'Damn it, I’m gonna cha cha!': Jeff Bridges interview

The Oscar-winning actor explains how he made the leap from 'Tron: Legacy' to 'True Grit'

At 61, Jeff Bridges is perhaps the most reliable actor currently on the American screen. Following his Oscar win for ‘Crazy Heart’ this year, Bridges worked back to back on long-gestating sequel ‘Tron: Legacy’ and the Coen brothers’ forthcoming remake of cowboy classic ‘True Grit’.

Did you believe Disney would ever greenlight a ‘Tron’ sequel?
‘I’ve heard rumours for the past 25 years. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Then all of a sudden I realised it was getting serious. Disney had the fascinating idea of shooting a trailer for the film and showing it at Comic-Con to see if there was a market for the new movie, because they knew it was going to be very expensive. So we shot the trailer before we had a finished script, showed it at Comic-Con and it went over great. And Disney said, “Okay, let’s go.”’

One of the characters in the film is a younger version of yourself. How did they achieve that?
‘It’s all part of this performance capture technology they’ve got now. You work in a room called The Volume – it can be any size. There are no cameras, just tracking sensors all over the room, and black dots on your face. Sometimes I’d wear a helmet with sensors, which enabled me to drive this version of myself that they’d sculpted in the computer based on me from about 1984. How it’s all put together is magic as far as I’m concerned.’

Were you comfortable giving up so much of your performance to a computer?
‘Initially it was irritating. I like to know where the camera is, I like sets and costumes – those all help you to get into the character and into the story. So I spent a little time bitching and resenting it. But eventually I had to tell myself to get with the program. It’s like you go to a party wearing a tuxedo, ready to dance the Viennese waltz, and they’ve got a cha cha band. You could spend all your time bitching about it, or you could say, “Damn it, I’m gonna cha cha!” I ended up having a lot more fun that way. It’s just like pretending when you were a kid. You don’t have sets and you don’t have great costumes, you use your imagination.’

Did you hesitate at all when the Coens offered you ‘True Grit’?
‘To be honest, a little bit. I was curious as to why they’d want to remake that film, but they said: “We don’t want to remake the film, we’re making the book. We’re not referencing the movie.” I was happy. It meant I didn’t have to try to emulate John Wayne, I could approach it how I wanted.’

You’ve been back to the western a few times. What is it that appeals to you about the genre?
‘It must have something to do with playing cowboys when I was a kid. And it’s a fascinating time in American history. I don’t know if it’s a function of being a photographer myself, but I use photographs a lot when developing characters. Looking into people’s eyes and imagining them alive helps me a lot. And there are a lot of wonderful photographs from that period.’

In stark contrast to ‘Tron’, this is your first role that could really be described as elderly…
‘Well, there are some wonderful parts out there, hopefully, for an older guy. It’s great because thanks to technology I can now play myself at any age. I could be eight years old!’

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How was it working with the Coens again, 12 years after ‘The Big Lebowski’?
‘Joel’s cut his ponytail, but everything else was pretty much the same! They have a great family of artists gathered around them. From the make-up guys to the prop guys to Roger Deakins the cinematographer, it’s all folks they’ve worked with before. It’s a very relaxed feel.’

Now that you’re an Oscar winner, have you noticed much change in the roles you’re getting offered?
‘Not movie-wise, but I’ve had the opportunity to bring attention to some causes. I’m a chairperson for “No Kid Hungry”, a campaign for poor American children. I’m also working closely with a group called the Amazon Conservation Team, helping with the rainforest in South America.’

You’re also working on an album…
‘Yeah, making “Crazy Heart” just kinda fired up my music. I’m doing an album with T-Bone Burnett right now. I sang at the Speaking Clock Revue with Elton John and Leon Russell, plus I played the Bridge School Benefit. I’m sitting there with Neil Young on my left and Kris Kristofferson on my right. Pretty wild!’

So you have no idea what your next movie’s going to be?
‘No, I haven’t signed on to anything. It’s a nice feeling, actually. I’m going to do the music and work on ending hunger and helping the rainforest until something tickles my fancy.’

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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