Think of all the iconic roles in Jeff Bridges‘s long career, which has spanned some 50 years now: Frank Baker, Bad Blake, Rooster Cogburn, Starman, the President, the Dude. And he just seems to keep getting better with age, winning his first Oscar in 2010, at 60, for his portrayal of a country music star gone to seed. He sang the weathered songs in his own voice in that one—ruggedly and beautifully, as you might expect—and has become the ideal vessel for the plainspoken, hardscrabble dialogue of Larry McMurtry, Charles Portis, and John Irving, all of whose words he has worn as comfortably onscreen as his beard. Most of all, Bridges has stayed himself—a little beat-up, a little aw-shucks, but of undeniable quality. This past year, he was up for yet another Oscar, his seventh nomination, for his gruff Texas sheriff in the contemporary Western Hell of High Water. (At this point, he has become an honorary Texan.) Here, Bridges revisits literally an entire life spent in the movies.
I think your first role was in the TV series Sea Hunt.
That’s incorrect, actually. My first part was in a movie called The Company She Keeps (1951), when I was six months old.
Ah. You were held in someone’s arms?
Jane Greer held me in her arms.
And then you were with her in Against All Odds (1984). She held you in her arms again.
Tried to kill you. [Laughter.] But what was the very first thing you auditioned for?
Oh, the very first thing was probably a movie called Halls of Anger (1970). I played a white kid who was trying to integrate into a black school, and the black kids kept beating me up and that sort of thing.
Did you get the part right away?
You know, I can’t remember back that far. I got the part, yeah, but I don’t know about right away.
You’ve said to me and to others that you weren’t sure you wanted to be an actor. Was there a moment that you knew you wanted to be an actor?
Yeah, I struggled with really committing to being an actor. My father, Lloyd Bridges, was so enthusiastic about all his kids going into showbiz and, you know, what kid wants to do what their parents want them to do? Plus that whole nepotism thing, so I resisted quite a bit. The first time I really realized, “No, I can do this,” was kinda late in my career. I had maybe 10, 12 movies under my belt, and then I got to work with Fredric March and Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan in The Iceman Cometh (1973), directed by John Frankenheimer. Working with those old time masters, they were such wonderful actors. I felt, “Yeah, this would be something I can do for a long time.”
Was that before or after The Last Picture Show (1971)?
It was quite a ways after Last Picture Show actually. I mean, I certainly had a great time in Last Picture Show, and it was a wonderful experience. But I didn’t know if I was gonna continue acting for the rest of my life. You know, I’m interested in music and other stuff.
But The Last Picture Show is the first time somebody made you, a boy from Southern California, a Texan.
Yeah, that’s true.
Are you an honorary Texan now? You’ve played a Texan how many times?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. You know, during The Last Picture Show there was a young kid, a 16-year-old kid named Loyd Catlett who was hired to teach us California kids how to come off as Texas kids. He’s also in the movie, and we became friends. Now it turns out we’ve done over 70 films together.
Oh my god.
He’s my stand-in and a thread through all of these movies. So whenever I have to play a Texan, he’s my go-to guy.
Well, you just played a Texan in Hell and High Water.
It was originally called Comancheria. In other countries it will keep that title.
Oh really? It’s kind of a great title.
I think so, yeah.
And when they sent [the script] to you, did you immediately say yes or were you resistant?
I can’t remember. Probably there was a bit of resistance. You know I’m good at resisting stuff—I try to resist as best as I can and then when it’s just too cool it pulls me in. This script happened to just wonderful. Taylor Sheridan wrote this script that just reeks of authenticity, so it’s just fascinating to me. You’re following these characters, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It really draws you in.
Do you have to like the character to play them? Do you have to think he’s a good guy?
No, I don’t have to think my character is necessarily a good guy. In fact, one of the interesting things about my job is examining those guys that you don’t think are such good guys. You know, see what that other side feels like.
Do you take that home with you or do you feel like you can shake it at the end of the day?
I remember doing an interview years ago and the interviewer asked me that question: “Are you one of those actors that takes the part home with you, or do you stay in character?” And I said, “No, not really,” and my wife Sue happened to be in the room and she goes [imitates laughter]. And I said, “What are you doing that for?” She said, “You don’t think you do but you do.” And I happened to be playing a terrible person at the time, a killer or somebody who buried people alive or something like that.
I feel I must ask you if you took The Dude home with you. I think you did take The Dude home with you.
Ah, yeah, maybe so.
Well with The Big Lebowski (1998), which is like every human being’s favorite movie, it was not a success when it first came out. When did it suddenly become clear to you that The Big Lebowski and The Dude were a thing that people were obsessed with?
Yeah, I was surprised that when The Big Lebowski came out it wasn’t received so wonderfully here in this country. I think it became a hit in Europe and then splashed back on these shores and people started to appreciate it more. You know, there were these two-day-long festivals that celebrate the film. I’ve attended a festival or two.
