Many things have happened to Jeff Bridges in the past 28 years: he’s been nominated for three Oscars and won one for Best Actor (in last year’s Crazy Heart), starred in one of the decade’s biggest films (Iron Man), played a corpse (in Terry Gilliam’s Tideland), and created a one-man character cult for his indelible performance as “The Dude” in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski (he reunites with the filmmakers this month for their version of True Grit). But for now, the actor finds himself in the somewhat unusual position of promoting a sequel to a film he made in 1982; a film that critics at the time might not have guessed would spawn a franchise. In TRON Legacy, Bridges returns as information architect Kevin Flynn, the hot-shot game designer who created “the Grid” in the original TRON. We sat down with Bridges to talk about the films, and caught up with co-star Bruce Boxleitner, who played “TRON” in the first movie and reprises his character for the sequel.
RT: It’s almost 30 years now since the first film. How do you go back and connect with Kevin Flynn after all this time?
Jeff Bridges: Well, I mean the script has a lot to do with it. That’s kind of your main touchstone — and the fact that they had Steve Lisberger, the guy who wrote and directed the original, on board. They really looked to him to keep us on track, as far as being consistent with the characters and so forth. Just having him on board, I think, that helped me quite a bit with the character. And a lot of that kind of stuff you don’t have to think about too much, you know, ’cause I was that guy — he’s somewhere in there. It’s like when my brother and I played brothers in The Fabulous Baker Boys: if it was another actor and not Beau, you’d spend time trying to figure out, “How do we appear like we’re brothers?” But Beau and I didn’t think about that because we are brothers.
So you and Flynn are one and the same?
Yeah, I think there are elements of myself that kicked in pretty quick.
Was it strange to see a younger version of yourself created by the animators?
Well yeah, you know it kind of reminded me of… well, let’s say it’s not that unusual for me to see myself as a younger guy [on screen] anyway, so it wasn’t as surprising as someone might think. But it was interesting to see how they’re still honing that look. What did you think? Did it pass?
Well it wasn’t exactly you, because I’ve seen plenty of your movies from that era — but then you know that he’s a creation of the program.
So it’s forgiving, yeah.
Right. It was interesting that the digital director kept insisting they go for an Against All Odds Jeff.
Yeah, they asked me for all kinds of photographs and everything. I think the one they picked, that was kind of a good choice — about the right age.
So you were happy with that look, the hair and everything? Your hair was a bit moppier in TRON.
Well in TRON, I remember that they bleached and permed my hair, and it was terrible because I would go back and forth and do real world scenes and then we’d go into, you know, the Grid stuff, and that hat… have you ever had your hair permed or bleached?
It kind of stings, yeah, and it gets hot — there’s heat, and so I had that helmet on, and all of my hair started to fall out; it was pretty crazy.
Wow, that explains it. Wearing the new motion capture helmets, how did they compare to shooting the original TRON? Was there more blue screen back then?
No, you know what it was in the original: the set was all black duvetyne, with white adhesive tape and vector lines, shot in 70mm black-and-white and then hand-tinted by a bunch of Korean women. In this one, one of the things that I thought was really effective was the way Joe [Kosinski, director] kind of blended the real sets with the CGI and the motion capture and all of that — it was a combination of all those things; it was really well done. It’s interesting to see how different filmmakers use the same tools, and how different the look is on each one, depending on where they’re coming from. Joe being an architect, he brought a lot of that sensibility to it.
When you were making the original film, did you have any sense that you were involved in something that may have been ahead of its time?
Oh yeah. Very much so. But it’s funny, I remember making it, and the minute it was out, probably the next day or two, you’d see that same technology on TV commercials — it moved so fast. Like, we’re using stuff the next generation after Avatar, and I wonder how long it’ll take for this to be passé? But I remember the first TRON looked like old stuff pretty quick.
But it’s still something very unique.
It’s unique, yeah, because it moved so fast, it was kind of like one of a kind — you really can’t see any other movies that were like that. I love the Wendy Carlos music in it, too; wasn’t that a beautiful score?
