"Ah, the G-string. You've got to love it. I'm wearing one now!" Jeff Bridges is sitting in the sunny surroundings of one of Santa Monica's beachfront hotels, and, if he is wearing a G-string, it's hidden beneath his blue jeans. Our conversation has turned to skimpy sartorial objects courtesy of Bridges's decision to star in the new Tron movie; as fans of the original 1982 film will recall, back then he wore something that resembled a neon "mankini". "I'm not sure if I'll be wearing that again!" he laughs. "Seriously though, doing the new Tron movie is something that is just too good to pass up. It was the same with How To Lose Friends And Alienate People."
Indeed, the New York Times once called him "the best actor alive". "Are you serious?" he roars. "Man, I spend most of my time trying to avoid work!"
You've been busy this year, but over the last couple of years you've made fewer movies. Why?
I spend a lot of time trying to resist doing anything, really! Honestly, there are a lot of things I love to do other than making movies, and I know that once I commit to a film it's going to prevent me from doing any of these other things. So I do try and not commit; I try hard not to engage. But sometimes there's an element in it which I just can't resist. It changes with each movie. You can just get a feeling, and you don't know what that is until you do the movie.
Is that why you signed up for the new Tron movie?
Yeah, that's another unique, wild experience that was too good to turn down. Engaging in that world again feels just like it did all that time ago. Basically, I'm still a child, I love being childlike, and here was another chance to play with these crazy toys. And the cutting-edge technology makes it exciting. Doing the teaser trailer for Comic-Con, I had my first experience of motion capture. And that's turning the industry on its head. It's amazing being part of that.
There's such a retro love for Tron. How do you bring it up to date?
Well, when we made Tron there was no internet, no cellphones. But now we have motion capture, so I think we'll get a far more successful version of the story, which is someone literally getting sucked into a video game. When we did King Kong in the 70s, one minute you'd have a shot of Rick Baker in this big suit and then you'd cut to this 80ft stiff model, and they looked nothing alike. Compare to that Peter Jackson's King Kong the technology is there and they did a wonderful job. I thought they created a beautiful Kong. So I hope that'll be the same for Tron.
Did your character in How To Lose Friends... feel familiar? You're something of a reformed rebel
I've not thought of that, really. But in being an actor it's great to play the gamut of emotions. That's a fun thing to do - to be The Dude one moment, the president of the United States the next and then going on to play that carcass of a rocker in Terry Gilliam's Tideland. So I like going back and forth, switching between the realms of funk and finery, if you will.
Your character is based on Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Did you go and hang out in their offices?
I didn't actually model myself on Graydon Carter. The book is based on Toby's dealings with him in an actual real-life situation. I took little bits from what I'd gleaned about him but I didn't shadow him around the office.
Was it tempting to go "method" when you were playing The Dude in The Big Lebowski?
Hah! Having a smoke all day? No, I didn't do that. It would have been a good excuse to get high, sure, but you can't really work when you're in that state. It's OK for a couple of takes, but you're not going to be able to sustain it all day long. I liked a bit of pot in my youth, though, so I guess I did some memory work.
You visited the inaugural Lebowski Fest. What was it like seeing thousands of Dudes?
Ah, man, it was great. That was my Beatles moment. I got a little band together and played, unannounced. I came out and played to this sea of Dudes! It was awesome. I hope to return and do some tunes with John Goodman. We'd love to do that one day. Lebowski Fest - it's fantastic fun. There's one coming up but I can't go because I'm off to shoot a film. It has been going on a couple of years now all over the States two days of bowling, music, heavy partying, and all these people are dressed up. You see some of the most obscure references, and the movie plays on the walls all the time.
I heard that the girls in the The Big Lebowski dream sequence played a trick on you on set?
Oh yeah, that was kind of funny. It was when The Dude sort of flies through all these women's legs, smiling when he's looking up all their skirts. Well there I am, lying back on this skateboard, and when I go under the first girl, she's got all this pubic hair sticking out of her leotard. Then when I went under the next girl, she's got even more hair, the girls were getting bushier and bushier. Basically, all the girls had decided to play a joke to confuse The Dude!
Did you ever expect The Dude to be your most successful character?
I don't think of it that way. I was nominated for an Academy Award for playing a president, which is about as un-Dude as you can get. Then Iron Man, too, was very un-Dude-like. I love to shake it up and keep my own persona slightly confusing. That way people will be able to slip me into the character at hand.
In your next film, Crazy Heart, you play a country singer. That's got to be exciting for a musician, right?
Oh yeah! We're shooting that with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell, while T-Bone Burnett - my great friend, we go back to Heaven's Gate - is doing the music. I mean, getting to play a country singer and work with T-Bone, this was an easy one to say "yes" to. I get to play music too.
Iron Man turned out to be one of the biggest films of the year. Why do your first big blockbuster now?
The big draw for me with Iron Man was [director] Jon Favreau. I got the script and wasn't sure I wanted to do it, but when I heard that Jon was
involved… I was a big fan of his from the moment I saw him in Swingers, and I'd been following his career. I found it intriguing to have him directing a big comic book movie. When he told me he had Robert Downey Jr, I thought that'd be wonderful. Jon had a very hard time convincing the powers that be that Robert was the right man, but he was such a wonderful off beat choice.
Jeff Bridges has always been Mr. Cool.