Mr. Bridges, on set and in private, you often wear a cowboy hat and boots. Are you Hollywood’s last true cowboy?
It goes back to my dad, Lloyd Bridges. You know, he was in a couple of good Westerns. I remember he came home in those boots and the hat. And I would always put the outfits on. I thought it was exciting.
Do you have fond memories of your father?
Yes, absolutely. My dad taught me all the basics. He was a great teacher. I really sensed the joy he had for acting. That joy was contagious.
You have three daughters. What kind of a dad were you?
That’s one of my regrets. I did my best. But I feel I didn’t spend enough time with them because I was working too much. My wife Sue raised them. I played games with them all. I try to spend as much time as possible with them now.
You’ve been in show business for over 50 years. Do you have a survival tip?
Luck has a lot to do with it. I saw how my father struggled in this industry. It wasn’t always easy. But passion and love will carry you through the tough times.
Do you have any dreams left?
Not really, I am a very happy man. I just still want to get better. Otherwise, I’m content.
Do you ever think about retirement?
Sometimes I think about it. After a movie I just want to be me. But then that feeling goes away and I want to do it again.
You’ve been married to Susan Geston since 1977. In Hollywood, that’s an eternity … What’s your secret?
Not getting a divorce! No, seriously: Don’t call it quits when the going gets rough. Refine yourself, get to know your partner. Obstacles are opportunities to increase your love, I think.
Your new film Only the Brave is about an elite team of firefighters called hotshots. What’s special about them?
I guess the biggest difference to a normal firefighter is that they don’t use water to fight wildfires. They cut down trees, they dig lines in the sand, they actually use fire to fight oncoming fire. It’s a pretty dangerous job.
For which you have to be pretty tough, right?
Yes, it requires extreme fitness and is mentally exhausting. They train year round and learn how to feel uncomfortable for 24 hours a day. They sleep in the dirt and have very little food most of the time while working. A warm meal is a blessing. What makes it all worth it is the brotherhood they have. They have each other’s back all the time.
Sadly, the movie is based on a real wildfire that overran and killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013. Is the film an attempt to keep their legacy alive?
Yes, it was one of the main concerns for all of us who were involved in the project. We also wanted to have people on board with real-time experience of this important work, and had actual hotshots on the set, including Duane Steinbrink, the character I played. Duane was one of the men who created the fire crew and he and I talked about his emotions and those of others at the time.
You and Duane have something in common, right?
Yes, Duane has a country band called the Rusty Pistols Cowboy Band, and music is a great passion of mine. There’s nothing better than music to bring people together. We used the real Rusty Pistols in the movie.
Do you have first-hand experience fighting wildfires?
I fought fires up in Montana near my ranch. Fires break out up there, and nobody cares who or what you are, you help your neighbor. That’s why I found this movie so inspirational. It gives people an idea of who these brave guys are who go into something that all of us try to avoid.
I don’t want to be cynical, but it’s not always easy
Could we all show a little more bravery?
Bravery is such an interesting thing. Does it take practice to engage in it? We live in a very volatile world right now and I’m trying to battle my own cynicism. I don’t want to be cynical, but it’s not always easy. Fire is a great symbol. When you see a fire – literally or metaphorically speaking – how do you respond? Do you take action or do you hide away?
But it helps to have someone beside you to support you in what you do, wouldn’t you agree?
Absolutely. Life is full of fear but you have people standing next to you to help you turn things around. It’s a beautiful message.
Are you a hopeless optimist?
I’m a pragmatic optimist. I am very aware of situations that can be tricky and difficult to manage, but if you have a positive attitude it makes it easier to get through tougher phases in life.
What kinds of questions do you ponder these days?
How do you embrace your opposite? How can you create more kindness in the world? Those are questions I ask myself all the time.
Is this because the United States is more divided now than ever before?
Sure. We are experiencing a mood in our country these days that I have never experienced before. It’s tense. That is exactly why we need more gratitude and kindness.
Does it bother you that most people around the world identify you with The Dude from The Big Lebowski?
Are you kidding? Why should it bother me? I am The Dude. This character unites people and makes them happy. After all these years! It makes me very happy.