INT: Jeff Bridges
As I'm sure any schmoe out there will probably agree, THE BIG LEBOWSKI's The Dude is one of the greatest characters ever put to screen. This is due almost entirely to the amazing (and hilarious) work of Jeff Bridges. The man is, simply put, an acting genius. And in SURF'S UP, he manages to bring the same laidback mentality to his character Big Z (a wise surfing penguin that's a little on the heavy side). In terms of personality, think of him like a PG version of The Dude. You can see what I mean when the movie opens this Friday, June 8. Just be sure to bring your bathing suit.
jokes aside, I actually did need my bathing suit, because
Bridges was exactly like I hoped he'd be, apparently enjoying the
We see some parallels to The Dude here.
[Laughs] Well, The Dude does weed. Big Z's into clams.
What about the character appealed to you most?
Gee, you know, what really got me on board was this whole surfing aspect of things and how well they pulled the water element of this film off. I said, "They're going to do a surfing movie, how are the waves going to look? Is it going to be almost like a photograph?" Then they started to show me some of the footage they had worked on. Being a surfer myself, it was a thrill to be able to be a part of bringing to the audience what that feels like to be locked in the tube.
What's the feeling you get from catching a wave?
I suppose it's different at each level. I'm a pretty basic surfer. I stopped surfing 30 years ago and I'm taking it up in the last 5 years again. I used to surf in high school all the time and it was pretty great. Now I'm kind of back to getting my balance back and getting my turns down. So it's kind of challenging for me and I'm worried about hurting myself, my back and so forth. I'm in the process of taking it a step at a time these days to make sure I can surf tomorrow. But it's a wonderful feeling whether you catch a wave or not. It's a bit like fishing. You're out there, you're part of nature, you're sitting in ocean, looking at the land. Most other times, it's the other way around. You're sitting out and looking at the ocean. There's something about it that gives you a different perspective on life. It's a wonderful metaphor, catching a wave, for how you can look at other challenges in your life.
Did your renewed interest in surfing come about from this movie?
No, no. I started getting interested before that, but it kind of all dovetailed together. It was fun to be a part of this one.
Whats your take on voice recording, this disembodied kind of acting?
Well, it didnt feel like that. When we did it, I had done animated films in the past and that was kind of a lonely experience where you sit in the booth and youve got your sides. Youre reading the stuff and imagining what the other person is saying, or doing the scene to their playback. Theyre not in the room. But in this instance, the characters were often all there in the same room. I did a lot of work with Shia [LaBeouf], whos a wonderful improviser. We were really encouraged by the directors to do that as much as we cared to, and we did a lot of it. There were cameras set up in the room that were capturing our movements and our expressions and that was all going to help the animators. So it was a lot of fun. It didnt feel as lonesome and clinical. It was really a fun experience. Pretty loose.
Do you feel like youre losing some of your tools as an actor when you work on an animated film?
Yeah, but theres always things like that in making movies where you little parameters that you have to fit in. Thats part of the game of it. An analogy I could make, just like youre playing football, youve got to stay in the lines. You cant just go over there, go up in the stands. Everything gets narrower and narrower, and sometimes you just have to use the tools that youre allowed to use. Thats part of the game. In this case, it wasnt about wardrobe or makeup or any of that stuff, so you use what you have.
Has surfing ever been adequately represented in movies, such as in 'Point Break?'
Well, I remember, probably the best are the documentaries, the old surf films. I just did narration for a wonderful documentary called 'Chasing the Lotus.' That's a lot of B-roll from all of the old surf films. They interviewed some of these great old surfers and you really get a sense of what surfing's all about. Documentaries I think probably more than the fictitious versions of it. I think a lot of my friends were in [Point Break]. They did good work I think. They all were surfers so they added a certain authenticity to it.
Did you enjoy working with Shia LaBeouf in the recording room?
I had done animated films in the past and that was kind of a lonely experience where you sit in the booth and you've got your sides [script pages] and you're reading the stuff and imagining what the other person is saying, or doing the scene to their playback, they're not in the room. But in this instance, the characters were often all there in the same room. I did a lot of work with Shia who's a wonderful improviser. We were really encouraged by the directors to do that as much as we cared to and we did a lot of it. There were cameras set up in the room that were capturing our movements and our expressions and that was all going to help the animators. So it was a lot of fun. It didn't feel as lonesome and clinical. It was really a fun experience. Pretty loose.
Did you have any influence concerning the look of your 'Surf's Up' character Big Z?
Not too much. I told [the filmmakers], I said, "Gee, Big Z is kind of a fat penguin. Can you give him a little more tone?" [Laughs] He said, "No, that's going against the story." I didn't have too much to say about his look or anything like that. I got a kick out of it. It was kind of funny.
Do you see young actors who have potential like Cody Maverick does in surfing and want to mentor them?
Sure, well, when we were making the movie, there was a bit of that. You could transpose surfing for acting in a sense that Shia and I are both actors and did it since we were kids. We would play together. There's a lot of play in acting, like when you were a kid and you used to pretend and that sort of thing. Not that it doesn't have to be serious but there's an element of play to it. That goes for surfing and goes for acting so yeah, certainly I think playing with Shia there was a lot of that same kind of sense. Not so much teaching somebody because he's a wonderful improviser and there's a great willingness that he has to play, to maybe be the fool or not. So we got to surf together, we got to play together. It was a lot of fun.
You sing the Uke song at the end of the film, only it's called an "Ook". How was that?
