Jeff Bridges on Crazy Heart, True Grit and 40 Years of Chasing Oscar
After four previous tries at Oscar glory and even more seminal roles the Academy overlooked (seriously, how did The Dude ever miss the cut?), Jeff Bridges is finally the presumptive front-runner for this year's Best Actor prize. His turn in Crazy Heart as Bad Blake -- a broken-down country singer on the slow rebound to redemption -- has stimulated both the awards cognoscenti and moviegoers alike, and the film enjoyed a successful expansion in its first weekend after its nominations (also including Maggie Gyllenhaal) were announced.
Foreseeable as Bridges's selection was and his likely win remains, Movieline nevertheless caught up with the busy 60-year-old hustling on the Oscar trail. There, he enlightened us on how campaigning has changed over four decades, the difference a great director makes, the tech-y allure of Tron and why reporters sometimes sleep with their subjects -- in the movies, anyway.
Congratulations on your Oscar nomination -- your fifth. Are you ready to just win this thing already?
Ha! I'll play it how it lays. We'll see.
You were first nominated nearly 40 years ago for The Last Picture Show. How has Oscar campaigning -- and your feelings toward it -- changed since then?
Well, you know, 40 years ago there really wasn't -- or I wasn't part of -- any campaign. It was pretty much you just wake up at 5 o'clock and somebody says, "You've been nominated for an Academy Award." Nowadays it seems more and more like the "business" in "show business" is underlined, and there are campaigns, and it's all part of getting people in to see the movies. Which is a good, important thing -- especially for a movie like this, where you don't have a big budget to buy commercials and ads and that sort of thing. It brings attention to the movie and gets people to go see it. So that's a good thing. It's quite a bit different.
Do you ever think all the hype and competition around the Oscars might be overshadowing the films themselves, though?
You never know how things will turn out. I think with the 10 movies being nominated, it's all about a big, giant commercial for the industry, which is not a bad thing. You've got your carousel, and then you've got your barker out there saying, "Come on in and enjoy the ride!" It is kind of exhausting, though. I've never experienced anything like this. But I'm certainly willing to do it, especially for a movie I care so much about. I really love this movie; I'm really happy about the way it came out, and I want to do everything I can to promote it and get people out to see it.
I was looking back over the directors you've worked with, and there are some serious heavyweights: Francis Ford Coppola, John Huston, Michael Cimino, Terry Gilliam. What's the most important lesson you might have picked up from one these guys and carry with you today?
Oh, gee. I've learned so much from all those guys. One thing that pops into my mind was working with Cimino; I worked with him twice, on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Heaven's Gate. I remember with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, I really was concerned about it. I knew we were going to shoot in a couple of days, and I really wasn't feeling the part, and I wasn't sure why they hired me... All that stuff. It was Cimino's first film, but he did a very wise thing: He said to me, "You know the game Tag?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Tag -- you're it." And what that meant to me is that whatever thoughts I had about playing the guy didn't really really matter; I was the guy. It's like if you're playing yourself and you didn't feel like it, it doesn't matter. Whatever you thought, whatever you feel, whatever you did is going to be right because you're the guy. [Bridges later earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the role. - Ed.]
Scott Cooper, meanwhile, is a full-time actor making his directorial debut. How did he get vision across to you, and what suggested to you he would pull it off?
There are so many different directing styles, but one I really enjoy -- and Scott certainly has this -- is a director who has a lot of enthusiasm and is really steeped in the material and what the movie's about. Scott has both of those things. He was enthusiastic about the story we were telling and country music in general, which he grew up with as a kid. This enthusiasm is kind of contagious -- this love of what he's doing. It really comes down to joy. He enjoys his work so much. Again, that's contagious, and when you're happy, you're relaxed, and your best work can come forward. He's one of the best directors I've ever worked with. He's really something.
Oh, he's wonderful. You know, we had a relatively short schedule. I think it was 24 days, and we had a lot of good stuff that was on the cutting-room floor. And you can imagine the pressure that a director has to put something together in that short of a time. You could feel rushed in a situation like that, but Scott set an atmosphere like we had all the time in the world. It was just a joy. He's a great writer, too. And an actor, too: He knows actors work different ways, and he can change his approach according to that.
You're also a renowned photographer, an art form from which a lot of filmmakers get their starts. Yet you've never directed. Why not?
I'm busy acting, I guess. The directing would be nice if that came around, but I'm not really chomping at the bit. It would be nice to do that before that before I take off.
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