Jeff Bridges Interview – SURF’S UP

     June 4, 2007

I think we can all agree that the summer of 2007 has been off to a mediocre start. Most of the big ticket summer extravaganzas have missed their mark and the majority of movie theater patrons are walking out of their local Cineplex wishing they had saved their time and money.

Thankfully the tide is starting to turn as “Knocked Up,” “Oceans 13,” and the movie that this article is about – “Surf’s Up” have all delivered the goods. People can now go to the movies and walk out satisfied.

Recently Sony held a press junket to promote their newest entry into the crowded summer market. While most junkets are held at a local hotel in Los Angeles, with the movie about surfing the studio decided for an exotic location and Hawaii was the lucky destination for a number of journalists.

At the junket I was able to interview a few people from the cast and this article is the roundtable interview with Jeff Bridges.

In the movie Jeff plays the legendary surfer Big Z. It’s his character who inspires Cody (Shia LaBeouf’s character) to take up surfing and in turn it’s Cody who ends up inspiring Big Z. For a better idea of his character and what the movie is about I recommend watching some of the video clips that I previously posted.

During the roundtable interview Jeff touches on a lot of subjects – his role in “Iron Man,” his upcoming film with Simon Pegg, his love of surfing, and even if Big Z is like the Dude. If you’re a fan of Jeff you’ll enjoy the interview.

And before getting to it, I’ve posted a lot of other things to help promote “Surf’s Up.” If you missed the red carpet video interviews from Hawaii click here. To see some photographs from the premiere click here. Finally, if you want to see some behind the scenes photos from my trip click here.

As always you can listen to the interview as an MP3 so click here if you’d like to download it.

Once again a big thank you to Sony for inviting me to Hawaii. “Surf’s Up” opens this Friday and it’s absolutely worth seeing. And with that… here is Jeff.

Question: Any parallels with the Dude?

Jeff Bridges: A-ha. Well, Dude does weed, Big Z’s into clams.

Question: What about the character appealed to you?

Jeff Bridges: Gee, you know what really got me on board was this whole surfing aspect of things and how well they pulled the water element of this film off. I said, “They’re going to do a surfing movie, how are the waves going to look? Is it going to be almost like a photograph?” Then they started to show me some of the footage they had worked on. Being a surfer myself, it was a thrill to be able to be a part of bringing to the audience what that feels like to be locked in the tube. That’s kind of what got me on board.

What’s the feeling you get from catching a wave?

Gee, I suppose it’s different at each level. I’m a pretty basic surfer. I stopped surfing about 30 years ago and I’m taking it up in the last 5 years again. I used to surf in high school all the time and it was pretty great. Now I’m kind of back to getting my balance back and getting my turns down. So it’s kind of challenging for me and I’m worried about hurting myself, my back and so forth. I’m in the process of taking it a step at a time these days to make sure I can surf tomorrow, the next day. But it’s a wonderful feeling whether you catch a wave or not. It’s a big like fishing. You’re out there, you’re part of nature, you’re sitting in ocean, looking at the land. Most other times, it’s the other way around. You’re sitting out and looking at the ocean. There’s something about it that gives you a different perspective on life. It’s a wonderful metaphor, catching a wave, for how you can look at other challenges in your life.

Did you renewed interest in surfing come about from this movie?

No, no. I started getting interested before that but it kind of all dovetailed together. It was fun to be a part of this one.

How far is Z from your own personality?

Oh, he’s pretty far. Pretty far.

Have you seen the movie with kids?

I haven’t. I haven’t seen the final. You’ve probably seen a more recent version than I’ve seen. I’ve seen a pretty rough one.

Your take on voice recording, disembodied?

Well, it didn’t feel like that. When we did it, I had done animated films in the past and that was kind of a lonely experience where you sit in the booth and you’ve got your sides and you’re reading the stuff and imagining what the other person is saying, or doing the scene to their playback, they’re not in the room. But in this instance, the characters were often all there in the same room. I did a lot of work with Shia who’s a wonderful improviser. We were really encouraged by the directors to do that as much as we cared to and we did a lot of it. There were cameras set up in the room that were capturing our movements and our expressions and that was all going to help the animators. So it was a lot of fun. It didn’t feel as lonesome and clinical. It was really a fun experience. Pretty loose.

Do you feel like you’re loosing some of your tools as an actor?

Yeah, but there’s always things like that in making movies where you- – little parameters that you have to fit in. That’s part of the game of it. An analogy I could make, just like you’re playing football, you’ve got to stay in the lines. You can’t just go over there, go up in the stands. Everything gets narrower and narrower and sometimes you just have to use the tools that you’re allowed to use. That’s part of the game. In this case, it wasn’t about wardrobe or makeup or any of that stuff, so you use what you have.

Has surfing ever been adequately represented in movies?

Well, I remember, probably the best are the documentaries, the old surf films. I just did narration for a wonderful documentary called Chasing the Lotus. That’s a lot of B roll from all of the old surf films. They interviewed some of these great old surfers and you really get a sense of what surfing’s all about. Documentaries I think probably more than the fictitious versions of it.

