In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
A legend in the world of film, Jeff Bridges has recently garnered a good bit of attention not just for his acting, but for his mellow, tuneful pipes. The Big Lebowski and Crazy Heart star has released two solo LPs—2000’s Be Here Soon and 2011’s Jeff Bridges—as well as a new live LP recorded with his band The Abiders. That whole motley crew is on tour now, with upcoming November dates all over California and the western portion of the States.
Jeff Bridges: I’ve been pretty lucky on that front. I guess what comes to mind is kind of a Sisyphus, you know? I was chipping paint when I was in the Coast Guard while on a buoy tender and being stationed there for several weeks. We would start at the bow and chip paint, and then red lead, and then paint it. Actually, with the chipping you’d start all the way at the bow, then chip to the stern. And you go up and red lead the whole thing then you paint the whole thing and by the time you’re down at the stern, it’s time to start all over again. But even as I describe that work as a kind of labor, I actually had wonderful times doing that and great conversations and fond memories.
Cleaning myself up after shitting in my pants also comes to mind, but that’s not really a job, I suppose, though it could be considered one.
The A.V. Club: What? When did you do that?
JB: Oh, God. Several years ago? I don’t know if that’s worth putting out there.
AVC: My friend has a theory that every adult will do that at least once in their lifetime.
JB: Oh, yeah! [In a higher octave.] Tragedy!
AVC: Did your parents want you to be an actor?
JB: Oh, yeah. They were all very gung ho about that.
AVC: But then you went into the Coast Guard.
JB: I went into the Coast Guard, but that was not a career path; that was just to fulfill my obligation.
My folks definitely wanted me to be an actor. I resisted for a while; I thought I’d want to get into music or art or something and my father, I remember him telling me, “Don’t be silly, Jeff. Acting is so wonderful and you get to travel all over the world and meet all kinds of interesting people. You’ll probably get called on to explore other things like your art or your music or those things when you are an actor.” And he proved to be right and I’m glad I followed his advice.
JB: Popeye comes to mind. He’s quite a wonderful philosopher and an interesting cat. Felix The Cat, speaking of the cartoon world, would also be nice to hang out with, with his bag of tricks.
AVC: Why Popeye? So you guys could cat around town and eat spinach?
JB: I like his philosophies. “I am what I am.” And he was health oriented with spinach. I have to throw that in.
AVC: And he has cool tattoos.
JB: Right. There you go.
JB: Do you remember a game show—I think it was in the ’70s or ’80s—called the Liar’s Club? I enjoyed that show. I play that often with my friends when I find a strange article or a weird object on the ground. We’ll pick it up and play that game.
JB: They probably would say, “That Jeff Bridges is so full of himself and is a product of nepotism and he’s in showbiz and acting because his father gave him all of his early breaks. He’s really high-minded and thinks he can end hunger here in America,” or something like that. Which is all true, by the way.
AVC: Those sound like terrible, whiny enemies, though.
JB: One of the things we battle is cynicism. I can relate to that. I have questions that race through my head every once in a while and I’m like, “Oh, God. Who am I fooling?” You know? Sometimes, the world can feel pretty hopeless.
JB: Well, I’m thinking about what I’d like to eat now. It’s noon, so kind of brunch-ish. I think I would design some sort of egg sandwich that would have egg, avocado, some kind of peppers on it, lots of onions between a couple of slices of dark, sourdough toast where the toast is almost burned. Although, I’m kind of curious about this gluten thing so I might explore it and find some kind of gluten-free bread. Have you explored the whole anti-gluten fad?
AVC: I have not.
JB: Neither have I, but it’s definitely kind of interesting.
JB: I bought a house. This is going back about 40-something years ago where I bought a great little bachelor pad in Malibu and it ran me about 36 grand. It had a few acres on it and it was just really great—a great little place. I proposed to my wife in that house, we got married there, and it just burned down. We had great memories in that place.
JB: I don’t really do karaoke, but I’m out on tour with my band, The Abiders, and we’re touring around. We play a couple of cover tunes. We do some songs from Lebowski and “The Man In Me,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Dead Flowers.” I love “[So You Want To Be A] Rock & Roll Star,” that Byrds tune.
AVC: How much of that is, “Oh, we should do songs from Lebowski because I’ll have fans who are going to want to see these songs,” and how much of it is, “I think these are really great songs that I want to do”?
JB: Oh, those are tremendous songs. Like The Dude, I’m a big Creedence fan, and John Fogerty is just outstanding. I got to actually sing “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” with Fogerty at that big motorcycle rally that they have every year.
JB: Yeah. Sturgis. That was quite a highlight in my life. But “Man In Me”? Bob Dylan, you know? You’ve got some good writers there.
JB: I would have to go back to the Coast Guard. Those ships you’d be on. The ceiling is about 7 feet tall and below the racks where you sleep there’s three or four racks stuffed into that space and you’re out in the ocean at sea in a flat-bottomed boat up against the wind and the swells and everyone is puking. You return from the watch at about 4 a.m. and get dressed in your wool suit and go up there—that was a pretty terrible living condition. But, again, all the tough times make great memories when you look back. Like, I’m glad it’s in the rearview mirror.
JB: Hmm… maybe a small child or my wife.
Actually, I take that back. I could not kick my wife’s ass. She can definitely beat me up. Years ago she enrolled herself and our three daughters in a self-defense class where this guy dressed up like the Michelin man and had all these tires all over him and my wife and my girls would do battle with the Michelin man and Sue would just kick their asses and scare them all to death. So I would have to say “anyone coming after my wife or children,” and I would have to use every ounce of strength and will to defeat them.
JB: I do, actually. I have Lois Lowry’s autograph. She’s the writer of the book called The Giver and they just made a film of that. I’ve been trying to get that movie made for 20 years and it finally came out and I’m really pleased with it. I’m happy to say, so is Lois, and I asked her to sign her book, The Giver, and she did that.
AVC: You guys seemed very friendly when you were on The Colbert Report together.
JB: Yes. She’s a wonderful lady.
12. Bonus question from John Hodgman: What have you done so far today?
JB: Well, I’ve gotten up and dealt with my emails. I’m preparing to go out in concert with my band, so I’m playing on my guitar and working out some of the songs. I’m going out to promote an album I just put out called Live of recordings we did this summer on tour with the band called The Abiders. So that’s what I’ve been up to today.
AVC: Now you get to ask the next person a question. What would you like to know?
JB: Are we doomed? And if not, why?
AVC: Do you think we are?
JB: Well, “doomed” has kind of a negative connotation to it. I think everything goes through the season of being over. But I think a line that my character in the movie Starman came up is kind of a wonderful. He said what he loves the most about human beings is, “When things are at their worst, you humans are at your best.” And I think that’s true; I think we can rise to the challenge.
A favorite book of mine is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. I don’t know if you know that one.
AVC: I do.
JB: Freud’s thinking was that when it gets funky during a Holocaust or in concentration camps, people turn into rats; we just do anything to survive. But Frankl’s point is that’s when people become saints and become totally selfless and rise to the occasion. And that’s kind of my thought, but our deal will be over at that point.