From working on Coen Brothers’ productions to ‘maybe’ meeting Daft Punk on the set of Tron, the actor spills on the moments that make up his new photo book
When a director calls “cut”, the movie magic doesn’t stop. Since 1984, on the set of John Carpenter’s Starman, Jeff Bridges has snapped behind-the-scenes photographs on every film he’s done. Then, once the shoot is done, Bridges compiles his favourite photographs into a personalised book that he hands to the cast and crew as gifts. “There’s a disappearance when you have the camera,” Bridge enthuses to Dazed over the phone from LA. “You’re all about the image. You don’t exist anymore.”
So not only is Bridges an Oscar-winning actor (plus six nominations) whose credits include The Big Lebowski, The Last Picture Show, and, my favourite, Cutter’s Way, he’s a natural behind the lens, too. Now, I know what you’re thinking: you want one of Bridges’ cast-and-crew-only photo albums, but you don’t even have an IMDb page. Well, luckily, Bridges is releasing his favourite photographs as a book, Pictures Volume Two, a follow-up to 2003’s Pictures, and anyone can buy it – even those of us who aren’t George Clooney.
As for Bridges’ weapon of choice, the Dude’s favourite camera is the Widelux, a tool he describes to me as “a bridge from still photography to motion picture photography. It’s a combination of those two things, and capturing time in one instant, on one negative”. Below, Bridges talks us through a handful of photographs from Pictures Volume Two. You’ll want the book for your coffee table – it’ll really tie the room together.
“That’s the other thing I love about these photographs: they help remind me of the times” – Jeff Bridges
I’m enjoying the sci-fi vibes of the Tron: Legacy set.
Jeff Bridges: I thought that set was quite unique. Both the ceiling and the floor were lit. You can see in Olivia Wilde’s face that she approaches her work with such joy. I thought the photograph captured that.
How would you describe the energy of a movie set, as opposed to just you and Olivia hanging out on a day off?
Jeff Bridges: The lighting on a movie set is always quite dramatic, whether it be from the set where you’re shooting or all the light that’s leaking out. It’s a place where light is just dancing all the time.
Did Daft Punk visit the set? Did you take photographs when the helmets were down?
Jeff Bridges: Not when the helmets were down! Only when the helmets were up. Was it in Germany? We had an incredible premiere for that movie. I think I met them. They were certainly involved in the movie.
Did you say you think you met them?
Jeff Bridges: I think I met them in their helmets, if I met them at all. I’m not sure. My memory’s not that great. That’s the other thing I love about these photographs: they help remind me of the times.
You did The Big Lebowski and True Grit with the Coen Brothers. What do they make of your photography?
Jeff Bridges: I think they get a kick out of it. They’re pretty cool cats. They don’t go overboard with praise or anything. They’re certainly wonderful to work with, and they’re true masters, so I was happy that they gave a stamp of approval on my book. That was nice.
Does Roger Deakins ever want a co-credit for doing the lighting?
Jeff Bridges: (laughs) No, he did not ask me. But wow, talk about masters. Isn’t he terrific? My God, he does it just right.
Jeff Bridges: No. Usually I ask them and the producers very early on. Often, at the first read-through with the actors, I’ll ask their permission. If I get enough good shots, I’ll make little books for the cast and crew. And I run shots by them for their approval. It wouldn’t be such bad news if anyone did say no, because it’s a lot of work putting those little books together. You take all their pictures, and then you’ve got to edit the damn things.
What do you particularly like about this picture of Loyd Catlett from Seventh Son?
Jeff Bridges: I’ve been very fortunate to have Loyd with me through 70 films. He’s been my stand-in all that time. We met on The Last Picture Show, and he played a part in this movie. I just liked the way he looked and that turban. He’s sprinkled through the book.
Jeff Bridges: Very much, yes! Both Loyd and I got a kick out of that. That’s a good movie.
What happens if you don’t enjoy the film, or you fall out with the director? Do you really want negatives of a negative experience?
Jeff Bridges: I haven’t had that experience, but it often depends if I have enough good shots that pass my inspection.
You have Jodelle Ferland and George Clooney doing Tragedia/Comedia poses.
Jeff Bridges: I might have screwed it up, but what I was going for was the traditional Greek masks. I’ve probably done a couple of hundred of these with actors, and it relates to the tragedy and comedy of Greek theatre.
This is a modern version of that. It shows the playfulness of actors, and how they’re willing to do silly things. But it also points to the extremes of what being alive is all about. There’s tragedy and comedy, joy and sorrow. As actors, we get to represent all these emotions, and what it’s like to be all sorts of people.
How many of these books do you typically make for the cast and crew? For The Men Who Stare at Goats, would someone like Jon Ronson who’s indirectly involved with the film, get one?
Jeff Bridges: I don’t know if I made one for The Men Who Stare at Goats. It depends on the editing time and what I’m doing right after that movie. I remember several photographs from that movie. I don’t know if I made one. Isn’t that weird? That’s the way my mind works. Well, Jon Ronson wrote the book, and his wonderful documentary got me involved in the movie in the first place. I hope I gave him a book if I made one.
Does it help you reset between takes, or do you like to stay in character, Daniel Day-Lewis-style? I imagine it’s therapeutic to disappear behind your Widelux on stressful days.
