In a career with a remarkable, multigenerational longevity, Jeff Bridges has gone from playing earnest, flaky young men to wizened, flaky older men in movies from “The Last Picture Show” and “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” on to “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” “True Grit” and “Hell or High Water.”
Sunday night, Bridges received the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s lifetime achievement award.
In accepting the prize, Bridges gave a speech full of infectiously spaced-out energy, exhorting the crowd at one point, “We’re all alive, right here, right now. This is happening! We’re alive!”
The presentation of the DeMille award has in the past provided the show with some of its most attention-grabbing highlights. Last year, Oprah Winfrey gave a rousing and inspiring speech that had many imagining she might run for elected office. The year before, Meryl Streep spoke passionately about the importance of the arts and, for many, set the template of what award show speeches could be in the era of a President Trump.
Other recent recipients include Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Woody Allen, Jodie Foster, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Warren Beatty.
Bridges won a Golden Globe for his performance in 2009’s “Crazy Heart.” He has been nominated four other times, for “Hell or High Water,” “The Contender,” “The Fisher King” and “Starman.” Bridges is also a seven-time Academy Award nominee, having won the Oscar for “Crazy Heart.”
Bridges was born to a show business family, with both of his parents, Lloyd Bridges and Dorothy Bridges, being actors. (Jeff Bridges noted in his speech that he was wearing his father’s cuff links.) His brother Beau Bridges has a long career as an actor as well, and the two brothers appeared on screen together (playing brothers) in 1989’s “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”
Though he was already deep into his career and very much a dependable movie star, it was his role in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” that fully cemented Bridges into the popular imagination.
The movie’s oddball blend of Raymond Chandler-influenced Los Angeles crime noir and the burnout zen of Bridges’ performance as the character of Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a onetime student activist turned amateur bowler and professional layabout, famously did not connect with audiences on its initial release but has over time become a beloved and imminently quotable contemporary classic.
On Sunday, Bridges mentioned the Coens, calling them “the masters” and adding, “If I’m lucky, I’ll be associated with The Dude for the rest of my life. I feel so honored to be a part of that film, great movie.”
He also mentioned his longtime stand-in Lloyd Catlett, “Last Picture Show” director Peter Bogdanovich, “Baker Boys” director Steve Kloves and “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper.
Bridges recalled how he asked Michael Cimino, who directed him in the 1974 film “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” to fire him the day before shooting started. Cimino told him, “Tag, you’re it,” meaning the actor already had all the energy and confidence he needed for the role. Bridges said he used that advice not just on that film but throughout his life.
Bridges then mentioned Bucky Fuller, meaning architect and designer Buckminster Fuller, and how he designed a small rudder to assist the bigger rudder in turning around large ships — there were some confused cutaways to the audience at this point — expanding to an idea of how an individual can impact society.
“We may seem like we’re not up to the task, but we are, man, we’re alive. We can really make a difference. We can turn this ship in the way we want to go, man, towards love, creating a healthy planet, for all of us.”
The energy in the room suddenly having shifted back upward, Bridges concluded by saying, “Tag, you’re it.”
After Bridges’ speech, Harrison Ford came out to present the next award of the night.
“Nobody told me I had to follow Jeff Bridges,” Ford said dryly. “Who wants to do that?”