Interview By Matt Barone
To some people, 2010 was the year that Jeff Bridges became a megastar; a cinematic icon. Well, those people should invest in a Netflix account. Sure, he picked up his first Academy Award earlier this year, for his great turn as an aged, down-on-his-luck country singer in Crazy Heart, and he's currently toplining two of the year's most anticipated films, TRON: Legacy (out Friday) and the Coen Brothers' Western remake True Grit (opening December 22). But Bridges, son of the late TV and film star Lloyd Bridges, is also a 60-year acting veteran, with a filmography boasting gems like The Last Picture Show (1971), Starman (1984), The Fisher King (1991), Arlington Road (1999), and Iron Man (2008). Oh, and there's that little 1998 movie The Big Lebowksi, and a certain character known as The Dude.
One of the most beloved movies on his resume, though, is TRON, 1982's effects showcase set in a virtual 3D world. Bridges played Kevin Flynn, a software engineer battling his way through a virtual world. At the time, TRON underperformed, yet its next-level visuals (by 1982 standards, at least) have gradually turned the one-time disappointment into a cult classic. TRON: Legacy finds Flynn stuck in the video game world, where his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), reunites with him while battling Clu, a digitally-created tyrant who looks like Bridges circa '82. The actor plays both Flynn and Clu, thanks to modern technology which allowed the actor to wear a bunch of fancy electronic paraphernalia and shed nearly 30 years of age. Don't be surprised if Clu prompts absent-minded viewers to say, "Wait, I've seen that guy before." Here, Bridges discusses TRON: Legacy, new-age technology, and The Dude.
Complex: It must be surreal to see yourself in a movie looking like you did in 1982 again.
Jeff Bridges: It is, because I'm still the same guy, you know? It feels like a really long weekend. [Laughs.]
Complex: What made you want to revisit the TRON world?
Jeff Bridges: Well, it was great having [Steven] Lisberger on board [as a producer], the writer and director of the first one. Having him there, it was great to have that through-line. What appealed to me about the original movie was quite similar to what drew me to this one, and that is to be able to explore all of the most up-to-date technology that my industry has to offer. Back in those days, it was nothing compared to now. I mean, making movies without cameras? What a bizarre thing, man!
Complex: When did you first realize that a TRON sequel was becoming a reality?
Jeff Bridges: There were a lot of rumors that was happening, going back... How long ago was the first one?
Complex: It came out in 1982.
Jeff Bridges: So almost 30 years now... God! [Laughs.] That's a long time! There have been rumors for the last 25 years, but I'm really glad that Disney held off until we got the right script. We needed the right story, and the right director. I think Disney did such a great job of picking the talent. They got this director, a first-time guy—imagine the pressure! And Joe [Kosinski] is so cool, and he created such a good atmosphere. And then they brought Lisberger back in, which I thought was key, to keep things consistent. This film is a stand-alone; you don't have to have seen the original to make this one make sense, but if you did see the original you're not gonna get any bumps, which is nice. I like that.
Complex: What did you like about this one's script?
Jeff Bridges: Well, that's the other thing. I thought it was an opportunity to make a movie about a myth. I think we can use some myths to help us navigate our modern times and this technology that we have now.
Complex: What myths help you navigate through life?
Jeff Bridges: Whoa, that's kind of a deep question. [Laughs.] I'd have to say the parental myth. I've got these wonderful parents, so maybe it's the myth of carrying that on. Myths are wonderful—they really tell the stories that connect all of us and teach us so much. There must be a myth about... Well, this movie is that myth, actually. It's about the continuation of what your father gives you. I've always felt like I'm in a relay race with my mom and dad, and I have to carry on their work. I think that's kind of what's going on in this movie. This technology that we have is great, but it's also a double-edged sword. It can either bring us together or tear us apart.
Complex: Are you a big fan of all of modern gadgets and tech geekery?
Jeff Bridges: I dig immediate gratification—I want what I want and I want it now. All of this technology makes that available, and that's the trap, man. Like this thing right here [he points to the big water bottle he's holding]—at one point or another, somebody decided it'd be a good idea to carry around water so you can have it whenever you want, but it costs more than gasoline! [Laughs.] Plus, the single-use plastic doesn't biodegrade; it goes into the ocean, the fish eat it, we eat it. This film talks about how going too far with technology is dangerous. Maybe this film is a cautionary tale. It could be saying to all of the tech wizards out there, "Slow down, guys."
Complex: One of the bigger talking points about TRON: Legacy is how you play two roles, both yourself now and the 1982 version of yourself. What was that like?
Jeff Bridges: It was pretty wild, man. This is how it worked. Myself, at my own age, the old guy you're talking to, I'm in a costume and it's mostly traditional shooting. But as Clu, I'm in this leotard with black dots all over my face, and I'm wearing this crazy helmet. Being in that weird costume, it kind of puts you in The Grid, in some ways. That helped. I'm amazed by it all. As an actor, that technology is a wonderful thing, because now I can play myself at any age. Seriously, I can play myself as a four-year-old! [Laughs.] Now they can make a digital character and say, "Let's have a little Bridges in there, and maybe some De Niro, and some Brando. Ahh, maybe a little less Bridges." [Laughs.] Then an actor will drive that image. It's just getting really crazy, man.
Complex: While we have your attention, it'd be foolish not to show some love to The Big Lebowski. TRON: Legacy is cool and all, but The Dude always abides. Did you expect that character to become such a cult icon?
Jeff Bridges: It's funny, when I was doing Lebowksi, a concern of mine was what my kids would think. It turned out that it wasn't a big hit when it came out, but I thought it was going to be a really big hit. I'm playing this stoner guy, and my kids were all about 15, 16. I was really concerned about how that would affect them in school and so forth. I got them all together in the living room, before I took the job, and I said, "I just want to let you know, I don't have to do this movie." After quite a long pause, my middle daughter, Jessie, said, "Dad, you're an actor. We know that when you kiss beautiful women on screen, you still love Mom. You do characters—that's what you do." I just thought, Man, how cool is that?
CHECK JEFF OUT IN THE TRON: LEGACY TRAILER:
CHECK JEFF OUT IN THE 1982 TRON TRAILER: