Jeff Bridges made his film debut when he was 4 months old and has been acting ever since — he has appeared in dozens of films and won an Oscar along the way, yet will always be known for his defining performance as The Dude in 1998's The Big Lebowski. He has now co-written a book drawing life lessons from the character called The Dude and the Zen Master.
Because Bridges is one of the Bridges of Hollywood, we've invited him to play a quiz about The Bridges of Madison County. He'll answer three questions about the 1990s literary and movie phenomenon in a game called "You will never again know a passion like this."
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now, the game where we ask somebody really cool to do something kind of lame. Jeff Bridges has been an actor literally his whole life. He made his film debut at four months. He's done dozens of movies over the decades, winning an Oscar along the way. But he will always be identified with one defining immortal performance, that of Prince Lear in "The Last Unicorn."
SAGAL: No, I'm kidding. It's, of course, The Dude from "The Big Lebowski." And now, he has co-written a book, drawing life lessons from that film and that character. The book is called, "The Dude and the Zen Master." Jeff Bridges, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!.
JEFF BRIDGES: Thanks a lot guys.
SAGAL: It's great to talk to you.
BRIDGES: It's great to be here on the show.
SAGAL: It's fabulous. We obviously, I mean you've given this such an entrée by writing a book called "The Dude and the Zen Master," because, like everybody else, we just want to ignore all the amazing things you've done in your life and just talk to you about The Dude.
SAGAL: This is from, of course, "The Big Lebowski," the movie you made in 1998 with the Coen brothers. And there may be one or two people in our audience who have not yet seen "The Big Lebowski." How would you describe The Dude, as a character?
BRIDGES: Well, The Dude is a guy who doesn't really do much. He's more into being Dude. He's not much of a doer.
SAGAL: Yeah, he just abides, is the phrase.
BRIDGES: Yeah, yeah.
SAGAL: The Dude abides.
SAGAL: When you made this movie back in the late 90s, did you have any idea it would become the phenomenon and that character would become such a touchstone?
BRIDGES: Well, it's, you know, Bernie, my buddy, who's the Zen master, he came up to me one day and he said "Did you know that in Buddhist circles, many folks feel that The Dude is a Zen master?"
I said what are you talking about, man? We didn't talk Zen or any kind of spirituality when we were making that movie. And he goes, oh, yeah, it's full of koans. You know what a koan is, right?
ADAM FELBER: Yeah, they wrote the movie.
BRIDGES: He says come on. You know, and our film, "Lebowski" is filled with, you know, modern day koans, you know, like well, "the dude abides" might be one. You know, (bleep) has come to light.
BRIDGES: You know, shut the (bleep).
SAGAL: Yeah, those are all classics. In fact, and so I've read the book, the book is a dialogue between you and your friend Bernie, who is a legitimate Zen master. And you draw these lessons of life from The Dude. So if you were to become teacher, which in writing this book you are, and you're teaching the concept of dudeness to acolytes like us, can you give us lessons in dude-ocity?
BRIDGES: Dude-ocity? Well, let's see, you've got - let's work on the koan, gee, that rug really tied the room together.
KYRIE O'CONNOR: Yes.
BRIDGES: You know, that's kind of a favorite one. And so, you know, life is very diverse. We have all of these different things, you know, that pull us away from kind of the center and from our, you know, our interconnectedness. And so we ask that question, "What ties this all together?"
SAGAL: We've only been talking for a little while but nonetheless, I'm inclined to ask you a question.
BRIDGES: Do it.
SAGAL: Are you actually The Dude?
SAGAL: I mean, you sound, just in conversation with you as a person, Jeff Bridges, not un-Dude-like.
BRIDGES: Well, actually, no, I'm not, Peter.
SAGAL: I mean, I'm almost - I guess I am serious in that I've seen you do so many different kinds of roles. I've seen you play everything from the hero in the remake of "King Kong" in the 70s to the villain in the recent "Iron Man" film, your tremendous range as an actor. And yet, just The Dude seems close to you.
BRIDGES: Yeah, yeah, well, I've got a lot of Dude in me, that's for sure, yeah.
SAGAL: And it also sounds...
SAGAL: I mean you also hear about actors, someone having a difficult relationship with the characters that people think they are. It seems like you're comfortable being The Dude. You wrote a book about The Dude.
BRIDGES: Yeah, well, you know, early on in my career I was very kind of concerned about my persona. You know, my dad, Lloyd Bridges...
SAGAL: Of course.
BRIDGES: ...did this wonderful series called "Sea Hunt."
BRIDGES: In the 60s. And, you know, he kind of suffered from being typecast. You know, so early on in my career, I did everything I could to kind of shake up my personas. But now I'm, you know, I'm 63-years-old. I've kind of given that one up and I'm just kind of letting it rip now, you know.
SAGAL: One of the movies that you made that I loved was "The Fabulous Baker Boys."
BRIDGES: Oh yeah, that's a favorite of mine.
SAGAL: And that was a great movie, among other things, because you played you and your bother played your brother.
SAGAL: Which was exciting. And we understand that you had such a good time with your brother on that film that you put him in the hospital.
BRIDGES: Oh god. You know, my dad taught both of us how to stage fight. So that fight that we had was a lot of fun for us to kind of gaffe that fight and figure out how to do it. And, we were, you know, cooking along like this and we made one very serious error.
BRIDGES: We didn't have a safe word.
SAGAL: I usually hear that phrase in a completely different context.
