Interview: Jeff Bridges Talks TRON, Technology and Recycling

Through the latter part of this week, we will be unleashing a series of interviews focused on what might be the last big blockbuster of the year, Disney’s TRON: Legacy. Members of the FSR staff were in attendance for the recent press junket, where roundtable interviews galore were held with cast and creators. For this installment, we’ve got Jeff Bridges. You know, the star of the original TRON who has returned to the sequel 28-years later to not only reprise his role as Kevin Flynn, but also play himself in several digital formats, including a maniacal piece of software known as Clu. You can read below to see his thoughts on the crossover between Flynn and Lebowski, his thoughts on the technology that made Clu possible and why recycling your plastic bottles is important, you know?

Was this character always written as a Silicon Valley hippie or did you introduce the Lebowski’ness of him?

Yeah, no, no that was Lisberger. What was it like 28 years ago? Is that when it was? Gosh, man, he uh, it was the script basically from the original one. And that was — that’s before Lebowski still. So that I guess you could blame Stephen, you know, for that.

What were your thoughts when you first saw Clu?

Amazing. And for one thing what that means for me as an actor that, uh, I can play myself at any age now you know. I love going to movies but if they have — like if there’s a movie where he character ages or you know another actor plays the guy as a younger person always kind of bumps along the, takes me a while to get up to speed on it. But now, any age you know, it’s quite remarkable. And they’ll be able to combine actors. I don’t know quite how I feel about this but that’s coming up to you know just to say, you know, let’s get Boxleitner and Bridges and you know, put a little Brando in there and see what happens.

You know that they can write that– hire some other actor to drive that image that had been created. I mean it’s getting — it’s getting pretty crazy.

Did you have any hesitation about revisiting Tron?

I did, sure I had a lot of hesitation, uh, making any kind of decision really in my life. I mean, I’m really slow at it. My mother, uh, calls that I have ebullia. Have you ever heard of that term? It’s like a mental disorder I guess, uh, having difficulty making a decision. Uh, I really resist. And with this one, uh, I thought oh God you know are they going to pull it off you know.

I mean I could see all the, you know, technology and everything but, uh, are they going to be able to pull it off, uh, right. And Disney did a beautiful job of that you know. Casting I think is so important not only the actors but, you know the director for one thing, the you get to helm the whole thing. And they got Joe, never directed a movie before can you imagine the pressure that. And he was — his personality is so calm and sure and that he brings all his architectural knowledge you know to the party.

So that adds to the whole set design. So they got the right — they got the right — and he’s– he loves — he loved the original and all that. That’s wonderful. They also brought Steve Lisberger onboard which I thought was essential because he was sort of, you know the godfather of the whole thing.

You know he was the source. So we would always go back to him and ask him is this — is this consistent with the myth that you started? And that was another thing that — that brought me to want to do this because I thought we could use a modern-day myth about the challenge of technology of how we’re going to you know surf that particular wave. You know those are tough waters we’re coming into now. You know we could– we could do some amazing things that we can also head off in the wrong direction very quickly you know.

And this is kind of you know a cautionary tale in a way to you know, look ahead and make sure this is what the direction you want to go.

Does it feel like a time machine talking today of the movie you did in the past that is about the future?

Yeah, it’s just bizarre. I mean it’s just so bizarre. But at the same time it just seems like, especially having Lisberger on the set, it’s like we had a long weekend and were just back here you know doing the same you know work. You know it’s crazy.

What are the differences between working in 1982 and now? Did you have as much green screen work then?

Well, that one was shot in 70 millimeter black-and-white. And we were in white leotards and there was black duvetyn like this — like this tablecloth. This is basically the set with white adhesive tape, that’s for the gridlines and that was basically it. And then there’s some CGI all that kind of stuff. But this one, wow, man, making movies without cameras. You know what an idea.

And when they said that I said what are you talking about? They said yeah you work in the volume. What’s that? Well, it’s a room, it can be any size painted green and there’s no cameras but there’s hundreds of sensors pointed at you. Before each take you assume the T. You stand up like this. And now you’re — they get you anything okay you know and now you’re the computer. And you’re in a white leotard with these dots all over your body, all of your face, might have a helmet on with cameras going like this right.

And then everything from makeup, costume, the set and this is the one that kills me, camera angles is done in post. So you know if you are in the volume right now and you know in our leotards with our dots on, they could say let’s start the scene you know, behind, uh, you know way in the back of the room under the chairs and we’re going to come up under the chairs and then they’ll be– ah, you know, let’s not. Let’s start here you know. It’s all done in post now. It’s just you know it’s crazy. Amazing.

One of the wild moments in this movie was when I was scanned initially in the you know, to get my body into the computer, and it was just like out of the first Tron. You know, I stood there like this and there’s light going– it was just bizarre. For real it was like, for real you know.

Have you warned any of your costars that you’re competing with them now? With this technology?

[LAUGHS]. No. I hadn’t thought about that. That’s funny.

