The Guardian has a great piece about Jeff Bridges. Basically it’s a bunch of quotes from people who’ve had the pleasure to have worked with him. Among those quoted are long time Coen collaborators, costume designer, Mary Zophres and cinematographer extraordinaire, Roger Deakins.
“Jeff is one of the most fun actors I’ve ever dressed. He’s the definition of a character actor. Not all actors are helped by their costume, and he’s an example of someone who is. Because the costume fitting happens so early on in the process, we’re sort of the first information he gets about the character. He was doing press for Crazy Heart while he was preparing for True Grit, but I had done all this research, so I had all this information that I was sharing with him about the historical period. He took it in like a sponge. He loves the costume fitting because it helps put him in that era. On the fittings for both True Grit and The Big Lebowski, there was a distinct moment where his posture changed and he went into character right before my eyes. That is such a thrill for a costume designer – it’s why I do movies, to contribute to the story by helping an actor find his character.
Jeff makes acting look like no big deal, but he can only pull that off because he puts in so much preparation. On Lebowski, he had all these notes all over the script – from front to back, in the margins, everywhere. He thinks a lot about everything but at the same time he’s very loose. I’m still amazed by his performance in True Grit: so much of what an actor communicates is in the eyes, and yet he brought all that nuance while wearing an eye patch. He’s been good in everything he’s been in. You look at all the characters he’s played and you can never see the acting. Look at Starman: I love him in that. I’d never seen anybody play an alien like that before.”
“It was the funniest and most unexpected thing seeing Jeff in costume for the first time on Lebowski. I’d seen him mostly as a serious actor, things like The Last Picture Show and The Fabulous Baker Boys, so to suddenly see him on set as this dishevelled, ageing ex-hippy was very funny, and quite a transformation. Jeff is so much of the film really. We held the focus on him a lot because there’s a subtlety to his comedy that takes a while to hit you. It’s not laugh-out-loud straight away; you’ve gotta keep your eye on him, the way he develops the character, and that’s where the comedy comes from. You’ve gotta watch him pour his White Russian and spill it everywhere.
Joel and Ethan [Coen] had never used playback so they were a bit sceptical about how much time it would take on Lebowski. But Jeff was funny; as soon as they called “Cut”, he’d rush over to the playback guy and watch the take . In the time it took us to put the board on for the next shot, he’d run back and be in position for the next shot. He did it on True Grit, too. I guess it’s to see how he’s coming across: is the performance that he’s doing and feeling coming over on camera?”