Considering how hard he resisted venturing into them, there are two things Jeff Bridges has really excelled at—marriage, and an acting career. Born with a Hollywood spoon in his mouth, Jeff’s father was the late Lloyd Bridges, best known for ‘Airplane!’ and the 1950s TV series, ‘Sea Hunt’. His brother Beau, who is eight years older, starred with Jeff in ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’, and in films like ‘Norma Rae’.
Yet growing up, Jeff saw himself more as an artist or musician than an actor. Even after his Oscar nomination for l971’s ‘The Last Picture Show’, he still wasn’t convinced that he wanted to make a career of it.
However, the 6ft. 2ins., blue-eyed star with the irresistible dimpled smile has since made over forty films, earning further Oscar nominations for ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ and ‘Starman’. Jeff’s new film, ‘Simpatico’, which also stars Nick Nolte, Albert Finney and Sharon Stone, is set in the horse-racing world and Jeff plays a wealthy man harbouring a dark secret.
On the marriage front, Jeff laughingly confesses that he isn’t sure exactly how long ago he wed his beautiful blonde wife, Susan—it’s 23 years, Jeff—but he is sure how good it has been.
Jeff first set eyes on Susan Getson in l974 while in Montana filming ‘Rancho Deluxe’. A striking, leggy blonde from North Dakota, she was working her way through college doing assorted jobs at a dude ranch. The fact that Sue was sporting two black eyes and a broken nose from a recent car accident didn’t deter Jeff. It was love at first sight.
Yet, when Jeff asked her out, Sue rejected him, unwilling to become a notch on Lloyd Bridges’s son’s belt. She relented when they saw each other again at a party and they fell in love on the dance floor. Unable to get Sue out of his mind, Jeff returned to Montana two months later and whisked her back to L.A. to live with him.
After three years, Sue, who was keen to start a family, issued Jeff with an ultimatum. He panicked, reluctant to give up his freedom. But he knew he loved Sue and didn’t want to lose her, so they wed in l977.
The first year of marriage was a difficult adjustment. But Jeff grew up with a wonderful role model—his parents marriage 59-year marriage was still going strong when his father died in l998 at age 85—and something must have rubbed off.
"It took me a year to realise this was what I wanted," he admits. A devoted and faithful husband ever since, he is now perhaps Hollywood’s biggest homebody. He and Susan relish life with their "three sweet girls," Isabelle, 18, Jessie, 16 and Hayley, 14, in their Tuscan-style villa in Santa Barbara, an hour north of L.A.
With an ocean and mountain view, it sits on nearly 20 acres with its own stream, a rock-grotto swimming pool and waterfalls and fountains. The Bridges moved there after their longtime Santa Monica home was badly damaged by the l994 earthquake. The family has two dogs: Corie, a little Wheaten terrier, and their Ridgeback, Shocka, who is a comforting presence since they now live in mountain lion country.
As an actor, Jeff unabashedly calls himself "a total product of nepotism." His mother, the former Dorothy Simpson, was also an actress until she gave up her career to become, "One of the great mothers of the 20th century."
Dorothy, 83, was behind Jeff’s screen debut at the age of four months. Her friend, actress Jane Greer, held baby Bridges in the l950 film, ‘The Company She Keeps’. As a child, Jeff appeared in ‘Lassie’ and had small roles in his dad’s longrunning television series, ‘Sea Hunt’.
Born to privilege himself, Jeff has spent the last twenty years committed to fighting hunger. In the early ‘80s, he founded the End Hunger Network which has raised millions for U.S. community food banks. On February 29, Jeff will be at Senator Edward Kennedy’s side in Washington lending his support to Kennedy’s proposed legislation which aims to put money back into the U.S.’s greatly reduced food stamp programme. Jeff will also help Senator Kennedy lobby members of Congress.
While Jeff ultimately dedicated himself ot acting, he never abandoned his art or his music. He paints, draws and works on ceramics. An avid photographer, Jeff has long snapped his cast and crewmates on each movie set, turning out limited edition film-family albums as gifts. Now, he is planning to publish a compilation book.
A prolific songwriter, he also sings and plays guitar and piano. Now, at the ripe old age of fifty—and much to his own amusement—he is about to realize a teenage dream and release his first record. He has even started his own label, Ramp Records, and will sell the record, ‘Be Here Soon’, via his website, www.jeffbridges.com.
Does Jeff have the right musical stuff? Apparently Quincy Jones once thought so. When Jeff was just sixteen, Quincy bought one of his compositions which Jeff subsequently recorded for the soundtrack of the Dustin Hoffman film, ‘John and Mary’.
Was it instant attraction between you and your wife, Susan?
JB: "We met when I was filming ‘Rancho Deluxe’ in Montana. We were shooting a scene at the dude ranch where she worked and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. You know that old trick that boys do where they hold a magazine up to try to block their eyes and peek over the top? Every time I did that, she’d bust me.
