I gave up dope

He’s Hol­ly­wood’s most laid-back star. But Jeff Bridges has a bizarre ‘con­fes­sion’ to make about his big­gest ever role... to play the dope-smok­ing Dude!

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - FILM - BY LINA DAS

Jeff Bridges is re­lax­ing in his ho­tel room, over­look­ing the beach in Santa Monica and talk­ing in the fa­mil­iar and en­dear­ingly mel­low tones that he used to great ef­fect in his best-known role to date, the chilled, White Rus­sian-drink­ing pot­head The Dude in 1998’s cult clas­sic The Big Le­bowski.

Bridges’s prepa­ra­tion for the role of the peace-lov­ing stoner was un­ortho­dox. ‘I ac­tu­ally gave up smok­ing pot to play The Dude,’ he ad­mits. ‘The lines of the Coen broth­ers’ script were so beau­ti­fully writ­ten, with every “man” put in the right place, that I re­ally wanted to be con­scious of them. Ac­tors have a thing called sense mem­ory, where some­thing you’ve done you can re­call, and I’d smoked pot for years. Any­way,’ he adds, ‘it’s nice to go sober every once in a while.’

Now 67, Bridges re­tains the abun­dant long hair, di­shev­elled beard and rugged good looks that have en­deared him to women for five decades in films as di­verse as Jagged Edge (1985) and The Fab­u­lous Baker Boys (1989) to

Iron Man (2008) and True Grit (2010). It’s a ge­nial tough­ness he ex­ploits won­der­fully in his role of Champ, the head of the States­man spy agency in Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle.

The se­quel to the hugely suc­cess­ful 2014 com­edy-ac­tion film Kings­man: The Se­cret

Ser­vice sees the re­turn of Taron Eger­ton as Eg­gsy, a newly minted Kings­man agent, and Colin Firth as Eg­gsy’s men­tor Harry Hart – pre­sumed dead in the first film but clearly very much alive.

Bridges is a play­ful bit of cast­ing: he and Firth en­joyed a friendly ri­valry for the Best Ac­tor Os­car for two years run­ning, with Bridges beat­ing Firth in 2010 for his role in Crazy

Heart and Firth pip­ping Bridges the fol­low­ing year for The King’s Speech. Their off-screen ri­valry is echoed in this lat­est film where, as the re­spec­tive heads of their spy agen­cies in the US and UK, they team up to bat­tle the Golden Cir­cle, a group of su­per-crim­i­nals threat­en­ing to de­stroy the hu­man race.

‘I thought the orig­i­nal was the best James Bond-type film I’d ever seen,’ Bridges says.

As he’s men­tioned Mr Bond, who does he think would make a good re­place­ment for Daniel Craig? ‘Colin Firth,’ he says. ‘But Tom Hardy would be fan­tas­tic too.’

In sharp con­trast to some of the tor­tured and driven souls in Hol­ly­wood, Bridges seems a pretty re­laxed and happy chap. He thinks him­self ‘a lazy guy’ but this is con­tra­dicted by both the vol­ume – and the qual­ity – of his out­put. Cer­tainly it’s eas­ier to talk about

his hits than his oc­ca­sional misses (1980’s Heaven’s Gate was fa­mously de­scribed as ‘an un­qual­i­fied dis­as­ter’). He was nom­i­nated for his first Os­car at 22 for The Last Pic­ture Show, and fi­nally won Best Ac­tor (af­ter six fur­ther nom­i­na­tions) for his role in the low-bud­get Crazy Heart – a beau­ti­fully drawn por­trait of a dis­so­lute coun­try singer who even­tu­ally finds re­demp­tion. He made his first screen ap­pear­ance as a one-year-old along­side his mother and older brother Beau (also an ac­tor) in the 1951 film The Com­pany She Keeps, but it was his fa­ther Lloyd Bridges (High Noon, Air­plane!) who ac­tively en­cour­aged his son to en­ter the business. ‘I worked with him as a kid on his TV show Sea Hunt,’ says Bridges, ‘but as I grew older I had a lot of other in­ter­ests such as mu­sic and art, so I fought against act­ing a lot ini­tially. When you’re young you don’t want to get a gig be­cause of who your fa­ther is and I was def­i­nitely a prod­uct of nepo­tism. But he loved act­ing so much that his joy was con­ta­gious.’ His par­ents had good rea­son to keep him close to the fam­ily as their two-month-old son Gar­rett died of sud­den in­fant death syn­drome (or cot death) in 1948, but de­spite their heart­break his mother’s doc­tor en­cour­aged her to have an­other child. ‘My mid­dle name is Leon, af­ter him. My mother used to have me sleep by the side of her bed when I was a baby and she’d shake me all the time just to make sure I was still alive. I al­ways won­der how ul­ti­mately it af­fected me. Maybe,’ he gig­gles, ‘it ex­plains why I’m as crazy as I am.’ By his own ad­mis­sion he got into a ‘lit­tle bit of trou­ble – noth­ing too bad’ when he was young, so his par­ents sent him away to mil­i­tary academy for a year. It couldn’t have straight­ened him out too much, how­ever, as, come the Seven­ties, he vol­un­teered to work with the un­ortho­dox sci­en­tist John Lilly, whose avant-garde stud­ies into the na­ture of con­scious­ness led him to de­velop the iso­la­tion tank, for which Bridges duly signed up.

‘You’d be float­ing in this box filled with wa­ter and 1,000lb of salt,’ Bridges ex­plains. ‘You couldn’t see or hear any­thing and the idea was that you got rid of as much ex­te­rior stim­u­la­tion as pos­si­ble. John was an ec­cen­tric-look­ing cat in a jump­suit, and as soon as I got into the tank my brain would start think­ing, “Is the wa­ter filled with LSD? Did the guy in the jump­suit have breasts?” But then you’d re­lax. John would take LSD and stay in the tank for hours,’ laughs Bridges. ‘I ex­per­i­mented with LSD but I didn’t do it in the tank.’

Bridges and his wife Sue Ge­ston have that rarest of things, a suc­cess­ful Hol­ly­wood mar­riage. When they met in 1974, Bridges was film­ing the western Ran­cho Deluxe and, de­spite Sue’s two black eyes and bro­ken nose (she had re­cently been in a car crash), Bridges says ‘I couldn’t take my eyes off her’. They’ve been mar­ried for 40 years and have three daugh­ters: Isabelle, 36, Jessie, 34, and Ha­ley, 31. The se­cret, says Bridges, is see­ing chal­lenges as op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow even closer.

There’s an old act­ing adage that says ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing film­ing ‘stay on lo­ca­tion’. But Bridges shakes his head. ‘Many of the sto­ries we make are about love, and part of the job is to get in touch with that. But you don’t want to make the mis­take of phys­i­cal­is­ing that love – that can lose you ev­ery­thing.’

With so much go­ing on in his life, does Bridges ever think about re­tir­ing?

‘All the time!’ he laughs. ‘I do my best not to work be­cause I love do­ing other things – I’ve got a band go­ing and I love ce­ram­ics and photography. But then I just keep be­ing of­fered these won­der­ful as­sign­ments. It’s like that Al Pa­cino line from The God­fa­ther Part III,’ he sighs. “Just when I thought I was out… e they pull me back in.” ’ ‘Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle’ is out on Wed­nes­day

Left: Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Le­bowski. Above: in Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle

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