Jeff Bridges: Taking pictures can serve me that way. You’re not overworking the task, and you come into it in a fresh way. But sometimes I stay in character. I mix it up.
You have a poignant image of Stephen Bruton from Crazy Heart.
Jeff Bridges: He was so instrumental in Crazy Heart being a success, and for me, personally, enjoying that experience. He wrote several of the songs. He was kind of the musical director, and a dear friend of T Bone Burnett’s.
Our movie was dedicated to Stephen. He died shortly after the movie was completed. So that photo means a lot to me, because he means a lot to me. I also like the photograph, and the expression on his face, as he’s leaving the light and going into the darkness. It shows a lot of courage and understanding.
And there’s the photo of the boy from Crazy Heart.
Jeff Bridges: Jack Nation was wonderful. They call it ‘play’. Acting reminds me of advanced pretending. Kids are very good at suspending reality and getting into different realities.
I should probably ask: was there a reason why the photographs started with Starman?
Jeff Bridges: It was Karen Allen, who’s in that movie, who said, ‘Hey, why don’t we take your photographs and let’s make a book, and give it to the cast and crew.’ And that started me giving out these little books to folks. It was Karen’s idea, really.
In the Seabiscuit picture, it looks like Gary Ross and Tobey Maguire are posing for you.
Jeff Bridges: No, no! It was just a thing that happened. It was before we were even shooting. We were trying out different things. Tobey rode and did stuff on real horses, of course. But for certain shots, he would have to get on a fake horse. We were walking through these sets, and being excited together. This shot appeared. I said, ‘Oh, great.’ Click.
Most movies have about 130 or 140 scenes. Seabiscuit had over 400 scenes. Little tiny scenes. It gave it an epic quality. I like that picture. I like the swooping curtain, the fake horse, and Gary’s expression. He’s excited about what’s about to happen.
Disney and Marvel are known for their secrecy. I’m surprised you were allowed to use a camera on Iron Man.
Jeff Bridges: I know what you mean. But they allowed me. I thought it was just a striking image. I traipsed around the corner, and I saw that: click!
You post occasionally on Instagram, but photography on social media doesn’t have the same impact as a book, gallery or proper website. Instagram encourages a conversation, whereas your photos capture a moment.
Jeff Bridges: My nephew handles all my social media. I’m really behind the times. I don’t carry an iPhone around with me. I don’t like having a leash where people can reach me any time. I participate more with my website, which I started a few years ago, but I’ve lost my Wacom tablet. I used to draw on it. So I haven’t updated it for a few years. My webmistress, Nicky, takes care of it for me.
If you don’t have an iPhone, don’t you miss lots of photo opportunities?
Jeff Bridges: When I see shots that would be wonderful to capture, and I don’t have my Widelux with me, it’s a little bit depressing. It happens all the time.
Going back to your website – what I like is that the pictures stand on their own without someone adding a fire emoji beneath it.
Jeff Bridges: Good! Something else you might get a kick out of is Sleep Club. We made a little video presentation that’s another visual thing that I’m doing with my photography. It’s more cinematography than still photography.
Have you thought about directing? A lot of ugly movies get made these days, and I’m sure you could do better.
Jeff Bridges: Well, Sleep Club is a very communal thing. There wasn’t a director involved, but we jammed. A lot of making movies is a jam session. I’ve had great luck with first-time directors. They often include my input and ask my opinion. So I kind of get my director jollies in participating with the whole gang.
On Scenes of the Crime, it almost looks like you’ve snuck the camera onto the set.
Jeff Bridges: Oh, yeah. That’s just me putting my hand up, and shooting that shot. I think I’m dying. I can’t remember. I don’t like posed pictures too much. I try not to do that. I try to capture the moment.
The shots of me in the frame, I started that long before there was anything called a ‘selfie’. I didn’t think of it that way. I thought of them as self-portraits, or just including me in the shot. I try to give the illusion that I’m not taking the photograph by framing it in such a way.
Some celebrities say they hate being stopped on the street for selfies, and they would rather have a conversation. But you seem to treat the camera as a social tool?
Jeff Bridges: Being a photographer myself, and being a fan of different guys, I invite people to do Tragedia/Comedia things for me. I play with the image. They don’t mind too much. But (when strangers ask me for a selfie), I would rather photograph it myself. They say, ‘How do I work this camera? One second. OK? I think I’ve got it. Hold it. Stay there.’ It’s maddening.
Apparently a crew member, in 1975, snapped a photo of you asking out the woman who would eventually be your wife. Is that true?
Jeff Bridges: Somebody photographed the first words I ever uttered to my wife, which were: ‘Would you like to go out with me?’ – and her saying no. It was a love-at-first-sight kind of thing. She said, ‘It’s a small world. Maybe I’ll see you around in town.’ Her prophecy proved true. And a couple of years later, we married. And 15 years later, we’ve got a bunch of kids.
I’m opening this letter, and it’s from the makeup man on the show, Rancho Deluxe. And he says, ‘I was going through my files, and I saw this photograph of you asking a local girl out.’ (laughs) Who would have thought that was going to be my wife? So that photograph is my prized possession.
Do you think you’ve captured anyone else’s early romances on set?
Jeff Bridges: Oh, gosh. Maybe I have, and don’t know it, just like that makeup man didn’t know!
Jeff Bridges: Pictures Volume 2 by Jeff Bridges will be released by powerHouse Books on October 15