A few days after the U.S. Presidential election, Academy Award-winner Jeff Bridges is just as perplexed by Donald Trump’s win as every other Hillary Clinton supporter.
A self-described “liberal Democrat guy,” the 66-year-old actor came out for Hillary earlier this year in perfect Jeff Bridges fashion: “I don’t dig Trump,” he told The Daily Beast in June. “I don’t go the Trump way.” Now, not even a week into a Clinton loss that’s triggered mass protests across the country, he’s been avidly watching the national political stage, wondering what’s to come.
“Trump is certainly unpredictable,” Bridges muses, sitting in a Beverly Hills courtyard in the California sunshine. “One moment he’s saying that Hillary should be arrested, that she’s the worst person that’s ever been up for office, and the next moment he’s saying she’s done some great things for our country. He switches like that! And in his acceptance speech, I thought there were some wonderful things—if you took it out of context.”
Stellar reviews and indie box office momentum have propelled Bridges’ latest film, this summer’s neo-Western crime drama Hell or High Water (out on DVD/Blu-Ray Nov. 22) back onto Hollywood’s radar with Oscar hopes. The boost has given the six-time nominee another shot in the Best Supporting Actor race 45 years after he earned his first nod, at 22, for his turn as a young man in a dying Texas town in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show.
Bridges comes full circle in a way in Hell or High Water as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, a rough and tumble West Texas lawman close to retirement who picks up the trail of Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), two brothers knocking off local banks for quick cash. The crime spree stirs Bridges’ molasses-mouthed Hamilton into detective mode, leading his partner and frequent target of his frequent un-PC racist jabs, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), on a collision course with their prey.
By now Bridges is Hollywood’s go-to Westerns star, possessed of the gentle, graying grit few other actors of his generation can emit so effortlessly. But the film’s murky morals, and Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan’s Black Listed script, brought Bridges back to the genre six years after taking a more traditional tack in the Coen brothers’ True Grit.
“The things that really got me onboard were how authentic the script felt, and also the ambiguity,” he says. “The lines between right and wrong were so blurred. People are talking about how timely the movie is, that it is of its time, and my thinking is that’s sort of how we roll as a species.”
He laughs. “It’s not that unusual. We’ve been mistreating each other and taking advantage of others selfishly, whether it’s selfish for us or for our families. And that holds us prisoner, in a way.”
America, the America we’ve seen split itself so divisively in the months leading up to last Tuesday’s fraught election, has demonstrated that, Bridges says. “We’re seeing that now in a big way. It’s such an interesting situation where you have this very violent selfish species that’s also capable of love and generosity and all of these things.”
“We do have this aspect of violence to us. But we also have this dream of peace. How are we going to go towards this destination that it seems like we all want? Are we built for it? Can we pull that off?”
Like it or not, even Clinton voters have to come to terms with the fact that the Trump way they chose not to go is America’s future. Bridges pauses, searching for a way to describe his current thoughts on Trump.
“It’s a riddle,” he begins. “You’re looking for the village of truth, you come to a fork in the road, and there’s a guy standing there. You know he’s either from the village of truth or the village of lies. All the people that live in the village of truth have to tell the truth. All the people who live in the village of lies have to tell lies. You have one question to ask this guy, to get to the village of truth, but you don’t know which village he’s from. What is your question?”
He stares patiently, waiting for the scenario to sink in, the answer dancing on the tip of his tongue.
“The answer is, ‘Which is the road to your village?’” he smiles. “So maybe that’s how we respond to this. He says he wants to make America great again. I get the sense he’s a person who wants to be loved, and being lovable is what makes people love you. I think each of us has a version of that in our hearts and we follow that. You want to make America great? Ok, I’m with you, let’s go! But what is America?”
What is America? is a question Bridges ponders deeply, and it reminds him of a fateful interaction he once had with an old Italian man in Florence.
“I had a wonderful night in a restaurant there with a guy named Garga,” he says, his eyes crinkling at the memory. “I had jet lag and then I got my second wind and I said to him after the restaurant was closed, ‘These tablecloths are going to waste—do you have any paint?’ He didn’t speak any English but he had his son interpreting what I was saying. He said, ‘Yes. Great!’ So we spent the night doing that. I got into this conversation with him, and he said, ‘Do you know why America is called America? America is a star, and we’re all going there. And you guys are dropping the ball. Don’t do that! This is a great experiment that’s been going on for thousands and thousands of years. We’re all in this together.’”
“It’s the idea of America,” Bridges concludes. “And it keeps being refined.”
Bridges is a celebrity face of No Child Hungry and a supporter of Hollywood’s anti-gun Everytown Creative Council, comprised of A-listers and spearheaded by his Big Lebowski co-star Julianne Moore. Of the various Trump policies that most get his “hackles up,” gun control is pretty high up the list—and, coincidentally or not, is one real-life issue subtly addressed in Hell or High Water’s memorable stand-off between Bridges and Pine.
“What Elizabeth Warren was saying—wasn’t that great? I’m with her,” Bridges nods. “[Trump’s] position inspires my position. I don’t think everybody should have machine guns. Where do you draw the line?”
He laughs incredulously at the realization that President-elect Trump himself has a permit to carry a concealed firearm. As always, The Dude abides with a remarkably calming Zen positivity. What’s most surprising is Bridges’ admission that the optimism doesn’t come easy, even for a guy like him.
“I think the main battle for me personally is battling my own cynicism and other people’s cynicism,” he says, pointing again to his humanitarian work and the community bonds he sees spring up in response to adversity. “I try to surround myself… to do something positive and see the results. And that fuels me to do more.”
He pauses. “What if we made a beautiful movie of the world? What kind of future do we want to make for each other?