Point Break?

They all had some great elements, great parts in there. I think a lot of my friends were in there. They did good work I think. They all were surfers so they added a certain authenticity to it.

Been filming Iron Man, how has it been?

Well, let’s see. It’s been wonderful working with Jon Favreau who’s the director of the film. He’s a wonderful actor that I’ve admired for a long time. I remember first seeing him in Swingers. He wrote that, did such a great job. And Robert Downey Jr. We were talking about improvisation in this, well, we’re doing a lot of improvisation in Iron Man to discover scenes and getting off the written page and doing a lot of work like that. I know Jon is very interested in grounding it in as much reality as he possibly can. That’s kind of informing the whole thing. The suit for instance, I don’t know if you saw the first suit, the primitive kind of suit, it looks like, oh yeah, maybe that could happen. It’s all plausible.

How far have the special effects come since Tron?

[Laughs] Man, leaps and bounds. I remember when we did Tron, we were so excited, seeing it and then I remember about a week after the opening going home and seeing all that technology in a commercial. Just boom, just made it passé like that. That’s the way technology is. IT happens so fast.

Are you still filming?

Oh yeah. Go back to work tomorrow.

How much longer?

June. Mid june.

Ever been to Comic-Con?

Comic-Con, no, what is Comic-Con.

San Diego convention. Have they asked you to attend?

No, no.

Are you into sci-fi/fantasy?

I used to read comics when I was a kid.

Including Iron Man?

You know, Iron Man, was he part of the- – he wasn’t part of the Fantastic Four, was he? He was in The Avengers, right? No, I wasn’t too much into Iron Man. I was more of a Superman, I was into Green Lantern.

Silver surfer?

Silver Surfer, no. I shouldn’t be saying that. Those are DC guys, aren’t they? Is Green Lantern Marvel or DC?

Have you worked with Gwyneth?

A little bit. We’ve got some scenes coming up but I haven’t worked with her too much yet.

Did you have any influence in the look of your Surf’s Up character?

Not too much. I tried to get the guy, I said, “Gee, Big Z is kind of a fat penguin. Can you give him a little more tone?” He said, “No, that’s going against the story.” I said, “Yeah, yeah.” But no, I didn’t have too much to say about his look or anything like that. I got a kick out of it. It was kind of funny.

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Do you see young actors that have potential like Cody?

Sure, well, when we were making the movie, there was a bit of that. You could transpose surfing for acting in a sense that Shia and I are both actors and did it since we were kids. We would play together. There’s a lot of play in acting, like when you were a kid and you used to pretend and that sort of thing. Not that it doesn’t have to be serious. You can play very serious. They even call it– playing the piano, whether you’re playing Bach or whatever, it’s very serious music but there’s an element of play to it. That goes for surfing and goes for acting so yeah, certainly I think playing with Shia there was a lot of that same kind of sense. Not so much teaching somebody because he’s a wonderful improviser and there’s a great willingness that he has to play, to maybe be the fool or not. So we got to surf together, we got to play together.

Talk about Euke vs. the Ook?

Now what is that? Is that in the movie? Do I say that in the movie?

The song plays over the credits.

Oh, see, I heard that they were putting that song in but I hadn’t heard it yet.

It is great.

Oh, it works? Great. That’s funny. When I was recording it, one of my friends says, “You know, it’s not a Yuke-elele, it’s an ook-elele.” So I went off, they had the mic on and recorded it. I didn’t know they were going to do that.

But you play?

I played it. That’s me playing and that song was written by perhaps my oldest friend, a guy named John Goodwin. We go back to the fourth grade together, we’ve been making music and art and playing together all these years. Whenever I make a movie, he would say, “So, what’s your movie about? I’ll write a song.” I say yeah, okay, and I’ll throw it. I remember he was over one day and I was working on it, I was telling him about the movie. I told him what the movie’s about, he came back an hour later and said, “Here, what do you think?” and played that song. And he also has a song in, I don’t know if any of you saw Tideland. You did see Tideland? One of the few. But that first song in Tideland, Van Gogh in Hollywood, that’s also written by John. He’s very good. He’s got a song in quite a few of my movies actually.

Regarding your other hobby, could you take pictures for an animated movie?

No, I think that part of my life may be over. Not over, I shouldn’t say that, but I was into it in such a groove. I don’t know how many movies I did that on, and probably some of you guys got those books. Maybe I might have passed them out. Then I put a compilation of all those books together in a big coffee table book and that was kind of I felt like I hatched my egg. Now I’ve got to fill up again or something, I don’t know. I haven’t been taking pictures as much.

This movie is about joy in your craft. How have you maintained it in acting?

Yeah, well, different things come to mind when you say that. My mom would often say, “Remember, don’t take it too seriously.” I say, “Oh yeah, thanks.” My wife, whenever I’d go off to work and I’d be kind of anxious, she’ll say, “Remember, have fun.” Oh, I forgot, thanks for the reminder. Because sometimes we do forget. We take it all too seriously and there’s a lot of joy to be had wherever you are. Tap in and kind of get out of your way and there it is.

