The “Hell or High Water” Interview with Kam Williams
Rappin' with "The Dude"
One of Hollywood’s most successful actors and a six-time Academy Award-nominee, Jeff Bridges performance in Crazy Heart as Bad Blake, the down-on-his-luck, alcoholic country music singer at the center of the drama, deservedly garnered the iconic performer an Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. The performance also earned him a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Award.
Jeff earned his first Oscar nomination in 1971 for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, co-starring Cybill Shepherd. Three years later, he received his second nomination for his role in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. In 1984, he landed more kudos via a Best Actor nomination for Starman. In 2001, he was honored with his fourth Oscar nomination for his work in The Contender, a political thriller co-starring Gary Oldman and Joan Allen in which he played the President of the United States.
In December 2010, his reunion with the Coen Brothers in the critically-acclaimed Western True Grit landed him his sixth Oscar nomination. The same month he was seen in the highly-anticipated 3D action-adventure TRON: Legacy. Jeff reprised his role of video-game developer Kevin Flynn from the classic 1982 film TRON. with the help of state-of-the-art technology. The picture featured him as the first actor in cinematic history to play opposite a younger version of himself.
Prior to Crazy Heart, Jeff was seen in the war comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, playing Bill Django, a free-spirited military intelligence officer, who is the leader of a secret group of warriors in the army. Additionally, he has starred in numerous box-office hits, including Seabiscuit, The Fisher King, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Jagged Edge, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Blown Away, Fearless and American Heart.
In 1983, Jeff founded the End Hunger Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding children around the world. He also produced the End Hunger tel-event, a three-hour live television broadcast focusing on world hunger. The show featured Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Bob Newhart, Kenny Loggins and other leading film, television and music stars in an innovative production to educate and inspire action. He is currently the national spokesman for the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign that is fighting to end childhood hunger in America. Another of Jeff’s true passions is photography. While on the set of his movies, he takes behind-the-scenes pictures of the actors, crew and locations. After completion of each motion picture, he edits the images into a book and gives copies to everyone involved.
Jeff’s photographs have been featured in several magazines, including Premiere and Aperture, as well as in other publications worldwide. He has also had gallery exhibitions of his work in New York, Los Angeles, London and San Diego. In 2013, he was the recipient of an Infinity Award, presented by the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.
The books, which have become valued by collectors, were never intended for public sale, but in the fall of 2003, powerHouse Books released Pictures: Photographs by Jeff Bridges, a hardcover book containing a compilation of his photographs taken on numerous film locations over the years, to much critical acclaim. Proceeds from the book are donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a nonprofit organization that offers charitable care and support to film-industry workers.
In August of 2011, Jeff released his self-titled major label debut album for Blue Note Records. Multiple-Grammy Award-wining songwriter, musician and producer T Bone Burnett produced the album. It is an organic extension and culmination of his personal, professional and music friendship with Burnett, whom he has known for more than 30 years.
The critically-acclaimed album was a follow up to his first solo effort 'Be Here Soon,' on Ramp Records, the Santa Barbara, California label he co-founded with Michael McDonald and producer/singer/songwriter Chris Pelonis. The CD features guest appearances by vocalist/keyboardist Michael McDonald, Grammy-nominated Amy Holland and rock legend David Crosby. In 2014, he released his first live album 'Jeff Bridges & The Abiders Live' and has been touring off and on when he is not working.
Jeff and his wife Susan divide their time between homes in Santa Barbara and Montana. Here, he talks about his latest outing as wily Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water, a cat-and-mouse crime thriller co-starring Chris Pine and Ben Foster.
Kam Williams: Hey Jeff. I'm honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Jeff Bridges: Why, thank you, Kam. it's good talking to you, too.
KW: I loved Hell or High Water. I don't know why they released it in August instead of just ahead of awards season. Everything about it screams Oscars.
JB: It's an awfully good movie.
KW: Yeah, from the A-list cast to the visually-captivating cinematography to its haunting musical score to its intriguing script featuring an unpredictable cat-and-mouse thriller as well as some decent character development. It all added up to an enchanting cinematic experience.
JB: It was a great experience for me watching it, too, and also making it, of course. It's a good one!
KW: Absolutely! What was it like working with such a talented ensemble. I was already familiar with Ben Foster and Chris Pine, but Gil Birmingham who was new to me did a great job, too.
JB: Yeah, the whole team they assembled, not only the actors, but the crew--the writer, the director, the set designer--all came together. That's a pretty rare phenomenon! It certainly doesn't happen all the time. And such a great screenplay by Taylor Sheridan. That's where it all began.
KW: And how about trusting a British director, David Mackenzie, to make a modern Western set in Texas?
JB: Yeah, he had those fresh eyes. He was so concerned about getting it right, and I think he did a brilliant job.
KW: I agree. How did you come up with your character Marcus Hamilton's persona?
