Jeff Bridges is enjoying a kind of homecoming on this sun-drenched morning in Beverly Hills. The home in question is nothing like Bridges' actual residence, a rustic retreat up the coast in Santa Barbara. In contrast, this house is a modernist showpiece, all sharp angles, built high in the hills by a celebrated L.A. architect; its current owner rents it out for photo shoots. As Bridges wanders toward the living room — a soaring space with a view stretching from downtown to the sea — a grin of recognition spreads across his strong-boned face. "Now it's starting to look familiar," he says.
Bridges spent several days in this room a little more than 15 years ago, shooting a scene in the cult hit The Big Lebowski (1998). His character, Jeffrey Lebowski — aka the Dude — is described in a voice-over as "the laziest [man] in Los Angeles County." He's a shaggy hippie, a former campus radical who's done little since the '60s besides smoke doobies, drink White Russians and go bowling. Yet the Dude is a wise fool: He strives to live a simple, peaceful life but is still capable of true (if bumbling) courage.
He is, in other words, a type familiar to anyone who lived through the Woodstock era — a figure that, for many of us, embodies aspects of a former self.
The Dude is also the role with which Bridges is most often identified, despite the actor's phenomenal versatility. In his 60-odd movies, he's played everything from a space alien (Starman) to an Old West sheriff (True Grit) to the leader of a futuristic dystopia (The Giver, out in August 2014). That knack for shape-shifting won him an Academy Award (as country singer Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart).
In real life, though, Bridges looks and sounds a lot like Lebowski. He has admitted to a fondness for the occasional toke. His speech is studded with Haight Street slang. He recently coauthored The Dude and the Zen Master with the Buddhist priest and social activist Bernie Glassman; a collection of dialogues, it uses lines from The Big Lebowski ("The Dude abides," "That's just like, uh, your opinion, man") as conversation starters.
This morning Bridges is dressed in a T-shirt and faded corduroys. He's lost the beard and gained a few wrinkles, but his caramel-and-silver hair still cascades to his shoulders. At 64, he retains His Dudeship's bearish build, so his light-footedness is a surprise. He soft-shoes it onto a triangular deck. "Very cool," he exclaims, raising his arms and stretching yogically. "This is just an amazing pad!"
But the resemblance between actor and avatar goes only so far. To begin with, Bridges is far from lazy. He's known as one of the most conscientious — and least self-absorbed — stars in Hollywood. "He thinks deeply about every word, every gesture," says The Giver's director, Phillip Noyce, "yet he leaves space for moments of spontaneous combustion. He avoids confrontations and ego struggles. Jeff's vibe really helped us through some difficult days during filming."
Next page: Becoming 'The Dude'»