Jeff Bridges says it’s “a bit naïve” to synonymously equate him with The Dude, his “man”-dropping, pot-smoking iconic character from the cult favorite The Big Lebowski. And this dude has a good point: He’s appeared in over 65 movies, and earned six Academy Award nominations – not one of which was for Lebowski.
His latest is The Giver (in theaters Friday), a sci-fi drama based on the 1993 dystopian novel by Lois Lowry. As a producer on the movie, Bridges worked for 18 years to shepherd the project to the big screen (he’d initially planned to direct it himself, with his father — the late Lloyd Bridges — playing the titular part Jeff would ultimately take). The movie is set in a distant future where hatred and violence are no more, but at the expense of emotions and feelings. Maleficent's Brenton Thwaites stars as society's selected 'Receiver of Memories' from Bridge's Giver, while Meryl Streep co-stars as the chief antagonist, Chief Elder.
We had a chance to play Receiver of Memories as Bridges shared great stories from the sets of his films in our latest episode of Role Recall, which you can watch in two parts, above and below. And while we personally celebrate Bridges’ entire catalog, we won’t deny there is indeed a lot of Dude in him. Example A: Bridges’ admission that he toked before many a film shoot — yet, ironically, not while making The Big Lebowski. More on that below.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Though Bridges made his movie appearance at the tender age of 4 months old (in the 1951 drama The Company She Keeps), Peter Bogdanovich’s black-and-white drama marked his big breakout two decades later. The Texas-set drama co-starred other up-and-comers like Cybil Shepherd and Timothy Bottoms, but the actor’s fondest memory involves Lloyd Catlett, a non-industry player who had a small part on the film and would follow Bridges back to Los Angeles, where Catlett would become his on-set stand-in on over 60 films. “I think we hold the record,” Bridges said proudly.
The first thing that comes to Bridges’ mind from the making of this groundbreaking gamer thriller? His uncomfortably snug costume. ” You know what a dance belt is?,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know how those women wear those thongs. I certainly did not enjoy that.” Bridges described how the filmmakers used a 70-mm black-and-white set (“it was quite primitive”) to ultimately create the movie’s distinctive look.
Bridges earned his third Oscar nomination (after nods for Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) for another sci-fi hit two years later, this time playing an alien who appears in the form of a woman’s (Karen Allen) dead husband. He famously modeled his physical performance after a bird, but there were other inspirations, too: “I’ll often put an animal of the cover of my script, and I think for Starman I had a picture of a bald eagle… And also used my kids, my girls were 2 or 3 years old, and just watching them learn to walk.”
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
"Gosh, that was just a great experience, on so many levels," Bridges said. Level numero uno was finally getting to work with his brother, Beau. "We’d have lunch everyday, and just pinch each other [and] say, ‘Can you believe we’re doing this, man?’" And then, of course, there was also getting the opportunity to make some "Whoopee" with Michelle Pfeiffer late one night (we’re referring to that famous musical scene, of course).
The Big Lebowski (1998)
There was a question Bridges would ask his directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, before every scene in this oft-quoted dark comedy about a stoner caught in a serious case of mistaken identity: “Did The Dude burn one before this scene?” (The answer was clearly almost always: “Yes.”) Bridges told us he’ll “burn some herb occasionally” while shooting, but didn’t for Lebowski,because the script was so full of precise beats. “If you add an extra ‘man’ in a spot, it didn’t quite feel right. So I really wanted to have all my wits about me and so I didn’t burn at all during that movie.”
Crazy Heart (2009)
Bridges finally won an Oscar for playing the hard-drinking country singer Bad Blake in Scott Cooper’s acclaimed drama, a role he originally turned down. He got to feel like a country star, too: The production took over an actual Toby Keith concert at one point, to film Bad in front of a large audience. “It was pretty nerve-wracking and exciting.”