Jeff Bridges has two major movies coming out in the last weeks of the year. In Tron: Legacy he returns to the world of the computer grid from the landmark 1982 sci-fi film. In True Grit, he plays a grizzled western gunslinger based on the same book that inspired John Wayne’s Oscar winning role.
Tron: Legacy is out this weekend, updated with the 28 years of visual effects technology that evolved since Bridges’ last go round as Kevin Flynn. They even created a second character with a young Bridges face. Clu is the villain, created by Flynn in the ‘80s to run the grid, but now out of control and trapping Kevin inside the computer.
True Grit casts Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. With one eye and a grizzled mumble, Bridges swaggers his way through the frontier. It opens Dec. 22, so Bridges was on the press circuit twice this month. He shared his thoughts on the two films, his Oscar win for last year’s Crazy Heart and his personal interests like photography and charity.
Q: Were you doing photography on the first Tron?
Jeff Bridges: Yes.
Q: And on this one?
JB: I did. On this one, the light as we advance in making movies, they keep shooting in lower and lower light. The light was so low but I did make a book. I have it here. I haven’t even looked at it myself. It’s hot off the presses.
Q: What is it like looking at the film through a photographer’s eyes, the difference between the first one and this one?
JB: Gosh, incredible. This [curtain] was our set. Black duvetyne with white adhesive tape as the grid lines. On this one, well, this one I’m in black dots. That’s how I’m looking. It’s just very, very different and making movies without cameras. Who would have thunk?
Q: What was your sense of the technology in the first one? Do you have more of a sense of it this time?
JB: Oh, well, I was really drawn to both of them for the same reason, or one of the reasons was to take part in a movie that was using that cutting edge technology. Now what I was most curious about for this one is making a movie without cameras and this idea that everything is held in post, from the costume to your makeup to the set, even the camera angles, where the camera is. That was quite amazing.
Q: How surprised are you 28 years later to talk about the sequel?
JB: Yeah, I like that. I was able to do that with Texasville too which was carrying on the Last Picture Show saga. I was just in Texas with Peter Bogdanovich and we’re hoping to do the next installment. Larry McMurtry’s written three more of those books and that would be wonderful. With this one, I think a lot of people who were kids, played video games when this first one came out, it kind of hit a sweet spot for those kids. Those guys who must be maybe your age, so it’s kind of like going to the movie kind of conjures up your own childhood again a little bit, where you left out and you remember how that one affected you so maybe that’s kind of the reason for this thing you’re talking about.
Q: What was it like seeing a younger you on screen and how’d he look?
JB: Well, they modeled Clu I think after the Against All Odds period and it’s not that strange for me to see myself in different stages of my life because I have movies and that sort of thing that I can look at. So it wasn’t that crazy. It was amazing that they could do it at all. What they’re doing was quite amazing.
Q: Going into Oscar season, what was the Oscar season experience last year and are you ready to do it again?
JB: Oh, yeah. Yeah, what a year. So wonderful. It’s affected me in a lot of ways, not so much getting a flood of scripts or something. That would be nice, or it sort of would be nice. I don’t like to read too many scripts really but the big thing, a couple of things, too things that come to mind that really affected me. One was the music, because Crazy Heart was all about music, it really set fire to my own music and after I leave you guys today, I’m going into the studio with T Bone Burnett. We’re working on an album this week and that’s really exciting. Then I guess it’s made me more famous. Fame, there’s a double edged sword like probably everything else. The upside of that is you can put yourself in alignment with some concerns that you are concerned about and that you want to turn around. I just came back from Washington, D.C. where I was presenting the No Kid Hungry campaign that I’m the national spokesperson for. So that success that I had last year allows me to be more visible for helping end childhood hunger in our country which is incredible. Just to throw you out some statistics for your papers and stuff, 17 million of our kids, that’s one in four in our country, live in food insecure homes. They don’t know if they’ll get enough nutrition to lead healthy, active lives. These statistics are from the Department of Agriculture. The good news is that we have programs in place like Food Stamps is now called SNAP, the Wic Program and the school meal programs, breakfast, after school and summer meals. But the shame is we’ve got the billion dollars of federally funded programs are out there available to all the states and it’s not being fully used. In other words, there’s like 19 million kids who are eligible for the school breakfast program, only half of those kids are taking part. This summer only 15 percent. So this No Kid Hungry program, campaign which is nokidhungry.org by the way, is working with mayors and governors specifically zeroing in on where the blockage is. Why aren’t these communities using the money that’s available and strategically dealing with each of those problems. That’s a very exciting thing that’s happening that the awards and everything has helped promote that, so I’m happy about that.
