Jeff Bridges arrived on the red carpet of the historic Arlington Theatre in his hometown to receive the American Riviera Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Bridges made it a family affair as he posed for photos with his wife and two children, as well as his “Hell or High Water” co-star Gil Birmingham and producer Julie Yorn. Moderator Scott Feinberg began the night with some opening remarks about “The Dude” and his illustrious career, and introduced Jeff to the packed theatre.
Jeff reminisced about joining the family business as an actor, and explained that Jeff’s father would demand that Jeff be in his films if a child actor was required. However, Jeff revealed that he had mixed feelings about acting because of nepotism and remarked that “what kid wants to do what their parents do?” Despite his early success and first Oscar nomination for “The Last Picture Show”, Jeff experienced a severe amount of anxiety about acting, which he attributed to “caring how you’re perceived.” He later discovered however that “the feeling of being scared never goes away, and that it’s all about changing your relationship with that feeling.”
Jeff spoke further about his family, and that it was on the set of 1975’s “Rancho Deluxe” that he met his “sweetheart”, wife Susan Geston. He shared that the first time he asked her out on a date, she turned him down, but that he later convinced her to dance with him at her then boyfriend’s concert. The happy couple have now been married for almost 40 years.
Jeff shared a few additional stories from films early in his career. When he was shooting the death of King Kong at the World Trade Center, a man came up to Jeff and said “Do you like my temple?” He later discovered that this man was Philippe Petit, who walked on a tightrope between the two towers in 1974. He also touched on the premiere of notorious bomb “Heaven’s Gate”, and recalled that the next day’s newspaper scathed the film, with a review even going so far to say that “if you shave [director Michael] Cimino’s head, you would find 3 6s”.
The conversation later turned to one Bridges’ most celebrated films, “The Big Lebowski”, which Jeff originally heard about at a party, and thought it was unlike anything he had ever read. Jeff was surprised when it didn’t do well at the domestic box office, but when it became a hit in Europe, it bounced back and became such a cult hit that today there are now annual “Lebowski” festivals. He also shared that his favorite line from the film is “well that’s just, your opinion, man”.
He also spoke about the film for which he won an Oscar, “Crazy Heart”. He initially turned down the film because “the script was pretty good, but there was no music.” He also explained that doing a film about music was a dream of his, but “when it’s in the dream state, you’re kinda safe, but when you try to really do it, there’s that chance of failure.” He was later convinced to do the film when his friend, producer T Bone Burnett, brought him the script again and said “I’ll do it if you do it.” He also touched on “True Grit”, which he was also hesitant to do because of John Wayne’s legendary performance from the original film. He became convinced to be in the film after reading the source material, and seeing that it read just like a Coen Brothers script.
The conversation then went on to the film which Jeff is being honored for, “Hell or High Water”. Originally titled “Comancheria”, Jeff stated that he had a great time on the set in large part because of Gil Birmingham. He struck up a quick friendship with Gil due to their shared passion for music, and they spent lots of time on set playing guitar together. Jeff also discussed the close friendship he developed with the late Joaquin Jackson, a famous Texas Ranger who spent a great deal of time with him on set as a consultant.
SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling then took the stage to thank Jeff for being here tonight and for his dedication to the festival throughout the years. Roger then introduced the presenter of the evening, Gil Birmingham. Gil explained that Jeff is the perfect recipient of the American Riviera Award for his range, durability, and charisma. Gil spoke of Jeff’s commitment to the craft and ability to embody any character, and his passion for philanthropy and making the world a better place.
A clearly touched Bridges hugged his “Hell or High Water” co-star and accepted his award. Jeff thanked Gil, Roger, and Scott, and praised the city of Santa Barbara, stating “what a community we’ve got!” His closing words were messages of hope, discussing his 30 year long mission to feed hungry children, and explained that “we’re all in this together”.