Maybe it's no surprise that coming off of his Academy Award-winning portrayal of grizzled country music legend Bad Blake in the 2009 film Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges decided to record an album. But the actor's involvement in music goes back a lot longer than just this one film — he's been playing guitar since high school, and has jammed every week with the same set of friends for fifteen years. Music has also featured prominently in many of the six-time Oscar nominee's movies, from the jazz-tinged Fabulous Baker Boys to the cult classic The Big Lebowski.
Lebowski Fest, the annual celebration of the film and its star, will officially launch Bridges' new album, Jeff Bridges, in New York today. The rough-hewn, soulful songs on Jeff Bridges were produced by Bridges' friend of three decades, Grammy-award winner T Bone Burnett (the guiding hand behind the Crazy Heart and O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtracks and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' Raising Sand), and feature an A-List group of studio musicians. "When T Bone said he'd get involved, I knew we'd be doing some high flying," says Bridges. "All through the sessions, I constantly pinched myself — I probably have bruises all over my body."
Bridges wrote three of the songs on the album and sang them all, with some assistance on vocals from Roseanne Cash and Ryan Bingham. The ever-busy Bridges, 61, spoke to AARP while driving back to his home in Southern California.
Q. What is the biggest difference between acting and making music?
A: I guess it's the music itself — when you're acting, you're just working with words, but here it's also the melody and the singing. Although, to me, there is melody in the words people say, and rhythm, all those things. So, yeah, what is the difference?
Q: Then why do you think that more actors don't pick up a singing career?
A: That's actually kind of a mystery to me. When you're making movies, there's a lot of actors who have their guitars with them and do a lot of singing, so I don't know why it is so divided that way.
Q: It certainly seems hard to go from singing to acting — when you see someone like Mick Jagger in a movie, it's very hard not to see him as the singer for the Rolling Stones.
A: One of the things I was concerned about, and concentrated on when I was starting my career, was not developing too strong a persona. I saw the frustration that caused my father (actor Lloyd Bridges). He was in the TV show Sea Hunt, and he played his part so well that people thought he actually was a skin diver. So I tried not to fall into that, to keep mixing it up. It certainly makes it more interesting for me to play different parts, and it helps to happily confuse the audience with respect to who I am. Crazy Heart was a wonderful opportunity to blend things, to let people see me in another light as far as music is concerned. And The Fabulous Baker Boys, too, that helped people imagine me as a musician.
Q: In addition to acting and singing, you also paint, and your wife is a photographer. Do you see a common impulse that runs through all these different creative endeavors?
A: I think representing to myself and to other people what it means to be alive, to be a human being who's around in these times. I hope to address that across all the work I do. In my own painting, I think I paint how the cavemen might have — it's almost like a Rorshach Test. I remember being a kid, looking down at the linoleum and seeing a face or whatever. That's how I approach painting, acting, music — take what you're given, respond to it and make something out of it.