It’s been nearly two decades since The Big Lebowski, a tale about an emphatically nonchalant man named Jeffrey “the Dude” Lebowski who gets forced over the precipice of chalance, transformed Jeff “the actor” Bridges into an unwitting pop cult leader. The fates of the Dude and the film have a pleasing symmetry: Both were underachievers enjoying blithe existences until a startling catalyst (a case of mistaken identity; an avalanche of VHS sales) ripped them from their middling courses and set them on paths only someone ingesting hallucinogens could have predicted. For the Dude, it was a path of botched kidnappings, severed toes, and Germans. For the movie, it was Lebowski themed fan festivals, a Dude-inspired religion (Dudeism), and the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.
Jeff Bridges isn’t turned off by this, as some already famous actors might be—by the fanatical, undying popularity of a weird thing he did once, back in 1998, that no one has ever forgotten, that people quote at him ad nauseam. He’s too imperturbable, too Dude for that. Bridges is famously cool with the weighty Lebowski legacy. It’s obvious why within moments of meeting him. He’s the kind of guy who will muse dreamily over lunch “I like a lot of that Buddhist stuff” in a way that could be devoid of any meaning—who among us would object to a lot of that Buddhist stuff?—but then follow it up by outlining the historic trajectory of Chinese Ch’an to Japanese Zen and asking things like “Have you heard of Pema Chödrön?”
While he awaits the arrival of his Virgin Mary mocktail, his plate of raw oysters, and his other plate of raw clams, Bridges draws me a picture of his labyrinth. It’s mowed into the grass on his property in Santa Barbara, and it really ties the yard together. “The idea is, it’s a walking meditation,” he explains, when I ask what a man might do with a labyrinth. “Sometimes I’ll do it in a dance,” he clarifies. “Sometimes I’ll do it for Easter,” he opposite-of-clarifies.
He’s leaning over a pocket-size notebook and drawing the same geometric pattern over and over. “With a maze, you’ve got to make all these choices about which way to go, and some are dead ends, some aren’t.” But a labyrinth is different, he explains. “With the labyrinth, the only choice is to go in or not.” I ask him about the origins of the pattern. A mathematical symbol copied from nature? Aliens? Jeff Bridges is not sure.
“I think it’s one of those things like pyramids, you know?” he replies, still drawing. His voice is throaty and warm, like Santa Claus’s, if he were thoughtfully eating a toffee. “They just showed up all over the place.”
We’ve met for a meal in the airy restaurant of a Santa Monica hotel—so airy, in fact, that there is a small brown bird flying around inside of it attempting to find its way back out to the open ocean but perhaps confused by the dining room’s beachy color scheme. Bridges’s color scheme is the friendly gray of a small passing cloud that threatens no rain. His metal spectacles are gray; the image of Bob Dylan on his T-shirt is gray. Bridges will be 68 in December, but his gray hair remains as leonine as a pewter door knocker.
I look back down at Bridges’s finished drawing, a scheme of right angles and concentric curving lines.
So you really have this mowed into your lawn?
“I have it mowed into my lawn.”
Did you mow it yourself?
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