Monday Morning Wake-Up Call – “Heaven”, I suggest. “Yup.”

Jeff Bridges at 72 wakes early and lingers a while in bed. Since a battle with lymphatic cancer that began two years ago (“When they found a 9in by 12in mass in my stomach”) and a bad case of Covid he contracted on his local chemo ward (“It made the cancer look like a piece of cake”), rising in the mornings has been a struggle for the veteran Hollywood actor. “I really have to drag myself out of bed,” he says. When Bridges is finally up and about, he stretches, he does a daily breathing exercise so intense it leaves him trembling, he makes coffee, he reads. By the time he’s down in the garage of his Santa Barbara home, maybe noodling about on a musical instrument, or painting, he’ll be feeling and behaving more like the Jeff Bridges that movie-goers have come to know: that beautifully unpolished, scruffy-sweet, growly-squeaky figure, irresistible in deathless works that include The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Big Lebowski and True Grit. […]

Bridges pats his chest, a where-was-I gesture. Oh yeah, positivity. “What I learned from that whole experience in hospital was: life is constantly giving us gifts. They may be gifts that we don’t think we want. Who wants cancer? Who wants fucking Covid, man? Well it turns out, I did. Because dealing with your mortality, it makes things more precious. It’s a gift, man, to realise that I’ve got eyes to look at all this beautiful stuff in the world. I can feel the temperature of the day on my skin. I’ve got a wife who loves me, my kids, too, and I can bathe in that love. It’s all a gift.”

Bridges was born to Lloyd and his wife Dorothy at the end of the 1940s, “right after they’d lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” he adds. “Can you imagine? Your one-year-old? But they had me. They got back in the saddle.” He wound up being the middle of three kids, his older brother Beau going on to become a successful film actor, his little sister Cindy an artist. “Our mom loved mothering,” Bridges remembers. “We all got to benefit. She did this thing with her kids called Time. It was an hour every day with each of us, doing whatever we wanted. Pretending to be clowns. Space monsters. You never got the feeling of duty coming from her. She just dug playing.” […]

At one point in our conversation, Bridges tries to recall a younger actor he worked with on the 2013 action- comedy R.I.P.D., only to blank on his name. He snaps his fingers, reaching for it. “I just watched his recent movie, Free Guy.” Ryan Reynolds? I suggest. “Yes!” Bridges exclaims, relieved, troubled as well by the lapse.

“Isn’t that terrible? That’s embarrassing. To forget someone’s name when they’re dear to you It’s awkward. It feels weird to me.” Bridges shakes his head and says: “Memory, man. As I get older I ask my brain for a name, a word, and it says, ‘Are you kidding?’ My brain is flipping me fingers.” I ask about his return to work on his new drama, The Old Man, whether he struggled to remember lines on set. Ian McKellen, a decade older than Bridges, but still in regular work, once told me that actors die twice. The first death comes when they stop being able to memorise their dialogue. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case on The Old Man,” Bridges says. “Maybe it’s a short-term, long-term memory thing?” […]

Before his mother died, she wrote Bridges a poem in which she described the “honour” of reaching advanced age. I ask him what he thinks she meant by the word. “It’s interesting. New shit comes up constantly as you get older. But it’s not like you’re learning new shit, it’s more like you’re practising how you respond to life. You kind of get to practise what you are.” Bridges continues, “People don’t talk too much about it, but often, in old age? You’ll be going through the things that age offers us – closer proximity to death, a whole different way of dealing with sex, hormonal shifts that make you look at intimacy in a different way – and it almost feels like going through adolescence again. Think of being young. Think of asking a girl out on a first date. Think of how that feels.” Bridges, touching his heart again, issues a high-trembling bleat to express how it feels, as love, terror and hope intermingle. “You have versions of that in old age, too.” […]

At the beginning of our conversation, Bridges talked me through his morning routine, those aching grouchy wake-ups before he stretches and breathes and makes coffee. Now he explains how each day ends for him and Sue. “We sit and we eat dinner in front of the TV. We’re always hooked on some new show or another. Maybe we’re getting tired, maybe I have a wrestle with one of the dogs on the carpet for a bit. I’ll say to Sue, ‘I’m goin’ up.’ And she says to me, ‘OK.’ I get into bed while she does her teeth. She comes in, too. We huddle with our dogs. We go to sleep.”

Heaven, I suggest.

“Yup,” says Bridges, nodding slowly in agreement. “Yup.”

— Tom Lamont, excerpts from “‘Dealing with your mortality, it makes things more precious’: Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges on the gift of life after cancer” (The Guardian, September 18, 2022)

Our dark and our light are so intertwined

Jeff-Bridges

He considers his latest film (The Giver), co-starring Taylor Swift and Meryl Streep, a cautionary tale. “I think it’s an impulse for human beings to want to suffer less, and we’re kind of addicted to comfort at all costs—at least I am. And of course comfort has a price,” he says. “So the film is asking…what’s the true cost of our comfort, and what are we willing to pay?”

What is he too comfortable with? Sitting on a long white leather couch at a photo studio in New York, Mr. Bridges holds up a half-eaten almond croissant. “I love taste, and I love the immediate gratification of flavor and that satisfying swallow you feel all over,” he says. “But I look at my body and I should say, ‘Is that really the most healthy thing for me?'”…

But leaning back and eyeing the last of his croissant, he says that he is constantly dealing with the idea of perfection. “Wouldn’t it be great if I stopped eating this and worked out every day?” he asks. “Imperfection and perfection go so hand in hand, and our dark and our light are so intertwined, that by trying to push the darkness or the so-called negative aspects of our life to the side…we are preventing ourselves from the fullness of life.”

He’s referring to one of his favorite quotations by the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “…the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Mr. Bridges interprets it as a reason not to judge other people. “You’re saying that guy’s evil, somebody else is saying you’re evil, and we all have that in common, but as The Dude might say, ‘That’s just your opinion, man,’ ” he says. “What I’m proposing is that we’re all connected, and we’re all in it together.”

~ Alexandra Wolfe in her interview of 64-year old actor Jeff Bridges

Read full interview in wsj.com: Things That Jeff Bridges Can’t Abide


Notes: NY Times Movie Review of The Giver

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