Jeff Bridges Wasn't Sure If He Wanted to Be an Actor

Chris Pine, Cynthia Erivo, Kieran Culkin, Sharon Stone and Rosie Perez celebrated Jeff Bridges‘ seven-decade career at the 49th annual Chaplin Awards Gala in New York City on Monday night. But The Big Lebowski star almost chose a different career path.

During his acceptance speech for the Film at Lincoln Center‘s prestigious honor, the True Grit star shared that he originally “resisted” the idea of pursuing acting full-time for a few different reasons.

“It made me nervous, anxious, and I had other things I wanted to do,” he told the full auditorium at Alice Tully Hall. “I was very much into music. I loved ceramics, painting, and who wants to do what their parents do anyway?”

He recalled his father, actor Lloyd Bridges, explaining to him that he could do all of those things in this career path and use them all to some degree, which was one of the beauties of the job. “My mom and dad, they turned me on not only to showbiz but to the notion that I can make a difference,” he shared. “But still, even after Dad’s wise and wonderful advice, his acting pitch, it took me about 10 films before I decided to make acting a career.”

The Tron star explained that his brother and fellow actor Beau Bridges was another reason he decided to get into the acting, and his wife Sue and daughters are the reason he still does it today, noting he couldn’t make all of these films without them.

Later in the 15-minute speech, Bridges revealed the exact moment he chose to become an actor full-time. It happened right after he finished filming The Last American Hero — he was ready to take a break and spend some time on his other interests when his agent called and told him he had been offered a role in The Iceman Cometh movie adaptation, alongside Lee Marvin, Fredric March and Robert Ryan.

“I said, ‘Oh, gee. Tell them thanks, but I’m bushed,’” he recounted, adding that five minutes later, The Last American Hero director Lamont Johnson called him and asked about him passing on the role. When the actor told him he was “bushed,” the filmmaker responded, “You’re bushed, and you’re an ass.”

Bridges continued, “I decided to do a little experiment — I do that from time to time. I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna do this movie when I don’t feel like it.’ I’ve been wondering if I’m cut out for this acting thing, and if the experience proves to be too much of a drag, well, it’ll be the final nail in the acting coffin. So I do the movie, and it turns out to be an incredible experience.”

The star took the stage following emotional tributes from Stone, Perez, Pine and Blythe Danner. He joined the likes of former honorees Viola Davis, Cate Blanchett, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier and Morgan Freeman, among many others.

Chris Pine, Rosie Perez, Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone and Blythe Danner

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Pine presented his Hell or High Water co-star with the award, after sharing a heartfelt tribute for him that praised his ability to do comedy, drama, action, sci-fi, thrillers and, of course, Westerns, like their 2016 film.

“You have to understand, that was me coming to get to work with my hero; this hero who I’ve watched all my entire life. My hero, who two months before we started filming, he shows up to rehearsal off-book on the entire film,” the Star Trek star said. “Proving not only that he’s a great actor and a consummate professional, but it also proves once and for all that getting high does not affect memory,” he joked.

Throughout the speech, Pine shared that he sees Bridges as his own personal Obi-Wan Kenobi, serving as his mentor and friend. The Wonder Woman actor also joked that he wears a bracelet with the letters WWJD on it, which he says stands for “What Would Jeff Do,” and showed off his talent for quoting some of Bridges’ most famous lines.

Pine concluded, “Your boundless compassion, Jeff, and your curiosity, grace and joy, your brilliant life, it shines in all of us. It makes us better because it helps us understand who we are, and it makes us feel just a little less alone, and that is a good thing. So, for the sake of humanity, Jeff, please keep on shining.”

During her speech, Perez, who starred alongside Bridges in Fearless, shared an anecdote about being nervous before meeting him. She also revealed that he and director Peter Weir fought to get her the role, despite the studio having a problem with their interracial relationship.

“Jeff, my dear, you are amazing as an actor, as a friend, as a mentor, as a human being,” she said. “You’re so talented, and it would be so easy to act like an asshole, but you don’t. You go out of your way to make it easy for everyone. You gave me the confidence to push through my fears and step into my greatness.”

Stone, who starred alongside Bridges in Simpatico, kicked off her speech by declaring that he is a “good man,” who puts other people before himself on set, which is a “rare, rare thing in our business.”

She recalled being a young actress in New York, trying to make it, when she came across Bridges, who she saw as this person who “personifies” power in his purity. She looked back on his iconic roles at the time and saw his sense of integrity. The Basic Instinct star also took a moment to discuss how she felt when it was revealed the Crazy Heart star had cancer. While his cancer is now in remission, it had previously grown to a 9-inch x 12-inch mass before shrinking to be the size of a “marble.”

“There was a moment when Jeff was ill, that I thought we could lose this person,” Stone said in her tribute. “I thought about the struggle that I had, and I thought, ‘I can’t. I can’t lose him. I can’t lose my friend. We can lose this emblem of decency and integrity and power and friendship.’”

In addition to the stars in person at the event, Beau Bridges, Barbra Streisand and John Lithgow all sent in videos praising the actor. Streisand recounted their time working together on The Mirror Has Two Faces and how dancing with Bridges every night after shooting had wrapped made its way into the film. Beau Bridges remembered his younger brother creating beautiful paintings, sketches and sculptures, as well as his passion for music as a kid, and now as an adult who tours with his band.

Lithgow, who currently stars alongside Bridges in The Old Man, shared that he is “a man who hates to work and he loves to act. So he made sure that when he does work, it comes as close as possible to play. He’s a man who completely embodies the phrase playing a part.”

He concluded, “I wish all young actors the good fortune to some time in their careers work with a man like Jeff Bridges. Jeff, when this job is over, it’s so wonderful to know that we’re going to be great friends for the rest of our lives.”

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