When preparing for an interview it can often be a double edged sword if you choose to look at other peoples’ work. Sometimes you read an interview and the answers can look frighteningly short, so panic might set in that perhaps that person isn’t very chatty, or doesn’t like doing them (though often publications just choose to use highlights), but I have to say that with Jeff Bridges, I’m glad I’d read Celia Walden’s talk with him for the Telegraph first.
I wouldn’t usually reference what I’d read in an introduction, but once you know you’re going to be sat in a room with Jeff Bridges, alone, for fifteen minutes, you need as much preparation as possible – he is, after all, a cinematic legend who needs no introduction. What struck me about Walden’s interview was the mention that he seemed much happier to chat, rather than just self-promote in a conventional way and indeed, knowing that helped immensely and led to the most informal discussion around an actors work that I’ve had.
Mr Bridges would have been far happier if I’d just allowed myself more time to babble about my relationship, almost trying to lead me off topic and that was after breaking into song and kicking my foot when he’d forgotten what we were discussing – I’m just grateful I’d seen The Amateurs, as it was difficult not to feel let down when he expressed surprise I hadn’t seen some of his favourite films.
And so, without further ado…
Congratulations on the film, firstly.
Had you seen the first Kingsman?
Yes I had and I was a big fan, I really enjoyed it.
That’s good, because as much as it played as an homage to the Bond films and the spy genre, it was its own unique craziness.
Well it just took it to the next level – that was the thought that came to my mind. I saw it with my wife and at the end of the film we just looked at each other and said “This is just the best Bond movie of all time.” And Matthew – you know there’s so many movies that use special effects, but Matthew’s really got that thing down and really uses it so well. It’s got kind of a Looney Tunes, cartoon aspect to the whole thing, but the tone of it fits right and it’s great.
And it’s one of those strange things that, no matter what changes in cinema and how people view it, as soon as you throw some violence in there, suddenly people perk up.
[Laughing] It goes so over the top! With those heads and that church fight, I mean you know it’s just so wild.
It has a surreal tone to it, which I think is great and it’s something you’re more than familiar with.
Especially people like the Coen Brothers, who tend to excel with the dark vein of humour.
Yeah and also the tone – and it looks like… with the Coen brothers and Matthew it’s the same thing, it looks like with them it’s just falling off a log. You walk that fine line to create that kind of tone successfully, but it takes a lot of skill and expertise.
Yeah and they do make it look effortless.
Yeah, it looks like nothing.
One of the things that I’ve noticed in this film and in Matthew Vaughn’s work is that it doesn’t matter how big things get in terms of spectacle, there’s an intimacy to the relationships.
That’s true too yeah, it hits you in a lot of different spots where you’re not expecting and all of a sudden you’re choked up for some reason! And that’s funny to feel all those different emotions coursing through your body.
Do you, when you’re approached about a film like this with a key supporting role, change the way you look at the part differently to a starring role?
Not really, I mean there’s kind of an approach to play the character the same way and also in each of these things, the director, especially a director like Matthew who has a really strong vision, but is also open to any input that you might have – that’s my favorite kinda guy to work with. And then you’ve got the costume designer, and make-up guy – my make-up man, Thomas Nellen who’s here today and we’ve been working together for close to twenty years and we make as many movies as we can together and so to get his input, and then there’s the production designer – all these ideas come together to focus who the character is.
Did you get a back story for Champ, because you’re dropped into this world of a Kentucky version of the Kingsmen?
A bit – I hear there’s possibly a Kingsman 3 coming up, it might be if that does happen that some of his back story will be revealed. Not too much backstory was put into this one, I didn’t spend too much time on that.
I find it fascinating that over your career you’ve portrayed characters, like Champ, who represent an almost cowboy like, traditional representation of the Old West, even in modern times as with Hell Or High Water – we’ll exclude Rooster from True Grit as he’s the direct embodiment – yet actual Westerns can’t seem to come back to their former box office glory, even accessible ones like the new Magnificent 7 – do you think that’s why characters like Champ and Marcus Hamilton exist, to keep that tradition and genre alive?
I think the genre – I was in a movie that some people thought was the last nail in the coffin for genre, Heaven’s Gate – and now it’s become kind of a classic, but when it came out, people were giving it terrible reviews and so forth. But I think it was such a fascinating time in American history, you can’t give that up and the characters were so intriguing from that time – I got to play Wild Bill Hickok who’s a fascinating western character. I don’t think you can kill that.
No, no, I keep wishing it would come back…
I do too, yeah, I do too! What are some of your favorite westerns?
I’ve always loved Once Upon A Time In The West. For me, I love the films where the music is part of the core, so in that you had The Man with the Harmonica and all the other Ennio Morricone tracks…
How about this, do you know this? I’ll hum [starts humming the music! And then starts singing the lyrics!] “Do not forsake me, oh my darlin…”
Now, see, I’m terrible at this game!
High Noon, man! Did you ever see High Noon?
You know, it’s still on my list!
Woah, you haven’t seen it? Gary Cooper and… [cracks a wry smile] Lloyd Bridges, yeah!
[Grinning] I am aware of Lloyd Bridges!
