There's a hint of The Dude in Bridges' Rooster Cogburn, but the rich language of True Grit sets the disheveled Old West lawman on a different plane completely. It's a manner of speech lifted from Portis' novel: the voice of Maddie, a middle-age spinster recalling an adventure from her teen years, avenging the murder of her father. Because of the older Maddie's age and background, the characters in her retelling — outlaws, townsfolk, children and adults alike — all speak in a formalized, structured way, their sentences elaborately formed with poetic flourishes and literary allusions. It takes some getting used to, but in the Coens' oddball universe the conceit soon becomes an accepted norm.
"The lack of contractions in the language was one of the main things," says Bridges. "You know, it's wonderful when you get different aspects of a character that are unique. You don't want to be playing yourself in movies, so when you get a character that speaks in such a different fashion, that's good news.
Bridges was in Washington, D.C., June 6 to receive a humanitarian award from the National Association of Broadcasters, recognizing his work to eliminate childhood hunger in the U.S.
"I'm the national spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign," he says. "It's all about increasing participation in the federally funded programs that make sure kids have enough food to eat.
"Some 21 million kids in our country can count on free or price-reduced school lunches — but only 3 million get summer meals. It's my job to spread the word to families that there are programs, even during the summer, where kids can get meals.
"I've been involved in the issue of hunger for 30 years or so, back to when I co-founded the End Hunger Network in 1983. Eventually we shifted our focus from world hunger to hunger here in America."
In a family that always saw social activism as a responsibility, it's the kind of involvement that would no doubt have pleased Bridges' late dad.
"I loved working with him," recalls Bridges, who appeared with Lloyd Bridges in Blown Away and Tucker: A Man and His Dream, among other projects.
"Any movie I made with my dad always makes my heart swell."