GUY RAZ, host:

So, one afternoon the Dude's taking a bath and he's having a smoke, and a group of German nihilists in spandex break into his apartment. And they start trashing the place with a cricket bat. Now, anyone else in this circumstance might start to panic. But the Dude? Well, the Dude stays pretty calm. He looks at the nihilists, and he says:

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (as Jeffrey Lebowski) Hey, hey, this is a private residence, man.

(Soundbite of music)

That's Jeff Bridges playing Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski in the Coen brothers' film, "The Big Lebowski." Perhaps the least formal man in American cinematic history, an icon to millions of slackers. And so today we profile the Dude, part of NPR's In Character series, starring fictional American characters.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: Man and me would do nearly any task…

Mr. BRIDGES: I am Jeff Bridges, and I played the Dude in "The Big Lebowski." So, the Dude, I guess, you know, his parents named him Jeff, you know, from the family Lebowski. So, it's Jeff Lebowski - is his name, his real name, but he calls himself the Dude. That's what he's known as.

RAZ: We first meet the Dude at midnight. He's walking down the aisle of a Ralph's supermarket, in a robe and jelly sandals. The Dude's in his mid- to late-40s. This evening, he's run out of half-and-half. That's one of his quirks. The Dude consumes a lot of half-and-half. It's a key ingredient in his drink

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Unidentified Man: What's your drink, Dude?

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski): A White Russian, thanks.

Unidentified Man: White Russian.

RAZ: And there's another important thing to know about the Dude.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Jesus, man, could you change the channel? I had a rough night and I hate the [censored] Eagles, man.

RAZ: But he loves Credence.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: The Dude's got a long, thick goatee, and his gray streaked-blonde hair falls down to his shoulders. He lives alone - it's a one-bedroom apartment in Venice, California. And when we meet the Dude, his favorite rug's just been destroyed by an intruder.

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Yeah, man. It really tied the room together.

RAZ: Now, back in the late '60s, 'early 70s, the Dude was part of the Seattle 7, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists. He never got married, and Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski burns it — a lot.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Unidentified Woman: What do you do for recreation?

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) The usual: bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback.

(Soundbite of coughing)

RAZ: Let's face it: the Dude, he's lazy, a deadbeat, a loser, a '60s burnout. And yet a character who's been cited - and I'm not making this up - in literally hundreds of doctoral dissertations and academic papers over the last decade. He's a fictional hero who's inspired a lifestyle. And every few months somewhere in America, fans gather at Star Trek-like Big Lebowski conventions. There's even a Dude-inspired religion, Dudiism - it preaches non-preachiness. The fifth book of its bible is called Duderonomy.

Now, behind the haze of pot smoke and underneath the bathrobe, the Dude, well, he's one multilayered guy. I asked Jeff Bridges for his take.

Mr. BRIDGES: You know, I was thinking about kind of preparing for this interview. I didn't do that, in honor of the Dude, sort of. I don't think the Dude would've prepared.

RAZ: The Dude wouldn't have prepared, and that about sums up the core of what the Dude is about. Not to get too academic here, but the Dude was written with a purpose. He's the personification of casualness, a kind of celebration of American informality. And when the Coen Brothers conceived the idea, they found their muse in a man who's actually called the Dude in real life.

Mr. JEFF DOWD (Model for Jeff Lebowski): Dude here. This is Jeff Dowd.

RAZ: Jeff Dowd lives in L.A. Ever since he was a kid, everyone called him the Dude.

Mr. DOWD: It just kind of came off of the name Dowd. And actually if you Google Dowd, it'll go all the way back to the original Dowds, the Dudas(ph) were Irish kings in tenth century. And they were called the Dudas.

RAZ: Anyway, in the movie, the Dude becomes a victim of mistaken identity. There's actually another Jeffrey Lebowski in town — he's the Big Lebowski. And the Big Lebowski's a foil. He's the polar opposite of the Dude. For starters, the Big Lebowski's filthy rich. He's uptight and conservative and formal.

And so one afternoon, the Dude goes to meet the Big Lebowski.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Mr. DAVID HUDDLESTON (Actor): (as the Big Lebowski) Are you employed, Mr. Lebowski?

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Wait, let me explain something to you. I am not Mr. Lebowski. You're Mr. Lebowski; I'm the Dude. So, that's what you call me. You know, that or His Dudeness or Duder or, you know, El Dudarino if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

Mr. HUDDLESTON: (as the Big Lebowski) Are you employed, sir?

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Employed?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOWD: Well, he's a character who's in many ways is an intellectual drifter.

RAZ: Again, the real-life Dude, Jeff Dowd.

Mr. DOWD: He's a person who doesn't, you know, really care what people think about him. I mean obviously, if you, you know, you're, it's the middle of night, and you're in Ralph's in your robe and jellies, you know, you don't care that much. You know, he's a character that sees the truth.

RAZ: And that's the thing about the Dude. His purity and authenticity mask his many, many flaws. Joel Coen, who wrote the character, wasn't available for an interview, but he did talk about the Dude in a 1998 documentary.

Mr. JOEL COEN (Director): Interesting, interesting task to thrust that character into the most confusing…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COEN: …situation possible. The person, it would seem on the face of it, least equipped to deal with it. And that's sort of the conceit of the movie.

RAZ: But somehow, the Dude is exactly the right person to deal with it. The Dude can cope with the challenges because he doesn't change the way he interacts with people based on their class or title or gender. Everyone's on the same equal playing field. There's no pretenses: everyone's just a Dude.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Unidentified Man: What in God's holy name are you blathering about?

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Well, I'll tell you what I'm blathering about. I've got information, man. New [censored] has come to light. And, man, she kidnapped herself. Hasn't that ever occurred to you, man, sir?

RAZ: The Dude was written for Jeff Bridges. And even though he's played presidents and athletes and villains, of all those characters, the Dude's his favorite.

Mr. BRIDGES: I think there's a little dude in all of us. You know, and that's probably why I like him, because I see a bit of myself in the guy, you know.

RAZ: So, the next time you start to feel anxious or aggressive or uptight or judgmental, just remember the Dude — and remember there's a little bit of him in all of us.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Unidentified Man #2: Take it easy, Dude.

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Oh yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: I know that you will.

Mr. BRIDGES: (as Jeff Lebowski) Yeah, well. The Dude abides.

RAZ: For more, go to

(Soundbite of movie, "The Big Lebowski")

Unidentified Man #2: The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowing he's out there, the Dude, taking it easy for all us sinners.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) …thread a needle and a spoon and another girl to take my pain away. Take me down, little Susie, take me down. I know you think you're the queen of the…

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