I write, and play guitar and perform. Those are things that I could use. I'm not an alcoholic but I've certainly been drunk, hungover, puked. All that stuff. So you can use the knowledge of that. And then I looked for role models, people in my immediate circle, either in my family or near me. And I was really fortunate for this one to have two of my dear friends be my role models and work on the movie. T Bone and Stephen Bruton. Stephen Bruton, especially. His life really parallels Bad's in a way. He was driving himself from gig to gig. He'd had problems with substance abuse. He was a real touchstone for me. Then you go to the next circle -- people like Waylon (Jennings), Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson -- he kind of blurs the line because we all met with T Bone and Stephen Bruton 30 years ago in Montana doing 'Heaven's Gate.' Kristofferson assembled all his musical friends and we had great jam sessions. So Kris was certainly a role model.

In the film Bad Blake either can't or won't write any new songs. Was there ever a time when you felt creatively blocked?
Yeah, sure. I think maybe those are like seasons for creative people. It's like that for me. You'll go through a dry period and it's like summer now and the creeks are flowing so you lay out in the sun. Dig the warmth. Look in the stream bed. Say, oh look at the rocks. I'll photograph these rocks. I think for an artist it's a challenge to dance the dance that's being played. You can spend a lot of energy wishing it was some other way. They're playing a cha-cha, damn it, and I came here to dance a waltz and they will not play a waltz! So do the cha-cha!

In the movie Tommy Sweet (played by Colin Farrell) is the inheritor of Bad Blake's legacy. Is there anyone that you've been a mentor to in real life?
Actually, that's an interesting question. One of my oldest friends, a guy named John Goodwin, we go back to the fourth grade making art and dancing and making music together. He wrote the song 'Hold On You,' the opening song [of the movie]. He was like the core songwriter for that, then T Bone and Bobby Neuwirth and Stephen also wrote on the tune. And I'm starting to give him acting lessons in a pretty structured way. And I've done that with my nephews. It's kind of fun, I'm really enjoying it.

What does an acting lesson consist of?
Teach 'em the basics. All of the stuff my dad taught me when I was a kid.



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Do you go through a script or just improvise?
A little of both. You find one scene to work on and then that's the subject of the lesson so you have something to relate to. You talk about all the basic principles and different approaches -- there are so many, I can only talk about my approach, but it's fun. And what makes it more fun and easier is when the student is eager and really into it. That makes a big difference.

Some people I know participate in something called a Lebowski Fest...
I've been to a Lebowski Fest! Oh yeah! I love it! Oh gosh! Well, I'm a big fan of that movie. That's a great movie.

Did you ever think that your character [The Dude] would become such a cult figure?
No, I was very disappointed when it first came out and it didn't do much. But the fact that the Achievers have kept it going is so wild. And it's such a great movie, I'm glad it's got legs.

Do people call you The Dude when you're walking down the street?
Sure, oh yeah. "Dude!" Absolutely.

We're excited to see the sequel to 'Tron' that you made, 'Tron Legacy.' What was it like to revisit the character of Kevin Flynn after all these years?
It was fun. Doing it reminded me of the old movie, in a way. The thing that brought me to the first film was the kid aspect of what I would do. Sometimes acting to me seems like a 'dance pretend.' [They said,] "You want to play a kid who gets sucked inside a computer, and you can use all the cool things that are available technologically?" That was the original and I said, "Oh yeah, that sounds great!" So now almost 30 years later they said you get to do that again, except use even better stuff. This is going to make the old stuff look like black and white TV. But it's kind of the same experience -- exciting and weird.

Are you into computers and technology?
A little bit. I have a website that I enjoy doing. But I have a web mistress, Nicky, who manages that for me, puts it all up. But I get to do the all the artwork. I'm not too technologically advanced. If I don't do it every day I can't maintain it.

Tell me about the 'True Grit' remake you're doing with the Coen Brothers -- will you reference John Wayne's performance or make it totally your own?
I'm going to reference the book and go for the Rooster Cogburn that Charles Portis wrote about in the book. And I think the brothers are doing the same thing.

Is it intimidating to fill those shoes?
I don't feel that way. I suppose I could if I really thought about it. With the brothers, their main direction was, we're going for the book. So that's what I'm looking at.

So getting back to 'Crazy Heart' ... do you have a spot picked out for your Oscar?
[Laughs] I'm not counting any chickens...

But would you be excited?
Excited? Oh yeah!

CATEGORIES Interviews