'The Dude' plays the coach of a teen girls gymnastics team in his latest movie
Jeff Bridges will always be 'The Dude' from The Big Lebowski to me, no matter what role he takes on. In his latest film, Stick It, he's the coach of an elite team of female gymnasts. When former gymnast and bad girl, Missy Peregrym, returns to the sport, it's Jeff's character who takes her on as his prodigy.
Coach Burt Vickerman is not how we're used to see Jeff; that's one of the reasons why he took this part. Another, is his three daughters. "Yeah, they certainly helped me, going in there and seeing all these young girls; the fact that I have daughters really helped me a lot. I didn't really have to think about it, it's something that came with the package."
Visually, his character looks like a know-it-all coach - full, slicked back hair and work-out gear. But it was his shirt collar that really put him over the top; he constantly had it up. "That was sort of an homage to my father (Lloyd Bridges) in Sea Hunt."
To get ready for the part, Jeff went to various gymnastic meets around Los Angeles - not to watch the competition, but to study the coaches. "I must have looked pretty peculiar, all these girls doing these amazing things, and I'm videoing the coaches - their hands, how they move their feet, but I got a lot out of that. Many ways, being a coach, it was going to be how was this guy in his early days."
Those previous lives were something he found very interesting. "I saw there were some coaches who probably never stepped foot in a gym in their lives - the beer belly in their youth; a lot of these guys weren't even gymnasts growing up. Bela Karolyi was probably the most famous of them all and he wasn't a gymnast, he was a boxer; that was kind of interesting to find out. Of course, there were some coaches that were very fit and trim and looked like they could get up there and do the tricks themselves, so I took bits and pieces and made my character a bit of that."
Before he started shooting this film, he talked to his brother, Beau. Why is that, you might ask? Well, Beau played basketball for UCLA under one of the greatest coaches in college history - the immortal, John Wooden. "Beau showed me the pyramid of success, John Wooden's pyramid of success. It's great; it not only applies to sports, but life and everything, and he approached basketball as a metaphor for how you live, and get the most out of your life. The coach I play is not quite as enlightened as Wooden; maybe at the end he's starting to get the joy back."
But it was the on-set technical advisor, Pat Warren, who helped Jeff the most. "I would go to her all the time; she helped me a lot. I might go up to her and say 'Pat, what am I looking for when they're doing this trick? What are they doing? What would I say?' She would give me all those things and that was a big help."
Ok, I'll say it again - Jeff Bridges is 'The Dude.' He'll even admit it; that role is still one of his favorites to play and the young cast in Stick It got in their 'Dude' admirations. Jeff compared working on that film to the world of gymnastics. "Those guys, the Coen brothers, they're real masters - it's like the athletes, when you watch the Olympics and you see girls flippin' around; they make it look easy. Then, when you do a movie like this, you see how difficult it is. Same thing goes for Lebowski, you see how crazy that script is, all over the place, you can't help but watch and find out where the next scene is going. All of that, a lot of people always say 'it looks like a lot of improvisation,' but oh no, every 'man,' every curse word, every ellipses, they were all on the page and we did everything we could to say it as those guys wrote it."
Jeff's got a host of films coming out in the coming months; one in particular he's really looking to get started on - The Giver, based on the novel by Lois Lowery. "I've been trying to get this movie off the ground for 9 years; I think the attraction is there. It's kind of a challenging role and I've never done anything like that, but I'm really excited. We got this wonderful writer, Vadim Perelman - he wrote "House of Sand and Fog", he also directed it; he's going to be doing the screenplay and also directing this one."
He was most excited about the new animated film, Surf's Up, for Sony Imageworks, starring Shia LaBeouf and Jon Heder; Jeff plays a penguin called 'The Big Z' in the movie coming out next summer. "The description of my character doesn't do it justice, but the guy showed me some stuff that hooked me. I'll tell you how he hooked me; the premise of this movie is sort of a mockumentary, sort of like Spinal Tap, like a Chris Guest film. The consensus is there are these penguins that actually surf and that's it; and it sounds kind of crazy, but it works. The way they hooked me is they illustrated me in this scene in The Big Lebowski, where you have me saying 'You can call me The Dude.' They had me illustrated and the penguin doing the scene, so they got me - it was a dirty trick. He's an old surfer who's now a recluse who teaches the young surfer (LaBeouf) how to surf the big wave."
You can check out Jeff doing some gymnastics of his own in Stick It spring boarding onto the big screen April 28th; it's rated PG-13. It's written and directed by Jessica Bendinger, who also wrote Bring It On; Jessica also produced the soundtrack for the movie, which features songs from Missy Elliott and Kalib Tweli, and Fall Out Boy. Along side Missy Peregrym, Stick It also stars American Dreams actress, Vanessa Lengies.