In Crazy Heart, the debut film from writer/director Scott Cooper (and adapted from the out-of-print novel by Thomas Cobb), the charismatic Jeff Bridges is at his down-home best as washed-up country star Bad Blake. Though he once was quite famous, Bad is now relegated to a dismal life on the road, complete with gigs in bowling alleys, one-night stands, chain-smoking, and way too much whiskey. He’s also dealing with the bitter taste of watching an old protégé (Colin Farrell) hit mega-stardom in the shiny Nashville realm. Enter Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young reporter and potential love interest (who’s also a single mom), and we start rooting for Bad to get on the road to redemption, with a little help from buddy Robert Duvall (also one of the film's producers).
At a roundtable interview last week (before his Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor was announced), a relaxed Bridges opened up about his own musical aspirations (did you know he released an album in 2000?), the role models he channeled for this part, and his penchant for bumming cigarettes.
How did you come to this project?
Jeff Bridges: It came to me, and I originally turned it down, because while I’m always looking for a movie that has to do with music—The Fabulous Baker Boys set the standard really high, since we had Dave Grusin and all those great pop and jazz standards—but this one didn’t have any; there was nobody at the helm of the music. So I was happy to say, “No thanks.” But then T-Bone [Burnett] got involved, and about a year later, I ran into him, and he said, “What do you think about this script?” I said, “Why? Are you interested?” And he said, “Yeah. I’ll do it if you’ll do it.” And I said, “Oh, gosh, well, let’s go!”
In Bad Blake, we see so many cowboys we know—Waylon Jennings is the first one that comes to mind. In your research creating this fella, who inspired you?
JB: I was really fortunate in this one to have two very close friends who were my main role models: T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton [who recently passed away]. We go back to Heaven’s Gate 30 years ago, [where we worked with] another role model—I’m not as close with [Kris] Kristofferson, but he’s certainly a good buddy, and he brought all his musician friends to that party. So it was six months of jamming, every night after work. Kris is certainly a role model. One of the first bits of direction Scott [Cooper] gave me was that if Bad was a real character, he would be the 5th Highwayman. Do you know who The Highwaymen are? Kris, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. So those guys were all role models, along with Hank Williams. Another thing that T-Bone told me—he gave me a timeline of the music Bad might have listened to when he was growing up. Country music comes from all kinds of places now, so Bad could be listening to T-Bone Walker, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, different guys that aren’t thought of as classical country guys.
How easy was it to take yourself out of the role?
Oh, a certain part I don’t want to get out of. The music stuff—hopefully, I’ll keep that guy with me. Maybe another album will come out of it? That aspect of the character is still cooking. The other side, the boozing side and the unhealthy side, gaining that much weight… With this part, my regimen was “remove the governor”—take that guy and put him over there. You want that extra pint of Häagen-Dazs? Want that extra drink? Sure, go ahead, man! Giving that up was a little tough, but the downside is also the blessing of the hangover—the hangovers let you know: don’t do this too often. The older you get, the harder it is to shift, to lose the weight, etc. But there’s nothing like health—that’s the best high.
What about the cigarettes? There are so many in the movie!
It’s always the challenge—at least they were filtered cigarettes. I remember doing Tucker—that guy died from lung cancer, he smoked three packs of Luckys or Chesterfields a day! Oh, my God, I’d be puking during a scene, you know? Because when you’re in the character, you just do it how you do it, and then after two or three takes… [Grimaces.]
They can’t give you fake ones?
That doesn’t even help much. That was never my jones, the cigarette thing. I always draw the line at buying cigarettes—whenever I’d get the urge to smoke, I’d just bum one off someone.
There are so many different approaches to acting. Maggie [Gyllenhaal] is a person who approaches it like I do—getting to know the people you are playing with as well as you can, so you can bring some of that genuine friendship and caring to the screen. Kim works in a different way, where she is on 1000% between “Action!” and “Cut!” but between there’s not so much engagement. But that doesn’t matter, because there are many different ways to approach the work, and both can be effective.
You are so vulnerable in this role. [There are scenes of him in his underwear and he kind of lets it all hang out.] What did you think when you read the script? Did it make you nervous at all, or were you totally gung-ho?
Not really. I was not too concerned. I had a thong on under my tighty-whiteys.
I like to be dug. [Grins.]
Read the entire interview at TribecaFilm.com.