Could one documentary change the expected outcome of this year’s best actor race? Probably not, but the season premiere of PBS’ “American Masters,” which focuses on Jeff Bridges, will make it hard for Academy members to not vote for the cinematic icon once more.
Bluntly, the impressive “Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides” is without a doubt the most in-depth retrospective on the “True Grit” star’s career. The approximately 90-minute film debuted at a special screening at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills Saturday evening and many of Bridges’ friends were in attendance including T. Bone Burnett, Ed Harris, Jackson Browne, “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper and brother Beau Bridges.
Writer and director Gail Levin dives into Bridges life story by bouncing back and forth between his upbringing and some of the more impactful films of his career such as “The Last Picture Show” (with some revealing notes from Cybill Shepherd and director Peter Bogdanovich), “Against All Odds” (director Taylor Hackford had to push to get him the role after failures such as “King Kong”), “Fat City” (legendary director John Houston favored co-star Stacy Keach), “The Fisher King” (Bridges went down a list of other actors Terry Gilliam should cast instead of him) and, of course, “The Big Lebowski.” The film also focuses on Bridges painting, pottery, music and zen studies proving he’s as much of a renaissance man as you may have heard. Most endearing, however, is the constant reminder of deep affection Bridges has for his wife, brother and mom and dad (who, if you remember, were the first two people he mentioned during his best actor acceptance speech last March).
“It’s a giant home movie,” Bridges says of his experience watching it for the first time during a Q&A afterward. “Each shot triggers a whole slew of memories.”
And while he was an active participant, he wasn’t thrilled with everything that made it on screen. In one important moment, Bogdanovich reveals his theory that Bridges didn’t really “let loose” with his talents until after the death of his father, Lloyd Bridges, a longtime Hollywood star. That seemed to rub the Oscar winner the wrong way as he volunteered, “One thing that I didn’t agree with was what [Bogdanovich] said about my father. I never felt that about him. That I was holding back.”
When initially approached about the documentary, Bridges had just finished shooting “Tron Legacy” and “True Grit” and, as usual, the self described indecisive actor wanted to take a long break.
“I went oh, [expletive],” Bridges recalls of first hearing about the film. “I had done two movies back to back and I was just wiped out and I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to sleep.”
His publicist convinced him to at least think about because he was going to have to find some way to promote those two movies and — sad, but true — this would be one way to do it.
Bridges continues, “Then [Levin] calls me at 10 o’clock at night and says, ‘I just want to let you know if you do this thing how intense it’s going to be and how involved.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh, God. Now I really don’t want to do it.’ And I would have to give them all this stuff. And then something snapped and I thought, ‘Well, there are some things that I would like to promote. One is my music which is in here. You’ve got 82 minutes to do the show, you can’t put everything in there, and one of the things I was hoping to put in there…was my hunger work with the No Kid Hungry Campaign.”
And while his charity work didn’t make the cut, he is glad he agreed to go forward. Bridges says, “I turned it around and we did have some fun.”
One of the last questions that came from the crowd was whether Bridges revisits any of his old movies. He answered that he typically doesn’t, but will catch “Lebowski” on TV, tell himself he’s just going to watch one scene and then end up enjoying the whole thing. Bridges says, “I’m partial, but that is a good movie.”
Just one of many.
In the outtake below, Bridges visits The Little Lebowski store.
“Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides” premieres on “American Masters” on PBS Wed. Jan 12 at 8 PM E.T.