Q: Talk about the Rooster Cogburn role an stepping into this iconic character.
JB: Yeah, when the brothers first came to me, I was making Tron when they came to me on True Grit. I was curious, I said, “Why do you want to make that movie?” I couldn’t figure that out. I couldn’t figure that out. It seemed like such an odd choice. We had talked about making a western and stuff. I met them at a party and there was something about that but why they would want to make that movie. Then they said, “Well, we’re not really remaking that movie. We’re referring to the book by Charles Portis.” I wasn’t familiar with the book and they said, “Oh, it’s a great book.” So I read that and then I said, “Oh, I see what you’re talking about” because the book is very Coen-esque and great. I can’t wait but also when they said that, it took a lot of concern about filling the Duke’s boots. At least don’t worry about that so I never thought about John Wayne or anything like that until somebody asked me the question, “How do you feel about this?” Oh, well, let me see. I’m not worried about it. I wasn’t thinking about it when I did it. I just did the best I could with the part. That’s what I always try to do.
Q: Was it tough to read a book with no contractions.
JB: Yeah, yeah, it’s challenging for an actor too.
Q: Do you expect to see people write about “From the Duke to the Dude?”
JB: Exactly, that’s right.
Q: You do get to do the iconic scene with the horse reigns in your mouth. What were your thoughts on that?
JB: I remember that day well. Right at the beginning of the day, Joel coming over to me and say, “What do you think about really trying this deal?” I said, “Oh, all right, that’s kind of interesting.” A little anxious, a little fear, I’m going to ride myself, do it in my teeth so we did it that way. It wasn’t as tough as I thought actually. It was kind of cool. We had a horse that kept the rhythm well. That’s basically it from my point of view.
Q: At what point did you nail the character of Rooster?
JB: Gosh, each scene is an opportunity to show a different facet of the person you’re portraying. I began developing a character pretty much the same way every time. You’re looking at the script or if you’re lucky enough to have a book you’re looking at that material and seeing what other characters say about your character, what you say about yourself, what the author says about you. That tells you quite a bit and then one of the first things you do when you’re hired on to make a film is you work with a costume designer. In this case, it was Mary Zophres who was also the costume designer on The Big Lebowski. That’s one of the cool things about making movies, there’s a collaborative art form so you have all these other artists who are concerned about just specific areas that might be what the room your character lives in, what it looks like and what the clothes look like. The first people you meet is the costumer because they have to make all those clothes. So Mary has these wonderful books that she brings out and so you look at here’s a hat like this, like this and your character starts to fall in place. You dress as you’re looking in the mirror, there comes a time when the character starts to tell you what it wants and you might prefer oh, this scarf looks nice and the character [spits], it won’t stick. You say oh, okay. Probably the same thing happens when you’re making a movie too. Sometimes you want to do something, it’s not what the movie wants. There’s a wonderful time when that happens. I’m not sure there’s one particular time it happens. It’s kind of a slow process coming into focus. As far as the models, I used to love it when my dad would play a western. When he appeared at my door all dressed up in his cowboy clothes, it was a thrill to me so I guess there’s some of my dad in there.
Q: What’s fun about playing in a dirty western versus Tron which is so clean and sleek?
JB: Well, that’s the fun of my job that I get to play all different kinds of guys. We did a re-shoot for Tron about a week after we completed True Grit. I had the same makeup guy, Thomas Nellen was on both. So going from Rooster with all the dust and the grime and the dirty teeth, a few days later back in the chair, him putting 100 little black dots on my face, motion capture darts. Bizarre but that’s the gig. That’s the fun of it.