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."
Bridges spends his spare time painting, sculpting, taking photographs, playing with his country-rock band, the Abiders, and raising cash to fight childhood hunger. And unlike Lebowski, whose closest relationship is with his bowling league, he's into communing with his kin.
Indeed, he's one of filmdom's most dedicated family men. In an industry that is notorious for minute-long marriages, Bridges has stuck with the former Susan Geston for 37 years. The couple have three daughters, with whom they are exceedingly close. (Isabelle, 33, an artist, is working on a children's book with Bridges. Jessie, 31, is a guitarist who often plays at her father's gigs. Interior designer Haley, 28, helped decorate her parents' house.) It's hard to imagine the Dude with a grandchild, but Bridges has one. When the 3-year-old accidentally locked herself in the bathroom, who did she call? "Not Ghostbusters. She called Grandma!" Bridges says, beaming.
In short, this om-chanting scion of Hollywood royalty (Lloyd Bridges, 1913-98) appears to be as wholesome, responsible and well grounded as your next-door neighbor. And without renouncing his Lebowski-esque persona, he seems to have achieved something that eludes many movie folks — maturity. Which raises a perplexing question. As the Dude might put it: How did he get so un-[expletived]-up?
Becoming 'The Dude'
I pose that query to Bridges as we settle into a guest room to talk. He clasps the back of his head in his hands, gathers his thoughts and murmurs, "I had a pretty great childhood." For that, he credits his parents, whose marriage lasted almost 60 years. Lloyd, known for his scuba-adventure series Sea Hunt, was making movies and TV shows throughout Jeff's boyhood and wasn't home much. Dorothy, though, "was kind of a spectacular mom," Bridges recalls. An actress, poet and artist who channeled her talents into motherhood, she instituted a daily ritual in which she spent an hour focused exclusively on each of her three children — with the kid calling the shots. "I'd say, 'Let's go into your makeup kit. I want to make you up like a clown.' Or, 'Let's play spaceman. I'll be a space monster. You can be trapped under the kitchen table.'"