Jeff Bridges thrusts a single foot onto his desk. A muscular foot, clad in a funky rubber sandal. A well-cared-for foot to be sure. Surprisingly slender, unsurprisingly pale, lit by late-afternoon sunlight from his window. There it is. Jeff Bridges’ foot. Even his foot is cool. I’m just saying.
He has just worked out; his thick gray hair is wet and slicked back. Bridges is bearded, bespectacled and tan, looking very put together in a gray button-down — yet undeniably windblown, having forgotten to button up. And he isn’t throwing his bare feet on his desk, his hands behind his head, in some stagy “life is good” pose. It’s just a single foot. We’d been discussing the establishing shots of his television show The Old Man (FX), in which his eponymous character, an arguably infamous CIA assassin, is introduced to his audience without a hint of intrigue or international tension. Instead, the show opens with Bridges sitting in darkness, on the edge of a bed, groaning and sighing at the prospect of getting up again (and again) to pee. A bedside clock indifferently glowers up the narrowing intervals of his time for sleep — 1:15, 3:03, 5:42, 6:32 a.m. Later that morning, on the same bed, he undertakes the painful contortions of getting socks onto his old-man feet. He is the titular character, after all, the old man.
“Don’t you hate putting on socks?” Bridges asks, and that’s when — ta-da! — his sandaled foot is raised: “See?” he says. “This is why I don’t put on socks!” Bridges then plugs the sandals — he clearly thinks they might help someone. “Check these out, man! They’re for foot recovery! I don’t know if there are any readers out there who have Morton’s neuroma; it’s like a nerve thing. These are the only shoes that I can wear.” He’s laughing, kind of pumped, and positively excited to have the right shoes. “They work great, man!”
Like the characters he sometimes portrays, Jeff Bridges speaks in comma splices, punctuates the air in exclamation points and end-stops most of his sentences with an encouraging “you know?” or “man.” Checking in with me from the home in Santa Barbara, California, that he shares with his wife of 46 years, Susan Geston, Bridges tells stories, gesticulates, throws around ideas (philosophy, love, politics) in pieces, freely laughs and gets choked up in the very same inevitably fractured sentence. The man is a talker. He offers up his thinking without guile — what he’s learned along his journey, the low ruts of chemo, the dark nights of COVID-19, and his advice on the importance of making art, which books to read, the best music to dance to and anything else that might just help whoever he’s talking to. As Amy Brenneman, one of his costars on The Old Man, told me, “In many ways, work just interrupts a longer conversation for Jeff.”
We’re here, in part, to talk about living, and the work he is still doing at 73. So I ask about the simple declaration of The Old Man’s title, which doesn’t hint at the shadowy edge of modern military history, political intrigue, really serious fighting, car chases and, well, parenting, which makes up the sinew of the story. Is it something of a disguise? Or an insult? Are you actually the old man? Bridges harrumphs.
“I’m 73 now, so I guess I qualify,” he says. He purses his lips and squints. “It turns out there’s a bunch of us old codgers there: me, John Lithgow  — and Joel Grey  trumps us all.” Bridges continues with a searching look. “With us guys, anyway, if we’re lucky, we are all old men, finally.”
If Jeff Bridges can ever truly be said to pause when he’s in the middle of one of his riffs, this may be that very moment. He goes quiet and — just like that — he’s not riffing, not capturing images like the acclaimed photographer he became while winning awards for his acting, not jamming like the gifted musician he has proven to be, on film and off.
Jeff Bridges weighs his last word: “finally.” It’s a tangible word, a word of consequence, a word with claws for him, as an older man who is himself closing in on finality. Because early in the production of The Old Man, he was hit first with a surprisingly advanced case of cancer and then by a nearly fatal bout of COVID. But of course, pretty soon, he will start talking about all of that. He got sick, death came upon him. And it turns out that Jeff Bridges prepared for more living, even as he approached the possibility of his end.
It all began after The Old Man’s cast and crew took a break to comply with pandemic restrictions in March 2020. “During that break,” Bridges recalls, “I was doing some exercises while on the ground and felt what seemed like a bone in my stomach. I thought to myself, Hmm. But it didn’t hurt or anything. I asked Sue what she thought. She said: ‘I don’t know, but you’ve got to get it checked out.’ ”
It’s clear he is crafting a cautionary tale on our tendency to put off consultations with doctors: “At the time, I said to myself, ‘It doesn’t hurt. I don’t want to go to the doctor.’ ” He and his wife went on a planned trip to Montana instead. “I’m hiking and feeling great. My shins really itch, and I think, Oh, I just got, you know, dry skin. Then I had night sweats, but thought, That’s just hot summer nights. It turns out those are lymphoma symptoms.”