It’s pretty great. The thing about that film is that it’s easy to remember the visuals and forget your performance, which is actually quite human — and humorous. Were you happy with how the sequel turned out in that sense?
I think so. I haven’t seen how it’s all paced together but from what I’ve seen it’s working well, yeah.
Garrett [Hedlund] seems to have some of what your character was in the original.
Yeah, that was written in to the script; we wanted to have that in there.
So, who’s the camper villain: David Warner or Michael Sheen?
[laughs] Who’s the what? Oh, the camper villain. Well they’re both pretty out there. I wanted David Warner to be in this one as my — as Clu’s — butler. [laughs] He’s such a wonderful actor.
Next, we chat with the original TRON, Bruce Boxleitner, about Legacy and working on the ’82 film.
RT: It must be odd to be doing press for a sequel to a film that most would have thought wouldn’t have one.
Bruce Boxleitner: I know. I’ll be interested to see how this one does. I thought that [reviewers] at the time [of the first TRON] — I don’t think a lot of them got it, because they were written by older guys, you know. The first movie, in retrospect, the kids that were putting those quarters into those game machines — they got it. The older generation didn’t quite get it, because it wasn’t theirs. You guys have all grown up in this technology. It’s part of your language. It wasn’t then. It was something new, and it was an arcade game, therefore it said “childish”, you know, and the first film had somewhat been dismissed.
I’d always assumed it was a classic when I was kid — I had no idea the movie bombed.
It wasn’t a screaming bomb but I think they had this expectation, the industry did. But you guys got it. This new movie is unique, in a way, because it’s made by fans — ask Joe Kosinski, ask [producer] Sean Bailey, what was one of their favorite movies when they were boys, and TRON was it. They got to grow up and make the movie again, with the tools that they have now. Steve Lisberger and his wife Bonnie, these were two kids that came out to Hollywood from Boston with this little idea: they wrote this script about this technology and it’s called “Neutron” or something like that, and now, so many years later, to see this… I’m so happy for them, you know, because it was their brainchild.
What did you think when you were presented with the original screenplay for TRON?
Well the original screenplay I didn’t quite understand, because of the language of “Tron” or “rom” or “Kram”, and all these terms, but I did see there was this kind of chase story; it wasn’t outer space but it was kind of Star Wars-y and it was a world we didn’t know, you know. And then when I finally did get to Hollywood I was out on location in Tucson, Arizona doing a Western, and I was sitting there on a horse reading the script because I needed to get back to the hotel that night, in Tucson, to call my agents to say “yes” or “no”. Today, if someone asked me that, I’d get on an airplane right now. But then, I almost like a young fool went, “I just don’t understand it — let’s pass.”
In fairness, I guess you were sitting on a horse.
I’m doing a Western! I’m dressed as young Wyatt Earp, with a big old mustache on, reading about bits and bytes and TRON and these discs. [laughs] And then I said, “Okay, that might be interesting.” But it wasn’t until I got to Hollywood and I met with Steven at the studio and he showed me some footage that they had — and by this time it was also known that Jeff Bridges was doing it, and I was really enjoying some of the films that he was doing and thought, “I would love to work with him.” But when I saw this cut footage — it was just kind of this generic guy running and jumping and throwing — in this beautiful colored world, I said “Yeah, I’ve got to do that.” Plus, it was Disney.
And they were kind of taking a chance at that point.
They were taking a big chance. You always hear how they were sort of conservative, kind of a dowdy studio, but I think this plays against that. I thought it was very daring of them to take this step with computer animation. We were very much a wild bunch. I remember Steven saying to me on Legacy, “Everyone was so well behaved on this one — you and Jeff used to be a couple of wild crazies who were always getting in some kind of mischief on the lot.”
Oh, what kind?
We were running around in those outfits going to lunch, and these women were shocked, you know, because we had our bare asses hanging out there. We got a memo from the studio that we had to wear bath robes if we went off side the stage. Those outfits were elaborate to get out of, so it was easier for us to just run over to the commissary — and there we were, basically in nothing. [laughs]
TRON Legacy is in theaters December 17.