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Jeff Bridges on Meditation, Teenage Dreams, and His Strangest Project Yet
Jeff Bridges is, quite simply, far out. One of Hollywood's most esteemed and sought-after actors, the 65-year-old regularly practices Transcendental Meditation, travels with the country-folk band the Abiders, and is best known for his beloved role as a pot-smoking, robe-wearing neo-hippie nicknamed The Dude in The Big Lebowski. But even the boundary-pushing absurdity of his latest project could only make him laugh. "What can I even compare it to?" Bridges says, chuckling in his measured drawl when Details asks him to describeSleeping Tapes, an album hosted on the website Squarespace, on which Bridges meditates, speaks quirky spoken passages, and chants; it's principally designed to help listeners get a good night's rest. For Bridges, the best part is that all profits from the album go to No Kid Hungry, a charity of which he's long been an outspoken champion. He's old enough to be a grandfather, but when speaking on the phone, Bridges remains imbued with a childlike enthusiasm. Creativity remains a vital and "wonderful thing," Bridges says while discussing his unexpected new album, fulfilling his teenage dream, and why mortality has recently started to cross his mind.
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DETAILS: Have you been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception to Sleeping Tapes?
Jeff Bridges: I've loved it. [Laughs] I was intrigued by what my collaborators came up with and how absurd it was and that they would let me run with it. And I got excited working with my good buddies Keefus Ciancia and Lou Beach on some of this stuff. Keefus, I met him when T-Bone Burnett and I made an album, [2011's] Jeff Bridges. Keefus played on that. And Keefus also worked with T-Bone on all the True Detective music. I had such a good time playing. We came up with something that we all dug very much, you know? And then to have people respond to it, it was rewarding. It feels satisfying to have other people enjoy what you enjoyed.
DETAILS: You're certainly no stranger to taking artistic risks. Even for you, though, this album is far outside the box. It was almost as if you became a character for it.
Jeff Bridges: Oh, I'll say! It's almost a new genre entirely. Which is another thing that excites me. We were messing around and some guy came into where we were mixing and he said, "Well, it ain't New Age," and I said, "No, it's Age New!" It's so open. It makes me want to do some more of it because it's such an open-ended kind of thing. I just love the idea ofSleeping Tapes and what those words imply: sleeping implies waking up and dreaming and everything is included in those words. You can tell stories, sing songs; all kinds of things can fit into that. I don't know if this will work out, whether it will or not, but I fantasize often about doing a sequel to it or continuing that website and making more of those albums. I had such a fun time doing it.
DETAILS: Was it almost a cathartic experience making Sleeping Tapes?
Jeff Bridges: Oh, it was! And you mentioned it being a different character. That's true. When you read a script, you have ideas about the character and you talk to the director and you do all your research and everything. And finally, at the end of the day, if it's all working out well, the character kind of inhabits you and it starts being you and you being it. It becomes the same guy. That was the case with this. The guy who is doing Sleeping Tapes isn't exactly me . . . but it is me. It's an aspect of me. That's the way I start working on my movies: I find different parallels between the characters and myself. I might magnify or curb different aspects of myself according to the character. And this was a very free guy to play. He was different. Even if you see those tutorial things on Squarespace [Laughs] . . . there's so much footage that I'm hoping to explore that wasn't used on any of that stuff. The outtakes kind of go on and on. I found it very funny. It was very fun to play.
DETAILS: You were clearly infusing elements of comedy into topics like sleep and meditation that are otherwise very serious on the surface.
Jeff Bridges: That's what got me really excited about it. And then the charity: That was the thing that was the capper for me. That they were willing to make all the sales for these downloads and the albums and all that go to No Kid Hungry, which I've been championing for five years now. I've been the national spokesperson for a great organization called Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry campaign. So that made a big difference to me. I was giving [the singer] Pink an award last night at Variety's Unite for Good awards ceremony, and I was giving a speech, and a bunch of different wonderful charities were being acknowledged, and I was trying to inspire people to engage in charitable and philanthropic things. And I was thinking about myself, where when you're blessed with a life where you're making a good living, you've got food on the table, everything's looking good for you, you've got a responsibility to pay it forward, to make sure all your brothers and sisters and kids are benefiting from your success. And I suppose that's one way to look at it: this responsibility aspect. But it's funny: I don't necessarily look at it that way. I look at ending childhood hunger here in our country as a wonderful, creative opportunity. It's almost like I've been offered a part in a great movie. It's an important story that needs to be told. I have a role in telling it, and I see all the pieces coming together to pull the thing off, and it's an exciting creative experience—just like Sleeping Tapes was. It's melding those two things: responsibility and creativity.
DETAILS: You mentioned leading a blessed life. It's really amazing to sit back and look at the incredible breadth of work you've done over your career.
Jeff Bridges: It's funny: my brother often likes to tell that my family referred to me as The Sloth. Because I have quite a lazy streak, too. [Laughs] But as I look back, I've done a bunch of stuff, man. I mean, God. It's pretty interesting.
DETAILS: Let's dive a bit deeper into your lifelong love of music. Obviously, those who didn't previously know you for your musical roots could see it shining through via your celebrated portrayal of Bad Blake in 2009's Crazy Heart.
Jeff Bridges: I consider myself a product of nepotism, really. My dad [Lloyd Bridges], he was so gung-ho about the movie business, and he had all his kids learning about it and excited about it, and one of the tough things about the acting profession is getting gigs. And that was kind of handled by my dad. And while all that success in my life in the movies was going on, starting as young as a teenager or even before that, I was interested in music. Just playing guitar and piano and writing songs and playing with my buddies and that kind of thing. So it's quite odd now for me to be 65 years old and be realizing this teenage dream. I guess Crazy Heart was five years ago or something, but I've done other movies, like The Fabulous Baker Boys, and I've often played musical instruments in my movies. But to realize the real band dream, the teenage band dream, this late in my life with the Abiders, my band I go out on the road with, it's such a wonderful thing.
DETAILS: You mentioned thinking about the fact that you're 65. Is age creeping into your mind?
Jeff Bridges: Sure. I think about it all the time. Mortality is all the more close; it's right there now. It's almost like that Walt Disney cartoon. I can't remember who is who, but Goofy and Donald Duck, one's an angel and one's a devil, and they're sitting on the guys' shoulders. I've got that. Just two different perspectives. One is saying, "Hey, you've got a few more years here. You've got a bunch of shit you want to do. You better get to work, man!" [Laughs] And the other guy is saying, "Will you please relax, Jeff? You want to spend the rest of your life doing a giant homework assignment?" So it's finding that balance. Taking it easy is going with the flow, and the flow seems to be that there's a lot of stuff going on. So it's an interesting dance. I certainly don't feel less inspired or have less things I want to accomplish. But the old body has more aches and pains and slows you down.
DETAILS: Such is the curse of being a creative person.
Jeff Bridges: It's either a curse or a blessing. [Laughs]