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Jeff Bridges

Sings His Crazy Heart Out

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: December 16, 2009.

Itís hard to believe that in a career that has lasted over 40 years (actually longer, his first appearance on film was in 1951 as an infant), Jeff Bridges has never won an Oscar.  He has worked regularly and made vibrant contributions in such legendary films as The Last Picture Show, Starman, The Big Lebowski, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Fearless, yet he has only been nominated four times and has never brought home the little statuette. 

This may all be changing with his latest role.  In Crazy Heart, Bridges disappears into the role of an aging country singer named Bad Blake who is fighting with his demons when he is offered two chances of salvation.  One comes in the form of a potential family with a younger woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son.  The other is through his career, with an old protťgť (Colin Farrell) becoming a country superstar and wanting to bring his old mentor along for the ride if the older guy could just swallow his pride. 

Crazy Heart is the writing/directing debut of character actor Scott Cooper and features a wonderfully realistic alt-country soundtrack written mostly by roots musician/producer T Bone Burnett and old Nashville hand Stephen Bruton, who died before the film saw release.

A little under a week before Crazy Heart was set to be put on limited release so it would be eligible for Oscar consideration (and a matter of days before Bridges was nominated for a Golden Globe for the part), Bridges sat down for a roundtable with us and some other websites to discuss his career, the movie, the role and the Oscar buzz.

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake in 'Crazy Heart.'Youíve been involved with music for years Ė in fact I have the CD that you did about ten years ago [called Be Here Soon]Ö 

Oh, yeah?  Oh, good.  Good, good, good.  Ten years ago?  Is that what you said?  JeezÖ  Has it been that long?  Phew, it probably has. 

Do you think that had things gone a different way for you when you were starting in show biz you may have ended up having a life like Badís? 

I donít know about Badís life.  I hope not.  (chuckles)  You know Iíd certainly get into music.  Unlike a lot of people, my father, Lloyd Bridges Ė who had a hit TV series in the 60s and was a very successful actor Ė he enjoyed show biz so much that he really wanted to turn his kids onto it.  So, he encouraged all of us to go into show biz.  And as you know, we donít like to do what our parents tell us to.  So I wanted to do the music thing, or to paint, or some other stuff.  But Iím glad I took the old manís advice, because I sure love it, too.  And all those other things I might have gone into, I can bring to the work, like in this one. 

In Bad Blake, we see so many country singers we know Ė Waylon Jennings is the first one that comes to mind.  In your research creating this fellow, who inspired you? 

I was really fortunate in this one to have two very close friends who were my main role models: T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton.  Those guys, we go back to Heavenís Gate 30 years ago, with another role model Ė Iím not as close with [Kris] Kristofferson, but heís certainly a good buddy, and he brought all his musician friends to that party.  So it was six months of jamming, every night after work.  Thatís kind of the birth of this movie.  It came out of that in a funny sort of way.  And Kris is certainly a role model.  One of the first bits of direction Scott [Cooper] gave me was that if Bad was a real character, he would be the fifth Highwayman.  Do you know who The Highwaymen are?  Kris, Willie [Nelson], Waylon and Johnny Cash.  So those guys were all role models, along with Hank Williams.  Then, another thing that T-Bone told me Ė and I thought it was really a great idea Ė he gave me a timeline of the music Bad might have listened to when he was growing up.  T-Bone and Stephen grew up together Ė they were childhood friends, basically Ė and Stephenís dad owned a music store and exposed them to all kinds of blues.  They would listen to Ornette Coleman.  All kinds of music.  T Bone said, ĎCountry music comes from all different kinds of places now,í so Bad could be listening to T-Bone Walker or Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen Ė different guys that arenít thought of as classical country guys.  They were role models as well. 

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean in 'Crazy Heart.'How easy was it to get out of the mindset of the character? 

Oh, a certain part I donít want to get out of.  Keep that guy with me, you know?  Just the music stuff and hopefully, Iíll keep on with that.  Maybe another album will come out now that he has done those kinds of things?  So, that aspect of the character is still cooking.  The other side, you know the boozing side and the unhealthy side, like gaining that much weightÖ part of the preparation for a character is you think of what you ingest.  Whether itís a cup of coffee, or how much you eat at lunch that day because you have a scene.  How you feel sleepy after you eatÖ all those kinds of things.  So with this lot, my regimen was ďremove the governor.Ē  Take that guy and put him over there.  You want that extra pint of Hšagen-Dazs?  Sure.  You want that extra drink?  Sure, go ahead, man!  You donít want to drink when youíre working, because youíve got to sustain that kind of thing.  But you be a little humble, that might work for you.  Giving that up was a little bit tough, but there is a downside.  Itís like the blessing of the hangover.  The hangovers let you know: donít do this too often.  We learn that lesson over and over.  (laughs)  Well, hopefully, not too many times, if weíre lucky.  So that side was a little tough, because you kind of get in a groove, and the older you get, the harder it is to shift: lose the weight and all that stuff.  But thereís nothing like health Ė thatís the best high. 

