At the age of 76, Beau Bridges has had a long, successful career in acting and directing, on film, television and the stage. In his first ever scene, he was a baby carried by John Garfield; currently, he can be seen as the vice president of the United States on Showtime’s Homeland—proof that he’s spent three quarters of a century at work.
Bridges shared some stories from that long career, along with anecdotes about his actor father, Lloyd, and brother, Jeff, in an appearance Thursday evening in the Ringling College of Art and Design’s Studio Lab series (the last of this season, which is produced in partnership with Semkhor Productions). Bridges, who had toured the campus the previous day, took questions from film department head Brad Battersby and the audience. Batterbsy, by the way, is married to the daughter of director Daniel Petrie, and the Petrie/Bridges family friendship goes way back.
Bridges reminisced about his days playing basketball at UCLA under the coaching of John Wooden, whose pyramid of success principles have guided Bridges’ life. “It’s about finding peace of mind, not winning,” said Bridges, “with hard work and joy as the cornerstones.”
Bridges’ first speaking role was in a movie called Zamba. He said his mother often told the story of his audition for the role at the age of 6. “They were telling me how challenging the part would be, because the character has to bail out of a plane, gets hung up in a parachute, and meets up with a huge gorilla. So they asked if I thought I could do it, and I supposedly said, ‘I can do it, but I’m a little nervous about bailing out of the burning plane.’”
More recently, Bridges shot another scene involving a plane, in The Mountain Between Us, starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba—tricky in that the scene also involved a dog as his copilot and bad weather special effects prior to the plane “crash.” “We shot 200 or 300 feet up on a soundstage, the dog was going crazy, and, oh, yeah, I’m having a heart attack,” Bridges said of his character. “It was insane.”
Describing his career as a rollercoaster, with lots of ups and downs, Bridges said that he got his part as half of a brother-pianist duo in The Fabulous Baker Boys because of his real-life brother, Jeff, who starred in the film. “I told him, I really don’t think they want me for the part,” he recalled. “But Jeff said, ‘Take that Polaroid picture of you and me on that flatbed truck and show it to [director Steve Kloves].’”
The picture was taken when Jeff was just 16, and he and older brother Beau were doing street theater anywhere around town, sometimes staging a fight to draw a crowd. “I think that picture sealed it for me,” said Bridges, since a well-known fight scene between the two also takes place in the film.
Bridges spoke highly of his parents, who were both “hands-on,” with his father coaching some of Beau’s sports teams even though he often had to travel for work. “He gave me all my tools for acting,” Bridges said. “The word we heard was ‘respect’—respect for yourself, the planet and your fellow human beings.”
Years later, when directing a Disney film in which his father appeared, Bridges said, Lloyd tried to quietly indicate a problem with a shot. “He told me, ‘You need a crane, you’ll never get what you want the way you’re doing it,’” Bridges said. “Well, I tried it my way and of course it didn’t work. The next day, I got a crane. And for the rest of the shoot, I’d call him the night before to say, ‘This is what I’m doing’”—to get the old pro’s advice.
One more note from the evening: The auditorium in which Bridges spoke was formally dedicated as the Morganroth Auditorium in honor of the contributions of Drs. Joel and Gail Morganroth, who recently gave $15 million to the college.