There aren't a lot of film properties that sort of crack through the veneer of my professionalism as a journalist – that tap into the fanboy hidden behind the film critic - but Tron is one of them. Since Tron: Legacy was announced two years ago, Joe Kosinski's follow-up to Steven Lisberger's groundbreaking 1982 computer-generated adventure has become the film whose release I've anticipated most, and as each new image, clip or piece of viral marketing was unveiled, my excitement continues to grow. The fact that each of these new pieces of the puzzle is beautiful and interesting only fuels my interest further – which is, of course, what distributor Disney is counting on to help propel the film to box office success when it's released on December 17, 2010.
Last summer, Disney offered an invitation to a limited number of reporters to visit the Vancouver set of Tron: Legacy, interview members of the cast and crew, and see how the production is progressing. I was lucky enough to be Cinematical's representative, and suffice it to say I was thrilled to get a chance to check out what was in store for the film. Before we actually visited the set proper, however, we spoke to none other than the star of both the original Tron and Tron: Legacy, Jeff Bridges. The man who would be Flynn gamely answered our nerdy inquiries and revealed what he could about the challenges of taking the franchise and rebooting it, in more ways than one.
It's amazing to see you back in this role.
Jeff Bridges: Isn't it amazing? It's been 28 years.
How has Flynn changed?
Bridges: Well, this is kind of a challenge for me because I don't want to deprive anybody of the enjoyment of seeing the film with any kind of twists and turns. So I'm probably not gonna answer too many of your questions about [the plot] because I want to make it fun for people without telling the whole plot. But it's certainly a different deal. We made Tron, there was no internet, man. No cell phones. No laptops or any of that stuff. So it's completely different world that we're showing up in here and the look of the film it certainly, you know, benefits from that.
Clu is back for this film as well.
Bridges: The return of Clu. You already got [that] Clu's in there. That's probably enough. I don't know.
Are you the focus of the story?
Bridges: Am I the focus? I'm one of the focuses. Garrett Hedlund is the protagonist in the story.
Which world do we meet you in?
Bridges: I cannot say anything (laughs)!
What's it like coming back to this character?
Bridges: It seems like we had a long weekend, basically. Because [Steven] Lisberger who directed the first one, he's involved, very involved in this one - which is great. You know, having the source of the material still engaged in it. I think it gave us all a lot of pleasure because he's such a wild cat, but it also kind of grounded in that first movie that was so unique and everything. Hearing about it, I heard that years before it came out I heard oh, they're going to do a Tron 2 and I couldn't believe it. I said, you're kidding me? Nothing happened, and then finally this came about and I was so pleased and we did kind of a – I guess it's not that strange. [But] the first time I heard about this the Coen Brothers did this where they shoot the trailer for the movie first without ever having made the movie in hopes to entice the financiers. That's what they did with this one, to really entice Disney to say oh, yeah we own this thing, we might as well do one of these. So the trailer came off well. We played it at Comic-Con and it went over well.
Where you surprised at that reaction?
Bridges: Yeah, a little bit. I haven't been to Comic-Con. I'm going to go to this one coming up but I hear it's kind of a crazy thing.
Are you taking photos on this set?
Bridges: You know I took a few, but I've kind of lost the impetus to do that for some reason. I think when I put a book out a few years ago, kind of a compilation book of these smaller books that I made as gifts for the cast and crew of these movies, and once I put that book out I kind of felt like I hatched my egg. I made a few smaller books after that but I've noticed my interest [waning] in documenting what it's like making movies. This would have been a great one to do it. I did a few, but the light is so low that our wonderful director of photography, Claudio Miranda, that I can't get the right exposure on my camera, this wide lens camera.
Have you seen the 3D footage of the film yet?
