Jeff Bridges plays yet another untrustworthy mentor in the new fantasy film Seventh Son. But not all gruff, bearded Jeff Bridges characters are bad. We sat down with Bridges, one on one, and talked fantasy, fake teeth and why the chaos on the set of Iron Man actually worked.
What does working in the fantasy realm allow you to get away with as an actor?
Jeff Bridges: Get away with.. well, one of the things that attracted me to this movie was, I'm a big fan of mythology. These ancient stories that can really shed a lot of light on our current situation. And they're blatantly mythical. You're not telling a modern day story. These are stories about ancient times and this one has to do with the myth of the seventh son having superpowers or something like that. I've heard it said that the falcon knights, of which my character is the last one, who are all made of these seventh sons, they could be like the first superheroes, the first..what is it, the Justice League? Could have been like the first group of those guys. My guy's the last one and I've gotta find a young one to pass on my knowledge and to keep up the good fight.
You've been doing a lot of parts that require a lot of exposition lately. What's the secret in delivering so much text that's explanatory but also having it feel real and like it came from your character's life?
That's kind of a task for each film. How do you deal with exposition and tone. So in a movie like this, that was quite challenging. How do you walk a line between taking it all too seriously, too earnest an approach, or you can get all flip. So how do you get it so it's satisfying to the audience. Also it's based on a book by Joseph Delaney…a series of books called the Spook's Apprentice.
And having just done The Giver which is another well-loved book, you want to not disappoint the fans of that book. Finding that tone is difficult. You look to the director. My approach to working in movies is to empower the director to have power over me and to really support his vision, because he's the guy at the end of the day who's going to put it all together. It's almost like the actors make a painting of their character but, at the end, the guys cut it up and make a collage out of that. You want to make sure you're serving the director's vision. In this movie, Sergey Bodrov was wonderful to work with.
One the things I came across in my research was a quote by one of his countrymen I can read to you here. This is Solzhenitsyn, and we're making a myth and rather than just making a story about the battle between good and evil which can be kind of corny in a way, I wanted to add a little more depth to it. And, again, it's that tone thing. You don't want to get too preachy or anything so this is kinda maybe buried deep into the film but this is what I hope people glean from it. *Takes a piece of folded paper out of his pocket, and reads* He says, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
That's actually very sad.
Sad…that's our condition as a species. We're a pretty violent, funky group of folks. Selfish.
I can see threads of that in Seventh Son. But there's also a lighter side. Your character has this twinkle, this little twinkle about him that is great. It makes you kind of fall for the guy and I'm curious, is that something you have fun finding in characters? Moments that you pull out of these people that might be gloomy or dark or broken down. Is that something you have fun finding or does that just come naturally when you're onscreen?
A lot of it has to do with the script. That's kind of the Bible of the thing that you follow. I don't know what characters you're referring to but I kind of agree with you that certain characters…like I think of RIPD, the movie I made just before this one and that guy, he was kind of an asshole, gruff and very self- involved but not too dissimilar from Gregory in a way. But he also, deep down inside, he was a good guy doing the best he can.
Someone mentioned at the press conference that you had fake teeth on [during the film] the whole time, but we couldn't see them through the beard.What did they look like?
You know, they were just on the bottom.
Just on the bottom?
Just on the bottom, because I don't show my top teeth much. It's just the way my mouth is built, the way my lips are built. Just to crooked them up a little to make it a little bit more medieval looking. Making movies is about creating illusions and they can be subtle illusions but it's all a cumulative effect as you make these little tweaks. It kinda adds up to something, hopefully. But in this case, I think, it just added up to my slurred speech. There was no visual aspect whatsoever!
Well maybe it helped with the slurring, your character is drinking through the whole movie. I heard that they were going to kill [Gregory] off in this movie and you convinced them not to?
I think they might have gotten that story mixed up with my guy in Iron Man. In the script of Iron Man my guy...
The Iron Monger.
The Iron Monger falls into this big pit of whatever it is, some kind of acid or something, in his costume. They pull it up in the big crane and they open up his costume and he's gone. And when we were shooting that film they said, "No we're not going to do that. We're just going to have you go." And I said, "Oh shit, I was kind of disappointed." Because I was thinking [I would] be in the sequels. But they said it's a comic book maybe the Iron Monger will come back. I said "Yeah, right."
Image via Jeff Bridges.com
Is it funny looking back at how huge [the Marvel Cinematic Universe] is and that you were at the start of it? Did anyone have any idea how big it was all going to turn out?
It was the wildest adventure. And I think it's the best of all those superhero movies. Of course you have Jon Favreau at the helm, he's amazing. He's a wonderful actor and really into improvisation. And then we had [Robert] Downey [Jr.] who is a master at improvisation, because that was certainly a needed talent on that movie. Because of the script. The script, you'd think with a $200 million dollar movie, they'd have a script that everybody liked. But nobody including the financiers, the Marvel people, nobody liked the script. So we would come to work and we would meet in my trailer and figure out what the days work was going to be. What we were going to say, for hours. Playing each others parts, putting it on, "Okay, now let's try this. Hey, I know a writer, I'm going to call this guy — he may have a good idea."
Who did you call?
No, this was Favreau calling up people. And the crew is in there, tapping their foot, waiting for us to come to work.
Is that stressful?
Well it was very stressful because I like to be prepared. Until I made a little tiny adjustment in my brain and that was, "Jeff now come on, just relax. What you're doing [is], you're making a $200 million dollar student film. Just relax and have fun and play." And from then on, we just had fun and it was wonderful. I think that was the best of all the superhero movies.
Thanks to Abhimanyu Das for additional help.