"I asked her out and she refused. She said, ‘No, you think you Hollywood guys can come in here and get all the local girls! Forget about it! Maybe I’ll see you around.’ Sure enough, I saw her in town and the rest is history.
"One of my prize possessions is a photograph that a make-up man took when I was asking Sue for that date. I have a photograph of me speaking my first words to my wife! Isn’t that wild? She’s a very pretty girl, though at the time she had two black eyes from a car accident."
What is the secret of your successful marriage?
JB: "I was going to say forgiveness but I guess love kind of covers it all. You forgive each other for making some blunders. We’ve been married over 20 years and your marriage is bound to be tested, and every time it is and you’re able to grow from that, then your love becomes bigger. You say, ‘Gee, I thought that was the boundary; I thought my love was only that big.’ But your love can grow and hold the thing that you thought was going to tear it apart and just make it like another piece of fruit in the bowl.
"It’s all the corny things. Communication, keeping all those lines open and talking to each other about what’s really going on. One of the traps that movie people fall into is you’re away from each other for months at a time and usually both parties get very into what’s happening at the moment and kind of let the relationship atrophy.
"We learned that that is very dangerous because then you’ll come back and you’ll have maybe a week of honeymoon and then all the resentments pile up. So we try to talk every day and do the same thing with the kids too. Cell phones help."
Was it important to you that Susan was a stay-at-home mum?
"JB: "I guess it was. I didn’t really think about it much. If the person I’d fallen in love with was an actress it would have been all right."
But Susan’s happy being at home?
JB: "Yes. And I’m sort of happy about that too."
How do you like having three teenage daughters?
JB: "I love it. It’s wonderful watching them grow up. Each one is so different. Izzy’s 18, she’s looking at different colleges now. Jessie’s 16 and Hayley’s 14. I just love them so much, it’s really wonderful. We all play music together. The girls are already writing tunes. They mainly play guitar but a little bit of piano too. They are also involved a lot in the hunger stuff with me and we talk about that.
"We go surfing and skiing whenever we can. I find as they become teenagers—I remember I did the same thing—you start pushing your parents away and spending less time with them. But that’s just the natural way things are."
Do you see much of Beau?
JB: "Yes. It’s funny, the older you get, work sort of takes the place of hanging out and playing. One reason that we work on producing projects together is because it’s a reason to spend time together. Not as if you need one! But we live about 100 miles apart. When we did ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ we had such a wonderful time that we try to create to more times like that for ourselves."
What triggered your passion for fighting hunger 20 years ago?
JB: "The chord was really struck when I heard statistics about the magnitude of the problem. The fact that so many people were dying of hunger worldwide that it was as if there was a Hiroshima every three days. And the fact that it didn’t have to be that way. There was enough food, enough money, we knew how to end hunger. Many countries had ended it. The thing that stood in the way was creating the political will.
"Then I read some Buckminster Fuller and he talks about trim tabbing. A trim tab is the very small rudder that is attached to the huge rudders of oil tankers and ships. It would take too much energy to move the big rudder so this trim tab rudder turns the big rudder and then the big rudder turns the ship. Buckminster Fuller likened that to the way the individual can work in society.
"I looked inside myself and figured what I could do to make a difference. So I and some other guys formed the End Hunger Network. When we were first involved, hunger wasn’t a problem in the United States because there were safety nets in place but that’s not the case today.
"I live in this very beautiful little community which you would think, looking at the outside, was very wealthy. In Santa Barbara county one in five kids lives in poverty which is just insane. In America, the problem of hunger is really hidden. So I’ll be going to Washington soon with Teddy Kennedy and doing some lobbying and talking to people in Congress."
What in your childhood stirred your social conscience?
JB: "My father always talked about the family of man and how really we’re all just a bunch of people on this dust speck hurled out in space. And why don’t we get together and try to make it work for all of us? He was very moved by people in dire straits that way, so that probably had something to do with it. My father went through some very lean times when he was becoming an actor. He didn’t have the kind of support that I did."
What did you learn from Lloyd?
JB: "He wasn’t a stage dad, forcing you to do things, but he always made it available to all his kids. When he was doing ‘Sea Hunt’ he asked if I wanted to do a part. I said okay because it meant getting out of school.
"I remember he sat me on his bed and went through all the basics of acting. Like making it seem like it’s happening for the first time. He taught me how important it was to listen to what the other actor said and not to just wait for his mouth to stop moving and then say your lines.
"In his later years, I had a chance to work with my father. I guess you’re never a peer with your parents but we felt equal in that we were both actors working on roles together. In ‘Tucker’ and ‘Blown Away’, it was wonderful to see how much joy he had in his work and how he approached it with such verve and excitement. That kind of feeling was really contagious. Whenever he came on the set, the crew would just go up a notch. I still constantly run into people whose eyes light up and they say they worked with my dad."