What that’s like?
Ha, well I sort of had my Beatle moment. I have a band, The Abiders, and we played a festival here in Los Angeles, you know, playing to a sea of Dudes. It was kind of a wonderful thing. I mean, we just jammed. It was totally a surreal experience.
So you won the Oscar [for Crazy Heart, in 2010] and then you started with your band.
Was it something that you’d always wanted to do? Or was it something that, you know, at that moment when you could’ve had any movie in the world, and you went on tour and recorded an album.
Yeah. I can’t remember the whole sequence of events, how the whole music thing happened. I certainly blame most of that on my good buddy T-Bone Burnett, who was the fella who did all the music for Crazy Heart. And shortly after that film I called T-Bone up and I said, “Hey, you know I’ve got a bunch more tunes. You want to make some more albums?” And he said, “Sure, man.” So we got together and made some more music, and then I figured if I’m ever going to do this music thing, now is the time. So, at 66, I’m getting to live my teenage high school dream of getting a band together and going around playing and making albums.
Did you have bands in high school?
We every Wednesday night at my friend Steve Bame’s house and jammed—you know, no songs allowed. Singing was of course encouraged, and so we would make up lyrics on the spot. But no songs; it was a jam. And we did that for a long, long time.
Is there a song that makes you cry?
Oh yeah, a lot of songs. One comes to mind, a wonderful songwriter who just passed away: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen. What a wonderful artist he was.
Were you happy that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature?
I sure am.
It’s kind of perfect. So when you were doing Hell and High Water, did you have the sense that it was a really great movie?
You never know until they paste the whole thing together. There’s so many opportunities for a movie to fall apart. You can have a great cast, a great director, great writing, and then somehow in editing you don’t choose the right takes, or the distribution is terrible, or whatever. But in Hell or High Water it all came together. I’m very proud of the movie. I had a wonderful time making it and I sure enjoy watching it.
So what movie makes you cry?
Oh, there’s quite a few. Terms of Endearment (1983) comes to mind. I thought, uh, that was just, uh, chock full of emotion and humor and everything. Those kids, they knock me out.
And it’s Larry McMurtry.
Yeah, absolutely. Nobody writes dialogue any better than Larry.
Who did you have a crush on in the movies even before you were in the movies?
Uh, you say that and Tuesday Weld popped in my mind.
Tuesday Weld. Any particular movie?
Well you know, [the TV series The Many Loves of] Dobie Gillis. [Laughs.] What was the other one? Then she made a great movie. What’s the other movie she made?
Lord Love a Duck (1966)?
No. Oh, there was one with Jimmy Caan. What was the one with Jimmy Caan?
Oh, The Gambler (1974).
The Gambler. She was just great, I thought.
What’s your favorite love scene in a movie? And I have to tell you, many people have said love scenes that you have done. A lot of people have said [The Fabulous] Baker Boys (1989) and a lot of people have said Against All Odds.
You know, love scenes are very challenging. It’s such a major part of our lives, making love and how we do that and feel about it, but it’s challenging. You know it often pulls people out of the film to see these actors going at it. I thought, uh, the love scene in Breaking the Waves (1996)…
Oh, that was amazing.
Wasn’t that good? Yeah, they really pulled that off well, I thought.
I thought the love scene in Baker Boys was incredible. It’s still one of my favorite love scenes.
I can’t remember, was that with the blue feather?
It’s with the blue feather. And the dress coming down.
But you don’t see anything. It’s just all there.
And you’re such a son of a bitch in that movie.
You think so? I don’t know. I love that movie. That was so wonderful. Steve Kloves, such a great writer, such a great director—that was his first film.
Where was your first kiss? Like in real life?
Oh man, well I don’t know if this was my first one but the one that popped into my mind when you asked was Debbie Olson, at the botanical gardens at UCLA.
Was she your classmate?
he was my classmate and—now that you’re bringing it up—you know who comes to mind is all my old high school girlfriends. I don’t know about the first one. That must have been like a spin the bottle or 7 Minutes in Heaven. I don’t know if the kids play those anymore, spin the bottle.
They play spin the bottle. They play truth or dare. Do you know truth or dare?
The movie, the Madonna thing.
No, no, truth or dare is a game where you say, “Truth or dare?”
Yeah, but didn’t Madonna play that?
Yes, I think she did play that but I think she kept saying truth. Most people do dare.
Yeah… but let me just say my best kiss is my wife. That’s for you, sweetheart. You’re the best, baby.
And you met your wife on location, right?
I met my wife on a movie called Rancho Deluxe (1975). She was working her way through college at this kind of a dude ranch in Montana. It was love at first sight for me.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
Watch Jeff Bridges reenact Shirley MacLaine’s iconic ‘Terms of Endearment’ performance: