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Jeff Bridges: “Life is my guru”

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Jeff Bridges
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage
Short Profile

Name: Jeffrey Leon Bridges
DOB: 4 December 1949
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California, USA
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Bridges, have you ever met someone you would call evil?

You mean beside myself? (Laughs) I came across a Solzhenitsyn quote where he says, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Good and evil are two different sides of the same coin.

But one could argue that there is a difference between the evil in you and the evil in someone who deliberately harms other people…

The idea of this total separation is really what creates this evil. Because you don’t get to see what we do have in common as human beings, we can’t walk in those people’s shoes, we can’t understand them, we just label them as evil and that’s it. But they are human beings, they have mothers and fathers, they have fallen in love, they have had terrible tragedies happen to them. It’s easy to point out the evil in other people, but that can be found in all of us. That selfishness, that is something we all have in us. Sometimes you are successful at dealing with it and sometimes you are not.

“Intimacy seems to be one of the major highs of life, whether it’s getting to know yourself in a deeper way, or your partner, or the world that you live in.”

You are known as one of the nicest people in Hollywood, so you seem to be more successful at dealing with the “evil in all of us” than most. How do you combat your own selfishness?

First of all, to acknowledge it, to let it come to the surface. Feel the selfishness and notice all the stories you have in your mind that support your righteousness and your position. You notice all these things, and if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship and share some of your thoughts, that helps.

So your marriage helps?

Marriage is a wonderful idea. To have a person that you spend that much time with, that you can get intimate with. Intimacy seems to be one of the major highs of life, whether it’s getting to know yourself in a deeper way, or your partner, or the world and the society that you live in. Give space to this tightness that we find ourselves in. Everything can be worked. It’s not so locked in stone. You create space around things and work on these things. They don’t have to stop you dead in your tracks. Everything changes. Nothing is one way forever.

You’ve been married for almost 40 years so I am sure you have had your fair share of conflict along the way as well.

Yes, but those conflicts can be diamond mines if you can look at them that way. My wife and I have been married for 37 years and we certainly had to come up against arguments. There is one particular argument that I call our “ancient war.” If it could be summed up in one phrase it would be: “You don’t get it. You don’t understand what it’s like to be me living with you.” There is such truth in that statement. None of us can really appreciate what it is like to be the other person, what that point of view feels like.

So how do you get around that?

We can’t completely put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and that’s something that can bring us together because that’s what we have in common. It doesn’t necessarily have to drive us apart. That is a commonality. Embracing this lack of understanding can come compassion and forgiveness and as much understanding as we can come up with. That act of compassion creates a larger sense of connection and love. And that connection becomes precious and valuable. You can look at these tough times as an opportunity to get closer and to learn from each other. I learned a lot from my wife. There are so many things that pop up. If you are paying attention, you can learn every second of the day. Life is my guru.

Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

Your father was also a very successful actor. What did you learn from him?

Early on my career I was really concerned about mixing it up and not creating a strong persona, because in the early ’60s my father had a TV show called Sea Hunt where he played a scuba diver. He developed such a strong persona from doing that. People thought he was a scuba diver and he got offered a lot of scuba diving movies. And I saw how much that frustrated him because he is a very versatile actor. So early on in my career I really tried hard not to develop too strong of a persona so I could be offered other parts. But I’ve let that go. The last few movies I have done are very whimsical and had to do with fantasy, myth, and legend. That’s a season I am in these days. But my dad gave me my profession. For my first job I was six months old. I fought against that for a long time because I didn’t want to be the product of nepotism. I struggled with that for a long time.

When did you know you had made it on your own?

I had done maybe ten movies, had been nominated for an Oscar, and from the outside it looked like this guy is an actor. But from the inside I wanted to play music and paint and do all these other things. My dad said, “Come on, as an actor you will be able to do all those things.” But I was still into that nepotism thing. I had just finished a movie called Last American Hero about a race car drive and the acting muscle was exhausted. I wanted to return to my own life and no longer pretend, but then I was offered The Iceman Cometh and I thought, “This one is going to put the final nail into the coffin of my acting.”

But obviously that wasn’t your last film. What made you change your mind?

It was such an interesting shoot working with these great masters, just observing them. Most of my scenes were with Robert Ryan. We were doing a scene across the table and you see these big puddles of sweat where his hands were. “Bob, after all these years, you are still scared?” And he said, “I would be scared if I wasn’t scared.” I learned these great masters still had that performance anxiety that was the down side for me, too. It’s fun, but then there is this other side: I want to do it so bad, am I going to be able to achieve the results I am looking for? Fredric March, he must have been 90, but there was a freshness about him. And after that experience I thought, “I know I can do this for the rest of my life.”

And now you recently turned 65, an age at which many people start thinking about retirement. But that doesn’t seem to be part of your plans any time soon…

65, gosh. I can’t believe it. I don’t know how 65 is supposed to feel like. I certainly feel my mortality coming a little closer and I’ve got a lot of stuff I would still like to do. It’s interesting. My friend Bernie talks about retiring, but it’s a different version. It’s not stopping working, it’s about getting a new set of tires. Maybe do some off-road work. I am kind of in that mode. I would like to shake things up. I make movies, of course, but I’ve got so many different interests. Lately I have been getting into my music, my band The Abiders. We have been touring and we’ve got an album that is on iTunes. So I am living a teenage dream at 65 of being in a rock and roll band. And why not? It’s never too late to dream and to fulfill your dreams.