Jeff Bridges: From 'Dude' to 'Grit' to Musician

PHOTO Actor Jeff Bridges sits down for an interview on ABCs Nightline with host Bill Weir.
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Actor Jeff Bridges has come a long way from just being "the Dude."

Oscar buzz once again is swirling around Bridges for his role in "True Grit" after the actor took home his first Academy Award last year for his leading role in the 2009 film, "Crazy Heart."

"It was an interesting experience," he said of winning the Oscar. "Kind of like a flash, you know, of white light."

Playing the downtrodden Bad Blake, a washed-up country music star who struggled to get his career on track, in "Crazy Heart" offered a pathway for Bridges to be creative in other ways.

"It did open up my music a bit, you know?" he said. "'Crazy Heart' had, you know, music was such a great part of it. And music is such an important part of my life."

An album has become his next project. Bridges said he is collaborating with songwriters T-Bone Burnett and John Goodwin, who wrote the theme song for "Crazy Heart," on an album that will host a mixed collection, including a few country tracks.

"[This] directly came out of that award," he said. "I think if that didn't happen that Blue Note, our label, might not have thought, 'Oh yes, a Jeff Bridges album.'"

The multitalented actor said he was fiddling around with music long before he played a the role of a musician. Bridges is known for keeping a guitar, a pad of paper for doodling and even paints in his trailer as distractions when working on a movie.

"It nurtures my creativity, you know, when I kind of follow the muse," he said. "If the muse is saying, 'Hey, make this drawing,' you know, I'll kind of listen to what she has to say."

Another aspect of Bridges creativity is focus on giving back. He is a spokesman for the No Kid Hungry campaign.

"I have three kids myself," he said. "I'm an actor and my job is about getting in other people's shoes -- you know, representing what it's like to be all different sorts of people. I can only imagine what it would be like not to be able to feed my kids. I mean, it would break my heart."

Jeff Bridges: 'No, No, It's Still "Dude," Man'

Despite his successes, when asked what people say when they recognize him on the street, Bridges said most still gravitate towards one of his best-loved characters.

"No, no, it's still 'dude,' man," he said. "I get recognized a little more and that sort of thing, yes."

"True Grit" was the first collaboration between Bridges and the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, since the trio worked on the 1998 cult favorite, "The Big Lebowski," a box office flop that became the gateway for Bridges' career.

But "True Grit" is a whole different animal. Not only is it critically acclaimed, it's also one of the most successful Western films in box office history -- already having taken in nearly $150 million.

Bridges said when the Coen brothers first approached him about playing the role of Rooster Cogburn, the rough U.S. marshal who helps a young teenage girl find her father's killer, Bridges said he was skeptical.

"I didn't want to have to copy John Wayne or anything like that," he said. "Once I had read the book, I saw what they were talking about because it reads like a Coen brothers script ... wonderful characters, lots of twists and turns."

The Coen brothers' interpretation of "True Grit" is far from just a remake of the 1969 version. It has a plot line that follows much more closely to the original 1968 novel written by Charles Portis, and Bridges said he read over the book several times to prepare for the role of Rooster.

"It's great when you have a book that a movie is based on because you have so much more insight into the characters," he said.

Bridges added that the straight-talking, heavy-boozing U.S. marshal is far from his actual personality, but the actor tried to focus on how Rooster would be feeling -- and walking -- while under the influence.

"I don't drink like Rooster," Bridges said. "I've certainly been, you know, drunk before in my life. And I don't smoke the cigarettes like Rooster, but I have smoked cigarettes. So I have personal experience with those things. ... You kind of mess around with that."

Jeff Bridges: 'Have Fun and Don't Take It Too Seriously'

A father to three daughters and soon to be a grandfather, Bridges said playing the protector of the young, fearless Mattie Ross, played by Hailee Steinfeld, came naturally to him.

"She reminds me of my daughters in that she's so sweet," he said. "It felt like she was another girl, my other daughter."

Bridges has been an outspoken fan of 14-year-old Steinfeld, who also has an Oscar nomination for the film.

He said he didn't give his young co-star too much acting advice on set, except to repeat what his wife, Sue -- and his own mother before her -- always says to him as he leaves for work: "'Have fun and don't take it too seriously,' I probably said that to Hailee."

He admitted he has to take his own advice sometimes.

"It's a challenge for most of us," he said.

Go to Oscar.com for Oscar coverage before, during and after the awards.

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