So you could relate to that part of your character?

Sure, yeah, part of this story is very good I think.

Did you have a similar relationship with Beau?

Me being Cody, Beau being Big Z? Not really, no. Beau was eight years older than I am and he was almost like- – and my dad was working a lot in those days so it was kind of like a surrogate father. He taught me all the sports. He was always small for his age, I was always big for my age but he was an excellent athlete and he was scouted by the Dodgers. He played on the UCLA basketball team so he would kind of, since I was bigger for my age, he would teach me all the sports stuff and kind of vicariously have me go out. I enjoyed it for a while. It was fun to be close with him but I didn’t get into the competitive side of it. He has a wonderful way, my father had this too, of getting great joy out of competition. Maybe it’s just that I’m so competitive that I don’t like to even get in there. I don’t like to loose. Maybe that’s it, I don’t know. But Beau and my dad would love to compete at like tennis and all that stuff.

It’s like that Seinfeld he did.

Oh God, yeah. He just loved that and it was good. But he had a lot of joy. He didn’t do it with sour grapes or anything like that. They both loved sports very much. It was a different relationship.

Are you not tempted to take photos on Iron Man? It’s so visual.

Sort of but not really because I’m kind of a supporting player in it so I’m missing a lot of the action, the day to day work of the thing. And also, a lot of the special effects are going to happen in post so there’s not really too much there. It’s kind of frustrating with this Wide Lux camera, it shoots film. If there’s no focus, the light in the places where you film is usually so low, to get a good shot it’s kind of tough. I kind of got out of the groove of it for some reason.

Who are you playing and why this look?

I’m playing Obadiah Stane who in the movie version is Tony Stark, that’s Robert Downey’s character, Iron Man, sort of his mentor. I run his company, Stark Enterprises.

The beard is for the beginning?

No. The beard is just there, you know.

Anything coming up after Iron Man?

Yeah, after Iron Man, I just signed on, I don’t know if it’s official yet but I believe it is. A movie called, I hope I get this title right, don’t tell me, don’t tell me. It’s called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

With Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst.

There you go, that’s right.

What do you play?

I play the chief editor of a magazine that Simon is working for.

Vanity Fair.

Well, kind of. I think it’s loosely based on that. It’s based on a book by the same title I think. I can’t think of the guy’s name who wrote the book. Toby something, yeah.

Have you seen Shaun or Hot Fuzz?

I’ve seen both of those and I’m a fan of Simon Pegg. I think he’s great. I like Shaun of the Dead a lot. I think it’s wonderful.

Are you still doing music just for fun?

I play all the time. I played not too long ago. I think I’ve got another album in me. I’m going to get my buddies together collecting songs. My friend John Goodwin, he’s got a lot of music. If you go on my website by the way and you go to the music page, you can hear a lot of John’s music. You can stream his album that’s available on iTunes and it’s called Up to Here. John Goodwin, not Goodman, but Goodwin.

Will you surf while you’re here?

No, I’m not. I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ve got to go back to work but I had an interview up there with Kelly Slater. We just met. It’d be great to go out there and surf with him.

Longboard or shortboard?

I’m a longboard guy. How about you? You’re a surfer. You’re longboard. I don’t understand how they do the shortboard thing at all. I don’t get it.

Is there any other hobby you want to do?

I do a lot of ceramics. My website’s kind of fun for me. I get to do drawings on that. It’s kind of fun. A lot of family time these days. My oldest daughter Isabelle is getting married so we’re kind of all gearing up for that.

Do your kids have any interest in acting?

You know, I don’t know. Unlike my father, I didn’t make it as available to them as he did with us. And I’m kind of, not that my dad was a stage parent or anything but he just enjoyed it so much and he wanted to turn his kids on to it. And he was right. I’ve enjoyed it myself and have had a wonderful life because of it. But I went through a period where it was awkward for me. Whenever you’re the child of a famous person, you get judged in odd ways because of that. Then I remember when I first started my acting, I thought, “Oh, I just got this job because of who my father is,” a lot of nepotism stuff. I’m a product of nepotism I’ve got to say. I don’t think I would have gotten into it if my father wasn’t so enthusiastic. Anyway I chose to not do that with my kids and I’m kind of regretting that a little bit now because now they’re in their ‘20s and they’re at that crossroads where they’re starting to ask themselves, “Well, what am I going to do?” And I’d say, “Do you ever think about acting? You’ve got it in your blood, you’ve got three generations of it and I’ll help you work on the stuff.” They say, “Eh, I don’t think so.” So I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them kind of stumble into it someway.

Are you going to be an easygoing father in law?

I’ll be easygoing father in law. The guy that she’s marrying, Brandon Dash, is a wonderful guy. They’ve known each other for many, many years and toured Europe together. I figure if they can survive Europe

We miss those photo books.

Thank you, I’m glad you like them. Maybe I’ll get back into it.

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