Yeah! Again it’s a great movie – if you love westerns, I think you’ll like that one too.
It’s been on my list for a long time and I always find it funny when you have a film like that – a classic, that for some reason you never seem to get round to…
How about… have you seen a movie called Heartland? You know, Rip Torn?
Yeah I know Rip Torn.
Yeah that’s one of my favorite westerns yeah, really, really beautiful.
I’ll have to give it a look too. Talking about where cinema is at the moment, as it’s come up in the interviews today – it must be funny for you, because so much of what Hollywood sees as bankable and what dominates the box office are the Marvel movies and you were there at the beginning, when it was a complete gamble, when Robert Downey Jnr was still a risk and people weren’t sure about the genre at all.
I think… my opinion, man, is that that’s the best one so far! I don’t think they’ve beaten that film, I thought that was just a wonderful movie and Robert was so great and we had Jon Favreau who was our leader, the director, who was great to work with and create that – it’s again that tone thing, [and that he can] make it look like nothing.
I know, I love… it’s an important movie for me. It was the turning point for when I realised how much I felt for my friend, now my wife.
[He lets out a high pitched and intrigued] Oooooooooh! Alright man, this is very significant!
Yeah and umm… bit of an overshare!
You saw that one together?
We did, we went together and her enthusiasm for it… I remember thinking that’s something special, do you know what I mean?
I could see in her what I felt about that kind of movie…
But you’ve done a lot of films that are important to a lot of people, for completely different reasons. I’m sure The Big Lebowski comes up a lot, but are there any films that you’ve done that you wish came up more, that haven’t perhaps had the recognition they deserve?
There was a little film that I made, you know, so many things have to come together for a movie to be seen, distribution is such a big thing – I made a movie called The Amateurs, quite a few years ago…
Yeah I’ve seen it.
[In absolute shock] You saw The Amateurs!?
I did, yeah.
You’re one of the rare, few guys.
I interviewed William Fichtner a few years ago and he was really proud of it.
Oh yeah! We had such a good time on that movie! When people ask me about their favorite movies that I’ve been in [for me they] have a home movie aspect to it, kind of, because I remember all the time of making them. And I had such a fun time making The Amateurs and it was such a great film and Bill was one of the wonderful actors and we had a great time and first time director Michael Traeger… and then it hadn’t been released properly, there was a lot of legal things, it was kinda painful.
But people find them, this is the great thing now and it’s a lot easier for people to find them now. I remember trawling through video stores to find films and I wanted to see if I loved an actor and now it’s just instant.
Yeah, that’s something nice.
Talking about important films as well, for me especially, before we run out of time – I have to ask about Starman, because I still remember the day when my Dad read the newspaper to check cinema listings and it said Starman was showing and that it was age appropriate and we knew nothing about it when we saw it.
I love that movie so much and I’ve got a three year old boy and I’m keen for him to see it, but I can’t watch it without crying. Is that a film that you have fond memories of?
Yeah, even as you mention it I can feel emotion coming up for me because yeah [he pauses]… yeah. “You know what I like most about you human beings, is that you’re at your very best when things are at their worst.” That makes me cry… [he puts his hand up to his eye and its looks as if he wipes a tear away]
Yeah…[quoting Starman is slightly ruinous]
I hope that’s true!
Again, going back to my childhood, I was so happy that Tron Legacy happened because although it might sound strange to be nostalgic for the eighties, Legacy felt like a really affectionate film – it was exciting and modern in one sense, but also great in the way it was referential. Is there any chance of another one? It seemed like it was leading to a third…
Yeah, I have a movie coming out called Only The Brave – it’s about this hotshot fire-fighting team in Arizona that was directed by Joe Kosinski, the same guy who did the sequel to Tron, a wonderful director and he’s got ideas for a third one.
That’s good news! You’ve been incredibly productive over the course of your career, is there a particular year, or an era that’s special for you?
Just back in the seventies, you know the movie that was big for my career was The Last Picture Show. That was produced by a group of guys, it was BBS – they made movies like Easy Rider, The King Of Marvin Gardens. BBS was Bob, Burt and Steve! And that was kind of the spirit of the thing, the financiers were so behind in the support of the creative forces. You know, it’s called show-business, right now there is so much emphasis on the business part of it, its’ strange and they’re turning out a lot of big time movies that they think are going to score.
And I’m happy to see that that kind of spirit is starting to come back. You know Amazon is now starting to make movies and starting to make that mid-budget movie. Before that you’d have multi – we’re up to two/three hundred million dollar movies now, rumour has it. Then you have real independent movies like Tangerine – have you seen it?
The whole movie was shot on an iPhone, brilliant movie. One of my favorite movies a few years ago was Once. You seen it? You must’ve seen Once? No? Put it on your list, man! [laughs]
[Laughing] I’m behind!
That was a great movie… I’m just rambling now! I even lost track of what we were talking about! [he kicks my foot!]
That Amazon are making…
Oh yeah, that particular time, yeah so there are things coming, the seasons are swinging, the pendulum swings back and forth and I think we’ll see some tiny movies now and we’ll see some great ones. See Once – you like music, so it’s a good one.
Jeff Bridges, thank you so very much!
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in UK cinemas now.