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Bridging the gap 

& & by Ed Symkus & & & &

New actors have had more eclectic careers when it comes to juicy parts. Jeff Bridges made his first professional appearance at the age of -- depending who you ask -- either 4 or 6 months when he was literally carried on in a forgettable Jane Greer film called The Company She Keeps. At the age of either 7 or 8, he had a few small roles on his dad, Lloyd's, popular TV show Sea Hunt. As an adult, he's played a video game character in Tron, a lounge pianist in The Fabulous Baker Boys, an automaker in Tucker: The Man and His Dream, a plane crash survivor in Fearless, an extraterrestrial in Starman and a burned-out stoner in The Big Lebowski, among many other roles.

In his newest, The Contender, he takes on a very different role: the president of the United States. But it's all the same to Bridges, an affable fellow who loves his work and loves to talk about it.

"I prepared for this one the same way as the others, " he says. "You look at the script and find out what other characters are saying about your character, and what your character is saying about himself, then you kind of fill in between the lines on those things. "

Bridges, who is 50, also likes to maintain a delicate balance about just how much of himself he lends to his roles.

"Occasionally there'll be some improvisation in there, " he says. "But when you've got a screenplay that's working, you want to stick with those words. One reason I like doing that is because it removes it from yourself. You're playing another character, and somebody else is writing those words, so it's not coming from you. You know, it's adding another element, besides yourself. But you are seeing different aspects of me in my performances. That's the next step after looking at the script. You look inside yourself and figure out what parts of your personality you want to use or what parts you want to shove aside. "

Bridges freely admits that it's not just the love of his work, but also the ethic he practices, that can be traced back to ideas that were presented to him by his father.

"I kind of got thrown into acting, " he admits. "I'm a product of nepotism. You know, one of the hardest parts of the business is getting your foot in the door, and that was kind of handled by my dad.

"He taught me all the basics, " he continues, running his hand through his hair and closing his eyes for just a moment, thinking back. "I remember him sitting me on his bed when we were doing Sea Hunt and saying, 'Now it's got to be like you're saying this for the first time. And it's important that you're listening to me. And the way I say it changes the way you say it. Go out of the room and then come back in and do the scene this way.' But what made the biggest impact on me was nothing that he really said to me, but just how he behaved, how he approached his work, with such joy. He loved the whole process. And it was contagious. When he'd come on a set, everybody would just kind of lift up and say, 'Hey, this guy really digs what he's doing, and hey, I kind of dig what I'm doing, too.' He included everybody in on the experience. And I try to bring that into my work, as well. "

Bridges calls working opposite British actor Gary Oldman, a major heel of a congressman in The Contender with a perfect American accent and a frightful wig, both wonderful and exciting.

"It's like playing a game of tennis or something, " he says. "When you play against somebody who plays well, your game elevates. Same thing with acting. "

And he's thrilled that between acting assignments, he's always found time to get back to his first love: music. His freshman album, Be Here Soon, was recently released on Ramp Records.

"I miss the '60s, " he says. "All that innocence and all those open doors. The older you get, you keep learning stuff, but some doors close. But I feel sort of the same now. I guess I can't be as capricious as I was back then, but I love what I'm doing now. And it's wonderful to augment it with the music. "

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