There aren't many long-serving actors within the Hollywood system who haven't put a foot wrong. Or lost it all together.
Jeff Bridges is one of those very rare few though who have done nothing but interesting work right from the start.
Sure, he popped up in that very ill-fated 1976 King Kong remake, and he was the male lead opposite Barbara Streisand in 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces. Oh, and there was that dreadful 2001 Kevin Spacey vehicle, K-PAX. Out of a career spanning 60 years though (Bridges made his debut, as a newborn baby, in 1951's The Company She Keeps), three duds ain't half bad.
Besides, you know that Jeff Bridges has never signed up for a movie with anything but good intentions and high hopes that it's going to be a darn good movie. Right?
"Absolutely right," smiles the 60-year old actor. "What is the point of signing on for a movie that you don't think is going to be any good? No point whatsoever."
Unless, of course, you really need - or simply want - the money.
"Ah, yes, of course," sighs Bridges, "the money. Thankfully, I've never been that hard-up that I felt that particular need, or want. My father taught me that this gig is supposed to be fun, supposed to be an experience every time, and that's something I've always held on to."
Jeff Bridge's father being the late, great Lloyd Bridges, who, along with his wife, and fellow thesp, Dorothy, also bred another actor, Beau Bridges. The latter also has an actor son, Jordan. Not that the actor's life was inevitable for either of Lloyd and Dorothy's children - their sister Lucinda managed to have a normal life.
"Well, I don't know if you'd call it normal," laughs Jeff, "but, yeah, it wasn't like mum and dad said this is the life you're going to lead. They left that door wide open, but they wanted us to find out own way in life, choose our own path. I just fell in love with the life that my parents led, and the way they led it. I was a coast guard for a while, and I really didn't chase this idea of becoming an actor. It just sort of happened. Which is the way life happens, you know?"
Yep, life is what happens when you're busy doing other things. When Jeff Bridges finally stepped in front of a movie camera, it was as the wide-eyed Duane Jackson in Peter Bognadovich's The Last Picture Show, the 1971 adaptation of Larry McMurtry's smalltown tale becoming an instant classic. It also just happens to be my favourite film of all time.
"It happens to be one of mine too," smiles Bridges. "I think Peter captured a time and place that's just a feeling we all get. Saying goodbye to our childhood, in a sense. Saying goodbye to the life that you know you have to mature from, move on from. That's why people still relate to The Last Picture Show. It's a feeling, a forlorn goodbye."
There's a forlorn feeling running through Jeff Bridge's latest offering too, Crazy Heart, charting the comeback attempt by washed-up country singer Bad Blake. Inspired by his blossoming relationship with a young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to think a little bigger than bar gigs, Blake begins opening for country star Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), having once been his mentor.
With a handful of his own albums out there, Bridges is a perfect fit for Bad Blake.
"There is that forlorn thing again there, you're right," he says. "I must be drawn to these flawed guys, I guess, the ones who can't quite get it together, but they've got a good heart. I loved Bad Blake the minute I read the script, and I felt I understood the guy."
Which may explain why Bridges has been picking up a truckload of awards for the role, including a Golden Globe last month. He's odds-on favourite to take the Oscar too.
"Yeah, it's all downhill from here," he smiles, before getting back to his instant connection to Bad Blake. "That's a big part of the process for me; I have to feel something for the guy, and I have to recognise me in him, and him in me. Otherwise, I'm just faking it. And I don't like faking it."
Which is why Jeff Bridges works so well as the amicable, slow-witted but with-it stoner The Dude in The Big Lebowski, the slapstick 1989 Coen brothers movie that has become an ever-growing cult, with annual festivals, fan clubs and academic studies to prove it.
"Isn't it just wild, the way Lebowski just keeps on growing?" says Bridges. "I love it, man, that this sweet little movie has inspired so many people. The one thing I gotta say, it's not a manual for life. Well, not all of it. I think the Coen boys saw a lot of me in Jeff, and I can certainly relate to, let's say, his recreational habits..."
Although I did read The Big Lebowski inspired Jeff Bridges to give up smoking weed.
"True, true, there was some inspiration in there for me at the time, but I can't say I've been totally true to my convictions. I'm a Californian, after all, and there are times in my life when I am The Dude. Which, you know, is all right. He's a good guy to be. Every now and then..."
The rest of the time, Jeff Bridges is being a good husband to his wife of 33 years, Susan Geston, and a good father to 28-year old Isabelle, 26-year old Jessica Lily and 24-year old Hayley Roselouise. Oh, and any time left over is spent making movies, music and photographs. Famously, Bridges keeps a photojournal of every shoot, and then gifts cast and crew members with a book of his on-set photographs.
Given that his older brother, Beau, acted as surrogate father to Jeff, as their father was often busy working, has Jeff been careful to avoid the trap of being an absent father to his own kids?
"Oh, I was always very aware of that gap in my life growing up," he nods. "I understood it, and I loved my father deeply, but I wanted to make sure that I was around my kids as much as possible. Besides, they didn't have an older brother to be their surrogate father, so, I had little choice..."
Bridges lets out one of his trademark chuckles. To mark the release of Crazy Heart on February 19th, the IFI are holding a retrospective of Bridges' film. Having kicked off already, you can still catch The Fabulous Baker Boys (Thursday 18th), Jagged Edge (Friday 19th), Cutter's Way (Monday 22nd at 6.40pm), The Fisher King (Thursday 25th, at 6.10pm) and The Big Lebowski (on Sunday 28th February, at 2pm). All screenings are 6.30pm, unless otherwise stated.
Does Bridges ever allow himself a look over his shoulder, at the work he's done?
"I don't sit down with that intention, no," he states, "but, occasionally, a movie will pop up on screen, and I'll stick with it for as long as I can, thinking as much about what's going on up on screen as what went on off-screen. They're like home movies to me, really, and just about all of them are happy memories. Even the ones that didn't quite work..."
Words - Paul Byrne
Crazy Heart hits Irish cinemas on February 19th/A Jeff Bridges retrospective is currently running at the IFI (www.ifi.ie)