To casual moviegoers he’ll perhaps forever be known as The Dude, the lovably lost hippie negotiating creepy pornographers, ferret-wielding nihilists, and Tara Reid in The Big Lebowski, but over the past 40-plus years, Jeff Bridges has risen to become one of the most esteemed actors in Hollywood; a man whose breezy positivity is palpable both on and off-screen, where he runs No Kid Hungry, a charity aiming to end child hunger in America.
From a marooned humanoid alien in Starman to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first villain in Iron Man, there’s seemingly no character Bridges can’t tackle. President Obama even named Bridges’s conflicted President Jackson Evans in The Contender as his favorite cinematic commander-in-chief. In that film, Bridges’s POTUS aims to shatter the glass ceiling by nominating a woman (Joan Allen) to be his vice president. And now, 16 years after its release, the country is on the cusp of having its first female presidential nominee from a major party in Hillary Clinton.
So it begs the question: Does Jeff Bridges abide Donald Trump?
After a hearty chuckle, Bridges collects himself and says, “For my money, it’s really shocking and like being splashed with cold water to see what America is really like. As an actor, I like playing the underbelly of our society and seeing our darker sides. We have a lot of fear in this country, and fear can motivate us to do some frightening things—as it’s done in other countries as well. I don’t dig Trump or follow what he has to say, but I find it fascinating that he’s surfaced in the political arena. But I’m a Hillary supporter and I don’t go the Trump way.”
Despite a few recent clunkers (R.I.P.D. or Seventh Son, anyone?), Bridges is back in full force as an aging Texas Ranger on the hunt for a pair of bank-robbing brothers—Chris Pine, Ben Foster— in Hell or High Water, out Aug. 12. It’s equal parts thrilling heist movie and haunting meditation on a small-town America decimated by corporate greed.
Hell or High Water is in many ways a throwback film. You don’t see too many movies like this anymore—a character-driven saga that says something about the times we live in.
Taylor Sheridan gave us a great script to work with, and I was a big fan of Sicario. He also comes from acting so the lines were wonderful to say. And our director, David Mackenzie, I was a big fan of Starred Up and saw what he did with such a low budget, and how he created such a great level of authenticity there. As far as the character, I was very fortunate to have Joaquin Jackson, one of the greatest Texas Rangers of the 20th century, who was onboard a lot, and I was able to talk to him and ask how a Texas Ranger behaved, what his clothes were like, and all that. Sadly, he died some days ago.
The film provides this interesting commentary on these depressed Southern towns. The big villains in the film, really, are Chevron and the banks who’ve contributed to the overall economic decline in the area.
Life in the West was a lot sweeter until the banks took over their farms and ranches. One of the things I like about the movie is that ambiguity of having these brothers who are robbing banks, which is against the law and considered not a good thing, and then you have these banks, and is it right that you have these banks loaning money to people who can’t pay it back and then they take their homes? It’s an interesting conundrum we find ourselves in. It’s all connected, in a way. I don’t know if you saw the O.J. Simpson documentary [O.J.: Made in America]. It’s interesting because that too shines a spotlight on the circumstances. You think, how could blacks in this country be so happy that O.J. got off? And you think, well, the reactions are not simply about that. You have to look at the whole history of our country. You look at a lot of so-called problems that we have, and it’s fortunate that a lot of films like this are being made, and a lot of documentaries like that are being made.
Right. How do you feel about the state of the industry? It seems films like Hell or High Water are fewer and farther between, and it’s mostly about these big tentpole films that net big worldwide grosses.
The term “show business” has been around for a really long time, and if you talk about the business aspects of show, you’re right: I can never figure out why the financial powers that make movies will spend $200 million on a sequel as opposed to making twenty $10 million movies. I would think that would be more lucrative, but evidently it’s not. At the same time, we get to have these big hundreds of millions of dollar budgets for movies, and those are fun movies to see, and the technology that is created by movies like that is amazing.
I’m sorry for your loss. You do seem to have a knack for playing these southern-fried characters, particularly cowboys, going back to The Last Picture Show and Rancho Deluxe. How does a fella from Holmby Hills in L.A. become so good at playing cowboys?
