PASADENA, CA–I had to take a few hours to get my head around the Jeff Bridges visit to press tour Saturday. That`s because of how sharply it contrasted with Oprah Winfrey`s TCA visit just a few days ago.
Bridges sat before critics to take a bow for the PBS American Masters tribute “Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides.” It premieres on most PBS stations this coming Wednesday.
The man is a movie star, an Oscar winner, box office gold. He has two movies currently in theatres and will likely pick up a sixth Oscar nomination for one (“True Grit”). He is from a Hollywood family, the son of a movie and TV star. He’s a pretty fair guitar player and, as demonstrated in the special, has an eye for photography and painting.
He could be excused if he was a total, egomaniacal bastard. Instead, by all appearances, he seems like a heck of a nice guy.
That was the impression as he sat up on stage between documentary filmmaker Gail Levin and American Masters executive producer Susan Lacy. The room was packed, like it was two days earlier for Winfrey. Bridges took many questions and, when he launched into a long story, gave warning. The story turned out to be not so long, and worth it, and everyone seems like they’d be happy if he told stories all day long.
His talk is surprisingly personal and revealing. He tells an astonishing story about his mother, Dorothy (“The General” they called her at home), who kept diaries of her children and presented them, hand written, when they turned 21. It’s where his habit of “journalizing” his life springs from, he’s convinced.
He shares warm, personal memories of his father, Lloyd, the Sea Hunt star typecast as a hero in swim trunks and tanks; Bridges took note and spend a career “swerving,” mixing up his body of work.
Bridges let us in but never to a point that made himself or any of us uncomfortable. “No is a wonderful word,” he cheerfully told one reporter who tested the limits of celebrity confessions.
TCA veteran Ed Bark, as savvy and unaffected as Bridges, saw his opening and pushed the button for the entire room. He suggested Bridges had an “Ozzie and Harriett” upbringing, growing up as part of a showbiz family, yet with none of the trouble often associated with that fishbowl existence. What was it like growing up in a nourishing, neat family, Bark asked.
Bridges laughed (more of a cackle), and we learned how his decision to walk his own path (while at the same time acknowledging that he was a “proud product of nepotism”) helped and hurt his career, and how his decision to keep his own children out of the showbiz spotlight may or may not have been a good thing. “I decided to spare my kids that and not be as proactive as my dad was and I kind of regret that now,” he said.
He seemed at peace with that decision and many more; he’s says he’s letting go of a lot of stuff he used to hold up. He’s achieved plenty despite what he calls a lazy streak. He was quietly inspirational.
Oprah, not so much. It may just be that this room would rather hang with a dude than a duchess.
Bridges told us fame can get in the way for an actor. “You know, there’s a side to the fame that kind of goes against–makes my job harder in a way, you know? And that–and I’m kind of still working with that,” he told us. Oprah too, I`m thinking.