Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures
In Crazy Heart, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a washed-up, alcoholic country singer who has been reduced to playing in bowling alleys and dive bars — but he can still put on a great show. When he's on stage, "that's his throne," Bridges says.
You can almost smell Bad Blake — an aging country music star played by Jeff Bridges — as he performs in Crazy Heart. Approaching 60, he's bearded, grizzled, drenched in sweat — and completely drunk.
His drink of choice is "McClure's" — and if you don't recognize that as a tried-and-true brand of whiskey, that's because it's not.
"The great whiskeys like Wild Turkey and Jack Daniels ... didn't want to be associated with an alcoholic like Bad," Bridges tells NPR's Melissa Block. "So we had to come up with our own. And we named it McClure's — which happens to be our director Scott Cooper's middle name."
Though it's tempting to get drunk to play a drunk, Bridges advises against it: "You don't want to work drunk," Bridges says. "I've made that mistake in the past."
'That's His Throne'
Listening back to his performances as Bad Blake, Bridges says he can hear how much fun he's having — and he appreciates how the film's music producer, T-Bone Burnett, crafted songs just for him:
"T-Bone [told] me, 'We're gonna make you sound good, Jeff. We're gonna have songs that are gonna be in your wheelhouse. ... We're gonna tailor-make the songs to fit you and Bad.' "
Bridges says Burnett allowed him to feel his way into the character of Bad Blake.
"Like most good directors — and that's really what he is — he wouldn't say too much," Bridges says. "He'd let you discover it for yourself, and that was very helpful."
Burnett has said that watching Bridges in Crazy Heart — with his grizzled, bearded, country outlaw look — is reminiscent of watching country legends like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.
"One of the first directions that Scott Cooper gave me was that if Bad was alive and was a real character, that he would be the fifth Highwayman," Bridges says, referring to the country supergroup made up of Johnny Cash, Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kristofferson. "So I took that to heart. ... I could watch those guys and see what that [onstage] stance was. Sometimes pictures are better than words and description."
Bridges says he and his friend Kristofferson screened the film together.
Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a young reporter and single mom with a history of attaching herself to unreliable men.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, a young reporter and single mom with a history of attaching herself to unreliable men. Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight Pictures
"We were laughing together [about] how much we looked alike," Bridges says. "Put our heads together, looked in the mirror and had a good laugh."
Though Bridges was anxious leading up to his performances as Bad Blake, he says that by the time he was onstage, like Blake, he just "let it go."
"When he's up there, that's his throne," Bridges says. "He's totally comfortable."
The Dude Abides
Though die-hard Big Lebowski fans would love to see Bridges come back for a sequel as The Dude, Bridges won't make any promises.
"I don't know about the Dude," he says, "but I'll be working with the Coen brothers again coming this March. ... I'm looking forward to working with those guys again — they're real masters."
Bridges and the Coen brothers will be collaborating on a new version of the 1969 Western True Grit — with Bridges playing the John Wayne character, Rooster Cogburn.
"I just love Westerns," he says. "I love riding horses and dressing up like that."
Bridges says he did his share of playing "cowboy" as a kid, and his mother encouraged his imaginative games of pretend — whether it was playing cowboys or space aliens under the dining room table.
"She had this thing called 'Time,' " Bridges recalls, "where every kid had an hour a day of my mom's undivided attention. ... She'd always encourage us to put on plays. ... Pretend was a big part of my childhood."
Now, decades into his Hollywood career, Bridges' childhood games continue to pay off.
"There's a bit of the kid in me," he says. "Sometimes I think of movie acting as advanced pretend. You get to wear all those neat costumes and play with all the cool kids and use all the cool toys."