February 22, 2011

Another Oscar Award for Jeff Bridges?

Jeff Bridges, who was cast in the role of Cogburn, says it was the idea of mixing the book’s authentic cadence and rollicking yet moving tone with the Coens’ cinematic approach that got him so excited to tackle an iconic character in a fresh way.

“When the Coens first mentioned the idea of making True Grit, I said ‘Gee, didn’t they make that movie? Why do you want to do it again?’ and they said, ‘We’re not remaking the film, we’re making a version of the original book by Charles Portis’. So I read the book and I immediately saw what they were talking about. It seemed like the perfect story for the Coens to make into a movie. And since they have never made an actual Western adventure before, it was going to be a surprise.”

Bridges came fresh at the role, leaving entirely aside John Wayne’s performance in a very different kind of film from a very different era of moviemaking. Instead, he brought to the part his long-lived love of the Western genre (his father Lloyd starred in many) and his extensive riding experience (he rode as a child and has mounted steeds in numerous films), then focused all of his energies on etching out the grainy layers of perhaps his most hard-scrabble character yet.

What made you want to do this film, True Grit?

It was the Coen brothers really (Joel and Ethan). They’re great writers, for one thing. The dialogue they write feels very real and appropriate for the story they are telling. I worked with them on The Big Lebowski (in 1998) and people often think there was a lot of improvisation on that movie, but all of those lines were scripted. They’re incredible.

You play Marshal Reuben J ‘Rooster’ Cogburn who seems quite tough and hard. How easy or difficult was it to empathise with him?

Well, I’m not hard (laughs). I think being hard means being gruff, mean and that you don’t like too many people. That’s not me. I like people and I’m more light and airy. I’m not hard in any way. He’s a wonderful character and he’s fascinating. He’s kind of full of himself and stand offish when you first meet him. But it turns out, he loves talking about himself, he’s probably starved for company and he likes a drink.

John Wayne won an Oscar for this part in the 1969 film. How much of a challenge was it to make this role your own?

The first bit of direction the Coen brothers gave me, because I was curious as to why they wanted to do a remake of this classic western, was ‘We’re not making a remake of the western. We’re referring to the book that Charles Portis wrote.’ I read the book and then I knew what they were talking about. It’s a wonderful book and it’s not something unlike the Coen brothers might make. I could instantly see them doing it. I didn’t refer to the John Wayne movie.

Is that because you didn’t want him influencing your own version of Rooster?

Well, John Wayne is such an important figure in cinema, but I really took the Coen brothers’ direction to heart. I never thought ‘How did John Wayne do this?’ I didn’t mess with that at all. I just did it as if there had never been any other movie basically.

What was the best thing for you personally about making True Grit?

One of the best things about doing this movie was that I invited my daughter Jessie to be my assistant on this movie so she was with me every step of the way. She plays guitar, sings and writes and we even put on a few concerts while I was doing this film. We did one concert in Sante Fe which was terrific.

You also shot Crazy Heart in Sante Fe, right?

I did. Actually, I stayed in the very same house again while making True Grit. It was like coming home again for me.

This film is based more on the book than the original film. How would you best describe the differences?

Well, the story is roughly the same. The approach to it, just the look of it, is trying to be as authentic as possible. This one feels like it’s representing that time a little more accurately though.

Is a lot of the script directly from the book?

Yes, it is. I think in the original film, they used dialogue from the book too and no wonder because the dialogue from the book is just wonderful.

You’ve worked with some incredible directors in your career. What makes the Coen brothers so special for you?

Each director is so unique, but I love working with the Coen brothers. They create an atmosphere on set which is very relaxed and pleasant. They surround themselves with people they have worked with many times before so there was a real family atmosphere on this set.

Since working with the Coen brothers on The Big Lebowski, have you noticed a change in their style of directing?

Not really, no. Joel cut his ponytail, that’s about it (laughs).

Matt Damon said ‘yes’ to this film before he even saw a script. Did you feel the same way?

Well, when I first heard about True Grit, I was in the middle of making Tron. It’s always disconcerting and kind of pisses me off when I get offered a movie while I’m making a movie, especially when it’s a movie that really sounds interesting. I knew as soon as I heard about it that I was going to like it. I’d been dying to work with the Coen brothers again for so long. Whenever they invite you to come play, you know it’s going to be so cool.

