The compelling life of Jeff Bridges, the most natural actor that has ever lived
“Movies are like magic tricks.” – Jeff Bridges
Once described by Pauline Kael as “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived,” American actor Jeff Bridges has established himself as one of the top talents of his generation. He has several prestigious accolades to his name, including Academy Award and Golden Globe wins for Best Actor to name but a few. On his 71st birthday, we revisit Jeff Bridges’ life as a celebration of his invaluable contribution to the world of cinema.
Born in Los Angeles in 1949, Bridges entered the world of Hollywood at an early age because his father was film and TV star Lloyd Bridges. On the other side, his mother, Dorothy Bridges, was a celebrated actress and writer. One of four children, Bridges made his big-screen debut when he just almost two-years-old and his path in the world of the arts was set. While reflecting on the scene from the 1951 flick The Company She Keeps, in which he appears in the arms of Jane Greer, Bridges said: “The scene where she carried me on, I had to be crying. And I was a real happy baby, so my mother instructed Jane to just pinch me to make me cry.”
After graduating from high school at the age of 17, he toured with his father in a stage production of Anniversary Waltz and, as a teenager, Bridges also appeared in his father’s TV series The Lloyd Bridges Show. With the work continuing to flow, he then appeared in an action-adventure series Sea Hunt alongside his older brother, Beau, who himself went on to become a celebrated actor and director. When their father was away filming, Beau acted as a father figure to his younger brother and guided him in a variation of ways. “In a career that has been a rollercoaster of changing landscapes, Bridges also served in the United States Coast Guard Reserve as a boatswain’s mate from 1967 to 1975, eventually moving to New York to pursue a career as an actor.”
He studied acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio and made his adult film debut in the 1970 work Halls of Anger but his first major role would come a year later in the 1971 coming-of-age drama The Last Picture Show, putting up a fantastic performance for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the age of just 22. Bridges would receive three more Oscar nominations in the same category for his brilliant work in films like Clint Eastwood’s 1974 crime comedy Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and the 2000 political thriller The Contender. Bridges received critical acclaim for his performances in the ’80s as well, starring as a video game programmer Kevin Flynn in what has come to be known as one of his iconic roles in the 1982 sci-fi film Tron. Two years later, Bridges received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of an alien in Starman. The same year, he reunited with his first co-star Jane Greer in the thriller Against All Odds. He said, “I went up to Jane before a really emotional scene and said ‘Could you just give me a little pinch?'”
Bridges followed up the successful decade with more powerhouse performances in the ’90s, delivering what many critics consider to be one of his finest performances in the 1993 drama Fearless and winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his appearance in Terry Gilliam’s 1991 comedy-drama The Fisher King. However, the apotheosis of Bridges’ career would arrive later that decade in 1998 when he took on his most iconic role in the Coen brothers’ magnum opus The Big Lebowski. The masterpiece presents a comedic revision of the stereotype of the detective noir genre through the character of Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (played by Bridges). The philosophy it preaches is a doctrine of laziness. As cases keep piling up, the urgency of detective stories is beautifully challenged by a detective who does not want to get up from his couch. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2019 Golden Globes, Bridges said:
“If I’m lucky I’ll be associated with the Dude of rest of my life. I feel so honoured to be a part of that film.”
During this decade, Bridges also ventured into producing films and his company’s 1996 cable movie Hidden In America, which dealt with hunger in the US, received a Golden Globe nomination. His brother Beau earned a Screen Actor’s Guild award for his performance in the film. Bridges appeared in high-profile projects in the 2000s, including the Marvel adaptation of Iron Man. He reprised the iconic role of Kevin Flynn in the 2010 film Tron: Legacy. In the same year, the veteran actor finally won the Academy Award for Best Actor at the age of 60 for his portrayal of a country musician in the 2009 film Crazy Heart. He also won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor. Bridges would go on to garner two more Academy Award nominations for the Coen brothers’ 2010 film True Grit and the 2016 neo-western Hell or High Water.
Apart from acting, Bridges has fostered a lifelong passion for music and learnt how to play instruments from an early age. He reflected, “I dug what an actor did, but it took me a while to feel it, to truly appreciate the craft and the preparation. Plus, I was still playing music a lot, and I guess I had a hard time choosing: was I an actor or a musician, or could I be both?” Bridges released his debut album Be Here Soon on January 1, 2000 and wouldn’t make a second one for more than 11 years. He has also contributed to the soundtracks of several of his films, including Starman and The Fabulous Baker Boys.
Like David Lynch, Bridges is also a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation and even co-authored a book with American zen Buddhist Bernie Glassman called The Dude and the Zen Master which was inspired by a party conversation with Glassman and Ram Dass about the parallels between the character of The Dude and Zen Buddhism. He has also been an avid photographer since 1984, publishing two photograph books and receiving an Infinity Award for his photos from the International Center of Photography in New York in 2013.
Earlier this year, Bridges broke many of his fans’ hearts when he declared that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma but he maintained that the prognosis is good and that there was still hope yet. We wish him the best with his recovery and sincerely hope that we get to see more of The Dude soon.