What was his fame like for you as a child?
JB: "It was a bit of a drag. When ‘Sea Hunt’ was in its heyday and if we went to Disneyland or the park, he’d get stopped and waylaid, but on the whole it was okay. The way I deal with all that is I take my cue from what Dad did. He was always very gracious with his fans. He never had bodyguards or anything.
"He didn’t really go in for the Hollywood fast life which I kind of stay away from as well. I’m just not attracted to that kind of lifestyle; going to a lot of fast parties and keeping up with the Joneses. He was very much of a family man."
Is it true that you nearly died at birth?
JB: "Yes. My mother tells it so vividly, it’s almost like I’m there. I had a kind of a tough birth. At the last moment I turned around and said, ‘No, I’m not coming out, I like it in here.’ My mother was given this drug she was allergic to and she just started to die basically. Everything started to shut down and I started to shut down. Everything was going south and the doctor suddenly slapped my mother across the face and said, ‘Wake up, Dorothy!’ then I suddenly turned around and I came flying out."
Your mother’s father was British?
JB: "Yes, from Liverpool. The story goes—and whenever we’d get together at Christmas or Thanksgiving we’d love him to tell it—that when he was about fourteen years old he jumped on a ship in Liverpool and by the time he was 21, he’d been around the world seven times.
"He was the smallest kid so they always had him go up to the top of the sail and he told the story of going round Cape Horn and falling down and hitting a yardarm and bouncing off it and seeing all the people on the deck cover their eyes. He caught this line before hitting the deck. He’d hold up his hands and say, ‘If these hands didn’t catch that rope, none of you kids would be here!’
"I’ve never been to Liverpool but of course I’m very proud of having a grandfather from there because the city has such a wonderful musical heritage. One of my neighbours is Peter Noone whose humour reminds me a lot of my grandfather’s."
How do you feel about turning fifty?
JB: "In one sense it’s kind of wonderful because everything has more depth somehow. It’s just the physical thing—I go up and down in my weight so much for my roles and it’s a lot harder getting back in shape now."
Tell us about your recording debut?
JB: "It’s so crazy! I’ve been writing music and playing with my friends for 35 years. I’d thought I would become a musician and make that the centre of my life then the acting thing took over and I followed that road. But thank God the music stayed alive somehow.
"I’ve always had a little studio where I’d write tunes and play with my high school buddies. When I was building my studio here, the acoustic engineer knew Michael McDonald (ex-Doobie Brother) and called him up. Mike dug the tunes and next thing I know he’s got more band guys coming over and we’re cutting an album and we’re forming a record label! We’re going to release my album and Michael McDonald’s next album.
"It’s a whole new direction and it feels so funny doing it late. This is like a teenage dream. When I take my daughters to school, I see a cactus that blooms like every fifty years and I think, ‘That’s me!’ It feels like that.
"We’ve got rock and reggae, blues, jazz, so the music’s pretty eclectic. I’m trying to figure out how it’s going to manifest itself in my life. I know I’m going to put out the album but I don’t know if I’m going to tour or perform."
How would you feel about playing live?
JB: "I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it. I’m going to test the waters. Michael McDonald is being honoured by Yamaha in February at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium with a wonderful line-up of acts like Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and the Doobie Brothers. I’m going to host that and I’ll also do a tune from the album there."
You will be in some heavyweight company.
JB: "Oh God! I’ll say! I’m sweating even telling you about it. The plan is to do some little gigs on the West Coast here, and see what it feels like."
Why did you put up your own website?
"Well, I wanted to sell the record on the internet, to be our own record company, and on the web it cuts out the middle man, so I wanted to learn about it. I don’t like the technical side very much. It’s like math class. I just can’t concentrate on it, it’s not the way my brain works. I’m trying to deal with liquid audio where people can download the music and it’s driving me crazy. But as an artist, it’s a wonderful way to express yourself and put yourself out to the world and to connect yourself with everything else. Amazing."
What drew you to your new film, ‘Simpatico’?
JB: "It was by Sam Sheppard and Nick Nolte was going to be in it. Big pluses. Nick and I had been friends for a while but had never worked together before. Albert Finney is one of my favourites, and Sharon Stone was going to be in it too. All the pieces were really falling together in a very nice way.
"The story kept my interest; you never knew quite what was going to happen. I play almost a schizophrenic type; there are two sides of the fellow. Parts of my personality are like that. Nick and I would often joke that we dress more slovenly than most guys and in ties and the suits, we're always pulling at our collars. It’s nice to get into all the funky garb, I could relate to that."
Have you lined up your next film?
JB: "I recently finished filming ‘The Contender’ with Gary Oldman and Joan Allen. I play the President. I’m reading scripts now but it’s tough to get me to the party because I know the kind of work it entails. It’s really got to be something I want to see, so I’m pretty choosy. But I’m not quitting acting by any means."
Hello! magazine, UK, 2001
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