Given his success and long career, and after recently turning 61, you’d forgive Jeff Bridges if he just wanted to spend his days kicking back and sipping white Russians. Instead, the last few years have been among his most high-profile — facing off against Iron Man, returning to the Tron universe and winning his first Oscar as an alcoholic musician in Crazy Heart. But he’s not ready to take it easy. Instead The Dude is taking on The Duke — by playing the role in True Grit that won US icon John Wayne his only Oscar. So no pressure.
Were you wary about stepping into John Wayne’s shoes to play Rooster Cogburn?
I never thought about it. What I was surprised about was that the Coen brothers wanted to remake True Grit. But they told me they weren’t referencing the movie and asked me if I’d read the novel. I hadn’t, but once I did, I saw what they were talking about. The book reads like a Coen brothers script. It has those crazy characters and wonderful surprises. That was a great relief to me — I knew I wouldn’t have to impersonate John Wayne.
Did you have concerns about wearing an eyepatch while riding a horse?
It would have been tougher if the horse had been wearing an eye patch. What was difficult with it, was that sometimes I would forget to put it back on. I’d do a scene and the guys would suddenly point at my eye.
Have you been sizing up True Grit’s competitors at this year’s Oscars?
I feel bad as I haven’t watched as many of the films out this year as I should have. But the ones I’ve seen have been terrific. The King’s Speech is wonderful. And I like Winter’s Bone.
Would you feel guilty if you beat Colin Firth to Best Actor for the second year in a row?
[Laughs] I don’t think I’d feel too guilty, no. Just let it fall where it may.
Does it mean a lot to you to win awards?
It’s great to be acknowledged by the guys for what you do. There’s also an element to all these award shows that they’re a commercial for the movie industry. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s an element of my job that’s like being a barker at a carousel. But after you put all that energy into a film, it’s great if people come see it. Winning the Oscar has helped me in other ways. I’m currently making an album with [producer and songwriter] T Bone Burnett. That comes directly from the success of Crazy Heart.
Are there other artists you’d like to collaborate with?
Well, I was recently on the Speaking Clock tour, headlined by Leon Russell and Elton John. Elvis Costello was there and I got to sing with him, which was cool. I really enjoyed it. Elton is a great person. We talked about doing a duet. I’d certainly like to.
The web claims you’ve turned down a lot of classic films…
All of that stuff is not true. I certainly would have remembered turning down Taxi Driver and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I would have said yes to half the films they claim I’ve said no to.
What role did you really want that you didn’t get?
The only time I actually ended up writing the director a letter was for The Last Temptation Of Christ. I wrote to Scorsese, but I don’t remember his response. I guess when Harvey Keitel got the role, that was my answer. You can’t win them all.
But you have had a religion devoted to The Dude in The Big Lebowski…
[Laughs] That’s right! It’s so amazing. They have this festival called Lebowski Fest. God, I had my Beatles moment there. I got a little band together and we played a set. What a response! Coming out on stage and playing to a sea of guys dressed up as The Dude holding bowling pins.
Are you a good bowler?
Not that good. If you notice, The Dude never bowls in the movie. I practised, but the scenes were cut out.
For a lot of people, The Dude is the epitome of laidback cool, but what’s the uncoolest thing about you?
I get self-centred at times so I’m not sensitive to those around me. Caring has a funny dynamic that goes with it. It’s an ongoing dance — to care and not get too attached to the results you’re looking for. It’s tricky.
Do you ever get tired of people referring to you as The Dude?
I don’t, as it’s such a wonderful film. I’m one of those guys who sits in front of the TV with a clicker going through channels, but when that movie comes on it’s just like The Godfather. I get hooked. I want to see what happens in the next scene and the next scene. It’s a great film and I’m pleased to be part of it.
Do you own a nice rug?
[Laughs] Yes. And fortunately it is without the urine stains.
True Grit is at cinemas nationwide from 11 February