JB: Well, it was definitely on the page. That was one of the things that attracted me to the project in the first place. It just rang so true. It seemed like Taylor Sheridan really knew what he was talking about. I found out that his cousin, Parnell McNamara was a Marshall down in Texas. He was made available to me, and I talked to him quite a bit. We were also very fortunate to have a very famous Texas Ranger, Joaquin Jackson, on the set with us. He died recently, but he was very instrumental, for me anyway, in getting my character right.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: I loved you in True Grit. Is there another remake you'd like to star in?
JB: Nothing really comes to mind, although I understand they're doing a remake of Starman. I know this doesn't exactly answer your question but whenever I see Karen Allen, who was with me in the original, we often ask, "Gee, why don't they make a sequel to Starman?" After all, she was impregnated by the alien guy... He's given her the silver ball... There's a story there! But I guess they're going ahead with a remake instead. That doesn't answer your question. As a matter of fact, when the Coen Brothers came to me with True Grit, I went "Why do you want to remake that? It's already a famous movie?" They asked me, "Well, have you read the novel by Charles Portis?" So, I checked out the book, which read like the Coen Brothers' script. And then I understood what they were up to.
KW: Even though you've had so many great roles, whenever I told someone I was going to interview, invariably the response would be, "The Dude! The Dude! The Dude!" a reference to another Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski. Do you also get more of a fan response about that film than any other?
JB: Oh, absolutely! I just signed a couple of bowling pins moments ago. That sort of thing happens to me just about every day when I'm out and about. It's great! I don't feel any resentment about it. The Big Lebowski's a real masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned. I suppose I'm a bit biased because I'm in it. But even if I weren't, I'd still love that movie, it's so well done.
KW: Yeah, my son always says it's his favorite movie of all time. Which of your roles are you fondest of?
JB: It's like that corny thing actors say about how it's like being asked to pick their favorite kid. Each one is such a different experience.
KW: Is there one that comes to mind?
JB: Lebowski is certainly up there. I couldn't pick one favorite, but I loved working with my brother [Beau] and my father [Lloyd] whenever that happened. I had a wonderful experience making The Fabulous Baker Boys which I felt was a great movie, too. And I got to work with my dad in Tucker and in Blown Away which were also wonderful experiences. Sometimes, it's hard for me to separate the experience from the final product.
KW: What was a film you really enjoyed making that might not have enjoyed box-office success?
JB: The moguls was an obscure movie I had such a good time on. It's also called The Amateurs. It had a great cast and a wonderful director [Michael Traeger], and we had so much fun. It was about the citizens of a small town getting together to make a porno movie. I think it came out great., but it fell apart because the distributor turned out to be a crook, so it never got released. Hardly anybody saw it, but you could probably find it somewhere.
KW: Watching your dad on TV in Sea Hunt, was a big part of my childhood. was the show a big part of yours, too?
JB: Yeah, unlike a lot of people in Hollywood, he loved showbiz so much he encouraged his kids to go into it. If you were a Sea Hunt fan, then you probably saw me on the show as a little kid. He was like, "Hey Jeff, why don't you come to work with your old man. You get to skip school."
KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
JB: Sitting in my living room and seeing my mother open the front door. She was wearing a mink stole but had just cut off all of her long beautiful hair. She had a very short kind of bob. It just freaked me out. I just ran and locked myself in the bathroom. I must have been about 3 or 4.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
JB: I'm not much of a cook. Maybe scrambled eggs or something like that.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
JB: A stranger, as of late. I sort of don't recognize myself. It's kind of an interesting situation. I went through a very hairy period. I had a movie where I was going to play Walt Whitman that fell through. At the time, I had grown this huge beard and very long hair. But then, the movie got canceled, I had some other parts, and I currently have very short hair. So, when I look in the mirror, I don't know who I am exactly. It's interesting.
KW: When you prepare to play a character, do you take him on mentally as well as physically?
JB: Sure, yeah.
KW: How long does it take you to shake off a character and get him out of your system after a film has wrapped?
JB: That's hard to say. Once, during an interview in front of my wife, I was asked, "Are you one of those actors who brings your character home? Do you stay in character?" I said, "No, not really. I don't do that," and she started laughing. I asked her why. She said, "Well, you might think you don't bring characters home, but you do." So, while I don't feel like a character is lingering, it probably is.
KW: What are you up to musically?
JB: I'm looking at my guitar right now. I play music as much as I can. I have a band called The Abiders. We've put out a couple of albums you can find on iTunes. We tour and all that stuff, so music is very much a part of my life.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
JB: I have my prized possession in my wallet. That's a photograph of the first words I ever uttered to my wife, and her answer to my question when I asked her, "Will you go out with me?"
KW: What was her answer?
JB: "No." I happen to have snapped a photograph of that moment.
KW: Well, it all worked out very well for you in the end. Thanks again for the time, Jeff. I really enjoyed this.
JB: Nice chatting with you, too. Have a good one, Kam.
To order a copy of Jeff Bridges & The Abiders' "Live" CD, visit:
To order a copy of Jeff Bridges' "Be Here Soon" CD,
To order a copy of Jeff Bridges' "Jeff Bridges" CD,
To see a trailer for Hell or High Water, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQoqsKoJVDw