He has given standout performances in the likes of “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart” and “True Grit,” but Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges’ enormous talent doesn’t stop there. His illustrious resume runs the gamut from musician to author to humanitarian, which begs the question: Is there anything he can’t do?
You can find out April 18 when Bridges comes to Mesa Arts Center, where he will be performing songs from “Crazy Heart” and his self-titled album, and sharing anecdotes from his four-decade career.
The East Valley Tribune recently caught up with Bridges, who discussed his latest projects, the surprising cult success of “Lebowski,” and how his iconic character The Dude has become a symbol of sorts for the Zen lifestyle.
Q: Who would you say have been some of your biggest musical influences, and are there any particular artists you enjoy covering during your shows?
A: One of my big influences is T-Bone Burnett. We go back 35 years; we made the movie “Heaven’s Gate” together and that was a wonderful experience. Kris Kristofferson, the star of that movie, brought a bunch of his musical buddies with him and played a lot of music on that show. And, of course, I’m in the era of The Beatles, and Bob Dylan was a big influence. But my big brother Beau, he’s eight years older than I am, so when I was growing up, I was around a lot of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll with Chuck Berry and Little Richard and those guys, so they’re a big influence as well.
In terms of covers, I enjoy some Tom Waits tunes; we’re working on a couple of those. Some Dylan tunes and (we) play a little Creedence, you know?
Q: I understand that you’ve been doing a little bit of everything lately, with your music, your book, and the new documentary ‘A Place at the Table.’ How did you get involved with the film and what appealed to you most about this project?
A: I’ve been working on the issue of hunger for, oh, gosh, going on 30 years now, and I helped found an organization called the End Hunger Network. We got into cahoots with an organization called Share Our Strength, and I’m the national spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign. It’s all about ending childhood hunger, and we go state to state, working with governors and business people to bring attention to the federal funding that is available to them that a lot of governors aren’t even aware of, so kids can have school meals like breakfast in the classroom. You know, kids can’t learn if they’re not properly fed.
When I heard that Participant Media was making this movie, “A Place at the Table,” I wanted to be involved. I called them up and they said, “Sure,” so I’m involved with it. T-Bone Burnett has done a wonderful score for the movie, and there are some great songs with The Civil Wars. I’m really pleased with how it came out, and I’m hoping it’ll raise more attention and get people to take action to end hunger in their own communities.
Q: Your book with Bernie Glassman, ‘The Dude and the Zen Master,’ hit shelves this past January. Could you tell me how that came about?
A: That book came about when my buddy, Bernie Glassman, who was a Zen master, we were talking one day and he said, ‘You know, in many Buddhist circles, The Dude is considered as a master.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ You know, the Coen brothers, they had never mentioned anything about Zen or any kind of spirits or anything. He said, ‘Oh yeah, the film is filled with modern day koans.’ A koan is a question that can’t be answered unless you kind of become the question yourself. I said, ‘Give me an example,’ and he said, ‘Well, you know, statements like, well, ‘The dude abides’ is one. ‘This rug really tied the room together,’ ‘Shut the f*** up, Donny,’’ and all these different things that you could kind of learn from, so he invited me to write this book about it.
I myself have been meditating for 10 or 12 years, and I get a lot of value out of that. I enjoy the Buddhist slant on things. I consider myself kind of ‘Buddhistly bent’ but not really a formal Buddhist. I haven’t taken any vows or anything like that, but I lean that way.
Q: You were nominated for your first Oscar more than 40 years ago, and you’ve put out a movie almost every year since. What do you think has been the key to your career’s longevity?
A: Hmm. I don’t really know. My father, Lloyd Bridges, was in show business, and he was my teacher. He taught me a lot of the basics but also just watching him was a great example of how he navigated his career. I observed how frustrated he was at being typecast — like in the ’60s he put out a great TV show called ‘Sea Hunt,’ and he played a scuba diver named Mike Nelson. After that, he got offered a lot of scuba-diving scripts, basically [Laughs]. He’s a wonderful, Shakespearian actor and singer; he replaced Richard Kiley on Broadway in “Man of La Mancha,” you know.
He was very diverse, and there’s nothing he couldn’t do, but I can see how frustrating that was for him, so in my career, I’ve really tried to play as many different characters as I could and try not to develop a persona that people would think that’s who I am. If I played one kind of guy too often, I think the audience would have a harder time imagining me as another character. I know when I go see movies that can get in my way sometimes. I think maybe that’s just the diversity of parts that might help with the longevity of my career. It kept it entertaining for me, I know that.
Q: Are you ever surprised about the lasting popularity of ‘The Big Lebowski’?
A: I don’t think I’m surprised that it’s had the longevity and people have enjoyed it as much as they have. I was really surprised that when it first came out it wasn’t much of a success, but it was really successful in Europe and then it came back over, and now it’s got this kind of cult following. I think it’s just really — God, it’s a good movie. It’s funny as hell, but the Coen brothers, they’re masters. They make everything look easy, but when you really think about that film, it’s so engaging. Whenever it comes on TV — I don’t watch very many of my movies on TV, but when ‘Lebowski’ comes on and I watch a couple of scenes, then it’ll just hit me, and I’ll just watch the whole thing.
If you go
What: Jeff Bridges & The Abiders perform songs from the movie “Crazy Heart” and more
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 18 Where: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Information: (480) 644-6500 or MesaArtsCenter.com