Interview: Jeff Bridges Talks Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy isn't the first movie in which an actor has had to act opposite himself. Just consider all the terrible "twin movies" out there (yes, I'm talking to you, Double Impact). But Tron: Legacy is the first movie in history when an actor has had to act opposite his younger self, particularly the younger version of himself who starred in the movie his new movie is a sequel to. Tron revolutionized special effects back in 1982 when Kevin Flynn was transported into a video-game world, and today Tron: Legacy pushes the boundaries of special effects that much further by creating a younger, digital version of Jeff Bridges to serve as the villainous Clu to Bridge's much older, much wiser Flynn. I sat down with the Dude recently to discuss the movie, new cinematic possibilities, and the future.

Cole Haddon: You've been promoting [Tron: Legacy] for a while now, but could you talk about the first time you saw the final version of the movie? Were you blown away?

Jeff Bridges: I haven't seen it yet. You're ahead of me on that score.

CH: Wow. Well, what about finished footage of you today working with the 1982 version of you? Have you seen any of that?

JB: No, I haven't seen that [either]. I'm dying to see it. I've seen some of the earlier incarnations of Clu, and I was impressed. But I haven't seen the final one. They've been polishing it right up until the end.

CH: Can you talk about what that experience was like for you? First of all, acting with yourself? But then also knowing that there's a version of you now that can exist from any point in your career, on a hard drive, and that you can thus play yourself at any age no matter how old you get?

JB: I mean it's opening a whole new deal, man. They can combine actors! A little, you know, Bob Duvall, Lou Costello, or something, and then they push a button and fuse those guys, and they have some other actor drive that image. It's really going back to becoming a writer's medium, because now anything's possible. There're no sets, no costumes. It's all done in post. Even the camera angles, where the camera is. It's crazy.

CH: As an actor, how did you split those two characters in your head -- Flynn and Clu -- for your performance? How did you approach each one differently?

JB: Well, you know, the technology -- or what was required of me in just acting those two parts -- really helped. With playing Flynn where I was my own age, it was often practical sets and a costume. And then when I would do Clu, it would often be shot in a thing called "the volume." It could be any size room, with sensors that look almost like these little sprinkler things. They're not cameras; they're computer sensors. And you stand in a T ... and they [capture] you, and you're in the computer. And you're [in] a leotard with all these dots on your face and this funny helmet with cameras, so just that in itself puts you in a different -- you know, it's nice to imagine in your head what it must be like to live in a grid or something. Just [being] in that strange circumstance, that helps that.

Tron LegacyCH: How did you react the first time you were approached about returning to the world of Tron?

JB: I thought, "Uh, you really want to do that?" I can understand with all the technology that's available now, it's kind of a no-brainer why they would want to do it. But I didn't really want to participate unless the story was good. And I was most interested in taking part in creating a modern-day myth. You know, I thought we could use a good myth about technology to help guide us through these particular modern waters right now. And so I asked if I could bring on board a friend of mine, Bernie Glassman, who's a Zen master. He has a wonderful site called And if you want to find out about Bernie, Google his name or go to that site. I was just at a symposium that he held for socially-engaged Buddhism, and I wanted to get some of his input on this so he was brought on board, and put some of the kind of Zen spin on it.

CH: Did you love science-fiction books and movies when you were a kid?

JB: Yeah, I loved Ray Bradbury. [Robert] Heinlein, you know, I liked him. 2001, I don't know if you get movies that are much better than that. I loved that. Starman, I was in [that] movie and really enjoyed that film. Yeah I loved, as a kid growing up, I loved science fiction.

True GritCH: December is going to be a huge month for you, isn't it?

JB: Oh man, it's so chock full of stuff. I've got True Grit coming out. And then, on top of this thing -- Tron: Legacy -- the cherry on this sundae is I'm making an album with T Bone Burnett right now. [Laughs]. I mean right now! After I leave here, I'm going to the studio and we're cutting some more tracks with this band that's just phenomenal.

Reader's note: T Bone Burnett, if you're unfamiliar, is the legendary country-western songwriter and producer who wrote the songs that appeared in last year's Crazy Heart, which Bridges starred in and won a Best Actor Oscar for.

CH: That's so cool.

JB: That is cool.

