Co-starring as a sleek-suited comic book villain in the upcoming "Iron Man," actor Jeff Bridges may finally have found a role powerful enough to knock the iconic image of the Hawaiian shirt-wearing Lebowski dude to the back of fans' minds.
In his new film, Bridges takes on the role of Obadiah Stane, or as he puts it, "the anti-dude," an industrialist warmonger who faces off against billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr.
"He's a mean fellow but very gregarious, too. I think he thinks of himself as a hero. ... The guy who is holding everything together," Bridges told Peter Travers on ABC News Now's "Popcorn."
Obadiah's bald-headed businessman look is a far cry from the disheveled, white Russian drinker he is still best-known for portraying in "The Big Lebowski," but the new suit seems to fit the accomplished actor well.
Though he grew up as a voracious comic book reader, Bridges said it was the direction of Jon Favreau that drew him to the film. "He brought me to the party. Ever since "Swingers," I've always been a fan of Jon. So when he pitched it to me and told me Downey was in ... I said, 'That sounds appealing.'"
On the Set of 'Iron Man'
"It was kind of like making a multimillion-dollar student film," Bridges told Travers.
As a four-time Oscar-nominated actor, who has appeared in more than 60 films, he said he is used to showing up with his lines memorized and believed the Paramount Pictures budget would demand it, but he quickly learned to love the team's spontaneous ways.
"It took me a while to get with the program. I like to be very prepared. ... I expected because there was all this money that they would have the script locked down," he said.
"We showed up some days and had no idea what we were going to say that day. We would meet in Jon's trailer with the cast, with the Marvel comic guys and we would jam."
Bridges described Favreau and Downey as "masters of improvisation" and said the experience reminded him of working with legendary comedic filmmaker Hal Ashby, who directed him in the 1986 film "8 Million Ways to Die."
Having co-starred with Gwyneth Paltrow's mom, Blythe Danner, in the 1975 film "Hearts of the West," Bridges said he was thrilled to get to work with Paltrow and that she "reminds [him] so much of her mom."
"To be able to work with people you admire makes it so fun," he said.
An avid photographer on the side, Bridges said he spent hours taking behind-the-scenes pictures on the set, a hobby he started years ago using a Widelux panning camera, a wedding gift from his wife. Click here to see some of Bridges' behind the scenes photos from movie sets over the years.
Growing Up in Hollywood
As the son of acclaimed actor Lloyd Bridges, and younger brother of actor Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges said it's hard to separate his life in the movies from his personal life, and seems to enjoy both equally.
"It has been my whole life. ... I try to bring whatever life skills I have to my work and blur that line. ... I try not to change too much when they say action," he said.
"My dad was my teacher; my brother was my teacher. My dad really encouraged all his kids to go into the business, because he loved it so much. The love of it was just contagious, and so I just sort of caught on to that."
Perhaps that is why the actor compares acting to child's play. "I try to have a good time. ... A big part of making movies is advance play, advanced pretend ... like when you're a kid getting to play with all the cool kids, wear the cool suits."
Meanwhile, Bridges, 58, seems to be enjoying his adult life as much as his work. Now that their three daughters have moved out, Bridges and his wife of 30 years, Susan Bridges, have settled into life in Santa Barbara, Calif., with their dogs.
"I'm kind of a homebody. I like to hang out with my girl, my wife. ... I fall deeper and deeper in love with my wife every day," he said.
It wasn't always clear to Bridges that he would feel this way about his wife, though. He told Travers that they lived together for three years, and he popped the question only after she threatened to leave him.
"The fear of marriage is the fear of death," Bridges said, adding that even once married he "pouted for two years. ... But finally, I got with the program, and it's just getting better and better."
When he's not acting or taking pictures, Bridges enjoys ceramics, drawing and finding new mediums of creative expression on his Web site. In 2000, he even put out an album with his friends titled "Be Here Soon."