He is one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, has starred in some of Hollywood’s most memorable films, yet as big as a star as Jeff Bridges is, he still remains Hollywood Mr Nice Guy, as Paul Fischer discovered when he met Bridges to discuss his latest film, K-PAX.
Jeff Bridges is a perennially youthful 51. If you count his screen debut as a 1-year old in 1950’s The Company She Keeps, Bridges has appeared in some 60 films, and still going strong. Often cast as commanding professionals, the actor, who most recently turned presidential in The Contender, is a sceptical psychiatrist bewildered and fascinated by a new patient who claims to be from outer space in the new film K-Pax, opening this week.
How ironic that given the actor’s once famous role of an alien in Starman, Bridges plays the alien. “It was an interesting function of my character, as was Karen’s in Starman, that you’re representing the audience’s point of view, taking the same journey that the audience is taking, so it was a lot of fun.” In K-PAX, the audience needs to be convinced that Kevin Spacey’s Prot is an alien – or is he? On the question of his own scepticism, Bridges believes that he is “a fairly open person but then the doctor in this movie thought of himself as open as well, but he wasn’t,” Bridges explains. “It’s an interesting thing how we don’t often think of ourselves as we are. I remember once being interviewed and my wife was in the room, and one of the questions was: Are you the kind of actor that can turn it on and off? I said: No, I don’t take my work home with me. Then my wife turns her eyes upwards as if to say: Yeah, right. So obviously I behave in ways that I’m not aware.”
Unlike his character in Starman, K-Pax is a film filled with an unusual sense of ambiguity and open-endedness, a rare quality in a Hollywood film, but the actor wasn’t concerned at any parallels between this film, and the earlier, much less ambiguous, Starman. “That came to mind as something to put in the mix. It’s a movie about an alien. I guess I’ve been offered the Karen Allen role (as the person) that represents the audience while they’re solving the puzzle of this guy. But, as far as not doing it because it is an alien thing — no. It was just too interesting a project and it was also a chance to work with Kevin, whom I’ve admired for a long time.”
In a career spanning three decades of accomplished work, from Last Picture Show to Fat City, Stay Hungry and The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Big Lebowski, Bridges has reason to be proud. So proud in fact, that each of his scripts lay proudly on a shelf, encased in leather. “Now, in my office at home, I have a shelf and there’s 40 or 50 — I don’t know how many I’ve done — and they’re all up there,” Bridges says. “So they are wonderful memories to go through. It’s just the visual of looking up and seeing all those different titles and remembering all the work and the challenges and the tears and the people and all that.”
Those memories are also enhanced in his on-set photo diaries, which are distributed to the press each time his films are junketed. “It began as a hobby years ago, and now I do it because I love it.” Each book, including that for K-Pax, contains a collection of stunning black and white photographs “reminding me of what a joyous occasion it was to make that particular film.” Bridges has other memories of his legendary father, who worked until two days before his death at the age of 85 in March of 1998, was a perfect role model for a Hollywood career, says his still awe-struck, loving son. “He was such a game guy, so versatile, and such a great guy, too.”
Bridges is as stalwart a man off screen as he is on, still happily married to wife Susan Geston — whom he met and married in 1975 while filming Rancho Deluxe on the dude ranch where she worked. They have three teenage daughters, and he constantly refers to her as his one real leading lady. “She allows me to do what I like to do. But she also really supports me, it’s beyond allowing. I get this image of her holding this kite string and she allows me to fly out. That is a precious thing.” There are few Hollywood stars quite like Jeff Bridges; more’s the pity.