The untold truth of Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges has been in somewhere around 100 movies, but since the 1998 cult hit The Big Lebowski, he's always and forever going to be The Dude. Unlike a lot of actors who are angry at being so remembered for a single role, he told GQ he's totally cool with spending the rest of his life being The Dude.

It's not entirely surprising: After all, The Dude abides.

His film career actually kicked off when he was just a baby, according to The Guardian. His mother, Dorothy Dean Bridges, was on a film set with him when they came up short one crying infant. She handed the happy little baby over with strict instructions to the actress who was going to be holding him: "Oh, just pinch him, Jane." In a weird twist of fate, that actress was Jane Greer, and Bridges co-starred with her again 35 years later.

Jeff Bridges might have grown up in a family of Hollywood royalty, but he's anything but pretentious. He hasn't just had an amazing career, either, he's had a fascinating life filled with, well, a lot The Dude could relate to.

His award-winning, candid, behind-the-scenes photography

In 2013, Bridges added another award to his shelf: an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography.

For years, Bridges has been taking a ton of candid, behind-the-scenes photos from the sets of his movies, and they're pretty amazing. According to Esquire, his hobby started while he was filming Starman in 1984 and continued throughout his career. While it's likely most of the world will never get to see the majority of his photos, he has released some of them to the public. In 2006, he put out a book simply titled, Pictures, a pricey hardcover that was also a fundraiser for a nonprofit that provides Hollywood industry workers with support post-retirement.

He's also been known to release some of his photos on anniversaries of films, like he did in 2018 on the 30th anniversary of Tucker. That one, says USA Today, was a particularly poignant release as it featured some massive stars Hollywood had since lost, including Martin Landau and Lloyd Bridges. The film marked the father-son duo's first collaboration as adults, and that makes the photos extra-special.

What he learned from Dad

It's no secret that the Bridges family is pretty much Hollywood royalty, going all the way back to Lloyd Vernet Bridges Sr. That Bridges — Jeff's grandfather — managed a San Francisco nickelodeon, the earliest version of large-scale outdoor theaters in modern entertainment. He had originally encouraged his son to get into law, but thankfully, he didn't listen.

Lloyd Bridges Jr. (above) passed away in 1998, but not before he eventually encouraged all his children to follow in his footsteps. In 2014, son Jeff talked to The Hollywood Reporter about some of the most important life lessons his father had instilled in him (and his brother, Beau).

"He loved all the aspects of show business: knowing the crews, the traveling, the adventures you get involved in. He reveled in everything from the actual work to signing autographs and doing interviews."

And it's the attitude he suggests is more important than any other part of the business. He's told The Telegraph that his father was "a joyous cat," and he's told Larry King, "The thing I learned most about acting from him was just the joy in which he approached the thing. … When you're joyous, it's contagious." And no one can argue that joy makes the world a better place.

He honed his skills on a flatbed in a supermarket

Everyone has to start somewhere, and while Bridges has been on movie sets since well before he can remember, he does remember sitting down with his father and learning the basics — like how to make every take seem like the very first one, even after doing it a dozen times. But he told NPR that he learned some invaluable lessons from his brother, Beau, in an epic way that could only be the brainchild of a teenage boy.

By the time Beau was about 15 (and eight years older than little brother Jeff), he hit on the idea of renting a flatbed truck and using it to stage traveling shows. (They were different times.) Jeff reminisces, "We would pull into a supermarket … and we would stage this fake fight, and a crowd would gather around in the parking lot watching these two guys go at each other, and then [they'd try to] break up our fight and we'd say, 'No, we're putting on a show!'"

They'd usually stay until the police came, and if responding officers weren't down with improv and being included in the staged drama, they'd head out, drive to another supermarket, and do the whole thing over again.

His Dude-like opinions on some heavy stuff

Fans of The Big Lebowski should be psyched to know that when it comes to heavy stuff like politics, climate change, and religion, Bridges definitely has some opinions that would make the Duderino proud. In June 2017, he talked to the Associated Press about Donald Trump, and simply said, "I'm rooting for him to do well by our country. I'm rooting for him as a human being to do the cool thing."

