Jeff Bridges on house robes, being called Dudepa and helping out the kids

Jeff Bridges, aka His Dudeness, and his group, the Abiders, play Red Rock Casino this weekend.
Chris Bitonti

Music has been a large part of your career lately, but has it always been a creative outlet for you? Yeah, well, since I was maybe 13 or 14 years old and I picked up the guitar, started writing tunes and stuff. So a long, long time, yeah.

How do you explain the difference in response for 2000’s Be Here Soon and your 2011 self-titled album? The difference, I think, was that the Jeff Bridges album came out after Crazy Heart, and it was kind of inspired by Crazy Heart, doing that sound with my dear friend T. Bone Burnett—that really set fire to my music. After that movie was over I thought, if there was ever a time to get into the music now would be a good time. I asked T. Bone if he wanted to make an album, and he said sure.

So do you think after Crazy Heart people were more willing to take you seriously as a musician, rather than an actor with a side project? Possibly so, yeah.

When you’re acting, you can have a really gruff voice—characters like Rooster Cogburn (True Grit) and Roy Pulsipher (R.I.P.D.)—but your singing voice is very soft. It kind of depends on the song, and the movie, too. Different songs, different movies you’re playing different characters.

Your backing band, The Abiders—obviously that’s a play off The Dude, right? (Laughs) Yeah.

When I saw that it made me really happy that you had embraced the cult status of The Big Lebowskiand of The Dude. Oh absolutely. The Abiders played the Lebowski Fest in LA not too long ago. We had a great time and Lebowski, in my mind, is an amazing movie. It looks kind of improvised and haphazard, but that’s not the case. It was really so well-thought-out by the Coen brothers, and I’m so pleased to have been involved in that movie.

How similar would you say you are to The Dude? Oh, we have certain similarities. That’s where I begin with all my characters—I look inside myself, see what parts of myself I can use, and The Dude is in there for sure.

How often do you wear a bathrobe out and about? (Laughs) I wear something called a galabeya or a jilbab, some people might call it a muumuu. My wife brought it to me from Egypt, like, 15 years ago, and that’s kind of what I wear around the house when I’m not going out. I don’t have the balls to wear it out. One of these days, though. I keep telling The Abiders that we’ve all got to wear our galabeyas, man. One day.

I had heard rumors of a Lebowski sequel based on the life of the child that The Dude and Maude had. Yeah! No, that rumor’s not true. It’d be nice if it was. If the Coen brothers wanted to do something like that, I’d certainly be there. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Will your daughter open up for you in Las Vegas? She will. That’s another fun thing about going on the road. Jessie, my daughter, is going to be opening in Vegas and several other of our shows. She is a wonderful musician. She’s got a blog on the Internet and some tunes on iTunes.

Is she in the Big Lebowski cult as well? (Laughs) I think she’s watched it a couple of times. I wouldn’t say she’s a cultist.

She doesn’t call you His Dudeness or El Duderino? No, but my granddaughter calls me Dudepa (laughs).

Do you feel like you have to get in character for a live music performance? Or, compared to acting, is that more true to who you are? It’s funny, it’s kind of a preparation. For the movies you prepare and maybe read the lines or you learn the song and then the preparation kind of goes on the back burner, and you just show up and play or do the scene, then the preparation kind of informs your performance. But you’re not really thinking about it too much. In a way performing a concert is like improvisation with not only the musicians up on the stage but with the audience and how they feel.

What do you mean by that? Sometimes you’ve got a bunch of folks that are ready to party and you tend to that, and some folks are more sedate and you can see them sitting in their chairs and they don’t want to participate too much. So I get up and jam and that’s fine. Everybody approaches it in a different way.

Have you done live theater? Absolutely. I did a lot of summer stock when I was a kid with my dad. I remember one night we were playing in the round, and I’m waiting for my dad to come down, make his entrance, and I see that they’re messing with his fly on the way down. And he gets onstage and his fly is completely off the track and open. The audience starts to giggle and my dad broke character, and said, “Okay, I’m going back upstairs and change my pants. Jeff, will you entertain the people for a moment?” I was about 14 years old, so I broke into some tap dancing routine I had learned and waited for my dad to come back. You never know what’s gonna happen in a live show.

With success in acting and music, are there any other artistic realms you have an interest in branching into? I like to make ceramics, and I’m currently making some T-shirts for a German company that will support an organization called the Institute of Compassionate Awareness.

As you asked the question, what comes to mind is the acting itself, the performing. Music or movies are things that give you celebrity, but probably the most important aspect of that is that they are kind of a platform for me to bring more attention to things that I feel are important, like going to Las Vegas. I’m very excited about meeting with Gov. Sandoval and the first lady to talk about the issue of childhood hunger in Nevada. We’re going to be working together toward bringing attention to summer meals for kids. Low-income kids count on school for their nutrition, and when school is out so is their food. So it’s very important to have places where they can get food during the summer.

Part of the problem is that people don’t know that there are locations where low-income kids can get food. For instance, in Nevada you’ve got 163,000 low-income kids that are eligible for meals, but only 10,000 of them are getting them. That’s a little over 6 percent of them using the program, and the food is available. So one of the things I’ll be doing in my concert in Nevada also is talking about what folks can do and how they can find out where these meals are served.

I’m the national spokesperson for an organization called Share Our Strength, and their campaign called No Kid Hungry. We’ve been working with governors and going from state to state trying to get these states to be No Kid Hungry states and do their best to lower their rate of kids who are in need of food.

One of the things we’ve done that I’m really excited about is that we’ve started a texting program. If folks text FOOD to 877877 they can find out where there’s a meal site in their area. So that is one of the exciting things—when I go on tour through my music, I get to talk about ending hunger in our country.

Jeff Bridges & the Abiders June 20 & 21, 8 p.m., $58-$80. Red Rock Casino, 702-797-7777.

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