BRIDGES: You know, we're doing all this fake stuff, and then I finally grabbed his hand and I'm going to, you know, break my piano-playing brother's hands, you know. And I said to bend them and he goes "ow." You know, "you're hurting me." You know? And I said "act your ass off, man."
BRIDGES: And he said "No, I'm not kidding." I said, "Yeah, go, you're wonderful."
BRIDGES: And I realized I just got too into, it, you know, and I hurt the poor guy.
BRIDGES: I paid him back for all that teasing he did to me while I was growing up.
SAGAL: Really? Was he a cruel older brother?
BRIDGES: Oh, he was a vicious teaser, yeah.
SAGAL: Was he? What sort of things did he do to you?
BRIDGES: He was very subtle, a very skilled teaser.
BRIDGES: All he would have to do would be point at me.
SAGAL: Point at you.
BRIDGES: He would point at me and he would not stop pointing at me.
SAGAL: Oh, one of the...
BRIDGES: For hours on end. He had this expression on his face that, you know, would read, "I'm pointing at you."
SAGAL: Oh, man.
BRIDGES: And we could even be at the dinner table and, you know, I would be freaking out and mom and day would say, you know, "stop pointing at Jeff." And Beau would say, "I'm not pointing at him." But I could tell that he was pointing at me under the table.
SAGAL: Well, Jeff Bridges, we are delighted to talk to you, and we've asked you here to play a game we're calling?
CARL KASELL: You will never again know a passion like this.
SAGAL: You're one of the Bridges of Hollywood; so naturally, we thought we'd ask you about "The Bridges of Madison County."
BRIDGES: Very good.
SAGAL: Answer two out of three questions about the literary phenomenon and movie of the 1990s, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their voicemail. Carl, who is actor Jeff Bridges playing for?
KASELL: Jeff is playing for Edward Nakano of San Dimas, California.
SAGAL: You ready to go?
BRIDGES: Yes, I am.
SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. The book by Robert James Waller was written in 11 days. It ended up spending a year or more on the New York Times bestseller list. It became the best-selling novel in American history up to that time.
SAGAL: Many credited the prose style. Which of these is a real excerpt from a love scene in the book? Was it A: quote, "Francesca felt as if she was an invited guest at the greatest smorgasbord she had ever known."
SAGAL: "Except instead of casseroles and jello salads, it was a buffet of sensual delight," unquote. B: quote, "It was rough, sudden, needy, graceless, hungry, kind of sloppy, a little rude, there were some noises, then sighs."
SAGAL: Or C: quote, "He said, I am the highway and the peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea," unquote.
BRIDGES: Oh, yeah. I'm going with A, man.
SAGAL: The greatest smorgasbord she had ever known?
BRIDGES: Yeah. What are you saying? Well how'd I do? No?
SAGAL: No, it was C.
BRIDGES: Oh, man.
SAGAL: That's what Kincaid, the photographer says in a moment of passion, "I am the highway and the peregrine and all the sails that have ever went to sea."
BRIDGES: OK, well, there you go.
FELBER: A was better.
SAGAL: Yeah, well.
SAGAL: Next question. You still have two more chances here. After four days of passion, the Iowa housewife, Francesca, tells the photographer Kincaid it can never be. What reason does she give?
A: if you don't get out of here right now, the last picture you'll take is of my husband's shotgun barrel. B: I cannot think of restraining you for a moment. To do that would be to kill the wild magnificent animal that is you. Or C: you can't stay; I've got to help slaughter the hogs.
BRIDGES: I'm going with B, man.
SAGAL: You're going to go B: I cannot think of restraining you for a moment.
SAGAL: You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: You're absolutely right.
SAGAL: This is exciting. If you get...
BRIDGES: Yeah, man. Now this is the - if I get two, I can kind of win, right?
SAGAL: No, you don't kind of win; you win.
BRIDGES: I do. Oh, great. All right.
SAGAL: There are rules. This isn't Nam.
BRIDGES: OK. Yeah.
SAGAL: All right, time to give the critics a chance. Which of these was written about the book, by Mr. Jon Margolis, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune? A: an insipid, fatuous, mealy-mouthed third-rate soap opera with a semi-fascist point of view? B: so unrealistic a male sexual fantasy, it makes a typical letter to Penthouse seem like NPR.
SAGAL: Or C: a beautiful, lyrical story of sudden but true passion that reduced this correspondent to a puddle on the floor.
BRIDGES: Yeah, C, man.
SAGAL: Really? You think Jon Margolis at the Chicago Tribune was a sentimentalist?
BRIDGES: Well, I just "puddle," that word got me. You know, that...
SAGAL: Who am I to say no to The Dude? You're going to go with C?
BRIDGES: Yeah, man.
SAGAL: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
FELBER: Oh, you buzzered yourself.
SAGAL: You did. You buzzered yourself.
BRIDGES: It's A. It's A. It's A.
SAGAL: It's A.
BRIDGES: I knew it.
SAGAL: It was an insipid, fatuous mealy-mouthed third-rate soap opera with a semi-fascist point of view. Yeah, he didn't like the book very much. Carl, how did Jeff Bridges do on our quiz?
KASELL: Well, Jeff needed two correct answers to win for Edward Nakano. He had just one correct answer.
BRIDGES: Man, I'm sorry, Edward.
SAGAL: Oh well, you still abide, though, you still abide.
BRIDGES: Oh, man.
SAGAL: Jeff Bridges, his new book is "The Dude and the Zen Master." It's in bookstores now. Jeff Bridges, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Bye, Jeff.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.