Oh, great. I heard that they were putting that song in but I hadn't heard it yet. That's funny. When I was recording it, one of my friends said, "You know, it's not a Yuke-elele, it's an ook-elele." So I went off, they had the mic on and recorded it. I didn't know they were going to do that. That's me playing and that song was written by perhaps my oldest friend, a guy named John Goodwin. We go back to the fourth grade together, we've been making music and art and playing together all these years. He's very good. He's got a song in quite a few of my movies actually.
This movie is about keeping the joy in what you do. How have you maintained that in acting?
Yeah, well, different things come to mind when you say that. My mom would often say, "Remember, don't take it too seriously." I say, "Oh yeah, thanks." My wife, whenever I'd go off to work and I'd be kind of anxious, she'll say, "Remember, have fun." "Oh, I forgot, thanks for the reminder." Because sometimes we do forget. We take it all too seriously and there's a lot of joy to be had wherever you are. Tap in and kind of get out of your way and there it is.
Did you have a similar relationship with your brother Beau?
Me being Cody, Beau being Big Z? Not really, no. Beau was eight years older than I am and my dad was working a lot in those days so it was kind of like a surrogate father. He taught me all the sports. He was always small for his age, I was always big for my age. But he was an excellent athlete and he was scouted by the Dodgers. He played on the UCLA basketball team with Walt Hazzard and Wooden and all that. Since I was bigger for my age, he would teach me all the sports stuff and kind of vicariously have me go out and [represent him] or whatever.
I enjoyed it for a while. It was fun to be close with him, but I didnt get into the competitive side of it. He has a wonderful way - my father had this, too - of getting great joy out of competition. Maybe its just that Im so competitive that I dont like to even get in there. I dont like to lose. Maybe thats it, I don't know. But Beau and my dad would love to compete at like tennis and all that stuff.
Do your kids have any interest in acting?
You know, I don't know. Unlike my father, I didnt make it as available to them as he did with us. And Im kind of, not that my dad was a stage parent or anything but he just enjoyed it so much and he wanted to turn his kids on to it. And he was right. Ive enjoyed it myself and have had a wonderful life because of it. But I went through a period where it was awkward for me. Whenever youre the child of a famous person, you get judged in odd ways because of that. Then I remember when I first started my acting, I thought, "Oh, I just got this job because of who my father is," a lot of nepotism stuff. Im a product of nepotism, Ive got to say. I don't think I would have gotten into it if my father wasnt so enthusiastic.
Anyway, I chose to not do that with my kids and Im kind of regretting that a little bit now because now theyre in their 20s and theyre at that crossroads where theyre starting to ask themselves, "Well, what am I going to do?" And Id say, "Do you ever think about acting? Youve got it in your blood. Youve got three generations of it and Ill help you work on the stuff." They say, "Eh, I don't think so." So I don't know. I wouldnt be surprised if any of them kind of stumble into it someway.
Are you still doing music just for fun? And, what other hobbies do you have?
I play all the time. I played not too long ago. I think I've got another album in me. I'm going to get my buddies together collecting songs. I do a lot of ceramics. My website's kind of fun for me. I get to do drawings on that. A lot of family time these days. My oldest daughter Isabelle is getting married so we're kind of all gearing up for that.
Let's talk about Iron Man. How has filming been?
It's been wonderful working with Jon Favreau who's the director of the film. He's a wonderful actor that I've admired for a long time. I remember first seeing him in Swingers. He wrote that, did such a great job. And Robert Downey Jr., we're doing a lot of improvisation in Iron Man to discover scenes and get off the written page. I know Jon is very interested in grounding it in as much reality as he possibly can.
You are playing?
I'm playing Obediah Stane who in the movie version is Tony Stark's mentor, that's Robert Downey's character, 'Iron Man.' I run his company, Stark Enterprises.
When do you go back to work?
How much longer do you have?
Are you into sci-fi and comic books?
I used to read comics when I was a kid. I wasn't too much into 'Iron Man.' I was into Superman. I was into Green Lantern. I shouldn't be saying that. Those are DC guys.
Have you worked with Gwyneth Paltrow yet?
A little bit. We've got some scenes coming up but I haven't worked with her too much yet.
How far have the special effects come since 'Tron?'
[Laughs] Man, leaps and bounds. I remember when we did 'Tron,' we were so excited, seeing it and then I remember about a week after the opening going home and seeing all that technology in a commercial. Just boom! it just made it passe like that. That's the way technology is. It changes so fast.
What's next for you after 'Iron Man?'
Yeah, after 'Iron Man,' I just signed on to a movie called 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People' with Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst. I play the chief editor of a magazine that Simon is working for. Loosely based on Vanity Faire. [The film is] based on a book by the same title I think.
Have you seen 'Shaun of the Dead' or 'Hot Fuzz?'
I've seen both of those and I'm a fan of Simon Pegg. I think he's great. I like 'Shaun of the Dead' a lot. I think it's wonderful.
Will you surf while you're here?
No, I'm not. I'm leaving tomorrow. I've got to go back to work [on Iron Man] but I had an interview up there with Kelly Slater [surf champ who pals around with Cameron Diaz]. We just met. It'd be great to go out there and surf with him. [note: check the last paragraph in this interview for the on-site lowdown on Kelly and Cameron!]
Longboard or shortboard?
I'm a longboard guy. I don't understand how they do the shortboard thing at all. I don't get it.
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