“I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me” – The Dude
Depicted by Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski’s ‘Dude’ is one of cinema’s most iconic characters, and most certainly cinema’s biggest stoner. Largely inspired by Jeff Dowd, an American film producer and political activist that the Coen brothers had met whilst they were seeking distribution for their first film, Blood Simple, Dowd was a well-known member of the anti-Vietnam war activists the Seattle Seven, and also had a fateful sweet tooth for a White Russian.
Though Dowd was not the only one that would help make up the final image of Jeff Bridge’s character, with The Dude also partly based on another friend of the Coen brothers, Peter Exline, a Vietnam war veteran who lived in a dump of an apartment and was proud of a small rug that “tied the room together”.
In the building of such an influential character, Bridges met Dowd in preparation for the role, though ultimately, the actor reported that he “drew on myself a lot from back in the Sixties and Seventies. I lived in a little place like that and did drugs, although I think I was a little more creative than the Dude”. Together with his wardrobe assistant, the actor went into his own closet to pick out the clothes the Dude might wear.
Adopting the same physical appearance as Dowd, including the slouching beer belly, he wore many of his character’s clothes home as many of them were his own. This included the Dude’s iconic Kaoru Betto T-shirt which he would also wear in two other films, 1989s Cold Feet, and 1991s The Fisher King.
The characteristics of Bridge’s character also seemed to seep from the Coen’s fictional film into the reality of life behind the scenes of the movie. According to Joel Coen, the only time he ever directed the actor “was when he would come over at the beginning of each scene and ask, ‘Do you think the Dude burned one on the way over?’ I’d reply ‘Yes’ usually, so Jeff would go over in the corner and start rubbing his eyes to get them bloodshot”.
Wishing to avoid the usual retro 1960s cliché iconography like lava lamps and Day-Glo posters, the Coen’s wished to adopt a different style for their lead characters, making a great effort to be “consistent with the whole bowling thing, we wanted to keep the movie pretty bright and poppy”, Joel Coen reported. As a result, The Big Lebowski manages to create a unique identity of its own, largely elicited by both The Dude’s iconic sense of style and his bohemian philosophy.
See the recurring clothing choices, below.