You don’t have to think about the lens in the volume now. But does that change your performance?

Yeah, it was a challenge, uh, because I like relating to the lens and I like having a costume and a set you know. Those are kind of grounding to you. You know it helps you you know, so much of making the movies is creating an illusion and the first person you have to create the illusion for is yourself right. So when I have– in a costume and the person I’m working with is in a costume and there’s a set, you know that helps me you know be in those times and be in that character.

So when you don’t have that stuff, you have to kind of go back, uh, almost like more like child like it away. It’s like when you were a kid you know and you didn’t have you know, all the cool gear, you know to put you there. You had to, you know, use your imagination. So it was, uh, a challenge that way. And at first it kind of rubbed my acting for, you know, against my acting– it felt odd you know I didn’t like it.

But, uh, and act — in making movies and acting I think I like to, you can’t spend too much time bitching about the way it is you know. You’ve got to get with the program as soon as you can especially when you’re making a movie because you don’t. So, uh, you know that was challenging but it was a good exercise. It was you know it was– and that’s the way it’s going. I mean this is — this is the way it’s going to be.

Did it change your life at all winning the Oscar?

I think it has but I haven’t really figured that out entirely because right after, a day after the Oscars I went right to work on True Grit. You know so got right back into work mode and, uh, and I’ve been kind of working ever since you know. So I don’t really, haven’t noticed a big flood of scripts coming it or anything like that.

Where do you keep your Oscar?

My wife– I– but I wanted them to do and they didn’t really do this and I thought it would be fun, I was going to ask my wife, for my kids or you know, whoever, I said I want you to take this and hide it in different spots in the house. And we’ll discover it you know like Where’s Waldo. Do remember that? I didn’t do that. I have him you know sitting on a little shelf between the kitchen and the dining room kind of thing.

How did you talk to Clu? Did you talk to stand in?

Tried it a couple of different ways. I worked with a lot of kids and you know when you’re working with kids they have certain hours that they have to work. Yeah I know what I mean with a kid you can’t — it you can’t, uh, I can’t go– work as many hours as an adult. So often you will– will shoot the kids close up and then when it comes time to your close-up he’s gone or gone to school.

So you’ll work to just a– put a little mark on a C-stand or whatever and do it that way. So I did — I mean I got used to that. We do that. I tried doing it to a monitor, television monitor you know, where I was — I would say that, tried that a little bit.

What were some of your initial concerns with coming back to the character of Kevin Flynn?

Yes, well, one of my concerns about getting into this movie that we would do it– would just be a special effect movie but it would have, uh, some, some helpful mythology to it. And I am good friends with this Zen master, guy named Bernie Glassman. And I guess you put that in there somewhere. I’m not sure if you put it before or after. If I go to his website, or just google Bernie Glassman and you’ll find out what he’s into.

We were just at a wonderful symposium he had, the first symposium of the socially engaged Buddhism. And it was you know wonderful, uh. Anyway he came on as an advisor and, uh, I wanted him — I wanted to add some of these and mythology and stories and some of that — those thoughts. And, uh, I figured you know Flynn’s path, you know what he encounters on the– on the grid you know coming in, being quite, you know full of himself and that sort of thing thinking you know that he can — he can beat Clue and as he says in the movie, the more he goes against him them stronger Clue becomes.

So he’s decided I just have to– stop and see the universe and all — everything’s that’s involved– just like weather will change by itself you know so he’s — and he’s applying some of that knowledge. And he’s kind of– his problem and the way he gets trapped in the absolute, he goes there so far that he’s maybe stopped being able to engage you know. Now his son comes and shakes that all up.

What is the caution to this tale?

Yeah, it’s like– how do you mean?

There’s a danger to freedom and there’s a danger to control.

Yeah. It’s a wonderful book and I think it might even be in Flynn’s bookcase in there and I asked him to put it in there. It’s a Tibetan Buddhist and he wrote a book called “The Myth of Freedom.” You know this idea of freedom. I’ve got to be free, I got to do what I want to do.

You can be a prisoner to your preferences you know. That can be anything that can just trap you and, uh, and you’re a slave to it.

You know like these plastic bottles, well oh good, see I asked them not to have them and they don’t have them, good, great. But they’re single use plastic bottles. Where did that come from? It’s like those things in the magazine when you open those things fall out. Who decided to do that? Or on TV you see that scroll at all the little things, come on, I didn’t– you know. And they got these bottles now that billions of tons of these plastic is in the ocean and you know doesn’t–.

They say it biodegrades but it doesn’t really. Just you know breaks down in small things, the fish eat it. The birds eat it. We eat the fish. You know it’s just that stuff you know. So you got to think you know, what– I know it’s you know, because we’re all — I think we’re all– I could feel my own hookness on immediate gratification you know. I want what I want. I want it now and I can get it now so I’m going to do it dammit, and you gotta watch that, you know what I’m saying?

TRON: Legacy is in theaters this Friday.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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