Jeff Bridges on Awards Season, Tron: Legacy, and Filibustering the Oscars

bridges_steinfeld_getty.jpgBetter late than never to become an Academy darling. Just ask Jeff Bridges: At 61, the actor has followed his Oscar-winning role as a raggedy, washed-up country singer in Crazy Heart with another Oscar-nominated turn as the raggedy, wasted Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers' True Grit. It's a part with an awards heritage of its own -- John Wayne won his only Oscar playing the gruff US Marshal in the 1969 adaptation of the Charles Portis novel -- yet one Bridges inhabits with his customary, blown-out swagger that is at once classic and utterly modern.

As Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) journey with young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) and into the desolate Arkansas winter in search of her father's killer, their triangulated sparring achieves a wry grace by which each is transformed -- perhaps none more so than Cogburn, the surly, sauced lawman redeemed through one girl's own unwavering commitment to the laws of vengeance. I spoke with Bridges about reuniting with the Coens 13 years after their first landmark collaboration, settling in alongside Steinfeld, his character's rather interesting accent, and riding the Oscar wave all over again.

Congratulations on your Oscar nomination, your sixth overall and second in as many years. In what ways does having now actually won change your perspective on being nominated -- especially just a year later?

Well, it's always kind of a thrill and a surprise and very exciting, so that remains the same. Every time I walk down one of those red carpets, you think I'd be used to it after all these years, but it's like it's happening for the first time.


Yeah. You think you'd get used to it, but it's always kind of a wonderful assault of sorts.

You were very much front-and-center in last year's awards race; this year, it's fair to say you're a dark horse. Having won, and facing the prospect of an even steeper climb, is it worth chasing it again? Is once enough?

Absolutely. Once is plenty. None would be enough, too; I'm not one of those guys chomping at the bit to get an award. That's not really why I'm doing what I do. But being the dark horse is kind of a win-win situation in a way. In one sense, if you win, you know, it's wonderful to be acknowledged that way. And if you don't win, it means you don't have to get up and go through the anxiety of forgetting people's names and all that. That was one of my giant faux pas last year: I think the first award I won last year for that part, I wanted to make sure I got up and thanked our wonderful director Scott Cooper. But instead of thanking Scott Cooper, I went on and thanked Chris Cooper. I was going on and on about what a wonderful director Chris Cooper is until I heard my wife shouting out in the audience: "Scott! Scott!" So all my nightmares came true, I guess.

True Grit represents your biggest hit to date as a leading man. At this point in your career, what does it mean to you for this movie and this role to reach as many people as it has?

It's gratifying to have people like your work, especially work that you like yourself. And as you were saying, there's all the campaigning that's involved. That's definitely the hardest part of the job, in a way. It's sort of like the barker at the carousel: "Come see our movie!" You know? But the awards serve a couple purposes. One is to salute the people who've done good work that year. But it's also a chance for the industry to show its wares. There's a bunch of barkers at the carousel. That's basically one of the biggest functions of the awards: to get people to go to the movies. I consider a part of my job to be that barker, especially for movies I enjoy so much. Like Crazy Heart. God, I had such a great time making that movie; it was a movie I love. So it was a real joy to go out there and tell people about it and to go see it.

I feel real similar about True Grit. I'm so pleased with what everybody came up with in this movie. I'll go out and do a bit for that, too. And it's a hard part of the job, again, because it takes you away from your family and all the other stuff you've got going.

Is it any more special that you've achieved that with the Coen brothers, for whom this is also an unprecedented success?

Yes! I mean, they did The Big Lebowski, which also has a fond place in my heart. They are masters. I don't think it gets any better than the Coen brothers. They're the guys, you know? They really know what they're doing, and they make it look so damn easy, as a lot of masters do.

I can't imagine you're the same actor you were -- or that the Coens are the same directors they were --13 years ago making The Big Lebowski. How did you sense your creative relationship having changed during that time? How did it reflect itself on the set?

It might have changed, but I certainly didn't sense it. Lebowski was quite a while ago, and you'd think that we would have changed over those years. But it really just seemed like a long weekend, and we just picked up where we left off creatively. The Coens have assembled a wonderful family of artists -- Roger Deakins was the DP on Lebowski as well, and Mary Zophres was the costumer. There's a slew of people they work with all the time, so I think there's kind of a familial vibe on set. That was the same on both movies.

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