Well, the first thing that pops into my mind when it comes to playing cowboys is my father, Lloyd Bridges. When I was a little kid I loved to dress up like a cowboy—put on the boots, hat, and walk around. He was in a lot of westerns and my Dad loved to ride. We’ve had a ranch for almost 40 years now in Montana, so I’m around a lot of western guys. And also another thing is my stand-in, Loyd Catlett, we’ve done close to 70 movies together and we met on The Last Picture Show back in 1970. Since we’ve been working together, we’ve become friends all these years, and he’s from Texas and was hired not only as an actor on that film but also to teach us California kids what it’s like to be a kid from Texas. I owe a lot to him when I do my western characters, especially.
But for me, as I guy who loves to go to movies, I find a movie like ours or Starred Up, that was made for a couple hundred thousand bucks, or Once, which was made for nothing, as far as being entertained, those surpassed many superhero movies that I’ve seen. So I think the fact that we do have these big, multimillion dollar films—there’s a backlash to it, and you also have very inexpensive movies that are pushing the envelope in a different direction. I just saw a movie called Tangerine, a whole movie shot on iPhones. The state of Hollywood is in an interesting place.
I love The Big Lebowski, man. That’s a movie that pushed the envelope in different directions, and as a result has really stood the test of time. It’s a cult classic. That’s one of my favorite movies I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s due to the Coen Brothers. They’re masters. They know how to make a movie so well, and do it apparently effortlessly—but I know that’s not the case. They put a lot of effort into it. But like most masterworks, you don’t see all that effort onscreen, and it doesn’t feel overworked. Lebowski, every scene the more times you see it the more you see in it.
You’ve said The Dude is, of the many characters you’ve played, the one you most closely relate to. How so?I use elements of myself—I see my parallels with a character—and find similar things in my own personality. As far as The Dude goes, I had a lot in common with The Dude in my younger years. A lot of the clothes he wears are mine—the jelly sandals, the T-shirts, and so forth, and you mentioned “abiding,” and I share that with The Dude. I do my best to abide with whatever is going down, and I’m sort of Buddhistly bent myself. My dear friend Bernie Glassman, who’s a Zen master, he came to me one day and said that, in some circles, The Dude is considered a Zen master. I said, “What the fuck are you talking about, man?” and he said, “It’s filled with modern-day kōans,” and he said, “Look who directed the movie: the kōan brothers.” He said, “The Dude Abides is a very Buddhist thought,” so we ended up writing this book. “The Buddha Abides” is like a saying, and it’s like… the laws of self—the Dude is abiding, finding his own way, and not really knowing what to do.
Have you ever thought about revisiting The Dude again in a sequel? I know the original is perfect, so that sounds like sacrilege, but it’s such a beloved character. It’s all set up for a sequel! That’s up to the brothers. Oh yeah, sure. I’ve done a few movies with Julianne [Moore], and we always talk about how maybe it’ll one day happen.
Speaking of Julianne, you’re a member of the Everytown Creative Council—a group of 80 Hollywood A-listers chaired by Julianne that, according to its literature, “will harness the power of the creative community to help amplify the gun violence prevention movement.” In the wake of Orlando, it seems like a more important issue than ever.
This is something that Julianne turned me onto. It’s a very tricky situation we find ourselves in. It’s kind of like the expression of: the cows are out of the gate. There are so many guns in our nation already. One of the things we can do, and this organization that Julie asked me to be a part of is something kind of new to me, but I think we can look at steps like safety. Do we really need to arm our citizens with machine guns or semiautomatic weapons? And don’t we need to make sure that people who do own guns are qualified to own them? Those are simple steps leading us in the right direction.
You’ve got three daughters, so I’m curious: are you excited that we are about to finally have our first female presidential nominee of a major party? I think it’s wonderful that that’s going down. Culturally, we can benefit by bringing women into the mix. We’ve had this patriarchal thing going on for long enough. Women are so, maybe this is just a male perspective, but for my money, they’re so connected to life in a way that men aren’t. They’re able to give birth, have children, and it’s literally a part of them. They perhaps have a stronger capacity for caring than males. I know that in the Native American societies, women were really in charge: the women chose the chiefs. It’s taken us a long time to come around and see the light on that score. I think it’s a wonderful thing.