Interview: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall on Crazy Heart | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a scene from Crazy Heart.

Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall

Interview with the stars of Crazy Heart

Dec 22, 2009 Web Exclusive
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If Bad Blake, the haggard country singer played by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, appears to resemble Kris Kristofferson with his wavy hair and gray beard, it’s no coincidence.

“Kris and I are buddies,” Bridges acknowledges. “We did a movie 30 years ago, Heaven’s Gate.” Yet, despite Bridges’ physical resemblance to Kristofferson in Crazy Heart, it’s songwriter/guitarist Stephen Bruton, a longtime member of Kristofferson’s band, whom Bridges says was the biggest influence on his character. Bruton, who grew up in Texas as a friend of singer/songwriter/producer T Bone Burnett, died earlier this year at 60 years old, and Crazy Heart is dedicated to his memory. Bruton and Burnett wrote a handful of songs for Bridges to sing in the film. Bridges first met Bruton and Burnett (one of Crazy Heart’s film producers as well) on the set of Heaven’s Gate. “We had a lot of jam sessions on that, six months worth. Kris assembled all his musical buddies to work on that show, so we had some wonderful times musically.”

Last week, Bridges was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as Bad, a fictional country music veteran whose fame and earnings have diminished. A broke 57-year-old alcoholic, Bad drives his truck town to town to play low-rent bars with pickup bands, and the film’s first indelible image is of Bad pulling up to the lot of a New Mexico bowling alley (his gig for the night) and dumping a jug of urine onto the ground. “Stephen’s life, in a lot of ways, paralleled that, in that he was a working musician who had played in these small clubs,” Bridges says. “He’d say, ‘When I’m driving from club to club, hundreds of miles, I wouldn’t want to stop. That’s why I carried a Sparkletts bottle with me. I’d just pee in that Sparkletts bottle.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s in there!’”

Jeff Bridges stars as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.

When Bad reaches a tour stop in Sante Fe, he meets Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Jean, a local journalist seeking an in-depth interview with the musician. Bad’s shortcomings are apparent to Jean, but he’s an experienced charmer with a compelling perspective on life. She is a single mom raising a young son, and although she’s protective of her boy and wary of Bad’s drinking habit, she allows him into her life.

“Often I think people are attracted to other people who are not always only good for them,” Gyllenhaal says. “I’ve been attracted to people who were terrible for me in all sorts of ways, and worked through it sometimes and not worked through it other times. And I think that’s really human and really real, and I think that’s part of why the movie’s so good, because they are unlikely lovers.”

Crazy Heart‘s first-time director Scott Cooper wrote the screenplay for the film, adapting it from Thomas Cobb’s novel of the same name. In Cooper’s script, Gyllenhaal found an authentic complexity to Bad and Jean’s relationship that freed her, as an actress, from justifying why Jean would take a chance on someone as risky as Bad. “If you have a script that’s good enough…and if you’re acting with someone like Jeff, who’s so alive and up for anything, you don’t really have to think like that,” she says. “You don’t have to be so intellectual about it.”

In the script, Gyllenhaal also recognized parallels between her character and herself. After the birth of her now three-year-old daughter, Gyllenhaal had worked only sparingly, shooting for 15 days over the course of eight months on The Dark Knight and for three days on Away We Go. Subsequently, the actress felt a hunger to work again. “I had so much to express,” she says. “In Crazy Heart, it all came out. And in a way, it’s very similar to Jean’s experience, because I think Jean also is like, ‘I’ve been trying so hard to be good and be a good mom and take care of this boy by myself and work, and I just need something for me. I don’t care if it’s bad for me. It’s better if it’s bad for me.’ And that kind of came together for me in this movie, that feeling. I had that same feeling, like ‘just one thing for me.’”

Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall in Crazy Heart.

Robert Duvall has a supporting role in the film, playing a bar owner and friend to Bad. As one of the producers on Crazy Heart, Duvall jumped into the part while assisting with the casting of other roles. He admits that commonalties between Crazy Heart and Tender Mercies, the 1983 film for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award, initially might have turned him off from the project—Duvall played a recovering alcoholic country singer in Tender Mercies—but there were enough differences as well.

