A Love Song for Jeff Bridges

Jeff Bridges, an Oscar nominee for the film "Crazy Heart." Academy Award actor Sollywood
Jeff Bridges has won the hearts of critics with his role in "Crazy Heart," and he drew from his own long love affair with his wife to do it. Cynthia Bowers has this Sunday Profile:

Jeff Bridges is feelin' the love, receiving a standing ovation at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, when he won for his latest performance.

"It wiped away all my nerves about what I was going to say," Bridges said. "It was like some kind of love hurricane coming at me or something! It was wonderful."

After winning this year's Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards, Bridges now has an Oscar nomination - his fifth - for the role of Bad Blake in the film "Crazy Heart," a low-budget movie that almost didn't make it to the big screen.

"We thought we might be going direct to DVD, you know?" Bridges said.

The story of a down-and-out country singer and his unlikely romance was a labor of love for all involved.

Bridges, a musician himself, at first turned down the role.

"It was all about music," he said of the project. "And it didn't have any music attached to it. So I took a pass."

That changed when his old friend, music producer T. Bone Burnett (who produced the music for "The Big Lebowski"), signed on.

"This is a little thing we did out of friendship - this is a friendship movie," Burnett said.

The film found its heart when a former bull rider named Ryan Bingham brought them the song, "The Weary Kind."

"'The Weary Kind'? I mean, you look way too young to even be weary," Bowers said of Bingham. "Where did that come from?"

"A year ago he was sleeping in his car, you know?" said Burnett.

The song won the Golden Globe, and is nominated for an Oscar.

"If we didn't have that song, we didn't have a movie at the end of the day," Burnett said.

"I remember when Ryan came in to play that song for us the first time," Bridges said. "I remember kind of like a collective, you know, looking around the room and I saw everyone go 'Aahhh!'"

(Fox Searchlight )
The response to the film has surprised even those who worked on it.

(Bridges as country-western singer Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart.")

"Whether you win or lose, you've accomplished more than you set out to," said Bowers.

"Oh, absolutely," Bridges said. "You have high expectations when you go into something like, well, anything you go into. You think, Oh, this could be good, you know?"

"That's what I thought when I got up today!" said Bowers.

"They you go! And then every once in a while it transcends those expectations, and it's even better than you thought."

Jeff Bridges has been acting almost all his life. His father was the film and television star Lloyd Bridges ("Sea Hunt"), and his older brother is actor Beau Bridges.

Jeff is also an accomplished photographer who chronicles the making of each of his movies.

Pictures Drom the Set of "Crazy Heart" (jeffbridges.com)

For the love story in "Crazy Heart," Bridges looked to his own love life.

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
"I've been married to my sweetheart for 33 years now, you know?" he said, "and I draw on that intimacy that I have with my wife, with Susan."

Left: Jeff Bridges directs his family's attention to the cameras as they arrive at the premiere of his film "Seabiscuit," July 22, 2003, in Los Angeles. Bridges is accompanied by his wife Susan, right, and their daughters - Haley, left, and Jesse.)

"When you're on the road as much as you are, I guess, do you have the girls coming after you?" Bowersasked.

"I'm in love, you know?"

"So your eye's not wandering?"

"Oh, my eyes wander, you know, but my heart stays put pretty much!"

In "Crazy Heart," his eyes wander to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays a young reporter and single mom.

The day we talked, they'd just learned they both were nominated for Oscars. While Bridges' nomination was expected, Gyllenhaal was surprised by hers.

"I really am shocked by this, you know?" she said.

"It was a great performance, but it was understated," said Bowers.

(Fox Searchlight )
"I'm more proud of this than any work I've done so far," Gyllenhaal said. "I think it's more grown up. I think, you know, in some ways I actually am a woman in this movie in a way that I wasn't exactly completely before."

"You love the character Jean - what did Jean see in Bad?" Bowers asked.

"Well, look, I don't think that anybody, any human being gets to decide who turns them on, or who really moves them. I think that just hits you," she replied. "Inside him is, I think, a pretty incredible man, you know? And he's pretty lost in the beginning, but that can be hot sometimes too, you know? And he's Jeff! I mean, everybody asks me what it's like to act with such a sexy guy!"

Bridges, now 60, is often called one of Hollywood's most underappreciated actors. He has more than 50 films to his credit, with roles ranging from the high school football star in "The Last Picture Show," to one of "The Fabulous Baker Boys" with his brother Beau, to the Dude in the cult favorite "The Big Lebowski."

Now, with the possibility (some say likelihood) that he may win that Oscar that's eluded him four times before, he views his career with satisfaction.

"When I look down at my filmography, I really have had a pretty cool career, really. I'm really thankful for that. I feel lucky."

For more info:
"Crazy Heart" (Official Movie Web Site)