Monday, April 4, 2011

An Interview with Jeff Bridges for Tron: Legacy

What was your initial reaction when you heard that Disney was interested in making a sequel to TRON?
There have been rumors of a TRON sequel circulating for many years. The first rumor probably started about 20 years ago, so I gave up on the idea because it never looked like it was going to happen. I guess Disney had the sequel on its back burners and they weren’t satisfied with any of the scripts that turned up over the years, so they waited and waited. I’m very happy they did because they held out to find the right guy to be at the helm: director Joseph Kosinski. I think they really found a terrific leader in Joe, and they also found a terrific script.

What makes Joseph Kosinski a great director?
It’s always interesting to discover where a director comes from, whether he’s a writer, an actor or whatever. Joe was an architect and to have an architect at the helm of this movie was terrific. He was up to date with all of the modern techniques in special effects and he had a great visual style. He was also terrific with actors and he had great ideas. When this project was presented to me, I thought to myself, ‘This sounds like something I would love to do.’ The first movie tickled the kid in me – and the sequel did exactly the same. I get to play a guy who is sucked inside a computer and I get to play with all of the new toys that we have available to us with modern technology and filmmaking. To be involved with something so cutting edge was extremely exciting to me. I jumped at the chance to sign up.

When did you first hear about the sequel?
There’s been a rumor of a TRON sequel going around Hollywood ever since the first movie was released. I kept waiting and waiting to get a script, but I never heard anything until a couple of years ago. I think Disney was very wise to wait for the right script and the right story, but it’s here now.

What went through your mind when you heard a script was on its way?
I was overjoyed. To be honest, I was very excited when I heard about the original movie – and I had the same excitement when I found out that the sequel was going to be made. I couldn’t wait to read what was going to happen.

Did it take a lot of persuading to get you on board for the sequel?
Not really. Joe Kosinski made a wonderful pitch to me about the story of the movie, so I knew where the film was heading and I was immediately intrigued. This is Joe’s first film and I have to give Disney credit for taking that risk in choosing him, but he pulled it off with ease. He has a background in commercials, so when he pitched the story to me, he showed me his commercial reel and I saw the technology that was available to use in the movie. I signed onto the original TRON because I was excited about using cutting edge technology, and that’s exactly the same reason why I signed on for the sequel.

How was the original movie pitched to you?
The original movie appealed to the kid in me. They said, “Do you want to play a guy who gets sucked inside a computer? We’ll be using lots of cutting edge technology to shoot the film and it’s going to be very different to anything else you’ve seen at the movies.” It was like being invited over to the house of the kid who’s got all the latest gadgets and games. I immediately said to them, “I’m in!”

How was the sequel pitched to you?
The director told me it was going to be a father and son story, and he said we were going to be using cutting edge filming techniques again. It sounded great to me.

Did you hesitate before signing up for the sequel?
Oh, sure. I hesitate before I sign up for anything, but I was extremely excited about the prospect of the sequel. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t wait to mess around with all that great, cutting edge technology. I can’t wait to see what the visual effects will be like now.’ 

What made you hesitate?
I wanted to make sure the story of the sequel was strong. I knew there was going to be a lot of visual candy, but you need to care about the characters for a movie to work. As soon as I heard the story was going to be a father and son adventure, I knew it was going to work out.

What did you think of having Garrett Hedlund play Kevin Flynn’s son in the movie?
Garrett is a great guy. I have three daughters and no sons, but when I look at Garrett, I can see that he could be my son. There’s something about him that reminds me of myself, which is why casting him as my son was perfect. He was a joy to work with and I think he did an amazing job in TRON: Legacy. He’s going to go far.

How does it feel to see people excited about the world of TRON again?
It feels great. It’s very exciting. I have taken a number of trips to Comic-Con with TRON: Legacy over the last few years and you can really feel the energy of the fans at events like that. They have been really excited about the project. In fact, the fans have been an integral part in getting the TRON world back together. A few years ago, we went to Comic-Con to test a couple of minutes of film with audiences. The director, the production designer and our special effects supervisor joined forces to give audiences a two-minute taste of what the movie might be like if this project could fly and to see if people really wanted to see it. The audience really enjoyed that Disney felt they wanted to  make this fantastic world come to life again. Comic-Con was very instrumental in getting this movie made.

What was the most challenging aspect of the film shoot?
As an actor, I really enjoy costumes, sets and makeup. These elements inform your performance and you learn to count on them. However, a lot of TRON: Legacy was filmed without costumes, without makeup and without sets. When you don’t have these things around you, you’re thrown back to your childhood – to the time when you were a little kid playing in the garden. Back then, you didn’t have a castle and you didn’t have a sword. You had to use a stick as a sword and your castle was a box. It was all in your mind. That’s exactly what we had to do in this movie. We had to play ‘pretend’ because we didn’t have the costumes or the sets or the props. It was fascinating.

Do you ask a lot of questions when you work on a film set in an alternate universe with its own rules?
Oh, sure. I ask a lot of questions with whatever film I’m working on – and the director is always the guy to go to.

What kind of questions did you ask about TRON: Legacy?
Joe Kosinski was very inclusive because he allowed me into the writing process and the development of the story. I was interested in creating a modern myth, so I didn’t want the movie to just be about design and the battles. I wanted the movie to have something to say and I wanted the story to be enthralling and captivating.

What appealed to you the most in the movie’s script?
One of the things that drew me to this movie was a chance to be part of creating a modern day myth. Myths are so important for us to help navigate the treacherous waters of being alive. Each age has its own challenges and I feel that technology is certainly one of ours.

How did the film shoot for TRON: Legacy compare to the film shoot for the original movie?
The first movie was shot in 70 mm, black and white. Our set was mostly made from a black material called Duvetyne that was hanging on the wall along with some white adhesive tape – and that was it. They sent the film overseas where people hand-tinted all of the glowing lines into each shot frame-by-frame. It was a mammoth undertaking and it was extremely cutting edge. However, the process for the second movie was completely different.

Can you take us through the filming process for the sequel?
TRON: Legacy was the first movie that I’ve been involved in where many scenes were shot without cameras. We used a process called motion capture and we shot the movie in a space called The Volume. The Volume can be any size, but the walls are covered with optical sensors. They’re not cameras, but each sensor gives information to a computer. To begin each scene, we had to stand in the shape of the letter T. You stand with your hands out and the sensors grab you – and then you carry on. You’re wearing a suit with little sensors all over it, so all of the makeup, the costumes, the camera angles, the lighting… