Oscar winner and finicky actor Jeff Bridges on why he has laid down his own life rules for so long
eff Bridges has made 70 or so movies in a career stretching back to 1951, and he seems to have stories for every one. “So there I was preparing to do Starman ( 1984),” Bridges said. “I was in my bedroom at home, videotaping myself as I worked on the scene where Starman is born. Of course I was in the nude, because he was… being born.
“There I am with the video camera on, naked and in a fetal position, when my wife bursts into the bedroom,” he continued. “Her eyes popped for a moment, and then she just shook her head as in, ‘ Yes, I’m married to an actor. This is just a normal day’.” He gave a throaty laugh. Starman turned out to be a classic, one of a dozen in his filmography, and
the 66- year- old Bridges — who is the son of actor Lloyd Bridges and the elder brother of actor Beau Bridges — has had a career few others can match.
“My dad taught me the acting basics,” he said during a telephone interview. “As a little boy, I hung out on the set of his show Sea Hunt ( 1958- 1961). It wasn’t about the cool factor of having my dad on TV. All I wanted to do was watch him make a scene real.
“Acting gave him such joy — and I can say the same for my life,” Bridges said. “My dad was a very joyful man in his work and in his life. That joy spread to everyone around him. It spread to the company on a set and the people he’d meet on the streets. It spread in our home. “That’s a life.” Bridges’ latest film, crime drama Hell or High Water, will release in the US today. Chris Pine stars as Toby, a divorced father with two kids he hasn’t seen for a year. Ben Foster plays his brother, an ex- con named Tanner. The brothers become involved in a desperate plan to save their family’s farm in a sleepy West Texas town from foreclosure.
“They get the money the only way possible,” Bridges said. “They rob a bank.”
One bank stickup leads to a series of robberies at branches of Texas Midland, the bank that wants to foreclose. That’s where Bridges comes in. “I’m a weathered Texas Ranger who is about to retire,” the actor said. “I talk nice and slow. The guy has been around the block. I take things slow and figure them out. I also know the mindset of the criminals.”
Bridges found the role so appealing that he couldn’t pass it up. “I’ve always loved movies that show our darker sides and what happens when we’re pushed as humans to reveal them,” he said. These days it isn’t easy to get Bridges to say yes to a role. “I do my best not to work,” he said. “I try not to do anything, for several reasons. One is that I know what it takes to do justice to a role. Another is that I don’t like to leave my wife alone for all those weeks or months. She’s in a big house by herself, and that’s no fun.”
It’s not as if Bridges hasn’t paid his dues. He grew up in Los Angeles, and made his film debut as an infant in his mother’s arms in The Company She Keeps ( 1951). Lloyd Bridges routinely took his sons to the set of Sea Hunt, and usually they were put to work. “We’d show up in a boat in a cameo,” Bridges recalled with a laugh. “I really enjoyed it, and it was great to be so close to our father.”
It was a given that Bridges would enter the family business. His only qualms involved being seen as Lloyd Bridges’ son. “I went through that period where it was awkward for me,” he admitted. “When you’re the son of someone that famous, you do tend to get judged in odd ways. I would think, ‘ Oh, I got this job because of who my father is.’
“But that was just early on,” Bridges added. “Now I’m proud to say that I got into this business because of my father. He just loved show business and passed that on.”
By the time the elder Bridges died in 1998, his son had long since forged his own identity, starring in such films as The Last Picture Show ( 1971), Tron ( 1982), Jagged Edge ( 1985), Starman, Tucker: The Man and His Dream ( 1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys ( 1989), The Fisher King ( 1991), Fearless ( 1993), The Big Lebowski ( 1998) and, later, Seabiscuit ( 2003) and True Grit ( 2010). His performance as an alcoholic country singer in Crazy Heart ( 2009) won him an Oscar as Best Actor, his first after five previous nominations.
“The truth is, I felt acknowledged and thrilled about my career before Oscar,” Bridges said, “because I’ve been able to tell so many amazing stories. And I’m certainly as famous as I want to be, although I get a little more recognition on the street now after winning an Oscar.”
It meant something extra, though, that he finally took home his Oscar for Crazy Heart in particular. “I won for a film about music, which is so near and dear to my heart,” said Bridges, who tours with his band, Jeff Bridges & the Abiders, and released an album in 2011. “I’ve been a musician since I was a kid,” he explained. “There was a time when I struggled with the big question: music or acting? I could have gone either way.”
The actor is currently filming Kingsman: The Golden Circle, with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. He will also star in Granite Mountain, the basedon- fact story of an elite crew who battled a wildfire in Prescott, Arizona, in June 2013.
On the personal side, Bridges has been married to the same woman since 1977. He and Susan Geston met on the set of Rancho Deluxe ( 1975), which was shot on a dude ranch where she was working as a maid. “It was love at first sight,” Bridges recalled. “All the time I’m asked for marriage advice, and I always say, ‘ You need to love the other person. Really love them’.”
The marriage has produced three daughters, Isabelle, Jessica and Haley. In 2011, Bridges became a grandpa when Isabelle gave birth to a daughter, Grace.
Jeff and Susan Bridges live on a ranch in Montecito, California, where he spends his time playing music, smoking cigars and reading scripts. His only regret, it seems, is that his work makes it hard for him to simply walk the streets.
“As an actor you lose some of your anonymity,” he said. “That’s tough, because a good day to me is just walking around observing people.”
2 bridges across forever: 1 Jeff with real- life brother beau bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys 2 as an alcoholic country singer in Crazy Heart — a role for which he won an oscar 3 in his new movie Hell or High Water 4 With...