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Jeff Bridges Catches the Biggest Wave Ever in Surf's Up!

By B. Alan Orange — June 3rd, 2007

Jeff Bridges discusses becoming a mentor to a whole new generation of young actors, plus he reveals the identity of his Iron Man character.

Jeff Bridges is a luminary in the field of cinema. He adds a bit of class and dignity to every single thing he touches. In Surf's Up, he weights the picture with just the right amount of authenticity it needs.

As soon as Jeff's animated character appears on screen, you recognize it as another one of his great creations. This spirited penguin is equal parts The Dude and an older, wiser Lightfoot. Big Z, the once and future champion of competitive surfing, is an instantly iconic figure in the world of water sport action films. It doesn't matter that he is a cartoon.

Surf's Up does more for the sport of surfing than any other fictional film has in the last twenty years. Bridges helps elevate it past just another penguin movie into the realm of truly classic family entertainment. It is one of the only original films being released this summer.

A surfer himself, Bridges knows the ocean. He is able to bring that knowledge deep into the inner workings of the film. And he relished every moment of his time spent recording the voice. Jeff recently sat down with us at the beautiful Kahala Resort & Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii to share his thoughts on the making of the film.

What is the difference between Big Z and The Dude?

Jeff Bridges: Well, the Dude smokes weed. Big Z does clams.

What is the beard for?

Jeff Bridges: I grew it out for Iron Man, yeah. This is a little long for me. I'm going to have to get it shaved tomorrow. Bald with a beard. Ha.

Did you have to go the bald route?

Jeff Bridges: I didn't have to be bald. But I've always kind of wanted to be bald. Shave my head. I thought, this might be an opportunity, why not? So I shaved my head.

Are you bringing sexy back

Jeff Bridges: No, I don't think it ever left. I think it's always been with us.

How does your wife feel about it? She likes it. She does. Especially when it is at this length. When it's too short, it feels a bit like sharkskin. She doesn't like that.

Has growing older affected the types of film roles that you are choosing now?

Jeff Bridges: Like, did I have a revelation? No, I'm gradually getting used to it. I never had that moment where my eyes popped out and I went, "Oh, my God! I'm old"

You were already a surfer before coming onto this project, right?

Jeff Bridges: Well, I used to surf when I was in high school. That was back in the Sixties. I had a great time with that. I guess it was in my early twenties that I kind of gave up on it. Then I took it back up maybe five years ago. I started to get back into it. I started having a great time. One of the reasons I put it off for so long is that I don't like to be uncomfortable. I don't like to be cold. And shivering. And I remember being in the ocean sometimes...My first acting memory is of me being thrown off the Malibu peer doing Sea Hunt. And having to "Saayyy....Myyy...Lines...Liiiike...Thhhisss..." And not being able to catch my breath. There is something about cold ocean water the freaks me out. I thought that was going to be a problem. But that was not the problem, because wetsuits are so well made and so thin, you hardly feel like you have anything on. And it handles the temperature beautifully. It was the paddling that I had forgotten about. I have about ten strokes in me, then my arms check out. I'm slowly getting back into being able to do that.

What kind of board do you use?

Jeff Bridges: The long board. Yeah.

Some of those guys on the short boards will cut you right off.

Jeff Bridges: Yeah, I don't like that part of it. I try to stay out of those places. Avoid them.

The character of Big Z almost cares more about making the board than actually using it. Is that something you brought to the character?

Jeff Bridges: No, that was something that was always there. That was one of the things that was attractive about it to me. Hmm. My mind is going to what that journey for my character, Big Z, is all about. It's about a guy who has something in his youth that he loves. Then he loses it. He spends the rest of his life kind of mourning that and getting back to it. That's an ancient story. It goes back to the Fischer King and the Holy Grail. All that kind of stuff. It's a wonderful story, I think. And then, how, in this relationship with this other guy, they go through a similar thinking. And they teach each other what life is really about. It's a good tale.

Do you think you're role mirrored your off-screen relationship with Shia LaBeouf? Did you become a mentor to him?

Jeff Bridges: I think so, yeah. I think we all mentor each other along the way, not realizing it at the time. I know that I have had a lot of mentors in my life. They have taught me things about surfing, and life, and acting. Those sorts of things.

What's your take on Shia? Did you offer him any advice?

Jeff Bridges: I think that he is doing a great job. He has really taken it all with a grain of salt, and he is having a fun time with it. He's enjoying it. He has a great capacity for joy. We had a ball doing this. We got to play a lot. There is so much about acting that replays back to when you were a kid. And you would make believe and play. We did a lot of that together.

Can you tell me about the song you play in the film?

