Jeff Bridges has two movies in theaters this month, Tron Legacy and True Grit. They’re very different in every sense of the word. One is a rusty and tough Western and the other is a sleek and polished fantasy flick. The one thing they have in common is Bridges and the talent and feeling that only he can bring. While out promoting his latest film with the Coen Brothers ( he also worked with them on The Big Lebowski) he spoke about making the jump from Crazy Heart to Tron to True Grit, and the preparation he went through to make the transition. He also revealed how nervous he was to take on a role previously played by John Wayne and what the Coen’s had to do to convince him to star in the film.
What’s fun about starring in a dirty Western verses something like Tron which is clean?
Jeff Bridges: Well, that’s the fun of my job that I get to play all different kinds of guys. We did a reshoot for Tron about a week after we completed True Grit. I had the same makeup guy, Thomas Nellen, who was on both. So going from Rooster with all the dust and the grime and the dirty teeth, a few days later back in the chair, him putting 100 little black dots on my face, motion capture darts. It’s bizarre but that’s the gig. That’s the fun of it.
Did you have any hesitation about taking on a role that was made famous by The Duke?
JB: Well, I was curious why these guys wanted to make that movie again. I think it was Ethan who I talked to first and he corrected me. He said, ‘No, we’re not making that movie. We’re making the book, as if there was no other movie ever made kind of. We’re just referring to the book.’ And I wasn’t familiar with the book and he said, ‘Well, check that out, tell me what you think.’ I read the book and then I saw what they were talking about because it’s such a wonderful book. It suited them so well I thought and God, what a great character. Most Westerns have that strong, silent type and here’s this boorish rah, ra h, rah type, so that could be a lot of fun I thought.
When we talked to you while you were promoting Crazy Heart, you were far away from Rooster Cogburn. At what point did you nail the character?
JB: Gosh, each scene is an opportunity to show a different facet of the person you’re portraying. I begin developing a character pretty much the same way every time. You’re looking at the script or if you’re lucky enough to have a book you’re looking at that material and seeing what other characters say about your character, what you say about yourself, what the author says about you. That tells you quite a bit and then one of the first things you do when you’re hired on to make a film is you work with a costume designer. In this case, it was Mary Zophres who was also the costume designer on The Big Lebowski. That’s one of the cool things about making movies, there’s a collaborative art form so you have all these other artists who are concerned about just specific areas that might be the room your character lives in, what it looks like, and what the clothes look like.
So how do the clothes and the costume designer help?
JB: The first people you meet is the costumer because they have to make all those clothes. So Mary has these wonderful books that she brings out and so you look at here’s a hat like this, like this, and your character starts to fall in place. You dress as you’re looking in the mirror there comes a time when the character starts to tell you what it wants and you might prefer ‘oh, this scarf’ looks nice and the character [spits], it won’t stick. You say ‘oh, okay.’
Probably the same thing happens when you’re making a movie too. Sometimes you want to do something, it’s not what the movie wants. There’s a wonderful time when that happens. I’m not sure there’s one particular time it happens. It’s kind of a slow process coming into focus. As far as the models, I used to love it when my dad [Lloyd Bridges] would play in a Western. When he appeared at my door all dressed up in his cowboy clothes, it was a thrill to me so I guess there’s some of my dad in there.
Speaking of clothing and accessories of the character, we have to talk about the infamous patch. Did it switch around from eye to eye?
JB: No, we put it on the right eye, it felt good. Put it on the left eye, not so good. Put it on the right eye, this feels right. ‘What do you think ,guys?’ We went back and forth like that. Sometimes I would forget to put it down for the scene. So I would be very pleased with a take and I’d say, ‘What do you think, guys?’ They’d just go [point to the eye patch.]
What qualities from Rooster Cogburn should men aspire to? What does it really mean to have “true grit?”
JB: Well, true grit I believe, this is my definition of it, is seeing one thing through to the end. That’s a good thing. I aspire to that.
True Grit opens in theaters everywhere on December 22nd. Go See It!