I understand there was plenty of horse riding in this film, which you’d be quite comfortable with, I’d imagine.

Very. I have a ranch up in Montana and I love to ride up there. But riding the horse and doing the battle scenes was tough because I’m used to riding horses, but not with the reins in my teeth, holding two guns with a patch over one eye! I did the battle scene once on a mechanical horse and then Joel said to me ‘All right. Let’s do this for real.’

How has your life changed since winning the Oscar for Best Actor?

It really hasn’t changed too much at all. I went straight back to work the day after I won on True Grit, so that was just as well.

Where do you keep your Oscar?

My wife has collected all of my awards and she has put them on a shelf in between the kitchen and the dining room.

Speaking of your wife, your marriage is remarkable for its longevity. You’ve been married for 33 years now.

You know, it was pretty much love at first sight. My prized possession is something I have in my pocket. I was making a movie up in Montana about 36 years ago. All during this scene I keep looking at this girl who is absolutely gorgeous. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I finally get my courage up to ask her out for a date. She said no, but added ‘It’s a small town, maybe I’ll see you around.’ Well, that turned out to be true. We met and fell in love and that’s my wife. Now the end of that story, 15 years after that when we’d been married, I was at my desk opening mail and stuff and I get a letter from the make-up man in that show. It said ‘I was going through my things and I found a photo of you asking a local girl out. I thought you might want this photograph.’ I have two photographs – a close-up of her and a shot of the exact moment she said no when I first asked her out on a date. Whenever I doubt, is she the woman I should be with, I think about this moment and several other moments in our relationship and I think, there is no doubt. That’s my leading lady.

Have you always been a fan of westerns?

Oh yeah. I remember my father (Lloyd Bridges) making westerns when I was a kid. I used to love it when he’d come home and he’d still have his costume on. I would put his hat on and his boots then call my friends and say ‘You have to come over. You should see what my Dad has here!’ I love westerns and always have.

In your opinion, what makes a good western?

I like westerns that transport you back into those times, that feel very authentic. I’m not too big of a fan of ones that over-romanticise the genre. It was a fascinating time in our history.

Do you have a favourite western you like to watch over and over again?

My father made a classic - High Noon. I also love She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Red River, all those John Ford, Howard Hawks movies.

When did you first read the book, True Grit?

I read it as soon as I found out about this film and its always exciting when you’re making a film based on a book because the book fills in all the gaps and answers any questions you might have.

Can you talk about what it was like working with Matt Damon and Josh Brolin?

I hadn’t worked with either of them before, but I admired both of those guys. Matt and I had quite a few scenes together, but Josh and I didn’t, so I can only really talk of Matt. It was really great working with him and we hung out together when we weren’t working and really got to know each other. Matt has wonderful comic timing and he had great commitment to this role.

For a film which deals with some serious issues, it also sounds like audiences will get a laugh out of this movie too.

Definitely. I think it’s good comedy, which comes out of the seriousness of the situation.

With parents who were both actors, did you feel like you were born to be an actor or did you ever want to do anything else?

Growing up, I thought maybe I’d be a musician or get into art, painting and sculpting. I’ve been able to keep those alive. That’s one of the best things about acting for me, is that you get to use all of your extra curricular stuff. It all applies.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

My father taught me all the basics of acting so that has always stuck with me. My mother was an actress - in fact she was probably the best actor of the group - but she kind of gave it up to be a professional mother. She was a wonderful mum. She gave me the best advice though. Every time I’d go off and work she’d always say ‘Now remember. Have fun!’ Then she’d also say, ‘And don’t take it too seriously.’ My wife now tells me the same thing and it’s a great reminder because you can forget sometimes.

Do you think you’ll like to retire one day?

I think about it every once in a while. I think it would be good to retire every couple of years and then go back to work. That would suit me fine. Like my Mum tried to instill in me, I’ll keep doing this as long as I’m having fun and I’m certainly still doing that.

TRUE GRIT opens on February 23, 2010 across Philippine theaters.

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