Unlike many of his peers, Jeff Bridges’s versatility has allowed the actor to continue to land roles nearly 50 years into his career. In 2017 alone, Bridges pops up in not one but three films, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Only Living Boy in New York and his latest, Only the Brave, in theaters October 14. The latter film is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who battled Northwest Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013 and was approved by the families who lost loved ones in that tragic event.
When he’s not on-set, the 67-year-old may be working on his music (he admittedly hasn’t written anything in a minute) or his photography (he released a compilation book back in 2003 featuring snaps from his trusted Widelux F8). We caught up with the actor as he was bounced around Los Angeles doing promotion for Only the Brave. Taking place a couple of days after the New York Times Harvey Weinstein story broke, Bridges spoke measuredly about the allegations as well as growing up in a Hollywood family, potential plans for The Big Lebowski’s upcoming anniversary and why Only the Brave is the uplifting movie that will inspire people in these trying times.
With all of the craziness in the world, it seems this story is the kind of uplifting, based-on-reality film people need right now.
Yeah, especially these days with all of these fires in the news. California is burning up. There’s certainly some tragic aspects to it, but the film focuses on these guys and who they were, what their lives were like their love for each other and their camaraderie. It’s an inspiring tale and it’s a good movie to see any time, but in particular during these tough times.
Is it harder to portray a real person? How is the preparation different than a fictional character?
If you’re lucky enough to have the guy you’re playing in the story that has actually happened, and he is willing to talk to you, that’s invaluable. I play Duane Steinbrink, the Wildland Division chief of Prescott. He is instrumental in getting these brave guys certified as Hot Shots. He was willing to hang out with me and really share himself, from his clothing to emotions. This terrible event happened a little over four years ago, so it’s still quite fresh for those guys. Not only was Duane involved, but Brendan McDonough, who was a survivor from the Yarnell Hill Fire, was on-board as an advisor and helped us too.
Is it tough getting caught up in the actual events of the story knowing that those who experienced it first-hand will watch your performance?
Being surrounded by such excellent actors really kind of stoked the fires of making it as real as possible. This doesn’t focus so much on the tragic aspects of the story and as it turns out, these guys weren’t unlike us. They were fighting their own demons and weren’t perfect, but they’re just braver. They went right toward what they were afraid of and I think that’s a great example for the rest of us. When I watched the movie, it made me look inside myself and see where I could be braver and face these things rather than just look out for my own comfort and throw up my hands and get cynical about things.
Living in Santa Barbara keeps you semi-isolated, at least physically, from Hollywood. Does that invisible buffer zone give you creative space to work on your other endeavors without pressure to do another movie?
[Laughs] I guess a bit. I haven’t escaped the danger of fire; my wife Sue has evacuated our home three times by herself, while I’ve been off making movies. You can’t escape life no matter where you go. As for show biz, I’m not sure if the physical place of where you live has much to do with that. As a Los Angeles kid, I lived in Santa Monica before the 1994 Northridge earthquake that shook us out of town. When I lived in L.A., I didn’t mess with the Hollywood scene too much as my father, Lloyd Bridges, didn’t. He had a lot of fame in the 1960s and growing up as a kid, I don’t remember him going out and doing the whole Hollywood scene. It was different back then. I’ve never had much of a problem with that.
It seems like because of that low-key background, both you and your brother Beau have been able to succeed despite being detached from the traditional culture.
A part of that is because of my father and my mother. We used to call her the general and she was the one who held it all together for my father and all the kids. It wasn’t a Hollywood or celebrity scene, and we took our cues from my dad. He loved show business and all aspects of it, but he just didn’t get entrenched in the whole celebrity vibe.
That’s exactly why when you say something about, say the Weinstein scandal, as you did recently, it carries such resonance.
We all have our personal fires. One of the things that’s tough when you’re pushing a movie is that you get asked questions that you really haven’t thought about. That Harvey thing on the red carpet came out of nowhere. I’ve worked with him and that kind of behavior—not respecting fellow humans and doing what he’s been accused of—that’s something that’s not a good thing. Also, when you talk about something like that, new information comes to light and new thoughts. My latest thought about it is that I don’t know really know or have studied the whole thing. My opinion is not very informed, so I can’t really talk too much about it. I hope it inspires people to look at their own misbehavior and demons, and not just people who get busted.
You showed up in The Dude’s garb at John Goodman’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star unveiling. The iconic The Big Lebowski turns 20 in 2018. Are there any plans to honor the anniversary?
I hope so! I hope I’m able to attend the Lebowski Fest and get John to come out. It would be wonderful to see those guys. I actually played a Lebowski Fest and had a great time. It was my Beatle moment. “And now taking the stage, The Dude!” and the crowd was a sea of Dudes. People dressed up like bowling pins and viking Maudes. It was a blast. It’s really such a good movie, and the Coen Brothers, those guys, they’re masters.