By Sherrie Li
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By Amy Nicholson
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By Sherrie Li
Crazy Heart is a promising first feature for Cooper (himself an actor), but Bridges enlarges, in every sense, the movie’s familiar territory of self-destructive celebrity. “When he’s up onstage that’s his home. That’s a typical thing with performers like that; once they get to success, they start to abuse themselves,” says Bridges, who spends a lot of time around musicians, all of whom he fondly calls his dear friends. Cooper had originally wanted to base the movie on the life of Merle Haggard, says Bridges. “But Merle had been married five or six times, so it was hard to get the rights through all his wives.” Wading, with his usual abandon and an exposed big gut, into the defiant self-immolation of Bad Blake, Bridges also makes room for an open destiny for this mumbling wreck of a man, craning his neck forward as if interrogating the world for whatever crumbs of insight or salvation it might spare him.
Bridges comes from Hollywood royalty. His father, Lloyd Bridges, who starred in the television series Sea Hunt, and his brother Beau, eight years older than Jeff (they played lounge singers together opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys), both encouraged and shaped him. But he’s always lived in the shadow of nepotism, which may account for his chronic ambivalence, and explain why his career has skittered between big studio movies and small indies. It says a lot about the actor that his all-time favorite movie is Citizen Kane (about another flawed giant), but his current favorite is Once, a romantic Irish indie whose music all but takes the place of dialogue. He wonders whether it’s always been this hard “for an old guy to get a job” in the industry. Yet he will follow in John Wayne’s footsteps as the iconic Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit, scheduled for release in 2011, and he’s in post-production on a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi thriller Tron.
About the Oscar buzz, Bridges says modestly, “Any time you get acknowledged by the guys who do what you do, that’s pretty good, right?” Mostly, though, he comes on like a man slightly bewildered by his own good fortune. “I have my favorite possession in my pocket,” he says, and pulls out a dog-eared old photo of a lovely young woman. Her name is Susan Geston, and she was working her way through college as a maid near the Montana set where Bridges was shooting Rancho Deluxe in 1974. In the photo, which someone who worked on the set sent him a few years ago, she’s smiling, but, Bridges explains, she was turning down his request for a date. They’ve been married for 35 years.
Crazy Heart opens December 16 in Los Angeles theaters.
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