Jeff Bridges: Building Bridges
"Yeah, all Beau's kids are interested in the business. And as I said, it's been good to us. I mean, sure, there's a lot of humiliation, but it's been fun. And there's humiliation everywhere, only it's not as public. My father always encouraged us. So did my mom."
"Is she an actress?"
"Well, my parents met at UCLA, in the theater department. So she was an actress for a long time. She's probably the best actress in the bunch. She has a small part in Beau's thing that he's doing and I worked with her once, in See You in the Morning, and she was great. It wound up to be a very small part for her; we had a lot of scenes together, but most of them got cut. But she's really a writer. They're trying to get her to spill the beans on the family. She's dealing with some publisher now."
"Are you all trying to talk her out of it?"
"Well, it's a tricky thing," he says. "It's like that Truman Capote thing [Final Prayers]. It's like, she's an artist, and she's had things published, childrens' poetry and other things. She's also done this remarkable thing: she's kept a diary every day of her life since she's been married to my dad, which is over 50 years ..."
"Oh, so she really could spill the beans."
"Yeah, she could. And what she did was, in her own handwriting, she went through her journal, and whenever my name was mentioned or something about me, she put that in my book. So I have a book about my whole life seen through my mother's point of view, from pre-birth through age 21. She gave it to me when I was 21. She did it for all of us. Isn't that wild? So I get her perspective of all my changes and all the things she was worried about for my whole life. So on the one hand, she's an artist and you don't want to censor her."
"And on the other hand?"
"On the other hand, I want to tell her..."
"To shut the fuck up?" I offer.
"I don't think that's how I would have put it, Martha, but you get the point." And with that, lunch is over.
A few hours later, Bridges calls to ask if I'd like to go record shopping with him. He comes to pick me up at the Mondrian Hotel with his manager and sometime-partner, Neil Koenigsberg. When I come out, Jeff's white BMW is surrounded by B-boys, all talking excitedly. A few are rappers, one is a boxer, and one claims to be a photographer. "Can I take your picture?" he asks.
Surprisingly, Bridges says yes.
"And you are ... ?" the photographer asks, sounding puzzled.
Bridges is nonplussed. "Jeff Bridges," he says.
"Right," they all shout in unison, as if he had the correct question on "Jeopardy." Lots of high-fives and then we're off.
On the way to Westwood, Koenigsberg and I discover that we were brought up in the same neighborhood in the Bronx, that we spent our holidays in Miami Beach, and that we moved to Long Island when we were in grade school.
"We probably come from the same family," I say.
"Yeah," he says, "crazed, Jewish..."
"Well," I say, defending my family honor, "they're not exactly crazed."
"No, just illegal..." he begins.
I bang hard on the back of Bridges's seat. "Wait, you told him? I told you that in confidence and you repeated it? You're in deep shit now, Jeff. You owe me big time."
Bridges is hysterical, but Koenigsberg thinks he can save himself. "No, he didn't tell me anything," he insists, "it's just what I imagined you were going to say."
"Yeah, right. I'm telling you, Jeff, you better give up the goods now." When we drop Koenigsberg off at his apartment, he's still protesting his innocence. But I was not born yesterday.
"I hope you don't mind just looking around in the record store," Bridges says, as if I would mind reading the phone book with this guy. "I don't have a list or anything," he says as he randomly grabs CDs off the racks. "I just like to see what they have." We look through the country section (he loves Willie Nelson), the blues (he's a big fan), and reggae.
"Look at this," he says, holding up a Bob Marley CD. "Bob's looking kind of weird here. In his younger days."
"Yeah," I agree, "he looks like Rita [Marley]."
"Drugs," we say simultaneously.
"When I was doing The Fisher King," Bridges says, "I got into being a deejay. I hooked up with this guy who was a deejay and he did this great thing. He said, 'I'm going to teach you how to do a radio show.' He told me to look at the newspaper and decide what I was going to talk about, and he taught me how to do this riff. He taught me how to prepare.
"And he rented a real radio studio and he videotaped it so I could look at that and see how I was coming off, and I did three radio shows. I'd go in and prepare, and he hired three or four actors to go into another room and call in as if it were a real talk show, and we'd do improvs. I had a ball. It got me in the habit of playing all my favorite songs, and of making these tapes that I loved, and I still do that."
"Do you sing?" I ask. "I mean, have you ever sung in a movie?"
Bridges thinks for a second. "Oh, sure I did. In American Heart. I sang in that. Very impressively, obviously, since you don't remember it! It sure left one hell of an impression on you."
I turn red, but keep my mouth shut.
"I sang in The Fabulous Baker Boys, too, just a few little things. But have I ever gone out and sung a song as if I were a singer? No, not yet."
He buys two Dusty Springfield CDs and a Patsy Cline collection. Afterwards, we wander around Westwood. And wander. When we pass the same Harley for the third time, I ask Bridges whether he rides.
"I used to have a motorcycle in Montana, which is a great place to have one. But I started having these dreams... of flying off and grinding my ass on the road, like in a cartoon. So after I had that dream three or four times, I sold it. But I have to ride one in my next movie, so I'll have to get back on."
And then he slaps himself on the head. "Oh, okay, I remember where we parked. I totally spaced there for a second. But I remember now." Silly me: I thought we were taking a romantic stroll.
On the way back to the car we're approached by a homeless man. "Got some change?" he asks.
Bridges reaches into his pocket.
"Hey man," the guy says, "aren't you... ?"
There's a long pause. "I'm Jeff," Jeff says.
"Oh right," the guy agrees. "You're Jeff Beau."
"Well, no, my brother's Beau..."
"Oh right, right," the guy says. "Jeff Bridges. And your father is... ?"
Another pause. "Lloyd," says Lloyd's son.
"That's right, man. Lloyd Bridges. Well, you got any change or what?"
Bridges hands him a dollar. "Say hi to your family," the man says as he shuffles away. Bridges just shakes his head.
"Let's eat," he says, and grabs my hand to hurry me along.
But he can't find his way from Westwood to West Hollywood, which seems amazing, considering he's lived his whole life in Los Angeles. "Well, I always go the same routes," he says, weaving in and out of traffic with the accelerator slammed to the floor, "so sometimes I can't find my way without going back to Sunset."
In the end, we decide that we aren't really that hungry, and we drive around West Hollywood listening to Tom Waits and Joan Baez. At one point, when he's talking and driving and switching CDs, I actually fool myself into believing we're on a date, a first date, and I wonder if he's having a good time and if he'll call again. For these few seconds, I'm on my best behavior.
When Sippie Wallace and Bonnie Raitt start howling from the speakers ("Woman be wise / Keep your mouth shut / Don't advertise your man"), Bridges joins in.
He's got a damn sweet voice.
Martha Frankel interviewed Mike Myers for the August Movieline.