Jeff Bridges Sings His Crazy Heart Out
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on December 16, 2009.
It’s hard to believe that in a career that has lasted over 40 years (actually longer, his first appearance on film was in 1951 as an infant), Jeff Bridges has never won an Oscar. He has worked regularly and made vibrant contributions in such legendary films as The Last Picture Show, Starman, The Big Lebowski, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Fearless, yet he has only been nominated four times and has never brought home the little statuette.
This may all be changing with his latest role. In Crazy Heart, Bridges disappears into the role of an aging country singer named Bad Blake who is fighting with his demons when he is offered two chances of salvation. One comes in the form of a potential family with a younger woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son. The other is through his career, with an old protégé (Colin Farrell) becoming a country superstar and wanting to bring his old mentor along for the ride if the older guy could just swallow his pride.
Crazy Heart is the writing/directing debut of character actor Scott Cooper and features a wonderfully realistic alt-country soundtrack written mostly by roots musician/producer T Bone Burnett and old Nashville hand Stephen Bruton, who died before the film saw release.
A little under a week before Crazy Heart was set to be put on limited release so it would be eligible for Oscar consideration (and a matter of days before Bridges was nominated for a Golden Globe for the part), Bridges sat down for a roundtable with us and some other websites to discuss his career, the movie, the role and the Oscar buzz.
You’ve been involved with music for years – in fact I have the CD that you did about ten years ago [called Be Here Soon]…
Oh, yeah? Oh, good. Good, good, good. Ten years ago? Is that what you said? Jeez… Has it been that long? Phew, it probably has.
Do you think that had things gone a different way for you when you were starting in show biz you may have ended up having a life like Bad’s?
I don’t know about Bad’s life. I hope not. (chuckles) You know I’d certainly get into music. Unlike a lot of people, my father, Lloyd Bridges – who had a hit TV series in the 60s and was a very successful actor – he enjoyed show biz so much that he really wanted to turn his kids onto it. So, he encouraged all of us to go into show biz. And as you know, we don’t like to do what our parents tell us to. So I wanted to do the music thing, or to paint, or some other stuff. But I’m glad I took the old man’s advice, because I sure love it, too. And all those other things I might have gone into, I can bring to the work, like in this one.
In Bad Blake, we see so many country singers we know – Waylon Jennings is the first one that comes to mind. In your research creating this fellow, who inspired you?
I was really fortunate in this one to have two very close friends who were my main role models: T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton. Those guys, we go back to Heaven’s Gate 30 years ago, with another role model – I’m not as close with [Kris] Kristofferson, but he’s certainly a good buddy, and he brought all his musician friends to that party. So it was six months of jamming, every night after work. That’s kind of the birth of this movie. It came out of that in a funny sort of way. And Kris is certainly a role model. One of the first bits of direction Scott [Cooper] gave me was that if Bad was a real character, he would be the fifth Highwayman. Do you know who The Highwaymen are? Kris, Willie [Nelson], Waylon and Johnny Cash. So those guys were all role models, along with Hank Williams. Then, another thing that T-Bone told me – and I thought it was really a great idea – he gave me a timeline of the music Bad might have listened to when he was growing up. T-Bone and Stephen grew up together – they were childhood friends, basically – and Stephen’s dad owned a music store and exposed them to all kinds of blues. They would listen to Ornette Coleman. All kinds of music. T Bone said, ‘Country music comes from all different kinds of places now,’ so Bad could be listening to T-Bone Walker or Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen – different guys that aren’t thought of as classical country guys. They were role models as well.
How easy was it to get out of the mindset of the character?
Oh, a certain part I don’t want to get out of. Keep that guy with me, you know? Just the music stuff and hopefully, I’ll keep on with that. Maybe another album will come out now that he has done those kinds of things? So, that aspect of the character is still cooking. The other side, you know the boozing side and the unhealthy side, like gaining that much weight… part of the preparation for a character is you think of what you ingest. Whether it’s a cup of coffee, or how much you eat at lunch that day because you have a scene. How you feel sleepy after you eat… all those kinds of things. So with this lot, my regimen was “remove the governor.” Take that guy and put him over there. You want that extra pint of Häagen-Dazs? Sure. You want that extra drink? Sure, go ahead, man! You don’t want to drink when you’re working, because you’ve got to sustain that kind of thing. But you be a little humble, that might work for you. Giving that up was a little bit tough, but there is a downside. It’s like the blessing of the hangover. The hangovers let you know: don’t do this too often. We learn that lesson over and over. (laughs) Well, hopefully, not too many times, if we’re lucky. So that side was a little tough, because you kind of get in a groove, and the older you get, the harder it is to shift: lose the weight and all that stuff. But there’s nothing like health – that’s the best high.
What about the cigarettes? There are so many!
Oh, yeah. That’s always a challenge. At least they were filtered cigarettes. I remember doing Tucker. The guy died from lung cancer. He smoked three packs of Luckys a day! Or Chesterfields. Oh, my God. I’d be puking during a scene, you know? Because when you’re in the character, you just play it. You’re doing it how you do it, and then after two or three takes you go… (moans)
They can’t give you fake ones?
That doesn’t even matter. That doesn’t help that much. That was never my jones, the cigarette thing. I always draw the line at never buying cigarettes. Whenever I’d get that urge to smoke, I’ll have to bum a cigarette off someone.
Do you think Maggie’s character was right to break off the relationship?
Yeah. Man, yeah.
I kept hoping they’d get back together.
I know. Well that happens in the sequel, you know, Crazy Love. (laughs) Her guy turns out to be a terrible guy and I come to the rescue. I write a song about it. I write a song about the kid. No, I don’t know. That’s my optimistic mind, though.