Jeff Bridges and his blissfully unending quest for answers
LOVE & A SHARP PAIN IN THE ASS
Applying the mellow gold to Bridges’s personal life took a bit longer. We’re eating and talking post–birth canal when Jeff’s wife, Susan, emerges from the kitchen and says hello. She looks as radiant as she did last March watching her husband win his first Oscar. Jeff had been nervous heading into Oscar night after an earlier screwup at an awards ceremony in which he kept referring to Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper as actor Chris Cooper.
“That is such a thing you don’t want to do,” says Bridges. “But then you realize that the worst possible thing has happened, the thing you feared the most, and you know what? It doesn’t matter.”
Susan pats her man-child husband on the shoulder. They talk for a minute about their three twentysomething daughters and then she goes back inside. During 2009, the couple spent 10 months apart as Bridges filmed Crazy Heart, Tron: Legacy, and the Coen brothers’ True Grit almost back-to-back. “She lets me fly my kite and then we come back together,” says Bridges. “We can survive being apart, but it’s not the way I want it to be. I love her more every day.”
He admits that their marriage of 33 years was initially forged out of Cali ennui and angst. They met in 1974 while Bridges was filming Rancho Deluxe near Susan’s hometown of Livingston, Montana. Bridges likes to trot out a picture a friend snapped of Bridges trying to ask Susan out the day they met. But today, he tells a different story. After the movie wrapped, Sue moved to L.A. with Bridges. They dated for three years, but Bridges couldn’t pull the trigger on marriage.
Then one day the couple hiked from Bridges’s Malibu house toward a giant rock on the other side of a canyon. “This rock had two eyes and a big nose and a cave as a mouth,” remembers Bridges. “As the sun went across the sky, the expression on the face would change. We get there and I’m sitting in the guy’s mouth, looking back at my house just how I used to look at the face, and I’m saying, ‘Wow, isn’t this wonderful?’ All of a sudden, this voice speaking very loud coming right up my ass, up through my spine, is saying, ‘YOU WILL NOW ASK THIS WOMAN TO MARRY YOU.’ And I go, ‘Oh, wow,’ and tears start to ejaculate out of my eyes. Sue says, ‘What is it?’ I say, ‘I have the feeling I was supposed to ask you to marry me and I am so fucking frightened.’ And she goes, ‘Well, you don’t have to do that,’ and I say, ‘Good, let’s get the fuck out of here.’ ”
But a week later, Sue got impatient and politely informed him that her biological clock was ticking and he needed to make a decision or she was heading back to Montana. Bridges proposed a day or two later and the couple were married the same weekend, before he could lose his nerve. They headed to Hawaii for their honeymoon.
“Cut to the Seven Sacred Pools in Maui,” says Bridges. “All these beautiful pools, and all I smell are the rotting mangoes. I’m pouting and pouting. And she goes, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I say, ‘Oh, nothing.’ And this kind of goes back to that birth thing, doing what you don’t want to do, wondering, ‘Am I being coerced into this?’ It took years to get out of it.”
Bridges leans back into his chair and stares out toward the ocean.
“Whenever I doubted my love, I’d say, ‘Remember that guy’s mouth, that voice shouting up your asshole to your heart.’ I had this vision of myself being an old man and saying I had one true love and I let that diamond slip through my fingers.” But Bridges explains there was one other thing that pulled him through, admittedly not quite as romantic. He looks boyish, as if he just stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum. “The adjustment I gave myself that allowed me to marry her having all these fears was that you could always get a divorce. I know it’s not romantic, but once I gave myself that escape hatch, I knew I’d never use it.”
Bridges switches the subject to an upcoming trip. He is heading to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts in a couple of weeks to speak and meditate at a Zen Buddhist conference.
“You should come, man. Johnny is going to be there. We’re going to play some songs. Johnny is petrified to play in front of people, but we’re going to make it happen.”
The purpose of the conference, according to Bridges, is to convince people to think differently about peace and nonviolence. He grabs a book off a shelf called The Lucifer Principle that expounds on this theory for almost 500 pages.
“There’s a Solzhenitsyn quote in here I like. Here it is: ‘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?’ ”
Bridges is still reading as we head out to my car. It’s now magic hour, and California is in a golden state. Evil, hunger, and Michael McDonald songs seem blissfully out of reach. But not to Jeff.
“Interesting, right? We have to stop thinking peace is this natural state. It’s not. It goes against centuries of evolution. We have to think about everything completely differently. Take the book, read it if you want. OK, man, cool hanging with you. See ya.”
I head down the drive and look in the rearview mirror. Bridges is peering over his granny glasses. He is waving.