What about the cigarettes?   There are so many! 

Oh, yeah.  Thatís always a challenge.  At least they were filtered cigarettes.  I remember doing Tucker.  The guy died from lung cancer.  He smoked three packs of Luckys a day!  Or Chesterfields.  Oh, my God.  Iíd be puking during a scene, you know?  Because when youíre in the character, you just play it.  Youíre doing it how you do it, and then after two or three takes you goÖ (moans)

They canít give you fake ones? 

That doesnít even matter.  That doesnít help that much.  That was never my jones, the cigarette thing.  I always draw the line at never buying cigarettes.  Whenever Iíd get that urge to smoke, Iíll have to bum a cigarette off someone. 

Do you think Maggieís character was right to break off the relationship? 

Yeah.  Man, yeah. 

I kept hoping theyíd get back together. 

I know.  Well that happens in the sequel, you know, Crazy Love.  (laughs)  Her guy turns out to be a terrible guy and I come to the rescue.  I write a song about it.  I write a song about the kid.  No, I donít know.  Thatís my optimistic mind, though. 

I heard there might be a sequel to The Fabulous Baker Boys. 

Did you?   Ooh, I hope so.  There should be! 

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake in 'Crazy Heart.'Do you see any commonalities between this character and the one you played in that? 

Yeah, now that you mention it, I hadnít thought about that before.  But I bet there is.  I think they both get caught up in this myth that a lot of these artists do Ė about suffering being the source of their talent, so they keep that going in the subconscious.  I love that line in the song from this one, ďI used to be somebody, but now Iím somebody else.Ē  Bad probably wrote that song thinking, ďI used to be famous, and now Iím not famous.Ē  But if you flip that around, I donít have to be punishing myself as much as I do.  I donít have to be this guy, this myth.  I can get off of that wheel.  I donít have to keep playing that same tune.  Thatís kind of a positive thing. 

In the promotion of the movie, they seem to be downplaying Colin Farrellís role Ė I didnít even know he was in it until he appeared on screen. 

I think that might have been his decision.  I think, donít quote me on that.  Iím not sure.  Thatís a good question for the producers.  [Ed. note: Writer/director Scott Cooper confirmed that Farrell asked for his part in the film to be downplayed in promotion because he didn't want to steal any of the spotlight from Bridges and Gyllenhaal's lead performances.]

How was it playing the mentor-protťgťe relationship with him? 

Oh, God.  He was so great!  He came in for maybe four days or something, and gave that great performance.  Thatís one of the challenges of doing movies, is that you have such a short period of time.  We shot this in 24 days, so youíve got a very short period of time to get up to speed, and to get as deep as you have to get to make it a good movie.  And Colin certainly did that.  He was wonderful to work with.  As well as great to sing [with] Ė harmonizing with another actor, people you are working with.  Itís kind of a great metaphor for what weíre trying to do. 

You are so vulnerable in this role, doing scenes in your tighty-whiteys and passing out on the floor.  What did you think when you read the script?  Did it make you nervous at all, or were you gung-ho? 

Not really.  Thatís part of the role.  I was not too concerned.  I had a thong on under my tighty-whiteys.  (laughs) 

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jean in 'Crazy Heart.'Youíve worked with some amazing women Ė Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, now Maggie Gyllenhaal.  What makes a most unforgettable screen romance? 

Well, a lot of it depends on the play.  The story, what the lines are.  Not even the lines, just the relationships.  I think one of my favorite moments was with Kim in The Door in the Floor, just saying goodbye.  I donít think we even said any words, we just looked at each other.  Thatís just kind of the story youíre telling.  There are so many different approaches to acting.  Maggie is a person who approaches it how I do, which is getting to know the people you are playing with as well as you can, so you can bring some of that genuine friendship and caring up to the screen.  Kim works in a different way, where she is on 1,000% between ďAction!Ē and ďCut!Ē but between those things thereís not so much engagement.  But that doesnít matter, because there are many different ways to approach the work, and both can be effective. 

