For a guy raised in Hollywood, Jeff Bridges sure seems mighty at home on the range. He’s played everyone from philosopher dude (“The Big Lebowski”) to weary musician (“The Fabulous Baker Boys”), but seems particularly right in a cowboy hat (Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” Bad Blake in “Crazy Heart” — the latter winning him an Oscar).
Add to that list Marcus Hamilton, a soon-to-be-retired (whether he likes it or not) Texas Ranger in “Hell or High Water,” a hard-hitting drama opening nationwide Aug. 19. The film follows brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) on a bank-robbing spree across desolate (and magnificently shot) West Texas. Hot on their trail — cantankerous ole Marcus and his Ranger partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham).
Next up, Bridges, 66, stars in “Granite Mountain,” a true story of wildfire firefighters, due out in 2017. A student of Buddhism, Bridges last year released “Sleeping Tapes,” an album of ambient sounds and words designed to help you sleep. He and his wife (married 40 years next year) raised three children. He spoke recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Marcus is tough on his partner. Have you ever had somebody like that in your life — riding you, insulting you, driving you crazy . . . but who you like despite it all?
Yeah, well . . . [he laughs] . . . there are some famous teasers in my family, starting with my grandfather, from Liverpool. He had a dry sense of humor, and teased people he loved. My brother, Beau, inherited that. Teasing is interesting. In the case of my family, it all came from love, and I think in Marcus’ case it does, too. He knows what’ll get a rise out of (his friend) and he’s accurate in his teasing. It’s sort of a route to intimacy. Often it comes from love but it can be cruel. It’s a kind of double-edged sword.
Sounds like you and co-star Gil Birmingham had some awesome jam sessions during breaks. You both brought guitars to the set?
Yeah. Whenever you work with a musician — that’s a big plus. When you’re making a movie, you’re working together, playing together, harmonizing. We started playing guitar. That just helps — to get to know each other in a quick kind of way.
Do you always bring your guitar on shoots?
Yeah. [He pauses.] I do. Often, you find musicians, whether actors or part of the crew. You just jam. It’s a great form of relaxation. And being away from your family for a month — a guitar is a wonderful friend. A great way to keep yourself company.
Yeah, it looked a little lonely out there. The cinematography is amazing — the massive sky, the sheer dry flatness extending for miles. How does location affect your performance?
We shot it in New Mexico. The location — whether a cramped apartment or the vast outdoors — always affects your work. In a subliminal way.
Marcus is an iconic film character — the longtime lawman finishing out one last case. Why do we find that storyline so satisfying?
I guess it’s something that . . . if we’re lucky . . . we all go through — giving up something you love. Like I say, you’re lucky if you get to experience that . . .
Yeah, [lucky] to have lived so long that you have something you love so much, and you regret losing it.
Very Buddhist of you — don’t focus on the loss, focus on how long you’ve lived and the memories you have. You know, it’s funny — I’ve been bumping into a lot of you Buddhists lately.
Aha . . .
People I’m suddenly learning are into Zen Buddhism. Is the world trying to tell me something?
Ha! [He laughs.] Maybe.
How often do you meditate, and what do you get from it?
I try to give it a shot every day. I sat a little bit this morning. I enjoy it. I enjoy . . . how do you say it . . . being in the present moment as much as you can. Not to turn off the mind — so many people think meditation is to stop thinking. The mind is like your salivary gland — [constantly] producing thoughts. So just be in the present moment and go with the thoughts as they come up. Don’t try to stop them — or run the story.
Run the story?
The way my mind works, at least, certain thoughts are easy to let go of. Others you hold onto, you run with them, start to tell a story, and you can get really caught up in it. Meditation is a way to practice letting that go . . . to keep the mind turning. Practicing that kind of spills over into your non-meditative life.
So you learn to stop thinking the same negative thoughts over and over? Well, we certainly need something to ground and calm us these days.
I know what you mean.