“Ha!” A gentle, low-key, kinda charming… “Ha!” Of all the vocal tics people have, this one suits Jeff Bridges. If the man were a piece of furniture, he’d be a big, well-worn La-Z-Boy you could cozily sink into. Except the man’s creative output—yielding six Oscar nominations and a 2009 win for Crazy Heart—plus his musical career argues against any lazy tendencies.
With his band, the Abiders, Bridges brings his melodic smorgasbord—a stew of blues, flavored with rock, R&B and country—back to Las Vegas on June 20-21 at the Red Rock Resort’s Rocks Lounge. While he’s hangin’ in Nevada, Bridges—an activist to end world hunger since the early 1980s—will also meet with Governor Brian Sandoval on June 21 to discuss Bridges’ No Kid Hungry campaign as it relates to our state.
“One of the things I’ll be talking with the governor about are the summer meal programs,” Bridges says. “In Nevada, there are 163,000 low-income kids eligible for summer meals, free or price-reduced lunches in school. But only 10,000 are getting meals. During the summer, when they don’t have the schools to provide the meals, they don’t get any nutrition. We’re spreading the word to folks in Nevada that there are these summer-meal sites available to people, and kids can get fed.”
Looking ahead, Bridges will next be seen onscreen in August playing the title role in The Giver, a sci-fi movie based on the Lois Lowry novel. But we asked the man permanently etched in our pop-culture consciousness as The Dude to take a look back:
President Barack Obama has said that President Jackson Evans, the character you played in the 2000 movie The Contender, is his favorite cinematic president.
Ha! That’s terrific, a great stamp of approval. For that part, I channeled my dad [the late Lloyd Bridges] a bit. My dad was a quite joyous cat. He loved what he did, and the president I played in that film certainly did, too, much the way Bill Clinton did, just loved being the prez. And my father had that going.
Does being onstage fulfill you in the same way that acting does?
There are a lot of similarities to making movies and making music. It’s like you’re doing a big improv with the audience. You’re working off the audience and they’re working off you, and you’re creating something together. It’s an immediate deal. But also, each performance is a completely different experience. Working with the Abiders, my buddies from Santa Barbara, that’s a completely unique thing. Often my daughter [Jessie] will join us, and she will open for us in Las Vegas.
Crazy Heart was a career acting milestone, but was it also a turning point for you as a musician?
It was. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, all through high school, and I had a group of guys I played with, writing songs all that time. When Crazy Heart came along, it was a great opportunity to work with my music. And when the movie was over, I figured if there was ever a time to get a band together and get out there, this would be a good time.
What triggered your passion for the cause of ending world hunger?
About 30 years ago I became aware of the problem of world hunger, why it’s in place, the enormity of it and the reasons for it. It’s not that there isn’t enough food or money or even knowing how to end it; it’s creating the political will. Politicians, they represent us, so it’s creating your own will. I wanted to do something, and not just a gesture of a hundred bucks that scratches your guilt itch. I wanted to do something I could sustain. So I worked it into what I do for a living, which is making movies and entertaining and talking with the media, so I created the End Hunger Network in 1983 for other like-minded folks. That was concerned with international hunger. In the ’80s, we had to shift our focus to our own country, because a lot of the programs weren’t being supported and hunger started to show its head here.
The late, legendary critic Pauline Kael once called you “the least self-conscious actor” in Hollywood. Flattering?
Ha! I’m glad. But it’s an act; I’m an actor. That’s one of the things I aspire to, to make it look effortless and natural. It goes with the gig.
Not every actor would be pleased to be deeply identified with one role, but you seem not to mind people thinking of you as The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
For a lot of people, it’s one of their favorite movies. It’s certainly one of mine. Even if I wasn’t in it, it would be one of my favorite movies. It’s just so well done. I recently performed with the Abiders at a Lebowski Fest in Los Angeles. I certainly don’t mind the identification. It’s great to have people share that with me.
Is there one movie you made that you wish more people had seen?
Yeah, there’s one called The Amateurs, I think it was on TV recently. That was a lot of fun, there are a lot of great performances. [The 2005 comedy was about small-town folks making an adult film.]
At the other end of the scale, you were in a movie that some in Hollywood consider infamous—1980’s Heaven’s Gate. Was it fair that it has become synonymous with movie debacles?
Making that film, we had wonderful times. I had [purchased and] lived in that whorehouse from Heaven’s Gate, that log cabin [known as Hog Ranch]. It’s really a spectacular movie. I’ve seen it many times, and every time I do I enjoy it more. It came out around the time of MTV and all that fast kind of cutting, and this movie is very leisurely paced. You’ve really got to get into [director] Mike Cimino’s tempo to enjoy it. If you wait for it to get faster, you’re going to miss some stuff. But I think it’s really a masterpiece. And it shows you how powerful the press can be. It got one terrible review, and then everybody fell in line with that so the audience had that in their brain pan.
You made your first screen appearance in The Company She Keeps in 1951 when you were an infant. You’re 64 years old, with a 63-year career. Not tired of showbiz yet?
Ha! I was six months old. Being lucky has a lot to do with having this career—and being born into the right bed. I consider myself a product of nepotism. My dad loved showbiz and wanted all his kids to go into it and encouraged us. That’s the toughest thing for an actor, to get their first break, and that was handed to us.
You’ve called your brother Beau a mentor to you. How so?
Oh, gosh. One of the tough things for actors to do is find an audience. He would rent a flatbed truck, and we’d get some scenes together and pull into a supermarket and stage a fake fight. Our father taught us how to stage fight. People would come around and we’d go, “No we’re just kidding!” And we’d perform our scenes in the back of the truck until the police came, and we’d move on to the next supermarket and play the supermarket circuit that way.
Are you satisfied with the range of roles you’ve played, or are there types of characters you’re still eager to tackle?
I’m not too ambitious that way. My father, when he had the TV series Sea Hunt, it was a blessing and a curse. It was wonderful for the family financially and for his career, but it typecast him as this skin diver. He got a lot of skin-diving scripts. I took that as a cue and early on in my career, I wanted to mix up the kinds of roles I was doing so I wouldn’t be typecast. I didn’t want too strong a persona that I had to break all the time.
You’re a six-time Oscar nominee (for The Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, The Contender, True Grit and Crazy Heart). Did you ever think your career would take you to such heights?
Ha! Six, is that what it is? That’s pretty great.
Jeff Bridges & The Abiders
8 p.m. June 20, 7 p.m. June 21, Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort, $68-$92, 702-797-7777.