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Film: All president and correct; Rather than looking to historical figures for inspiration, Jeff Bridges emulated his father for his stint in the White House.

Byline: Alison Jones

Getting to play the president has become a rite-of-passage role for actors of a certain age.

It is just rather unfortunate for the people of America that they invariably end up being better, braver or more moral than their real life counterparts.

Jeff Bridges, who is more commonly cast as a drifter or rebel, is finally admitted to the establishment in The Contender, a drama about sexual politics in the White House.

He and co-star Joan Allen were both Oscar nominated for their performances as the most powerful man in the western world and the woman he wants to become his second in command.

An unfairly over-looked Gary Oldman plays the devious senator who digs up an apparent sex scandal from her past in order to prevent her appointment.

When it came to behaving like a statesman Jeff modelled himself, not on a previous inhabitant of the Oval Office, but on someone much closer to home.

'I knew I didn't want to do an impersonation of Clinton or any other president, although I did look at some speeches of his as well as John and Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson's.

'But the person I based him on most on was my father (the late Lloyd Bridges) who I felt always had a presidential quality about him.

'He certainly loved his work and I have a feeling that the president I play, and this is a bit like Clinton too, really enjoyed the job. Not just the perks but everything along with it.'

The fact that his father and older brother Beau were both actors, made Jeff's decision to pursue it as a career virtually inevitable.

In fact he made his screen debut just over 50 years ago when, at the age of four months, actress and family friend Jane Greer carried him in her arms in the film The Company She Keeps.

He also appeared, along with his brother Beau in their dad's television series Seahunt.

Young Jeff soon discovered that Bridges senior was an excellent source of free advice when it came to technique.

'I did Seahunt because it meant getting out of school but while I was there he taught me all the basics of acting. How important it is to listen to what the other guy says and not just wait until his mouth stops moving and you start talking.

'I'm definitely a product of nepotism, my dad helped me get into the business when I was a baby.

'In the early days I was always concerned about that and felt a bit funny. After a while I figured I must be doing something right and they couldn't just be hiring me because of my father.'

Certainly the critics seemed to agree. Jeff quickly became a talent to watch, garnering Oscar nominations for The Last Picture Show, the highly acclaimed ode to smalltown America, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, in which he co-starred with Clint Eastwood.

He was also up for a Best Actor award after playing an alien in human form in Starman.

So far he has always gone away empty handed yet he stresses he is not bitter.

'It's always great to get a nod like that from your peers. The red carpets and flashing lights that go with it are not my favourite part. I hate the fuss, but it is kind of fun seeing your old friends there and catching up with people you haven't seen for a long time.'

The remarkably well balanced Bridges could give some young actors lessons on how to keep your head screwed on in showbusiness.

He is happily married to Susan and they have three daughters Isabelle 19, Jessie 17 and 15-year-old Hayley.

He is a talented musician and photographer (skills learnt just in case the acting gig didn't work it out).

And, like the old cliche, he is also a tireless worker for charity. He co-founded the charity End Hunger Network 20 years ago in an attempt to feed some of the starving masses around the world.

Although the original intention was to help people outside the United States, the organisation has recently had to redirect its attention.

'When we started out there were different social programmes that formed a safety net for those in dire straights in this country. Over the last 15 years those programmes have been underfunded and now we have a terrible hunger problem here, which is obscene because we are supposedly in the middle of this great economic boom.

'We've started an initiative to end hunger in this country within five years called Hunger Free America.

'One of the things we plan to do is give schools video tapes of a film I produced and which my brother Beau stars in, called Hidden in America, showing what it is like to live here and go hungry.

'Then we would like all the children who have seen it to go to Washington and form a ring round the congress building, then give all the politicians inside report cards on how they are dealing with hunger.'

Jeff and Beau had already worked together on The Fabulous Baker Boys, a movie most memorable for featuring Michelle Pfeiffer slithering across a grand piano while singing Making Whoopee. Although it was Michelle who grabbed all the glory on that occasion, Jeff is no mean musician himself.

Last year he released his first album Be Here Now. He has also co-founded his own record label, Ramp Records, with Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers.

'I toured with him and his band last summer. It was a lot of fun, but to get up on stage and really do it right you need a lot of rehearsal. I haven't really been able to go out with my own band and get the songs down how I would like. I would always be a little tense to see whether we could pull it off each performance.

'But making the album was wonderful fun as it's something I've been involved with since I was kid.'

Fans of his films will be pleased to hear that he is not planning to abandon acting for the life of roving minstrel just yet.

'I get a different buzz from making movies, each one brings with it something new and fresh, usually to do with the people you are involved with.

'I often think the intense kind of relationships you have with the cast and crew are the real product and the movie is the by-product, kind of like the skin of the snake that gets sloughed off.'


Jeff Bridges finally plays an establishment figure in The Contender, a drama about sexual politics in the White House. One of Bridges' most famous films was The Fabulous Baker Boys when he starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 21, 2001
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