While the right jumped on that as "proof" he was a supporter, he clarified to The Daily Beast a year later that he's anything but: "A lot of where Trump's leading us is disappointing to me, and rather than wallowing in my disappointment and throwing up my hands, I'm saying that we've gotta get to work. … I'm using it to inspire me to take action."

Bridges has been a longtime supporter of the No Kid Hungry campaign, and he's on the council of Everytown for Gun Safety. He's also narrated a documentary called Living in the Future's Past, noting, "We're all in this together."

He's totally down with whatever religion people want to follow, too, as long as that religion inspires them to make the world a better place and step up to become stewards of the planet mankind has been given. Deep? Absolutely. Powerful? For sure. As he says, "Whatever brings us to the party, man."

Sensory deprivation, LSD and staring at goats

Bridges was in the slightly historical war comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats, a strange story of a top-secret military group who are trying to use paranormal powers to end war. It's probably the last movie anyone would expect an actor to have any firsthand experience of, but Bridges totally did.

"I found myself remembering my own experiences in the 1970s when I hung out with John Lilly, who invented the isolation tank and did experiments with trying to communicate with dolphins," he told the LA Times. And he didn't just hang out with Lilly, he was a test subject.

Essentially, that involved spending some time floating in a sensory deprivation tank, at the mercy of silence and the mind's own weird tricks. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he called it a "new and tender space," saying there's a rush of hearing the sounds of your own organs, the claustrophobia, the bizarre thoughts, and the fears. Strange, sure, but it was all done to explore the limits of our own minds. Bridges said he was fascinated by Lilly's research and the prospect of inter-species communication, and if it becomes a thing, he says he would love to talk to whales and hear their life stories.

Beekeeping, Mother Nature and his weird contract rider

Bridges used to have a house in Santa Barbara, until it was destroyed in a flood. Ironic, because Bridges has been a staunch environmentalist for years. He was even a beekeeper, until he lost his hives in the same flood that took his house, and he was good friends with the eccentric inventor R. Buckminster Fuller.

Who? Fuller invented the geodesic dome, and he was also the brains behind the trim-tab, an invention Bridges uses to describe his thoughts on climate change and the environment. The trim tab is basically a mini rudder for large ships that makes course corrections alone, and that's what Bridges calls his environmentalism: trim-tabbing. "The point is," he told Philly.com, "that a small thing can affect a big thing. And I think we can all do a little trim-tabbing. The problem of the environment seems like something too big for any one person to have an impact. But there is something we can all do."

For him, that's supporting the Plastic Pollution Coalition. It's an endorsement that was, in part, inspired by his father's show Sea Hunt, and the family's close connection to the world's waters. It's also how he promotes an easy bit of trim-tabbing everyone can do: avoiding plastic bottles, using reusable metal or glass bottles, and non-plastic containers. He even works that into his films, making it a part of his contract that no plastic containers will be used on set.

Serving his country

Bridges isn't just an actor, he's also a military veteran. Military.com says he joined at 18 years old, spent seven years in the Coast Guard Reserves, and absolutely didn't get special treatment because of who his father is. In fact, he even told the AV Club that it was maybe the worst job he'd ever had.

"I was chipping paint when I was in the Coast Guard while on a buoy tender, and being stationed there for several weeks. We would start at the bow and chip paint, then red lead, and then paint it. … And by the time you're down at the stern, it's time to start all over again." He adds that while it was back-breaking work, he was also having "great conversations" and making "fond memories," so it wasn't all bad.

And the Coast Guard is proud to have him. In 2011, he, brother Beau, and father Lloyd were all awarded the Lone Sailor Award in recognition of their service. Even more, The Georgetowner says it's an award given to veterans who use their experiences in the military to not only become successful outside the military, but who represent "the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment."

Imagine a world where The Dude was someone else

Being the son of two movie stars who encouraged him to go into show business makes it sound like his career was always a given, but that's not the case. He wasn't sold on film as a career even after snagging a best supporting actor Oscar nomination in 1971 for The Last Picture Show, and it wasn't until 1973 he caught the acting bug.