“They’re different, two distinct guys on the mend,” Duvall says. “My guy had more of a support system, with a wife, stepson and a baptism, and he really was focused on that, while Jeff’s character…even though he’s on the mend, he has no base of support, except for this character that I play, who’s his friend. So there’s a difference there between the two movies. And also, I think the emphasis was more on straight country music in Tender Mercies, and this is more like country blues, more like Kristofferson. So, a little different, different perceptions. Certain similarities, both guys have similar demons.”

The Bruton and Burnett compositions, such as “I Don’t Know” and “Fallin’ & Flyin’,” have a melodic rock-country quality to them. The latter could be a Tom Petty or Traveling Wilburys track. Yet there are also reflective ballads in the film, notably the film’s theme song, “The Weary Kind,” which Bad attempts to finish writing through the film. The knockout track, sung by Ryan Bingham over the closing credits, was written by Bingham and Burnett and is in the vein of the beautifully somber work of Townes Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle. “The Weary Kind” also has earned a Golden Globe nomination for the film.

In fleshing out Bad’s background, it was decided that his influences should extend beyond the country genre and that he should have an eclectic taste in music. “T Bone made a wonderful graph for me of the music that Bad might have listened to,” Bridges says. “Leonard Cohen was one of the guys we thought of. Bob Dylan. I was kind of late coming to the party of getting turned on to Greg Brown. He’s a great artist who lent a song to the movie. He’s the one who wrote “Brand New Angel.” And he was kind of a role model. Not necessarily traditional country but kind of folk. I think Bad listened to all kinds of music. He was a music lover. Jazz and Ornette Coleman probably, all kinds of guys.

Although Crazy Heart‘s production cost pales in comparison to the infamously overbudget Heaven’s Gate, Gyllenhaal’s recollections of filming Crazy Heart echo Bridges’ account of the Heaven’s Gate shoot. “People were playing music all the time,” she says. “It was a tiny movie, and it was like we were all living it all the time. Jeff and Stephen would sing songs to me. It was sort of all a part of it.”

Duvall credits Cooper with keeping things loose and fun on set. “It starts with the director and works its way down,” Duvall says. “When I did Tender Mercies, it was not this much fun working, believe me. It was a pretty tense set.”

While Bad’s reckless approach to his fading career can be humorous in a tales-from-the-road kind of way—he leaves the stage during the middle of a song to vomit outside a club—his addiction becomes a more serious matter when it begins to threaten his life and the safety of those near him. The role required Bridges to render a soul-searching performance as his character faces life-changing decisions.

“I think people can relate to this,” Bridges says. “It gives people faith in going in that unknown territory of trying to wake up. It’s frightening to shift gears like that. I love that song in the movie [Bruton and Burnett’s “Somebody Else”], “I used to be somebody, now I’m someone else.” You don’t always have to be who you think you are, and you don’t have to keep doing that same groove.” Although Bruton, Burnett and Kristofferson all were inspirations to Bridges’ portrayal of a musician, the four-time Academy Award-nominated actor didn’t seek a role model to help him depict Bad’s pursuit at redemption. “I always look to myself,” Bridges says. “I’ve been redeemed. I’ve been married 33 years. In a long marriage like that, there’s a lot of redemption going on.”

www.foxsearchlight.com/crazyheart



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I have seen him in Blade movie. He is a great actor.

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Crazy Heart’s story is an old one: a busted down, down and out nobody screws up, hits bottom, and becomes somebody again. We’ve seen it before, but it has enough soul and Bridges’ Blake has enough human hitch in his step, that it manages to be moving, if not refreshing. Jeff Bridges inhabits the role as thoroughly as is seemingly possible - he quite simply is Bad Blake. Much of the music (composed by T-Bone Burnett, who among other things did the music for the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?) “Rolex Submariner

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