Jeff Bridges Talks The Old Man, His Favourite TV Shows, And The Dude’s Jelly Sandals

The Old Man

by James Dyer |
Published on

That’s how it goes sometimes: one minute you’re The Dude, the next you’re The Old Man. But if the title of Jeff Bridges’ new series sounds like it could possibly be cosy-slippers-and-an-armchair, don’t be fooled: The Old Man is an action-packed drama thriller, starring Bridges as Dan Chase – an off-the-grid CIA operative who’s dragged back into the fray when his old life catches up with him.

Speaking to the Pilot TV podcast, Bridges opened up on his move to TV, the series’ brutal action set-pieces, what it means to take on a darker role, and being his own ‘technical advisor’ when playing The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Listen to the full interview on the podcast, and read the edited highlights below.

PILOT TV: With the possible exception of The Vanishing back in 1993, this is the first time I've been properly scared of Jeff Bridges. Is that fair? When you looked at this project, did you see that in this character?

Jeff Bridges: [laughing] Yeah, this is a fascinating guy. He doesn't want to be scary – he doesn't think of himself as scary, that's just who he is. But probably the guy in The Vanishing didn't think of himself as scary either. [laughs] I was fortunate to have a real ex-CIA guy, Christopher Huddleston who was our tech advisor on the show. He let me in on what it was like to really be one of these guys. And it turns out the’yve got a lot in common with actors – probably the best actors in the world are vice cops and CIA guys who are undercover and have to pretend for their lives.

I guess when you’re a CIA operative, you can never really put it behind you. It’s a part of who you are.

That’s the thing – one of the challenges for this character is you can never really relax. You're always kind of someone else. And that eventually becomes such a habit that you don't really know who you are anymore. As I sit here and have my jetlag and think about it, this probably goes for all of us – none of us really know who we are. I think we all get into a habit of being who we think we are.

Some of the action in the show feels like stuff you don’t see on TV – how real and brutal it seems. How much of that was in the script?

That was all in the script. John Steinberg wrote a wonderful script based on a book by Thomas Perry. What you mentioned about the the quality of the fighting and how real that seems, that’s something as an actor I always aspire to – to make it feel as real as possible, let the audience feel like a fly on the wall watching this thing happen. And we have these stunt experts, Timothy Connolly and Tommy DuPont, the guy I've worked with a lot in movies. I asked him, ‘What's the state of the art [with] fight scenes? Because I'm not aware of that.’ And he said, ‘Well, I don't want to be immodest, but it's a show that I worked on.’ I said, ‘What was that?’ And he said Atomic Blonde. That fight scene on the stairs, what they can do now, making it all feel like one take… I said, ‘Oh, well I’m in good hands.’ That was some of my favourite stuff working on the show – making all of those fights seem as real as possible, not making it look like a typical movie fight where you do a lot of cutting.

The Old Man

There's a sequence in the desert in the first episode, you have a fight with the CIA tracker. It is 11 minutes long – 11 minutes of choking and rolling in the dirt and kicking this guy in the crotch. It is so brutal. And I mean. How long did that take to shoot?

Oh, probably a week!

It’s incredible that you can do that on TV. If you’re doing a movie, 11 minutes is a big chunk of your runtime.

That’s true. I never thought of it that way. I had a lot of resistance doing TV, because… Well, my father Lloyd Bridges had done many TV shows, his most famous one was Sea Hunt back in the early ‘60s. And I saw how frustrated he was by not having enough time to make the quality that you're looking for. But then you started to see all these high quality shows coming off the TV, and I said, ‘You oughtta check this out, Jeff.’ So when I got presented with The Old Man, I said, ‘Well, I gotta meet these creators and find out what they have in mind.’ I met with John Steinberg and Warren Littlefield, and when they presented what they had in mind, and how they were going to gather the team – so much involves casting, not just the actors, but the directors and cinematographers – and they did such a great job at producing this… I say a movie, a film, or whatever you want to call it. But I saw no difference in making a movie and making this show. Same attention goes to it, never felt rushed or anything like that.

Do you watch a lot of TV? Are there shows that really get you?

I do. And I love all the Brits, man, pulling this stuff like Succession. Come on, man! That’s high quality stuff, you know. What We Do In The Shadows. PEN15 – that takes acting to another level, those women did such a wonderful job. It’s hard to even say it, it sounds so unbelievable, but they’re 34 years old and they’re playing 13, seventh-graders. And they just do it so beautifully. I love it. There’s so much content.

Part of it is the quality of the writing. There’s a scene in Episode 2 of The Old Man where you and Amy go for dinner – the emotional honesty in that scene, it’s so beautifully written. There’s a line that she says, ‘No-one ever sees themselves as playing the role of the villain, and maybe the only one who can play that role is someone who doesn’t see that it’s happening.’ Do you think that’s true?

That line really struck me as well. Beautifully written scene, and that line especially stuck with me. You were mentioning The Vanishing. I remember preparing for that fella, and George Sluizer, the director of that film – who directed the original, which I think I gotta say it was a better film, the original – his first bit of direction to me was, ‘Jeff, I want you to write an essay on your character and who he is, as a homework assignment.’ And it was a wonderful exercise. One of the things I discovered was that, no, he thought of himself as something really unique and special to present to humanity – that he had a certain history and was a certain type of person that he needed to express what he felt was important in life.

How much do the characters you play stay with you? Do you carry them with you?

I don’t think I do. But I remember doing an interview in my home long ago, and the interviewer asked me that same question, and I said, ‘No, not really, characters don’t stick with me.’ And my wife happened to be in the room and she goes, ‘Pffft!’ I said, ‘Why are you laughing like that?’ She says, ‘You don’t think so? But it certainly does!’ So I think, you know, subconsciously they leak in.

You don’t just lapse into The Dude-speak in conversation?

Well, the Dude… We were talking about having technical advisors – I was kind of my own technical advisor on that show. [laughs] That was a bit of my cast that I could relate to. A lot of those clothes were mine. Those jelly sandals, those were mine!

Listen to Pilot TV’s full Jeff Bridges interview on the podcast now – and catch new episodes of the show every Monday. The Old Man is streaming now on Disney+.

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