Jeff Bridges: That song, that ukulele song...That was written by one of my oldest friends. A fellow by the name of John Goodwin. Not Goodman but Goodwin. And he has songs in a lot of my movies. My album, which I put out three or four years ago called Be Here Soon, he wrote three or four songs on that album. I don't know if any of you saw Tideland. But I play a rocker in that movie. He wrote that song. Whenever I'm doing a movie he says, "What do you think? What's it about? I'll write you a song." When they accepted that song, I was really happy about it. I feel that Johnny's tunes are my tunes in a sense. We're such good old friends. I'm really happy about it. By the way, if you want to check out his music, you can go to Itunes and buy his album. It is called Up To Here. And if you go to my website, Jeffbridges.com, you can also stream his album. There is a music page, and you can kind of see what he is up to. He is a great songwriter.

Did you get a chance to hang out with Mario Cantone?

Jeff Bridges: No, I'm sorry I didn't. No, I only ran into him in a restaurant while we were making the movie, and we laughed about it. It would have been great to work with him. He's such a wonderful comedian. He really shines in this film.

Being a surfer yourself, are you amazed at how great the waves are?

Jeff Bridges: Yeah, that was really what got me on board. The animation with the waves and the water. The fact that they enrolled Kelly Slater to give them pointers as to how the wave should go. Kelly, of course, is a great surfer. He gave them tips on how to make the waves more real. How it should move a little faster here, a little slower there. That kind of thing. The way they managed to make the waves look so real, yet not photographic...It's not like you have an animated character on a photograph. It's just a wonderful thing. It does a wonderful thing to your brain as you are watching it. It is very unique. And water, according to the animators, is one of the hardest things to capture. These guys are really doing state of the art work.

Are you still taking pictures on the sets of your films?

Jeff Bridges: I think the photo book season of my life may be over. I'm glad you guys still have them. I've noticed that I don't do it as much as I used to. Maybe it will be like surfing. Maybe I'll pick it back up in a while. But I'm putting it down for now.

When you are out there surfing, do some of the other surfers do a double take?

Jeff Bridges: Ha, yeah, "Dude!" Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes. Sometimes. It depends on if I'm in their way, I guess.

Do you ever go back and watch your films?

Jeff Bridges: Sometimes. With The Big Lebowski, I'll get to the part where Turturro licks the ball, and then I'll move on. But sometimes I'll end up watching the whole thing. To me, they're like, you know...Certain movies I'll do that with. There is a home movie element to them. You know, where it brings back all of those times in your life. You are not just watching the movie, but you are remembering all the good times.

Why do you think penguins are so popular right now?

Jeff Bridges: We didn't think there would be a glut of penguin movies. Five years ago, when we started, who would have thunk it? When we made this, there wasn't a penguin in sight. Now every movie has got to have a penguin. You just never know. You just go with what you feel like doing. I kind of have to be dragged to the party. I try my best not to work. Not to do anything. If the role, and the people, and the script itself is interesting enough that I can't turn it down, then that's what I end up doing. The things that draw me in that direction are the kinds of movies that I like to see. When the filmmakers are headed to a place where you're not quite sure what to expect next. You have to figure it out, and then something else happens. I don't really think too much about how my films apply to the times when they are released. Maybe, just being a part of the times, that's a given.

Is The Amateurs ever going to come out?

Jeff Bridges: I sure hope so. God, that's a funny film. It's a good one. Funny, funny movie. Great cast. I guess what the one liner would be is: If Frank Capra made a porno film. (Luaghs) It's about a middle American town. I play this loser type guy who gets all his friends together. He has friends of all ages. And they make the first full-length feature amateur small town porno film. And, that's where the Capra element comes in. It's not too explicit. There is some sexy stuff. I find Glenne Headly very sexy. She's in it. It's got a wonderful cast. Ted Danson is really marvelous in it. Joe Pantoliano is in it. Blake Nelson is in it. It got tied up. This often happens to films. The distribution fell apart. The movie is good enough that it will get picked up soon. I'm hoping, anyway.

Can you tell us about A Dog Year?

Jeff Bridges: Yeah, they are cutting that right now. They don't have a release date for that right now. I play a fellow who is suffering from depression as a writer. And he thinks, "Maybe if I get a dog, that will help me." Then all hell breaks loose.

Can you tell us anything about your role in Iron Man?

Jeff Bridges: I play Obadiah Stane. Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man, also known as Tony Stark. I am Tony's mentor in the film. I also run his company that manufactures weapons.

This is your first comic book type film?

Jeff Bridges: Tron. That wasn't a comic book, but it was in the same league, sort of. But this is a comic book. It's been wonderful working with Jon Favreau and Robert. There has been a lot of improvisation on the set. Jon wants you to ground it in reality as much as possible. It is all very plausible. I should be done in June.

Are you going to be at Comic Con this year?

Jeff Bridges: Comic Con? What's that?

It's a giant comic book convention. They promote a lot of films there.

Jeff Bridges: No, they have not asked me to attend that. I was never too much into comic books. I liked Batman and Superman. Maybe I shouldn't be saying that. They're D.C. and this is Marvel. I really dug Green Lantern. Who was he with.

D.C.

Jeff Bridges: Ha. Never mind, then.

Surf's Up opens this summer, June 8th, 2007. Reserve your tickets now before you wipe out and miss your chance!