Jeff Bridges is the dude in 'Crazy Heart'

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Hard to believe that the guy who played supremely relaxed uber-slacker The Dude in "The Big Lebowski" is now so convincing as a bitter, alcoholic, has-been country singer in "Crazy Heart," opening locally Friday. Yet, that really is Jeff Bridges, whose work as the grizzled Bad Blake has earned him Golden Globe, SAG and Independent Spirit Award nominations. He'll almost certainly snag his fifth Academy Award nod, following supporting actor nominations for "The Last Picture Show" (1971), "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974) and "The Contender" (2000), and a best actor nomination for "Starman" (1984).

Bridges, who recently turned 60, spoke with frequent Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.

You've had so much success in movies for decades, I'm wondering what you could have drawn from to relate emotionally to a broke, struggling has-been like Bad Blake and make it seem as real as you did.

It's all based on the script and the story you're telling, and things that people in the script say about you and the things that you say about yourself. Then, I was lucky enough to have had my dear friend Stephen Bruton at my side through the whole process. He's a wonderful country songwriter and an amazing guitar player [who co-wrote the "Crazy Heart" score with T Bone Burnett]. The film is dedicated to him; he passed away shortly after it was completed. But he was at my side the whole time, giving me tips on what that life is really like, because his life paralleled Bad's pretty well.

How did you meet him?

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I met Stephen and T Bone 30 years ago doing "Heaven's Gate." Kris Kristofferson was the star of that movie - he was also a role model for me in this one - and he brought all his musician friends to that film, and every night after work we had jams. For six months, we did that, so the beginning of the music for "Crazy Heart" really started with "Heaven's Gate."

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So how does someone who's been so successful channel what it's like to be a failure?

Oh, I've failed a lot in my life. I'm a fearful person, and I deal with fear. That's kind of what I think causes some of the failures and the suffering in our lives - how we deal with fear. Everybody's got it, so that's something that everybody can relate to.

I don't imagine you have a fear about making a living, as Bad Blake does.

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No, I don't have that one. I have a fear of failing at something that I really want to pull off. For instance, like with this movie: I love country music, and this was a great opportunity for me to succeed at pulling off a dream of mine . That fear of dropping the ball isn't too far away from Bad's fear of dropping the ball of writing the next great song. You take your own fear, and you try to work it around the character and make it relate to the character.

And then there's The Dude, from "The Big Lebowski," who seems too laid-back to have any fear at all. Your brother Beau has joked that you are The Dude.

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[Chuckles] There's not probably too much difference [between us] - maybe just the bed that I was born in. I was born in Lloyd Bridges and Dorothy Bridges' bed. My father was an actor; I'm a product of nepotism. One of the toughest things about being an actor is getting a break. My dad loved show biz, he wanted to turn all his kids on to it, so that was probably the big difference. I don't know who The Dude's parents were, I didn't really think about that. Maybe that's the big difference.

I'm just wondering - was there ever a different ending to "Crazy Heart" than the one in the completed film? To me, it didn't really feel the same as the rest of the movie.

We shot the ending of the book , which is different. When you start putting a movie together in the editing room, if you're lucky the movie will start to tell you what it wants. In this one, the movie started to speak to us, and I'm so happy that Scott [Cooper] listened to the movie because I think it came out really well.

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