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Q&A: Jeff Bridges (cont.)

Posted: Thursday April 27, 2006 2:15PM; Updated: Friday April 28, 2006 10:31AM
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SI: Your older brother Beau made the UCLA basketball team as a walk-on in 1961-62. What do you remember about Beau as a basketball player?
Bridges: He was a great athlete. Not only was he a great basketball player but he was also scouted by the Dodgers. He's not a big guy -- 5-foot-9 or so -- and he's eight years older than me. But what I remember from those years was all the great coaching I got. He taught me basketball, boxing and how to throw a curve ball for Little League. Beau to this day has a close connection with John Wooden. He narrated one of his DVDs.

SI: Is it coincidence that shortly after Beau transferred to Hawaii, UCLA rolled off nine titles in 10 years?
Bridges: [laughs] That's pretty good.

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SI: Why did Wooden have a such impact on Beau's life?
Bridges: He was such a great coach and he looked at the game almost as a metaphor for how to live your life. So not only was he teaching athletic skills, but also skills about life. His pyramid of success, I look at it as far as making movies because there are a lot of similarities between team sports and making movies. They are very collaborative efforts.

SI: Did you ever meet Wooden?
Bridges: I met him and shook his hand, but we never hung out. When I first got the script to Stick It I was like, This is great. I can really get into it with Beau  and study Wooden in a deeper manner. But it turns out my coach was not a great coach like Wooden. Maybe at the end he started to get an inkling of it, but at the beginning he was pretty tough.

SI: One writer called your character in The Big Lebowski the essence of Olympian slackerdom. You must be proud to have starred in what many think is the greatest bowling film of all time.
Bridges: Absolutely. And I absolutely think it is.

SI: What kind of research does a man do to play a bowling legend?
Bridges: Well, the Dude never bowls. You never see him bowl. But in the script I bowl and I studied for a while with a real great bowling expert, Barry Asher. He helped me a lot. Probably the most important thing -- though it's probably a moot point because you never see him bowl -- I remember asking him what would the Dude's approach be with the ball. Would it be an Art Carney deal or what? Barry laughed. I said, "What are you laughing about it?" He said he went through a tough time with that himself. There's kind of a Zen aspect to bowling. The pins are either staying up or down before you even throw your arm back. It's kind of a mind-set. You want to be in this perfect mind-set before you released the ball. It would take him five or 10 minutes before he went up there. I said, "How did you deal with that?" He said, "Now I just get up there and throw the ball. I don't think about it at all."

SI: Have you attended any "Lebowski Fests," where fans of the movie bowl and sip White Russians?
Bridges: I went to one in L.A. last year. I got together with my buddy Chris Pelonis and we got a little band together and played some tunes for the guys. We did The Man in Me, the Dylan tune in Lebowski, and we did some Russians. It was wild performing to a sea of dudes.

SI: You starred in The Last American Hero, in which you played a character based on racing legend Junior Johnson. How did you prepare for the part? Bridges: I hung out with Junior and [his then wife] Flossie. Did some shine with them, some cherry bounce and white lightning. I kind of soaked up the atmosphere [laughs].

SI: Did Junior like your portrayal?
Bridges: Yeah, I think he thought it was all right.

SI: You've appeared in a number of films where sports is a central or prevailing theme: Fat City, The Last American Hero, Seabiscuit, Against All Odds. How did you approach your sports films?
Bridges: Individually. There are aspects to each part that are similar as far as the process in terms of how you prepare. But I don't whip out my athlete game plan.

SI: In Against All Odds you played a football player at the end of his career. Did you base that on anyone?
Bridges: Yeah, I hung out with [former Bills receiver] Bob Chandler. I had lunch with him. He was in very bad shape. He was getting to his chair, and you heard every move. [I asked why he kept playing, and] he said, "There's nothing like catching that long ball. If I knew I wouldn't be ridiculed to death, I would be sobbing every time I caught the ball. It's such an emotional high. There's nothing else in life that will ever get that for me."

SI: Are there any sports films that you particularly admire?
Bridges: Raging Bull pops into my mind. Everybody did so well. It's a great film and it's always challenging to do a bio flick. They are hard to do because most of them go: He did this, then he did that and that. But that movie is so much tone and flavor. I just read a great script [Resurrecting the Champ] by Rod Laurie, who directed The Contender. It's a boxing film. I thought Gary Ross did a great job with Seabiscuit, a movie I was in. He made all that racing stuff work and gave you insight into what it was like to be a jockey. As a kid I remember The Babe Ruth Story with William Bendix.

SI: What do you consider your greatest athletic achievement?
Bridges: I don't know about achievement, but I love to surf . That's something I really enjoy. There's a place up in California called Hollister Ranch that's really great. Little crowds, a private place. Of course you can't beat Hawaii. I kind of quit surfing when I got out of high school, but then a few years ago I started to take it up again. I'm not an expert by any means, but it's so wonderful to get out in the ocean and get a different perspective on things.

SI: What's the best sporting event you have attended because of your celebrity? Bridges: Beau took me to see Cassius Clay against Archie Moore. That was thrilling.

SI: Your Web site highlights your photography. Have you ever shot sports? Bridges: The closest would have been Seabiscuit, and there wasn't that much. My photography has mainly has been focused on my family and when I'm working on the set. It would be interesting to do a sporting event, but it's not something I'm chomping at.

SI: Is there any person in sports or a sporting vocation that you are itching to play?
Bridges: Nothing is really popping my mind on that one.

SI: What about Wooden?
Bridges: Well, I don't look much like Wooden [laughs]. But he would a great guy to portray.


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