Jeff Bridges Talks Comic-Con, Tron, and How His Young Avatar Came to Be

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There’s no doubt about it: Jeff Bridges is a really nice guy. In the eye of the Comic-Con hurricane, attached to the most popular property of the year, he has nothing but smiles and thoughtful answers for journalists. And after learning a little bit more about the project, and all that was involved in bringing the TRON universe back to the big screen, I’m starting to think his friendliness is matched only by his work ethic.

This guy likes making movies, telling stories, and is sensitive to what his fans want and like. The makers of TRON: Legacy clearly understand this too, envisioning a story where Bridges plays not one but two characters, working with state-of-the-art equipment in creating a 30-year-old version of himself. Yes, two Bridges for the price of one.

We sat down with the Oscar-winner – The Dude himself – to talk about his most unexpected sci-fi legacy:

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How did it feel, to finally start working on something TRON-related again?

It was exciting to find out there was a possibility we could actually make this thing, and that Steven Lisberger would be deeply involved – the writer and director of the first one – and that Disney was concerned in keeping that constant. So that was good news, and then I met director Joseph Kosinski, who had never done a film before. Can you imagine! And with the budget of this one and the first film and the pressure! But I’ve had such wonderful luck with first-time directors – the guy I just worked with on Crazy Heart, Scott Cooper, he’s the best director I’ve ever worked with and he had never directed anything, not even a high school play.

And you originally agreed to come back solely to create that initial test footage – before they even knew if they were going to make a film…

For TRON I met with Joe and he was a very interesting guy. He showed me his commercial reel and I was impressed with that. He was an architect and had that in his past, and that had me extremely interested. He decided to shoot a two-minute scene that would give the audience an idea of what this world is like and how it would be similar and different, and we then brought that to Comic-Con three years ago.

But I don’t think every actor would agree to do that – to come back solely to create a teaser of sorts.

Yeah but I loved it. It’s worth exploring, and why not get dressed up and play around a little bit – why not? And then it all went over very well, to a degree that Disney said, ‘Okay, let’s finance this thing.’ From the outset they said: ‘If you guys like it, then we’re going to give it to you’ – this film came right out of Comic-Con so I think we’re all excited to see it, and Disney is excited to give it to the fans.

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It’s rather striking footage, to see you at 35 years old again in some of the preview footage.

Oh yeah, it’s a thrilling aspect. As a member of the audience, and also as an actor, it always bums me out when there’s a different actor playing the young kid versus the older man. It takes me out of it. And so to be able to play both characters was very rewarding.

What was the process like – did they use a lot of facial capture?

My first experience with motion capture was really amazing; Someone told me that we would be making this movie but not using any cameras. And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And it turns out they put optical sensors lining the room, what they call a volume, and you have these dots all over your face, and there’s no set and no costume and no makeup, it’s all done in post. The camera angles and lighting, everything. And so that’s very unique and challenging as an actor. My first impulse was to resent it, that it rubs my acting fur the wrong way. I like to have the set, and to be in costume.

But as is often the case in life, if you ever feel resentment, it’s the biggest buzz kill ever. What was most challenging for me was to set that aside and to say, ‘Let’s get with the program, this is requiring a different kind of thing – to be more like a kid, when you didn’t have the cool costumes or the cool set but had a lot more imagination. Once you get with it, it can be kind of fun.

That’s interesting – so does this high-tech approach actually make you think a little more retro as an actor?

In a weird way yeah, it’s more modern and more primitive all at the same time.

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What does TRON mean to you in the story of your career?

It certainly holds a very unique place. I look at it as a modern-day myth, a story that helps you to navigate the waters of our lives, and points to what the culture of the time is dealing with. And we certainly have technology to deal with – the movie talks about the underbelly of that, and what we have to be careful of.

Can you tell me a little bit about the reshoots that happened a month or two back. I was talking to Garrett Hedlund, and he said that these new scenes really underscored a lot about your father-son relationship. Was it hard to come back to the role after being wrapped for so long?

They polished it up, and looked at it a little more, at whether they could enhance the story by doing this or that. But that span of time seemed like a long weekend compared to 20 years. But it wasn’t any more challenging; the assignment is always the same: To show up, and this guy’s got a script, and it’s alwasy basically the same, finding a way to make it all come to life.

All things considered, what was most challenging for you about the entire process?

For this one, the challenge at times was really the lack of costumes. But you go in and you try not to have too many expectations. Just be open and surf whatever the wave is, and then try to have fun.

My first director was my mother, and she would always give me the same direction: Have fun, and don’t take it too seriously. And I remember my father, who was my acting teacher, and we did a couple movies together as adults and the biggest thing I learned from him wasn’t something he told me, but just watching him have such joy in what he was doing and it was just contagious – he’d say ‘Oh, this is fun,’ and that would make everyone relax. And the great stuff really comes out of that relaxed place.

So any other sequels on the horizon for you?

Well, The Last Picture Show – you know, Larry McMurtry has three other Last Picture Show books that are just spectacular. And this last one is really good, Rhino Ranch: A Novel, which came out last year. So that would be fun.

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