CH: When's the album going to come out?

JB: We don't know, but sometime next year.

CH: Getting back to Tron, did you put a little bit of the Dude from The Big Lebowski in your performance of Kevin Flynn this time around?

JB: You know, there is a little bit of a connection between Flynn and Lebowski, the Dude. Since I'm playing it, there's that -- but they're of the same generation, so I think they would get along, those guys. Maybe not, maybe the Dude would say, "Relax! Just take it easy, Flynn." [Laughs].

CH: The Dude's digital reality would probably be a lot different.

JB: Yeah, yeah, I think so.

CH: Is there any other character you've played, outside of Flynn, that you'd like to take one more crack at?

JB: Yeah. You know what we're working on currently? And it's a lot of fun to do this, and doing it with Tron, you know, was a wonderful experience, especially having [Steven] Lisberger on board, the guy who wrote it and directed it. And I go to do that with another movie, The Last Picture Show. Twenty years later we did Texasville. And now I was just in Texas with Peter [Bogdanovich], and we're looking at doing the next installment of the Texas [series] -- there's actually five books that Larry McMurtry wrote about those characters, and so we've done two, and we want to do the next thing. I don't know if that's ever happened before, you know, every 20 years going back and doing that. So that's something that I'm hoping will come about.

The DudeCH: What about the Dude? Would you take him on again if the Coen brothers asked you to?

JB: Oh yeah, are you kidding me? I don't think they will, but it's kind of set up like that with the, "I happen to know there's a little Dude in the oven" [line].

Tron LegacyCH: You've obviously reached a point in your career where you're being offered roles right and left. You could work as much as you want, and, apparently, use a CGI version of yourself to star in even more movies. What's your criteria these days for getting involved with a project? How does that happen for you?

JB: I guess a couple of things come up as you ask that. I'm drawn to movies that I want to see, and those are usually movies where the filmmaker is kind of ahead of you, you don't know quite what's going happen. I like going to movies like that, and I like being a part of movies [like that]. My M.O. is funny: it's usually very resistant. You know, I really try hard not to work, not to engage, because I know what that means, what hard work it is. It takes me away from my family. My wife and I were separated last year for eleven months. You know, she comes for visits and stuff, but it's just, that's the down side of it. And also when you engage in one thing, it's very possible that something's going [to] come right around the corner that you can't do because you're already doing this. So I really try to resist engagement, and when I can't resist, that's what I end up doing. You know, when it's just too groovy, like the Coen brothers or Crazy Heart or Tron. When it's just too appealing, I can't resist it.

CH: Continuing along the theme of your lengthy career, is there anything left, some book, some dream, that you'd love to make happen?

JB: Well, I mentioned the Picture Show, those characters; I really would like to see that. And I've got a few other movies that I don't want to talk about, you know, I don't want to dissipate the energy behind it. So I don't want to mention those. But my music ... the music is a big force in me now. I really feel like -- I'm goin' on 61 years old now, and I've been playing music since I was a teenager, and now for some reason all the stars are aligned, and it's just coming out. That's my big dream, that's being realized as we speak.

CH: It's fascinating to hear an Oscar winner talk about how there's still this big dream out there that's got him jazzed.

JB:Yeah, and then what's so weird about it is that the Oscar was about a musician, and it's all connected. And with my dear friend T Bone Burnett and this guy ... my friend Johnny Goodwin, he's my oldest friend, we go back to the fourth grade making music and art together. He wrote a song in Crazy Heart, and on this new album he's got a bunch of songs. So it's all of these dreams kind of coming through. I've got to say I blame Scott Cooper, the director of Crazy Heart, for making that happen. He was one of the best directors that I've ever worked with.

CH: Do you sing, do you play?

JB: Play, write, sing, yeah.

CH: I know the interview's got to wrap, but are you thinking about going on tour next year for the album?

JB: Oh yeah, absolutely!

CH: So you'll be performing in venues?

JB: I think so. You know what name we're going for? Are you a Lebowski fan?

CH: Uh, yeah, definitely.

JB: We're calling ourselves The Royal We. [Laughs]. What do you think, is it too weird?

Reader's note: "The Royal We" is a reference to a particularly hilarious line of dialogue fromThe Big Lebowski.

CH: I think people are going to love it.