Bridges: It's just great. I mean it's, you know, better, more sophisticated, more refined. Joe [Kosinski], our director, was an architect. That's where he's coming from. It's interesting different filmmakers where they come from and what they bring to the film, and he's an architect so the film has a very, you know, heightened design feel to it. And he hired this wonderful production designer, Darren Gilford, and this is I think his first major movie. I think he did one smaller, independent film. He is out of car design, so it adds another thing - it's not somebody, you know, who is an interior decorator. It's [from] cars so the world has a really wonderful feel to it.
What was your reason for wanting to come back?
Bridges: Well I got a pitch from Joe who by the way this is his first film. Can you imagine? I don't know if it's the most expensive ever made but it's right up there, and to have a first time guy, you've got to give Disney credit for taking that risk. But they were smart because he's such a calm, can-do guy. He's gonna pull this off. He'd made this wonderful pitch on the story, where it was going and that was intriguing to me, and he showed me his commercial reel. He's out of commercials and I saw some of the technology that he had available to him and that he could use. And then it was basically the same reason that I did the first one; the first one was cutting edge technology at that time, and this one certainly is for this time. And it's a whole different way of making movies I hadn't experienced. A little bit in Iron Man, but nothing like this.
Why do you think Tron continues to resonate with people?
Bridges: I don't know.
When was the last time you saw it?
Bridges: I didn't see the whole thing in entirety. It must be I don't know 20 years. I didn't look at it before this. I saw little bits of scenes. Not all the way through. I remember the music of Tron was quite, you know, Wendy Carlos did a great score and that kind of -- remember that opening shot of coming in. There are certain things like the light cycle race, those were so kind of fun to watch. I don't know if you guys have seen the cardboard Tron? Have you seen that? If you go onto my [website] on the 'Stuff' page I think you'll see it, and it's a little drawing of a guy in a Tron outfit in a cardboard box. And what he did was reconstructed every shot of the race using little cardboard figures and stuff. I mean he really got into it. That kind of thing has kept it alive and I suppose the video games have too.
You've said that on the first film you were sometimes uncomfortable in your dance suit.
Bridges: No dance belt, thank god. Here we have these wonderful suits that light up so they have their own kind of problems, you know, heating up and stuff like that but the suits are quite a bit different. I don't know all the technical stuff of it, but these suits are amazing. You know, I was talking about the lighting being so low that they're using, well, one of the reasons for that is so you can really see the suits and the suits can even light the other actors off your suits.
Talk about your reunion with Steve Lisberger, and how you two work together.
Bridges: Well, it is a little bit strange. I'm excited because I think he's going to be in it somewhere in the movie. It will be fun to play with him. Just him being involved in it was a big plus for me, and I think you asked what made me gave involved again - another chance to work with Steve and do that. And Bruce too; Bruce is in it.
Do the younger cast members come to you for guidance?
Bridges: How do I throw this disc? No, I think we just used Frisbees in the old one. We were more sophisticated. It was pretty funky back then.
Do you have a lot of scenes with Bruce?
Bridges: No, I don't.
Why does your makeup take three hours?
Bridges: You'll see.
Can you compare directors, since Tron was also Steven's first film?
Bridges: You know, it's kind of a shame in a way, but the more seasoned directors a lot of times have more difficulty getting a job than first time guys. It's that new kid on the block kind of thing. I've had great luck with first time directors. I love working with them because it's like you know, Orson Wells directing Citizen Kane - he doesn't know what he can't do. He's just so open, you know. And Steven was like that: I remember I couldn't believe it we showed up the first day at work and around the walls of the studio - this is the first Tron - are video games that you don't have to put quarters in just all over. I said God, Steve, you don't think this is going to raise a little hell with the work, you know? He said, I don't know - I figured you might want to prepare before you go on the grid. I said okay! So actually both things did happen. It did hold up the work every once in a while, but it was great fun. I remember I got locked into this game, Battle Zone. Are any of you familiar with that game? The tanks. God, hours and they would come and try to yank me away. I'd say "I'm preparing!"
We saw that there's a recreated location for Flynn's Arcade. Did you go that set?
Bridges: Yeah, that was wonderful. They did a great job in recreating that.
