At a recent soiree in the rarefied surrounds of the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, Jeff Bridges attended an unusual movie premiere. Instead of a film featuring him playing a big role, the movie was about his life.
The star-struck crowd at Paley watched an 82-minute documentary, part of the PBS channel’s American Masters series, detailing Bridges’ escapades in Hollywood. Afterwards he indulged in a Q&A with the crowd. The experience, he said, had been just like watching a “giant home movie.”
So it should be. For Bridges, who grew up next to Beverly Hills, has spent most of his life in the Hollywood system. He was born into a show business family, had his first role aged four months in 1950 and now, at 61, has made more than 60 films.
Now he is nominated once again for the best actor Oscar; for his role as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit. That follows his best actor win last year for his portrayal of a drunken country music singer in Crazy Heart. With six Oscar nominations to his name, Bridges has finally blossomed into his birthright: he is Hollywood royalty.
Yet there is a potential obstacle to this latest success, and it comes in the shape of Colin Firth. The British actor’s portrayal of a stuttering monarch in The King’s Speech is generating the hottest buzz in Tinseltown, especially as Firth’s strong performance last year in A Single Man lost out to Bridges. “Those two were up against each other last year. They are nose to nose again, but I think this is Colin’s year,” said the celebrity interviewer Gayl Murphy.
Firth may be cracking open Hollywood and finally becoming a big star. But Bridges has lived his life as one. Whether he wins an Oscar for playing the cigar-chomping Cogburn is almost irrelevant. His position in Hollywood is now so exalted that he cannot lose.
“He is the male equivalent of Meryl Streep,” said Richard Laermer, a cultural critic at the Huffington Post. “Everything he does from now on will get a nomination. People love him. They love him the same way as they love Jack Nicholson.”
Almost everything Bridges does appears to exude the Zen-like calm of a man already at the top of the mountain. Few know that better than Murphy, who has interviewed him about 15 times. Bridges is almost unique, she says, in being relaxed in a Hollywood world usually defined by high-octane egos, controlling PRs and staggering narcissism. “He’s mellow. He’s out there. He’s interested and interesting and when you interview him he always asks you questions, too,” she said.
Bridges is, in short, a little similar to one of his most famous roles: that of The Dude in the Coen Brothers’ comedy The Big Lebowski. The Dude was a stoner, at peace with a confusing world, standing slightly above the concerns of others and pursuing his own form of happiness.
For an actor known to practice meditation (and smoke a little marijuana) and play with a band in his hometown of Santa Barbara, it was not a huge jump. “He’ll show up in a Hawaiian shirt to an interview. He’s sort of like the Jimmy Buffet of acting. He is just so grounded,” Murphy said.
Perhaps his rare sense of equanimity can be accounted for by the fact that Bridges did not have to break into Hollywood. His story was not one of arriving in California from some Midwestern town with a dollar and a dream. He was born within sight of the Hollywood sign to an acting couple, Dorothy and Lloyd Bridges. Jeff and his older brother, Beau, had occasional appearances on his father’s hit shows, Sea Hunt and The Lloyd Bridges Show.