The Unwearied Kind - A Jeff Bridges Interview
, September 1st, 2011 08:07
Jeff Bridges, star of Crazy Heart turned country singer, talks. Brad Sanders abides
It's been said so many times that it's almost a cliché at this point, but it rings so true that it still bears repeating: Jeff Bridges is the Dude. The iconic character that the actor portrays in 1998's The Big Lebowski is more or less the Jeff Bridges that comes out in every television appearance and interview he's ever done. The heartfelt acceptance speech he gave after winning the Best Actor award for his role as hard-drinking country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart at the 2010 Oscars remains perhaps the high water mark for his utter Dudeness. When he says that “showbiz” is “such a groovy profession” and proceeds to call everyone involved in the picture "man", it's impossible not to smile. That's Bridges' power both as a performer and as a personality. His job is to put people at ease, and he does it well.
The performance Bridges was honoured for that night is the one that has most directly informed his latest project, an album of country music produced by Lebowski and Crazy Heart soundtrack curator T-Bone Burnett. The eponymous disc is Bridges' second full-length foray into music and his first since 2000's Be Here Soon. The record and its concurrent series of live performances by Bridges in settings as disparate as political satire show The Colbert Report and the massive annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota have people wondering just how much Jeff Bridges is capable of, and whether this resurgence (one which also includes box office smashes with Iron Man and Tron: Legacy and another Oscar nod for True Grit) marks a late high point for his storied career.
His achievements have more than earned him a claim to a bit of self-importance, but he steadfastly and graciously declines. No one else with his level of success seems as genuinely humbled by it — a feat that's even more impressive considering he was raised by movie stars. The sense that he's as thrilled to be able to do what he does today as he was as an occasional minor character on his father Lloyd's Sea Hunt program in the late 1950s pervades everything he does, including his new record. Bridges took time out of a busy media day in New York that included an appearance on the Today Show and a Lebowski cast reunion at the Hammerstein Ballroom to engage The Quietus in a pleasant conversation about, among much else, Hank Williams, John Fogerty, and the fuckin' Eagles, man.
How did you first become interested in country music?
Jeff Bridges: First, I guess it'd be Hank Williams, back in the late '60s, something like that.
Were you interested in music before acting?
JB: Well, I grew up in an acting family. My father, Lloyd Bridges, he was an actor and he loved showbiz so much that he encouraged all his kids to go into acting. I also was interested in music and art and other things, and my father pointed out that one of the wonderful things about acting is you can incorporate all your interests in it. So I'm happy I took his suggestion and got into the acting thing. I love that, and I've been able to do my music in movies as well.
Yeah, I was going to ask actually, you've played several characters for whom music is very important. As a musician yourself, are you inherently more attracted to roles like those?
JB: Yes and no. In one sense, it's great to play that, but [The Fabulous] Baker Boys set the bar pretty high as far as creating an authentic movie about music that rang true. So while it's wonderful to play music in a film, I love music a lot and I don't want to screw it up by making a crummy movie about it. So it's kind of hard to get me making a movie about music unless it's gonna be really good. At first I turned down Crazy Heart because there was no music to the movie. The script was fine, but there was no music. So when T-Bone got involved, I figured that the music would be well-handled and I got onboard. So it's kind of a double-edged sword. I'm attracted to it, but I also have a very high standard for making movies about music.
Have you found been offered more scripts that would cast you as a musician since people know you as one?
JB: Yeah, yeah.
Is it difficult to be selective enough with those?
JB: Well, just generally speaking, I'm pretty picky as far as engaging in work. I know what it means to take on a movie. Number one, it means I'm gonna be apart from my family for a long period of time. It also means that when you sign on for one movie you're not going to be able to do another movie that you're not even aware of right around the corner. And I've got a lot of other interests. I like to make music, and do art, and all kinds of other things, so I really try to resist making movies in general.
Unless it's the Godfather thing and they make you an offer you can't refuse and there's some element about it, whether it's the cast or the director or the story or whatever, that's so appealing that you've got to do it. Those are the ones I end up doing.
Let's talk about the new record. When did you start writing for it?
JB: Well, one song's about thirty years old that I wrote that's on there. Some of the songs, there's a song on there called 'Slow Boat' that I wrote for Crazy Heart that wasn't used in that movie. Some are very recent, some are old songs. A lot of them are written by my very good friend John Goodwin. We go back 50-years, making art and music together.
How did your process differ from your first album and from your contributions to the Crazy Heart soundtrack for this one?
JB: Not really all that much. It's a whole different group of folks, but they're all wonderful musicians and I had a good time making that first album and a good time making the second one. It's all pretty much the same, just the cast changed and the material's changed.
How did you manage to squeeze in enough recording time as a working actor? You kind of touched on it a little bit, but it's not like you've been inactive these past few years. You've been in quite a few films.
JB: Yeah, it's funny. The actual recording of the album took about a week. We recorded 17 songs in a week. The album only has ten but there's seven other songs that will be trickled out in different spots. But it's the rehearsing and the promotion of the album and all of that, so I really set aside this year to concentrate on music and not take any movies.
What was it like to work with T-Bone Burnett again?
JB: Well, that's a real joy. We go back 30 years. We met on Heaven's Gate, along with Stephen Bruton, another fella who supplied some wonderful songs for the album and who was with me every step of the way on Crazy Heart. T-Bone, number one, he knows all the great musicians, and he cast this album very, very well, and also I got to look to T-Bone as a director, how I would look to a director of a film. One of the things I look for in a director is the kind of environment he creates for his cast to cut loose and do their best work, and T-Bone creates a very relaxed, enjoyable environment. Everybody had a Good-Time T-Bone Party.
Do you have any plans to tour behind the album? You'd probably be able to book somewhat bigger places than the venues Bad Blake was headlining…
JB: [Laughs] Yeah, we played for 40,000 people at Sturgis a couple of nights ago, that was fun. Did Austin City Limits, and some touring in California and up into Washington, but not too much. I've got a movie. I've got to change hats here.
When do you start work on that?
JB: Next month.
What's the film?
JB: It's called R.I.P.D. With Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Bacon. I'm looking forward to that.
Do you find it easy to shift between Jeff Bridges the Musician and Jeff Bridges the Actor?
JB: It's pretty easy, I think. I don't even think of it as a transition, really.
Okay, I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't slip in one Lebowski question because it is my favorite film of all time. For the Dude, it was the Eagles. Who's the one band you would get kicked out of a cab over?
JB: [Laughs] Oh, that's a good question. Let me think. I must have blocked it out of my mind, man. Nobody's coming to mind. I don't know. I can't think of anybody who I despise.
I'm sure you have to be careful so you don't accidentally say anyone on your record label.
JB: [Laughs]: Yeah, yeah.
So you like all music enough that there's no one worth getting kicked out of a cab over. Is that what I understand?
JB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess so. I'm not that adamant.
A nice, safe, judicious answer. I appreciate that.
JB: How about you?
That's a tough one, I didn't think about it on my side…maybe Nickelback?
JB: Aww, but they say such nice things about you, man!
[Laughs] But not the Eagles.
JB: Nah, the Eagles are pretty cool. They've got some good stuff. I always thought they were a little too polished, I think. I got to play with Fogerty at Sturgis, though. That was pretty cool. Dude was smilin', man.
Does he know the whole Lebowski - Creedence connection? Did he talk to you about that at all?
JB: Oh, yeah. I got to sing 'Lookin' Out My Back Door' with him, and 'Proud Mary'. I had a great time. God, what a show he puts on.
Jeff Bridges' self titled album is out on Parlophone now