Things to Do

Jeff Bridges on His Music Career and Finding Life Balance

We caught up with the actor and musician before his performance with the Abiders at Birchmere on Sunday.

Actor Jeff Bridges shows off his musical chops at the Birchmere. Photograph of Bridges Courtesy of The Birchmere.

Jeff Bridges wears many hats.

He’s an actor, with roles reaching back to the 1950s, and an Oscar winner for his turn as alcoholic country singer Otis “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart. He’s a musician who has two albums under his belt—he and his band, the Abiders, bring their country rock to the Birchmere August 31 with his daughter, singer/songwriter Jessie Bridges. Still, to many he’ll always be Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski, the slacker bowling enthusiast in The Big Lebowski, which has such a cult following that it’s spawned an annual Lebowski Fest. Here’s a conversation with Bridges.

People mostly know you as an actor. Has that perception changed since Crazy Heart?

I hope so. I hope they find me an interesting artist in the musical vein. People do tend to pigeonhole folks, so I guess I expect a bit of that, but I’m hoping people are open-minded.

What are the differences between playing music as yourself versus as a character?

When you’re doing a movie, you’re always playing a character, and for me the beginning place for a character is myself, so I think about aspects of myself I might use. T Bone Burnett, one of the producers of Crazy Heart, made a list of all the music Bad might be listening to growing up in Fort Worth—it had Hank Williams and Merle Haggard and all those guys, but also Dylan and the Beatles and Ornette Coleman, the great jazz sax man—so you take all those elements and stir them around and see what pops out. [Crazy Heart songwriter and performer] Stephen Bruton was with me every day, keeping me limber on the guitar and giving tips on making that character authentic, because Stephen really lived that life. T Bone turned me on to vocal coaches and just practicing—practice improves whatever you do.

Was this year the first time you performed at Lebowski Fest?

We’d done that before. It was really fun. After the performance, watching the movie—it’s one of my favorites, so to be in a room with all these people who felt the same way was wonderful.

What line from The Big Lebowski do people quote to you most often?

I get “The Dude abides” most, but I like “Well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

Between your movie The Giver in August, the tour, and a planned live album, do you find it hard to have a balance?

Balance is always a challenge—not only with those things but also with my family and other projects. But I try to have as much joy in whatever I’m doing as I can. My mom would send me off to work with that advice. She’d say, “Remember—have fun and don’t take it too seriously.” I still use that. It kinda calms me down.

The Abiders play at the Birchmere on August 31. Purchase tickets ($89.50) on Birchmere’s website.

This article appears in the August 2014 issue of Washingtonian.