From Screen to Music Stage
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Interviewed by Derek Signore with Forward by Scott Yeager,
Photo By Danny Clinch
If you were to ask every movie-buff you know who the best living actor is, at least half of them would likely say Jeff Bridges. Until 2009 most of those people also likely had no idea that Bridges is also a talented and inspiring singer/songwriter with a passion for performing live music. But that all changed when Bridges took the role of Bad Blake in the film Crazy Heart, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. It was at that moment that the world was introduced to the Jeff Bridges few had known; Jeff Bridges…the musician.
At the risk of overusing cinematic puns…the star of The Contender has become, in fact, a contender in the music biz and fans who have yet to expose themselves to the Bridges and his band are sure to be Blown Away when they hit the stage.
Bridges and his band, The Abiders, an ode to his iconic performance as The Dude in The Big Lebowski (who of course, abides) are embarking on a national tour of their original material, giving fans a chance to get up close and personal with an entertainer who has graced the screen for over sixty years. Now he is gracing stages on tour and this time, the only way to get there is by taking Arlington Road.
STEAM: You won the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart though most critics really credit your singing as stealing the show. Looking back now at the accolades you won for that role is the true best prize the fact that the world was able to see your musical capabilities?
JB: You’re right, not only was it well received by the audience and the critics but it also fired up my music which was a delight because it was something I was doing since I was a kid but had taken a back seat to my acting in recent years. That role really set fire the musical career of my life. I figured that if I wanted to get into music on a deeper level that role was going to do it for me.
STEAM: Being familiar with both sides of the spectrum and seeing movies and music marrying so well recently with scores provided by Trent Reznor and such have you ever considered taking some time off of acting and scoring a film?
JB: I’ve never thought of that and it’s kind of an interesting idea but now that you’ve planted the seed in my brain I’ll consider it (laughing).
STEAM: If you could play a real-life musician in a film, who would it be and why?
JB: I think it would be a musician you might not be all that familiar with named Moondog. I met him fifty years ago in New York. He was a Giant Viking looking guy who was blind and an Avant Garde musician. I actually thought he was a homeless guy when I first saw him on the street passing out flyers showing his work. I remember reading the liner notes of his album and saw that Leonard Bernstein had written them to my shock. He was an interesting character to say the least and someone I’d like to play if the opportunity came available. He actually had a tune in The Big Lebowski if you need a reference point.
STEAM: For you what’s been the most fulfilling in the entertainment field, the actor or the musician?
JB: I kind of look at them like the same thing. They’re both about performing and being an entertainer. There are certain aspects of the set that are different but they both require other artists as a collaborative art form so in a sense for both you are putting on a show at the end of the day.
STEAM: Most musicians develop a different persona onstage in front of the crowd. As you are a master at taking on different personalities what is your persona?
JB: Well I show up as who I am when I get to the venue and onstage it kind of evolves from performance to performance and song to song. Kind of like improv based on reactions from my fellow musicians on stage and the crowd’s reaction.
STEAM: The Big Lebowski was a tremendous cult hit, is it a distraction at all when fans in the audience call out one-liners from the movie when you are performing or between songs?
JB: Not at all, I actually love it. I actually had a great experience recently playing a Lebowski festival where I performed and then they played the movie afterwards. All throughout the performance people were calling out quotes from the movie. It was a lot of fun.
STEAM: Discuss the differences you can remember in the response to The Big Lebowski when it came out, or you feelings as a cast and crew while making it...and the massive cult hit it has become over the years where today Halloween costumes, parties, festivals and more are dedicated to the film?
JB: I was actually surprised when it first came out that it didn’t do as well as we thought because it was an awful lot of fun making that movie. I don’t know if people didn’t get it or if it got a couple bad reviews or why but I was surprised. It wasn’t until the film hit Europe that it became a success and it splashed back up on these shores as well and it took off. It’s one of my favorite movies to make and to see where people have taken it to parties, festivals and Halloween costumes has been amazing.
STEAM: With as busy a schedule as you have when do you find time to write new material? I can’t imagine finding you in your trailer on a movie set putting pen to paper while trying to get into the mindset of the character you are about to portray on film.
JB: It used to really piss me off when I found myself actually doing that when I’m supposed to be studying my lines. What I found though is that it was just part of my creative process. All the things I was doing were feeding off of each other. I’ve learned to kind of let the music have its way with me though I don’t write solo very often.
STEAM: Arlington Road is LITERALLY one of my favorite movies of all time. I think it might have the best ending in a thriller ever. It is severely underrated and almost never spoken of, except in cina-file circles and when writers want to use an example of a movie where the bad guy wins. Looking back on the film and it’s ending were you surprised how ahead of its time it was?
JB: I remember when the director, Mark Pellington, came to me with a drab look on his face and said that the ‘suits’ were unhappy with the ending and wanted my character to live so they asked to change the ending. I remember fighting back saying that changing the ending defeated the purpose of the film but they demanded an alternate ending be shot. He had the balls to shoot a terrible alternate ending, so bad that they weren’t able to use it which was dangerous because as bad as it intentionally was made they still could’ve used it and really ruined the film. It was a ballsy move that paid off for a very unusual movie.