Comic-Con 2014: Jeff Bridges On ‘The Giver,’ The ‘Fargo’ TV Show, ‘Iron Man’ And The Viral Sandwich
At one point during this interview, Jeff Bridges leaned back in his chair, laughed, then broke into an impression of Jeffrey Lebowski, his character from ‘The Big Lebowski’ who is also famously known as The Dude. It was at this moment that I decided that the trip from New York City to San Diego for Comic-Con was worth it.
Bridges is in San Diego to promote ‘The Giver,’ Lois Lowry’s book about a dystopian future and the children that try to change it that has been Bridges’ infatuation for so long that he originally envisioned his father, Lloyd Bridges (who passed away in 1998), as the title character — a role that Jeff Bridges himself now portrays. Ahead, Bridges explains why ‘The Giver’ was so difficult to adapt as a movie; if the Coen Brothers could ever make a ‘Fargo’-esque ‘The Big Lebowski’ miniseries; his reflections on ‘Iron Man,’ the Marvel Studios movie that started the behemoth franchise we have today; and his thoughts on creating an Internet sensation just by revealing a sandwich recipe on Reddit.
Do you like the Comic-Con crowd? You’ve been here before.
Yeah, it’s my third time here and, gee, I haven’t been on the floor. I love that term, that’s a Comic-Con term now, “The Floor.” They still have the floor, don’t they?
It’s wonderful for filmmakers to have some of their possible audience members out there. This is the part of my job that’s kind of the Barker of ‘Carousel,’ trying to entice people to come see our movie.
Originally you wanted to direct your father playing The Giver. Is it weird playing a role you envisioned your father playing?
Hmm. Not that weird. I think of my dad in a lot of different roles I’ve had.
What other roles?
Well, I remember ‘The Contender,’ as the President of the United States. That president that I played really loved being president. Almost like Bill Clinton. My father, he loved making movies, entertaining, all of the different aspects of it. He had tremendous joy in his approach to his work. So, we used him in that film. And the Westerns that I’ve done, I always think of my dad as a kid — he came home from work and he had his Western costume on.
That has to be a cool experience.
Oh, I’d dress up and put the big boots on and go, “Ahhh!”
It’s kind of surprising you’ve never directed a movie. Why didn’t you end up directing ‘The Giver’?
Well, the idea was to direct my father in it. You know, nowadays, they don’t have middle budget movies, really. Do they have $300 million budgets yet? They’ve probably passed that already. For awhile, we were thinking this could be a really big budgeted movie. At the same time, a lot of stories are hurt by having too big of a budget. We also were thinking, Well, let’s make it a lower budget movie. And then I thought, Gee, if this is going to be a lower budget movie, I didn’t think I really had the directorial chops to direct this kind of complex story. You want to do the story justice and I think I was smart in making that choice.
Maybe this is me being selfish, but I want to see you direct a movie.
Oh, good! I wonder if that’s in the cards. What’s kind of fun, making movies is a collaborative art form. And I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors. As a matter of fact, winning the Academy Award for ‘Crazy Heart’…
Which you produced.
Which I produced, but that was directed by Scott Cooper, who had never directed any movies before. He had never had a screenplay produced. I’ve had great luck with first time directors — Steve Kloves on ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ — just lots of them that worked out great. And in that instance with these first time guys, often, I can’t think of one when it didn’t happen, they would call on me as the senior movie maker in the group and be open to my ideas and all of that. So, I get to put some directing in the film without having to take terrible — not terrible — but that responsibility and the tremendous amount of work it takes.
You’ve been trying to get ‘The Giver’ made for a long time. Was it frustrating when films with similar tropes and themes have been made since then?
Well, all of those movies, ‘Hunger Games, ‘Divergent,’ I believe they were inspired by ‘The Giver.’
Then why would it be so difficult to get this made since it’s the one which spawned all of these other books.
That’s interesting. I take your point and I kind of agree with it. It was surprising that here’s this great book that’s taught in all of these schools — you know, curriculum’s based on the book…
They’re not teaching ‘The Hunger Games.’
For kids, ‘The Giver’ was required reading. I thought this book would be easy to get made. Then also, it was on the banned books list, “Oh, this is too dark of a thing for our kids.”
You’d think a little controversy would make it a little more appealing.
Exactly. But, getting movies made these days — well, it’s always been a challenge — but today it’s more challenging then ever. It seems like the financiers want to make a sure thing. It doesn’t make any sense to me how it goes.
A very popular book, it spawned all of these other popular stories, and you’re Jeff Bridges.
I think ‘Hunger Games’ and these other dystopia movies, they kind of broke the way for us.
Which is ironic.
It is. But what’s fascinating to me is ‘The Giver’ is quite different. The vibe is very, very different. It’s the kind of movie I like to see, where it’s not like anything you’ve seen before.