There can be an uneasy line to tread when youíre playing a character who could be potentially unlikable.  Here the audience is with you.  Even when they watch you getting out of the truck with his bottle of questionable substance. 

(smiles)  Gatorade.  It was Gatorade.  (laughs) 

The audience is with you even before Bad has established himself as a good guy. How much of that is the character, and how much of it just that we like Jeff Bridges? 

Itís probably kind of a combination of all those things.  In a general sense, making a movie is sort of like a magic trick.  There are all kinds of sleight of hand things going on, and thereís also real alchemy going on.  Youíre kind of summoning up the muse or whatever.  And what you were saying about the story and what it says in the script is on the writer.  Then, my approach, I try to make it real and interesting.  I hear you saying that what holds your attention doesnít necessarily have to be that the character is a good guy, but there is something that makes you wonder whatís going to happen next, and care about that.  Itís like in life.  In life, you donít have to like some guy whoís walking down the street, but for some reason you find him fascinating.  Whether heís just talking to himself Ė and youíre like whatís he saying?  What is that?  You donít know quite what it is, but you find it kind of interesting.  But, you donít necessarily like him.  I think the same things are working in movies, too.  Itís finding that thing that is interesting but doesnít pop, doesnít rip the fabric.   There are so many different things in movies that are like that Ė from wardrobe to makeup.  You donít want the makeup to lookÖ God, thatís wonderful makeup.  You want it to be invisible.  You donít want to see that.  Or the clothes.  You want it, like, youíre dressed really interestingly.  [gestures to one of the writers on his right]  It would be cool if a costumer said, ďLetís dress a guy like this.Ē  Well whatís he like?  It doesnít matter, but heís so fascinating.  Itís real and it goes with the thing.  So, to come up with those kinds of things Ė other aspects Ė thatís kind of what we go for. 

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake in 'Crazy Heart.'Do you need to like a character to play him? 

Umm, like himÖ?  Feel compassion, I guess.  Is that kind of like?  Is compassion liking?  I guess, kind of, if you have compassion for him. 

Some people are comparing Crazy Heart to The Wrestler [with Mickey Rourke], saying you should be up for an Oscar. How do you feel about that? 

I like to be dug.  (smiles)  I like somebody to appreciate what I do, especially the guys who do what I do.  That feels great.   Iím not counting any chickens, but it feels good, Iíve got to say.  Plus it also feels good to bring attention to a movie that Iím so happy with, because thatís what these awards and the festivals can do for a little movie like this that canít afford big print ads and getting people into theaters in other ways.  This is a way to do that, so Iím happy about all that. 

It seems like Bad isnít lonely, he can go home with women from shows pretty much every night.  She is younger and has a four-year-old, which sort of like an instant family.  What do you think draws Bad to Maggieís character, Jean? 

I think those things definitely drew him to Jean.  Also, I think, seeing that heís been married four times before, heís looking Ė the wonderful thing about marriage, Iíve been married going on 33 years, itís like a playing field to get as deep as you can with your soulmate.  Itís a structure you can move in, and do that, and become as intimate as you possibly can.  I think he is longing for intimacy, for somebody to really know him for who he is, even though he despises parts of himself.  Thatís whatís kind of tragic and uplifting about this, that when he finally shows who he is, an irresponsible drunk, itís an impossible for the woman he would love to know him.  Itís an impossibility, but it does wake him up with a big splash of cold water. 

How did you come to this project?  Was it your relationship with T Bone? 

No, it came to me, and I originally turned it down.  Because while Iím always looking for a movie that has to do with music, [The Fabulous] Baker Boys set the standard really high.  I had such a great time making that movie and we had Dave Grusin and all those great pop and jazz standards.  But in this one, they didnít have any music and there was nobody at the helm of the music.  So, I was happy to say, ďNo thanks.Ē  But then T Bone [Burnett] got involved.  About a year later, I ran into him, and he said, ďWhat do you think about this script?Ē  I said, why?  Are you interested?  He said, ďYeah, if youíll do it, Iíll do it.Ē  I just said, oh, gosh, well, letís go!  (chuckles) 

Writer/Director Scott Cooper with Jeff Bridges, who stars as country singer Bad Blake in 'Crazy Heart.'Also, Stephen Bruton unfortunately died during the filming.  How much did he bring to the music and the character? 

