Here’s How Jeff Bridges Prepared for Each Scene of ‘The Big Lebowski’

by Matthew Memrick

Jeff Bridges’s memorable role as a slacker in “The Big Lebowski” needed just a little preparation or something before every scene.

According to Far Out magazine, the legendary actor needed very few requirements from the crew in his performance. Co-director Ethan Coen’s help was Bridges required to know before shooting his scenes.

“At the start of shooting every scene, he’d walk up to one or the other of us and ask if we figured the dude burned one on the way over,” Coen said.

The longtime director recalled determining if the character needed to be stoned or sobered. Coen would often respond yes to the actor’s question, and Bridges would “go over in the corner, rub his knuckles in his eyes to turn them red, and do the scene.” 

Finally, IMDb noted that Bridges told an Inside the Actor’s Studio cast that he met with Coen and his brother, Joel Coen, after reading the script. He asked them, “did you guys hang out with me in high school?” referring to the Dude’s easygoing surfer persona.

Bridges Took Role Seriously

The Coens struck gold when they put together their 1998 black comedy crime film with Jeff Bridges and a star-studded cast. Sam Elliott, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore also starred. 

The brothers based Bridges’s famous stoner persona on film producer Jeff Dowd. While getting a distribution deal with their debut film “Blood Simple, the men met Dowd.”

Dowd’s penchant for White Russian drinks became Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s thing. Also, the brothers used friend Peter Exline’s Vietnam war veteran persona for the film.  

The character also got a hint or touch of author Raymond Chandler. Co-director Joel Coen told Indie Wire that the brothers wanted to do a “Chandler kind of story” similar to “The Big Sleep.” They wanted it to work in episodes as the characters solve a mystery. They also wanted to have a complex plot that just goes with the character.

Jeff Bridges took it a little further. He used old memories from past drug experiences while using his old clothes. The actor and his wardrobe assistant chose a long-sleeved, baggy look that the Lebowski would wear. A Kaoru Betto one shirt was from Bridges’s past movies like “Cold Feet” and “The Fisher King.” His character’s Jellies sandals also come from the actor’s collection.

According to IMDb, the Coens did not have Jeff Bridges in mind for the leading role, but he seemed like a perfect fit when the actor’s name came up. However, a good bit of time passed before Bridges settled on the role. According to the website, the actor takes a while to commit to a project. In a 2001 interview, Joel Coen said the brother made two movies, “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “Fargo,” before getting Bridges and his schedule to work for the film.