The 'True Grit' star talks about his love of westerns, and the love of his life.
What made you want to star in 'True Grit'?
Jeff Bridges: It was the Coen brothers, really [Joel and Ethan]. They're great writers, for one thing. The dialogue they write feels very real and appropriate for the story they are telling. I worked with them on 'The Big Lebowski' [in 1998] and people often think there was a lot of improvisation on that movie, but all of those lines were scripted. They're incredible.
You play Marshal Reuben J 'Rooster' Cogburn who seems quite tough and hard. How easy or difficult was it to empathise with him?
JB: Well, I'm not hard [laughs]. I think being hard means being gruff, mean and that you don't like too many people. That's not me. I like people and I'm more light and airy. I'm not hard in any way. He's a wonderful character and he's fascinating. He's kind of full of himself and standoffish when you first meet him. But it turns out, he loves talking about himself - he's probably starved for company - and he likes a drink.
John Wayne won an Oscar for this part in the 1969 film. How much of a challenge was it to make this role your own?
JB: The first bit of direction the Coen brothers gave me, because I was curious as to why they wanted to do a remake of this classic western, was: 'We're not making a remake of the western. We're referring to the book that Charles Portis wrote'. I read the book and then I knew what they were talking about. It's a wonderful book and it's not something unlike [that] the Coen brothers might make. I could instantly see them doing it. I didn't refer to the John Wayne movie.
Is that because you didn't want him influencing your own version of Rooster?
JB: Well, John Wayne is such an important figure in cinema, but I really took the Coen brothers' direction to heart. I never thought: 'How did John Wayne do this?' I didn't mess with that at all. I just did it as if there had never been any other movie basically.
Have you always been a fan of westerns?
JB: Oh yeah. I remember my father [Lloyd Bridges] making westerns when I was a kid. I used to love it when he'd come home and he'd still have his costume on. I would put his hat on and his boots then call my friends and say: 'You have to come over. You should see what my Dad has here!' I love westerns and always have.
Do you have a favourite western you like to watch over and over again?
JB: My father made a classic - 'High Noon'. I also love 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' and 'Red River', all those John Ford, Howard Hawks movies.
What's the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received and who gave it to you?
JB: My father taught me all the basics of acting, so that has always stuck with me. My mother was an actress - in fact, she was probably the best actor of the group - but she kind of gave it up to be a professional mother. She was a wonderful mum. She gave me the best advice, though. Every time I'd go off and work she'd always say: 'Now remember. Have fun!' Then she'd also say: 'And don't take it too seriously'. My wife now tells me the same thing and it's a great reminder because you can forget sometimes.
Speaking of your wife, your marriage is remarkable for its longevity. You've been married for 33 years now.
JB: You know, it was pretty much love at first sight. My prized possession is something I have in my pocket. I was making a movie up in Montana about 36 years ago. All during this scene I keep looking at this girl who is absolutely gorgeous. I couldn't take my eyes off her. I finally get my courage up to ask her out for a date. She said no, but added: 'It's a small town, maybe I'll see you around'. Well, that turned out to be true. We met and fell in love and that's my wife.
Now the end of that story: 15 years after that when we'd been married, I was at my desk opening mail and stuff and I get a letter from the make-up man in that show [film]. It said: 'I was going through my things and I found a photo of you asking a local girl out. I thought you might want this photograph'. I have two photographs - a close-up of her and a shot of the exact moment she said no when I first asked her out on a date. Whenever I doubt: 'Is she the woman I should be with?', I think about this moment and several other moments in our relationship and I think: 'There is no doubt'. That's my leading lady.
Do you think you'd like to retire one day?
JB: I think about it every once in a while. I think it would be good to retire every couple of years and then go back to work. That would suit me fine. Like my Mum tried to instill in me, I'll keep doing this as long as I'm having fun and I'm certainly still doing that.