The Internet has become obsessed with your sandwich recipe.
My sandwich recipe?
The one you described on Reddit.
[Laughing] It was just simply building a bagel!
People love it.
What, building a bagel?
It’s become quite popular.
[Laughing] Oh, that’s funny. Really? That’s funny.
It sounds delicious.
[Laughs] It’s just a bagel with cheese and lox and onions.
At the Hall H panel, someone yelled “Dude” at you immediately.
Did you watch ‘Fargo’ the television series?
Could they do something like that, a miniseries, with ‘The Big Lebowski’?
That’s weird. I wonder.
Like maybe a 10 episode arc? Is that possible?
Of course I guess they could. I mean, they could. The Coen Brothers were involved in that?
They produced it.
Wow. Who knows? Those guys are always surprising me. I often get asked if there’s going to be a sequel to ‘The Big Lebowski,’ and I say that I don’t think the brothers would do it, but there are always surprises. I don’t what they’re going to do.
You were the first villain in this Marvel Studios series of movies. That seems a long time ago now.
Oh, you mean ‘Iron Man.’ Isn’t it great? That was such a wild experience making that movie. I don’t think we came to Comic-Con, I don’t remember coming to Comic-Con for that movie. But, it was such an amazing experience. You know, that was a $200 million movie and you would think that if you’re spending that kind of money, you’d have your script together. But, that was not the case. We would often go to work and while the crew was in there waiting, Downey, myself, and Jon Favreau would be in a trailer with all of the suits, the Marvel [executives], trying to figure out what we were going to do! That day!
Had you ever experienced anything like that before?
No! It was driving me crazy! We’d have video cameras and tape recorders in there and it would be like, “Robert, why don’t you play my part and I’ll play your part. I’ve got this idea.” And we’d switch roles sometimes and Favreau would call up writers that he knew, trying to throw some idea around. Meanwhile, the whole thing was in there. And this drove me absolutely crazy — until I made a little inside adjustment. And that was, because I like to know my lines…
Yeah, yeah, yeah. To memorize lines right before we do it? That’s not the way I like to work. But, I thought, Jeff, just relax. Some advice my mother used to give me all the time and it still comes in very handy, she said, “Remember, Jeff, have fun and don’t take it too seriously. Because you can in all of this stuff.” And I made this little adjustment and said to myself, “Jeff, just relax. You are making a $200 million student film. Just have fun and play.” And we were so fortunate to have Robert Downey and Jon Favreau, him at the helm — two great improvisers and just very talented people. And Jon, directing it, able to work with the suits — the guys saying, “Oh, no, he wouldn’t do that” — and the actors and keep the vibe workable and manageable and not have everything go completely crazy. But, I loved the movie. In the end, the movie turned out spectacular!
Were you surprised it turned out as as well as it did?
Oh, yeah, as we started to get into it, after I made this little adjustment, personally, and started to have fun and just kind of relax with the way it is and not pout — you can’t spend too much time pouting when you’re an actor saying, “I wish it was this way.” You just have to get with the program and play. And once that happened, it was like, Oh, yeah, this could be a good one. And Downey was so, God, he’s so great.
The third movie I ever saw in a theater was ‘Kiss Me Goodbye.’
‘Kiss Me Goodbye,’ let me get it in my head…
Oh, Sally Field. Yeah! Oh, we had a great time. I had worked with Sally just prior to that, I had done her first movie called ‘Stay Hungry,’ did you see that movie?
Oh, you’ve got to see that one. Do you know who Bob Rafelson is? So, it’s Bob Rafelson directing, Arnold Schwarzenegger — maybe his first movie, maybe second…
After ‘Hercules in New York.’
Yeah, yeah. Then he plays a violin-playing body builder, spiritual adviser kind of guy. He was incredible. It was all body building and it was Sally’s first movie and it’s quite an amazing, weird film. And then we did ‘Kiss Me Goodbye’ with Robert Mulligan, the terrific director. And Jimmy Caan.
It’s a forgotten film.
It’s a good ghost movie.
It is a good ghost movie. Also, best of luck with ‘The Giver.’
Have you read the book?
My girlfriend has and has told me to.
But I haven’t yet.
No, no, no. I’m just curious. I hope you dig the movie.
At this point, since it comes out so soon, I just want to see the movie without reading the book yet.
I hope [the panel] didn’t give too much away.
Lois Lowry gave some away, but it’s a book that’s been out for a long time.
[Laughs] Yeah, Lois says, “I don’t know why people think the kid died.” I think that ambivalence, I think it’s still up for grabs. As The Dude might say, “That’s just your opinion, man.” With Lois, “I know you wrote it, Lois, but that’s just your opinion.” My opinion is there’s an ambiguity, you just didn’t know quite what happens at the end. I kind of like that.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.