According to The Telegraph, that was when he was offered a part in The Iceman Cometh. With pressure from his agent, he decided to do it as an experiment. He didn't want the part, so he would take it — because that's what professionals had to do. That was going to be the make or break, and it made him. "And for eight weeks I was hanging out with all of these great old actors that I admired, and seeing how they dealt with their own anxieties; all of that led me to feel I could do this for the rest of my life," he said.

Bridges says filming a movie exhausts what he calls his "pretend-muscle," and that's led him to a Dude-like attitude about his career where he doesn't really seek out new projects. He told the LA Times, "My MO is resistance; I try not to do anything at all. I only take projects that come to the point where I have no choice. Whatever sucks me in, whatever beats my resistance, those are the ones I did."

He lives in a whorehouse

The Michael Cimino western Heaven's Gate has the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest box-office failures in movie history, and a misery for cast, crew, and studio execs alike. After the success of The Deer Hunter, Cimino was given full control over his next film — one that had a star-studded cast and included Jeff Bridges. While most of the cast remember filming the simplest scenes dozens of times (the BBC says waking up Kris Kristofferson's drunk marshal took 52 takes), Bridges took some other things away.

The first was this sentiment, posted on Facebook in 2016: "Michael Cimino was a splendid filmmaker. Getting to work with him was a great pleasure and honor, a real stroke of luck, a blessing." Bridges also took the Hog Ranch, the whorehouse of Heaven's Gate.

Business Insider says he not only bought the set building, but disassembled it, drove it to his Montana property 200 miles away, reassembled it, and still lives in it. He's added a few buildings, but the set itself was reconstructed exactly as it stood in the movie. They've even left the bullet holes in the walls, and Bridges has said, "Every couple of years we'll watch the movie and it's like watching home movies, seeing the ranch on-screen."

He goes through a cycle of work and reward

Every actor and athlete has their pre- and post-game rituals, but Bridges takes it to extremes. He's been pretty candid in talking about it, too, telling The Hollywood Reporter that for him, things go completely off the rails post-filming.

"I have a cycle that is not particularly cool, but it's a cycle: trash myself to reward myself. When I've done a good job, I've worked my ass off in a movie and been very disciplined, then to reward myself I'll take that governor off and say: 'Go ahead and so what you want, man. You want to get drunk? You do whatever you want."

That's alcohol, pot, and other unspecified drugs, and Bridges said there was a time when he had a problem. Now, not so much, just his regular indulgences. It's made even weirder by the fact that his long-time wife has been completely sober for years.

There's a little bit of irony here, too, and it involved The Big Lebowski. For the role of the laidback stoner, Bridges told The Telegraph he gave up pot for the duration of filming because he "wanted to have a clear head."

Bridges finds his Nirvana

When GQ talked to Bridges in 2017, they found he not only is interested in everything Buddhist, but he occasionally designs his own labyrinth. He sketched it on a napkin while he waited for lunch, and says that the labyrinth — not a maze — is mowed into his lawn. The idea is to walk the paths while meditating, and he does.

"Sometimes I'll do it in a dance," he added. "Sometimes I'll do it for Easter."

That's wonderfully cryptic, and the sentiment picked from an interview he did years before, in another GQ piece where he talked a bit about how he tried to make it a point to meditate every day. Meditation itself isn't strange, but what is strange is that he ties it to a sort of repression therapy in a comment that's equally cryptic and made during a chat about fidelity. "Suppression can kind of get you into trouble, too," he says, and clarifies: "The difference between suppression and refraining. When you touch something hot, you don't have to repress the desire to touch it again."

So … do something for the sake of teaching yourself not to do it again, and achieving a sort of freedom from it? Maybe!

He's boiled every conflict down to one single argument

Bridges has some seriously thought-provoking life lessons to impart, too, and when GQ asked him about what it took to stay married as long as he had, he had some fascinating advice to give about marriage, relationships, and conflict on any scale.

"I think … it's the same fight that everyone has with everyone — everyone. And basically the fight is: You don't get it."

He goes on to say that the root of all conflict is basically the inability for any person to see and feel as another person truly does, and once you understand that, you can better understand other people and be at peace with each other. "None of us, none of us, get each other. So you just have to be with that."

Wise words, indeed. Now, if only every argument could be ended with, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just like … your opinion, man."