Why this cool dude deserves his first oscar at 60
Published 20/02/2010 | 05:00
The nomination of Jeff Bridges for best actor at this year's Academy Awards has highlighted the fact that he's never won an Oscar. When you look down the list of films the 60-year-old has starred in, from The Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in the 1970s to the likes of The Fisher King, The Big Lebowski, Fearless and The Fabulous Baker Boys later in his illustrious career, this oversight seems puzzling.
But this wouldn't be the first time the Academy has got it wrong and the signs are that it will finally get it right on March 7, as Bridges is firm favourite to hoist the celebrated statuette.
He has been nominated for Crazy Heart, a gritty and affecting drama that opened in Ireland yesterday. In it, he delivers what might just be his best performance yet as a washed-up country singer called Bad Blake.
Blake used to be a big shot but is now reduced to plying his trade in dodgy bars and clubs across Texas and New Mexico. He lives out of his truck, his only relationships are meaningless one-night stands and he has a serious addiction to whiskey.
In short, he's a mess, until he meets up with a young female journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and becomes so smitten that he begins to consider cleaning up his act.
Bridges is superb as the addled country and western has-been and he even performs a number of songs very creditably. He deserves the Oscar and if he gets it, it will be a sweet moment for a man who has somehow remained a Hollywood outsider -- despite an impeccable Tinseltown pedigree.
Jeff is the third son of Lloyd Bridges, the popular Hollywood character actor who worked in film for more than 50 years until his death in 1998. Jeff's mother, Dorothy, was also an actress, and he and his elder brother, Beau, grew up surrounded by the glamour and glitz of Hollywood.
In a recent speech after he had won a Golden Globe for Crazy Heart, Jeff talked about how, while most movie parents warned their kids away from a business they considered incredibly tough, Lloyd Bridges told his boys that acting was "fun" and encouraged them to get involved.
Both Jeff and his older brother, Beau, followed in their father's footsteps and in the early 1960s they both appeared as teenagers in The Lloyd Bridges Show, a TV series starring their dad.
Beau would go on to forge a solid career as a film and TV actor, but his younger brother was bound for even bigger things. Jeff's naturalistic acting and Californian good looks got him noticed early and at the age of only 21 he landed a role in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971). Featuring a cast of virtual unknowns, Bogdanovich's film was a beautifully made coming-of-age story set in a small Texas town. Bridges' portrayal of popular high-school kid Duane Jackson earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Bogdanovich's film put him firmly on the map and he followed it up in 1974 with another fine performance alongside Clint Eastwood in the action drama, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
Bridges worked steadily for the rest of the 1970s in films such as King Kong (1976) and Michael Cimino's legendary flop, Heaven's Gate.
But Bridges really began to come into his own in the 1980s as he matured into an imposing and versatile screen actor.
In 1982, he starred as a computer programmer who gets trapped inside an electronic world in the cult sci-fi film, Tron. He then played a peace-loving alien in John Carpenter's Starman in 1984, earning a Best Actor nomination -- but still not getting that elusive Oscar.
Bridges has always been very careful to avoid becoming typecast and a year later he turned his affable screen image on its head, playing a ruthless wife killer opposite Glenn Close in Richard Marquard's memorable thriller, Jagged Edge. He proved his versatility yet again in 1989 when he starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and his brother Beau in the acclaimed musical drama, The Fabulous Baker Boys. The Bridges played two jazz-playing brothers whose relationship begins to disintegrate when they fall in love with the same woman.
His range was even further tested in 1991, when he starred in Terry Gilliam's spectacular urban fantasy, The Fisher King, playing a cynical New York shock-jock radio host who hits the skids and becomes homeless after one of his broadcasts inspires a listener to go on a killing spree.
Bridges was highly praised by the critics for his portrayal of a man who goes to pieces after surviving a plane crash in Peter Weir's Fearless (1993).
But it was Joel and Ethan Coen who provided him with his most celebrated role, as Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski, a terminally laid-back Venice Beach stoner who displays surprising tenacity in seeking compensation from a bunch of gangsters after they have roughed him up in a case of mistaken identity.
Bridges was so convincing in The Big Lebowski (1998) that The Dude's personality began to get confused with his own. But he changed gear again in 1999, playing a paranoid Washington professor in the eerily prophetic terrorist drama, Arlington Road.
Strong turns in films like Seabiscuit (2003) and The Door in the Floor (2004) have confirmed Bridges' remarkable durability as an actor, but his performance in Crazy Heart is possibly the best thing he's ever done.
And if Jeff Bridges does finally win that Oscar on March 7, it will be the most popular win in years.
Because aside from his achievements as an actor, Bridges is one of the most affable and well-liked figures in a very tough town -- a laid-back family man who avoids the limelight and has been married to the same woman for more than 30 years. He is, in every sense, a real Hollywood rarity.