He was the whole thing.  He died, not during the shooting of it, he even got to do some of the polish up and put the music together with T Bone.  But, he was the whole deal.  His life so closely paralleled Bad.  He would be the guy driving from gig to gig, hauling all his own gear.  And he certainly had problems with booze and other substances.  He knew about all of that stuff, and was encouraged by me and Scott and T Bone toÖ any time he had any little impulse about what that might be like, what it was like for him in that situation, we said, ďBring it on, Stephen.Ē  And he would.  Thatís all up there on the screen. 

That store you were talking about, where Stephen and T Bone grew up, was it in Houston? 

I think Fort Worth, maybe. 

What do you want audiences to take away from the film? 

The words ďwaking upĒ kind of come to mind.  We can wake up from our bad dreams that we put ourselves in.  That comes to mind.  There probably are some other things.  I guess so much of the movie-going experience depends on what you bring to it.  What youíre thinking about and feeling when you sit down in a movie.  So, if youíre a young mother who has a child and youíre thinking about settling down with an alcoholic (laughs), it might be she maybe wonít do that.  I admire the woman who is thinking about her child instead of herself. 

The movie is coming out in the middle of a bunch of blockbuster films.  Do you think people will react to a smaller story? 

Yes.  One of the themes in the movie is a reaction to rootsy country music as compared to the normal more orchestrated [country].  This movie is maybe a response to the big tent-pole movies.  Youíve got that kind of dynamic going.  In a way, those poles kind of support each other.  You have a blockbuster movie, [then] you get some artist saying, ďLetís make a fucking kind of down-home, gritsy thing.Ē  You have that and then itís like, ďput some strings on that, or some French horns.Ē  Those are kind of working together, you know? 

Jeff Bridges stars as country singer Bad Blake with Robert Duvall in 'Crazy Heart.'You have done a lot of work with charity.  What has that taught you? 

Our kidsÖ children are a wonderful compass for us.  For our direction, we are always going ahead.  And our country is way off course.  I just got the statistics that the Department of Agriculture have been following food insecurity since 1995 and they just gave their report.  ďFood insecurityĒ means you live in a household where one of the kids might have to skip a meal at night or they all take turns.  Tonightís Thursday, that kind of thing where they donít have enough nutrition to study in school Ė to have the calories to be able to memorize.  Not only mentally and physically, but emotionally, spiritually, sociallyÖ in all kinds of ways.  So the statistic is 16.7 million of our kids Ė thatís one in four Ė live in conditions like this.  One in four!  Itís gone up 34% between the years of 2007 and 2009.  Soup kitchens are up like 30%.  If some other country was doing this to kids, we would be crazy at war.  But here, itís ourselves.  Itís like that Pogo thing, ďWeíve met the enemy and they are us.Ē  

Are you still involved with that charitable organizationÖ? 

Yes, the End Hunger Network, something I helped found about 25 years ago.  We shifted our focus to hunger here in America.  We were concentrating on world hunger when we first started, but canít be telling people what to do if we canít do it ourselves, so we shifted our attention to here at home.  The good news is that Obama has declared that we can end childhood hunger by 2015.  Thatís kind of like Kennedy saying, ďWeíre going to put a man on the moon in ten years.Ē  So all of the sudden, all the arguments and people saying, ďOh, thereís not really hunger,Ē all those things now become an effective way of trying to find the answers now.  He said there will be resources.  We know how to do it, because we had that program that reflects it.  They were effective, but now they are not being funded.  They are not getting support.  So, weíve got to support those and then get some leadership.  Get people to make their contributions whenever they can.  Thatís the good news weíre trying to get behind. 

Whatís next for you? 

Iím going back to work with the Coen Brothers in [a remake of] True Grit

Is there anything from this character that will help you with that? 

Both are alcoholic.  (laughs)  Oh, God, taking the governor off again, damn it.  Iíve got to play me a healthy, skinny guy next. 

When will you be filming with the Coens? 

In March we start. 

And are you in Tron Legacy? 

Iím in Tron.  Weíve shot that.  Thatís all done. 

Is it the same character as you played in the 1982 original Tron? 

Yeah.  Itís kind of the same thing.  It appealed to the kid in me.  There was an aspect of advanced pretend.  Itís like, come on, you want be this kid who gets sucked inside a computer?  Oh, man! 

And now the technology is so much better. 

Exactly!  The new one makes the old one look like an old black and white TV show.  The stuff theyíve got going is phenomenal.  I canít wait to see it.

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Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: December 16, 2009.