INT: Jeff "Dude" Dowd
Jeff Dowd makes it clear that he is not Jeffrey Lebowski. Or The Dude. Or His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino. But as you continue to talk to him, you can slowly begin to see exactly how the Coens were inspired to create The Dude based on him in their classic flick, THE BIG LEBOWSKI (re-released as a Collector's Edition DVD tomorrow, October 18th). He's definitely got a little Dude in him. And yes, White Russians were once his drink of choice. But Dowd isn't quite the slacker our friend Lebowski was, as evidenced by his political interests, books and other projects in the work. Sometimes there's a man... Well, I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough.
Jeff "The Dude" Dowd
Hey Jeff, how are you?
I'm good thanks. Where are you calling from?
New Jersey. Yourself?
Santa Monica, California. Whereabouts in Jersey?
In the Morristown area. That's the best way I could describe it.
Oh I know where that is. My friend Huey Lewis went to school there. [Ed. note: Lewis graduated from The Lawrenceville School closer to Princeton, New Jersey.]
Onto the DVD, isn't it great that the devoted fans are finally getting a special edition version of this movie?
I think it's great. The truth is that like any good album in the old days - like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones or The Beatles - everyone pretty much had to go buy a second one at some point because they listened to it so much. The fact that people will watch THE BIG LEBOWSKI again and again in who knows what condition , I'd imagine quite a few of those BIG LEBOWSKIs are scratched or have had beverages spilled on them. So it'd be time to get a new one in any case. But it's great. It's a great phenomenon that people have discovered that this is one of those rare movies that brings some form of joy and happiness in today's tragic world.
Is that how you'd explain the longevity and success of the film? The ability to provide great escapism?
I think there are several reasons why it's so successful. Obviously this is something I've been forced to think about over the past few years and you start to watch people and ask them and hear stories... On the simplest level, it's clearly a movie like AUSTIN POWERS, where there are different lines and it becomes kinda interactive. On another level, and it took me a while to discover this but, it is kinda like an album. But unlike an album that has one or two good hits on it, it's got 15 good sequences on it. Okay?
They're all really good that stand by themselves. So whether it's the Jesus [Quintana] sequence or going to interview the kid about his homework and the breaking of the car or the Treehorn one or the first Maude one... Classic sequences that, if you're like me, I remember channel-surfing into the movie after not having seen it for a couple years and I'm going, "Wow this is really good!" It's like hearing a song again and going, "Wow this really was a good song." It endures. The other level, it's something that, it's almost guaranteed that you're gonna feel better when you watch it. And the most profound example of that is if you go to my website there's a letter from a NYC volunteer fireman who was there on 9/11.
Yeah I read that.
That story, from Chris Coyle, is about a guy who's suffering deeply from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which most of the country was but he on a very personal level. I know from some other friends were there - I had a very close friend killed actually - you feel terrible. And Chris felt worthless for months. He tried everything - doctors, pills... - and nothing worked. So one day he puts in his copy of THE BIG LEBOWSKI and he smiles for the first time in months. He starts laughing for the first time in months. Then he watches it again and his wife says, we gotta thank you... And that's the extreme version.
So if you watch the movie alone or with your friends, you know you're gonna feel better. The same way you might hope to feel better if you had a drink or had a drug or did a mood elevator. All those things are intended to make you feel better. And some of them have pretty bad side effects. A pretty bad hangover. or worse. This one the side effects aren't bad and the positive things are really good. And it's interactive, with friends.
Did you have a feeling it would catch on like this when you first saw the movie?
I saw it in a theatrical situation and most people seemed to be having a lot of laughs but I didn't get the sense of that interactivity. A lot of people didn't get that when they saw AUSTIN POWERS either. It was what happened afterwards that people took it onto themselves and starting playing with the movie and doing all the lines and stuff. So no, I didn't. I didn't get that sense and I don't think anybody did.
When did it dawn on you that it had a life of its own?
I'll give you another example. There's a family in San Diego I met at a Lebowski Fest, a Latino family. Three generations with teenagers, parents and grandparents. And they watch this movie at Christmastime instead of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. They know they're gonna have a good time. When families get together for the holidays, we all know that's good news and bad news, right? But you know if you watch THE BIG LEBOWSKI, you're going to feel better. At least for those 120 minutes. And so that's what these guys do. I think it's sacrilegious personally not watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on Christmas but I get it.
How was Lebowski similar to you and how have you changed since you embodied that persona?
Well Lebowski was what Joel and Ethan thought I might be like in the 70s after the activist period. Fighting against the war and before we went back to work. Indeed I was hanging out and drinking White Russians and Dirty Mothers and Yellow Sunrises or whatever the drink was of the moment. Just hanging in Seattle and slacking for a period. So were a lot of my friends and so were a lot of people. But - and I have a book coming out that deals with all this stuff - I was forced to be around a lot of very interesting people when they changed cultural and political history.
And that's what the book's about. It's very funny but it's also very inspiring. I still was very involved in the past presidential campaign because someone asked me to help out with GOING UPRIVER: THE LONG WAR OF JOHN KERRY. I identified with that because a lot of my best friends joined the Marines when I was 17 and went to Vietnam. I was gonna go to except I heard from them, what they signed up for wasn't what they got. They said don't go and none of their younger brothers signed up. So I related to guys like Kerry who went over there - signed up, he wasn't drafted - and like so many Vietnam vets, had a change of heart and did something that was very hard to do: oppose the war.
So I was very involved in trying to get that movie out and raise awareness on what's going on Iraq. We have a movie called GHOST COUNTRY that we're about to produce that's an incredibly well-written script that's about a vet going back to Vietnam where his brother disappeared years ago. Very much a "Twilight Zone" kinda thing. But it's a very, very rich character. So I'm involved in various ways now with combining art with politics. So that, obviously, is very different from the character of Lebowski.
When does your book come out?
Probably next fall. I'm about 400 pages into it but it's gonna need some editing still. If I could do what you and every other writer would like to do and take some time and do that and nothing else...
Wouldn't that be nice?
Unfortunately this is the real world... One last thing, this DVD is a great gift for friends. It really is. If you really want to put a smile on their face. The other things is there's an upcoming Lebowski Fest, which I was very leery of the first time I went. Kinda like Bill Shatner's "get a life" line [from the "Saturday Night Live" skit]. But they're . It's LebowskiFest.com. Look at the pictures from the past. It's really a hoot. And I don't get paid to say any of this or anything. It's just a different kinda of party than anything you've ever been to. The first night there's a band with music and movie and the second night people dress up and come out to the bowling alley.
Sounds great, thanks Jeff.
Look forward to meeting you sometime.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (COLLECTOR'S EDITION) and the COEN BROS COLLECTION DVDs will be out on October 18th.