Jeff Bridges, psychic medium.
Ask the Oscar-winning actor a relatively straightforward question and you can expect an answer ten times more interesting and in-depth than you expected. On approaching his character, the gruff Master John Gregory, in YA fantasy adaptation “Seventh Son”:
“You know these kinda psychic guys that channel spirits and stuff? I remember Ramtha…this woman would channel this spirit named Ramtha,” said Bridges, referring to controversial American mystic J.Z. Knight. “And…it has that aspect to it for me. You know, I'll just invite a spirit or a character into me [so it can] have its way with me. And I did that in this case. Once you get the costumes on, and you're in those wonderful Dante Ferretti sets and stuff, you open yourself to be inhabited by a character to have its way with you. And that's kind of what happened [on 'Seventh Son'], you know.”
The Sergei Bodrov-directed film — which also features seasoned thesps like Bridges' “Big Lebowski” co-star Julianne Moore (“It was like we had a long weekend and just picked up where we left off,” he described of their screen reunion), Djimon Honsou and Olivia Williams — also pairs him with Ben Barnes, the young British actor best known for his role in the final two chapters of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. Barnes has admitted that he was “intimidated” at the prospect of working with one of his biggest acting idols, and Bridges can relate: one of his first major acting roles came in 1970's “The Yin and Yang of Mr. Go,” a Burgess Meredith-directed oddity that starred James Mason as an evil “Chinese-Mexican” blackmailer. Bridges, who was all of 20 when the film was made, describes how the elder actor put him at ease on set.
“I was very intimidated by James Mason,” he said. “And I really loved it that he went out of his way to let me know that he was just a regular guy and that we could just kinda talk about normal things. He had no desire to intimidate me or put me on edge or anything like that. And I really appreciated that, and I think it's just kind of a natural passing on of that kind of thing. I try to put everybody at ease because I know how uncomfortable it can be to not be at ease and how that can interfere with the work. You gotta be relaxed when you're working.”
Bridges and Ben Barnes in 'Seventh Son' (Universal Pictures)
Speaking of “relaxed,” Bridges has in many ways become the poster boy for the adjective — a reputation he arguably acquired with his role as philosophy-spouting L.A. slacker “the Dude” in the 1998 cult Coen Bros. comedy “The Big Lebowski.” Bridges is, truly, a Zen-like presence even over the phone, and I wondered whether the vibe he puts out is something he comes by naturally or rather a quality he eased into later in life. The actor chalks it up to his late mother Dorothy, who, as he describes it, “would do this thing with her kids called 'time.'”
“She would give each of her kids every day an hour devoted to whatever they wanted to do,” he said of her approach to child-rearing. “And during that hour she wouldn't answer the phone, she wouldn't be distracted with anything else other than giving a kid her attention. And it would be anything from playing, you know, cowboys and indians, or 'let's play space monster,' you know, 'you be the astronaut under the kitchen table and I'll be the space monster,' or 'let's go do your makeup, I wanna make you up like a clown.' …She would do that every day, and you never got a sense that it was a duty kind of thing. …So that was the kind of nurturing I had when I was growing up. And I think that it created kind of a mellow guy.”
Bridges' father, too — the late TV star Lloyd Bridges — taught him a valuable lesson in the scheme of his professional life.
“He approached the work with a lot of joy,” he said. “And it was kind of contagious, everybody said, 'Oh yeah, this kinda fun! You can have fun with this!' And 'You can like each other, and kinda get off on this like and this love that you feel and have a good time.'…[That way] stuff can kinda come through you, you know.”
Bridges is a star who seems to thrive on ease, so it's no surprise that “Seventh Son” director Bodrov's “light touch” (Bridges' words) was something he warmed to during production.
“I've found that some of the best directors and producers — my friend [superstar music producer] T. Bone Burnett comes to mind — if somebody from the outside would come in, it would look like that director's…not doing anything,” said Bridges, who later added: “I think a lot of [film] producers don't realize the [value] of that kind of direction.”
Speaking of light touches, Bridges is also currently in the midst of attempting to reunite with Scott Cooper, who directed Bridges to an Oscar win in the 2009 country-music drama “Crazy Heart.”
“One guy we're trying to get a project together now is Scott Cooper,” he told me when I asked which previous acting and/or directing collaborators he was hoping to work with again. “He's a very, again, subtle director, also being an actor he knows how actors work and their processes. And it's…different actors work in different ways, and he's very sensitive to that. And I'm looking forward to working with him.”
Also, newsflash for “Whiplash” director Damien Chazelle: Jeff Bridges is looking for you.
“[I'm] a big fan of 'Whiplash,' and that guy's so fresh,” said Bridges when I asked which first-time collaborations he's hoping to make a reality (his other answers: Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme). “I've had wonderful experiences and luck with first-time directors, from Steve Clovis who directed 'Fabulous Baker Boys,' that was his first movie, Scott Cooper, 'Crazy Heart' was his first movie. A lot of first-time directors, you know. We haven't done much better than [Orson Welles'] 'Citizen Kane.'”
“Seventh Son” hits theaters today.