Was it very similar to the one in the original?
Bridges: It's as closely as they could come. I mean I think that was a practical location in the original and it's torn down.
How different is it working with special effects this time versus on the original?
Bridges: Wow, it's so different. I mean in the original you're basically working with the dubateen, that black stuff and white adhesive tapes. That was the design, basically, and so they wanted to make something they would kind of do that. It was shot in 70 millimeter black and white, and then all hand tinted by Korean ladies (laughs). That was the extent of the technology, and there was no internet or anything like that, and now it's just whole other realm. One of the reasons I wanted to do it was because I felt this is where movies are starting to go now, you know, where they're taking the actors and putting them inside a computer, very much like Tron. I mean they can do whatever they want with them. They can say let's do Bridges but let's put a little Al Pacino in there. Let's throw in Joey Pants, what the hell? Let's see what kind of guy we can come up with, you know, and that's happened. They can do that. It's right around the corner.
Do you get the feedback immediately on what it looks like?
Bridges: Well, this is shot in 3D. It's the first movie I've done in 3D, which is kind of interesting, and the video playback is in 3D so you can see what that's like. But all of the effects, they're not [there]. They have a thing called pre-vis which is a preview but in a very low res. These are shots off of pre-vis, these things up here, so the whole movie is basically [pre-visualized] already and that helps a lot when you're doing things where you can't see what's actually going to be in a movie that the director can actually talk you through it.
What kind of physical preparation did you have to do?
Bridges: Physical stuff? Mainly just keeping my back in shape. I have some back problems so I have to do my back exercises and stuff like that and that's about it. But that's about it - nothing too much.
Are there things that particularly stick out today in your mind from your experiences on the first film?
Bridges: Well, they've done the light cycles and the disc game. People I think are fans of that, so they wanted to keep that. That's still in there, but it's taken to the next level; it's quite remarkable what they've done on that. There's another little vehicle. There's all kinds of new twists on it. Have you seen the demo or the trailer? So you have an idea of how the guys run and jump on that baton that has light cycles and all kinds of different things.
What set was most impressive to you?
Bridges: This set that you guys are going to see I think today is, God, an amazing set. I went in there the other day and it's this big bar, at the End of the Line club. I guess that's the end of the line.
Where there any references that you wanted to get in there that were meaningful to you from the first movie?
Bridges: I was hoping that we would get that Sark back, David Warner back. I had this funny scenario that didn't fly that he was sort of my butler. Bit is in there in a very bizarre way, a very low-tech way. [But] one of the challenges of the movie was, you know, the script and working with the whole slew of writers and trying to come up with what the story is, and what I'm going to say tomorrow. But the good news was that everybody was up to the task, both with their talent but also they were good folks. Because it could it have been a real train wreck if we had some guys that didn't get along or couldn't come up with the goods that fast. But they seem to do that with these big movies, [and] they did it with Iron Man too. I don't understand why they do that. Part of the reason I think they do that is maybe they have a release date that they have to get and they think oh, we can get this done, and then they don't.
The original movie takes some liberties with the idea of programming. How accurate is this movie trying to be?
Bridges: It's probably a little bit more sophisticated, but it's still in the fantasy realm.
Are you doing motion capture, and can you talk about that process?
Bridges: Yeah, there's some of that. It's kind of like what I said already about it, the fact that it's kind of the wave of the future and there's things that are challenging for actors who like to dress up and play pretend. You know, I don't get to wear any cool outfits or you don't need a set. I mean, I can shoot a scene for the movie right here with you guys. I can just put this hat on and go to town, and everything is done in post, the camera angle. That's like a new thing that's happening that you're gonna have to figure out different skills for how you do it. It's bizarre.
Well, shit, guess I'd better see the first one. I hope the new one doesn't suck so he can avoid the Oscar curse. (P.S., y'all know that's him doing Hyundai voiceovers, right? It makes me smile every time. Sexy voice, man.)