Jeff Bridges Is No Amateur
by Paul Fischer
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Jeff Bridges is selective about what films he takes on these days, so whether he plays an amateur porn producer in the Capra-esque Indie comedy The Amateurs or a bald-headed comic-book character in next summer’s Iron Man, Jeff Bridges remains one of the screen’s most enduring stars. He talked exclusively to Paul Fischer about both projects and the secret of his long lasting marriage.
Paul Fischer: I was wondering, when you read The Amateurs for the first time, was there any concern in your mind the character was a little bit too Dude-like, and you needed to try and do something to make him quite different from that iconic character?
Jeff Bridges: Not really. I had other concerns. I really kind of have to be dragged to the party, as far as making movies, because it’s tough for me to decide what I’m going to order for lunch, let alone what movie I’m going to do. Then once I decide, there’s all kinds of other movies that I’m NOT going to be able to do, and I don’t even know what they are yet. So, I do kind of drag my feet until there’s something about the movie that I can’t resist that’s going to pull me in. On this one, I was very intrigued by just the freshness of it. It’s very unusual, and there are no other movies like it. At the same time, the thing that made it so fresh was this idea of trying to marry pornography with Frank Capra, and that’s like a tough marriage. How is this guy who’s directing the movie going to do that? Plus you’ve got all of these characters, and I’ve read films before where there’s so many characters they’re hard to keep track of, you can’t follow them all, and you end up not caring about anything else. Also they all had big speeches, so I thought they’d get cut in the editing room. Therefore I really resisted it. Then at the same time, I was just intrigued by its freshness and finally what tipped me over is having the the table reading of the script. Then it really came to life, and I said, “Well, this is going to be a hard target to hit, but if we hit it, it’s going to be great.”
PF: Is it a character that you found easy to identify with, or is he very different from you?
JB: There’s a lot of similarities. I have many dear friends that I’ve known growing up that I still hang with.
PF: How much improvising took place, if any?
JB: There might have been some improvisation during the rehearsal period, but the script that Mike wrote was a good one and like a lot of good scripts, the dialogue seems very real, and it feels like improvisation.
PF: Why do you think it takes so long to come to the party, as it were?
JB: For me?
PF: Yeah. Why do you drag your feet between movies?
JB: Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, thing. You order the steak when you can’t have the salmon, or because you’ll be too full. You’ve got to have one or the other, so it’s hard for me to let one thing go, knowing that I’m not going to be able to do other things. My mother said it’s The Boolya, somebody who suffers seriously.
PF: Do you find yourself being more selective the older you get?
JB: Well, you know, early on, I did kind of approach my movie choices in a more capricious way. I remember doing King Kong, because when I was a kid, and I saw on the TV Guide that King Kong was going to be on, I’d pretend to be sick and stay home to watch it. I was a giant fan of that movie, so I figured, “Oh, I get to be in King Kong, the movie I liked when I was a kid.” I don’t think I do that quite as much today and there’s kind of a cool aspect to that looseness.
PF: Did you see Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong?
JB: I did, I did. I thought they sure pulled the monkey off better than we did, I’ll tell you that.
PF: What do you look for now, as an actor, that you did not look for maybe five or ten years ago?
JB: Well, I really don’t look for anything. You know, like I said, I try to resist doing things. I’m not kind of one of those guys that’s, I’ve got to play Washington or Einstein or something like that. My brain doesn’t work that way, because they come at me, and if they’re not coming at me, I have other things I like to do. You know what I mean? I’ve got music, I’ve got painting, ceramics, photography, and other artistic things that I’m the sole guy on. I just go at my own speed, so there’s one aspect when that they want me to do these, kind of like, “Oh, you’re interfering with my thing.” [laughter] “I’m right in the middle of making a pot here,” or something, so it’s kind of a distraction. I guess the main thing I look for, or what I’m attracted to, is—the kind of movies that I like to see where you’re surprised. You think you’ve got it figured out, and then the filmmakers are ahead of you, and they take you down a different road.
PF: Are you still into your photography? Are you still photographing the movies that you work on, for example?
JB: Yes but I think this might be the last one. I just find that since I put that big book out a couple of years ago, a compilation of them, it’s sort of like, I kind of hatched my egg. It’s just starting now to build up again, where I want to take more pictures, but I haven’t been photographing as much as I was.
PF: What are you doing next?
JB: Well, I’m doing Iron Man, that should be out soon at Cannes.
PF: Have you finished your stuff on that?
JB: We may have some re-shoots coming up, but I finished most of it, yeah.
PF: Are you a fan of that kind of material?
JB: Not generally speaking, but this one’s going to have a different spin than your normal super-hero. We’ve got Robert Downey, Jr., who’s playing Iron Man and you’ve got Jon Favreau, who’s a wonderful writer-director-actor, at the helm. He created a really different kind of tone and the special effects are going to be there, which are going to be really amazing. But the tone I think is going to be a lot of fun.
PF: Can you talk about your character in Iron Man?
JB: I play Obadiah Stane, Iron Man’s mentor.
PF: Did you try to read any of the comics?
JB: Yeah, I did. I didn’t want to disappoint the guys who love those comics, and that’s the part I played. So I got to shave my head for the role, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
PF: That must have been fun for you.
JB: It was. You ever shaved your head?
PF: Not lately.
JB: But you have?
PF: No. [laughter]
JB: Oh, you’ve gotta try it. It’s great.
PF: I’ll take your word for it. And are you signed up for anything else, Jeff, or are you going to take a break?
JB: I think there’s something in the works, but nothing to even talk about yet. I did another film with Simon Pegg over in England there called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, with Kirsten Dunst. I played Simon’s boss in that. Simon plays the editor of a kind of small, cutting-edge little mag.
PF: Do you enjoy doing that kind of comedy?
JB: Yeah! Yeah, it was fun. I got to work with my buddy Robert Weide, the director, on his first directorial gig. He writes, produces and directs Curb Your Enthusiasm.
PF: And what about balancing your family life with your personal life? How challenging is that for you?
JB: Well, I’m fortunate to have this wonderful partner in my wife, who should have a credit up there on all my movies, because I couldn’t do what I’m doing if she wasn’t doing what she’s doing. She’s kind of held it together for all these years and now we’re going through an interesting stage—the empty nest syndrome. All our daughters are grown up and out of the house, and it’s just me and my wife. I’m happy to report that we still like each other. We get along pretty damn good.
PF: Are you enjoying the home without the kids?
JB: I am. We’re fortunate to have all our girls in the state. Some are living in San Francisco, and I got some living close by here. So that’s wonderful and they like to come by and visit and stuff and we go up and meet them. So that’s great.
PF: How long have you been married?
JB: For 30 years.
PF: How do you manage to stay married so long in this business?
JB: Well, I’m really madly in love. She’s my dream girl, and you get somebody, like a partner like that, who encourages and supports you in your work. And if you have to go out and make movies with your beautiful ladies and all that kind of thing, she’s able to deal with that, and that’s something that’s pretty rare. You don’t mess around, you don’t want to screw that up, so I do everything I can to make sure that our marriage is secure and strong.”
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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