Jeff Bridges is back after winning a real-life battle with lymphoma followed by a long struggle with COVID. Now he’s holding his own in brutal fight scenes in The Old Man on FX. Bridges co-stars with John Lithgow playing an ex-CIA operative trying to escape his past as a political assassin. Surprisingly, it’s his first venture into TV since he was a kid playing small roles on his father Lloyd’s hugely popular series Sea Hunt.
Since then, Bridges has becomes as famous as his dad, earning lots of praise from audiences and critics and an Oscar for his performance as a down-and-out country music legend in Crazy Heart. High on his list of memorable characters is The Dude in The Big Lebowski, which still moves fans of his cult hit to recite his trademark phrase, “The Dude abides.”
Despite all his success on the screen, the multi-talented Bridges admits he can sometimes be ambivalent about acting. He says being an actor competes with his talent as a musician. He leads his own band and has a new album in the works. Then there’s writing, sculpting, and photography.
Bridges is playing The Old Man, but he’s still got the edge and enthusiasm of that sexy young star we all love.
Jeanne Wolf: Production on The Old Man stopped because you had cancer, and here you are strong and full or pep. How do you feel?
Jeff Bridges: I feel terrific. I went through a battle with my mortality. It tests you. All your philosophies and spirituality come to you. It has made me more mature, but I don’t know that I really feel that different. I have always approached life the same way, but this kind of put things in a sharper focus.
As for the TV series, it wasn’t about how I felt physically. I’ve always been doomed to take on a lot of fights in my movies. It’s all about having great stunt choreographers helping you through it. We had some of the best. I actually enjoyed it.
But when I think about taking on something new, I have a lot of resistance. I resist my ass off because I know what it’s going to cost in time and effort. My father did six TV series, and I saw how hard he worked. Besides spending time with my family, I’ve got a lot of other things I want to do. I love my website. It’s like having my own TV station at home. I just find creativity coming out in a lot of different ways. I’ll have new song ideas, do a painting, or a clay thing. If there’s a pencil and paper around, I might go with that.
Then I read the book on which The Old Man is based, and the script, and all of a sudden it got me too excited to turn it down.
JW: Your dad put you in front of cameras when you were a young boy. Was it inevitable that you’d follow in his footsteps?
JB: If you ever watched Sea Hunt, which made my father famous as Mike Nelson, that eight-year-old kid you saw in some of the scenes was probably me. I am a product of nepotism. When I was a kid, Dad used to sit me on the bed and teach me the basics of acting. But I was resisting even then. I spent a lot of time with my guitar, and I thought I might be a musician.
My father loved his work, but I saw what happens when you create a character that people love. It can be frustrating because he kept getting offered skin-diving parts. That was about it for quite a while. I never wanted to be that identified with one role. I came close when I did The Big Lebowski. When I did it, I thought, “Oh, can I get stoned for this?” But I swear I didn’t smoke anything. I wanted my mind to be clear enough to remember my lines.
I thought I’d be remembered forever as The Dude. You know, “The Dude abides.” But I think I’ve managed to sort of avoid that, even though Lebowski remains one of my favorite movies. I see it on TV and I think, “I’ll watch a couple of scenes,” and I get hooked.
The other thing that works against actors is fame. Anonymity is a wonderful thing because you can slip into a character and people will see another person up there on the screen. I have a lot of respect for actors who don’t share much about their personal lives.
JW: How does your family now compare to the family you grew up in?
JB: Growing up, I didn’t want other people to like me just because my father was famous. So I decided to spare my three daughters that and not push them into following in my footsteps. I kind of regret it now, in a funny sort of way. I did say occasionally, “Acting is in your blood. You might want to try it.” But they weren’t really interested. I know they have the talent, but they’ve all found their own paths. I always heard it was tougher raising girls than boys, but being a boy myself, I don’t know about that. I pitched in as much as I could, but like my dad, I was gone a lot of the time. My wife did a wonderful job raising them.
It was a love-at-first-sight thing with my wife, but I really had a hard time becoming married. I think I pouted for a while after we tied the knot. But thank God I finally got with the program. I think marriage is like that punchline to the Carnegie Hall joke. How do you get there? You practice. And I’ve discovered that the high in life is really intimacy.
Looking back I remember my mom’s voice in my head. “Don’t take it so seriously,” and “Remember to have a good time.” I try to do both, but I still push back. How few actors can afford to resist work? I’m so fortunate. And I look forward to the moments when whatever I’m doing transcends my expectations.
—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor
This article appears in the July/August 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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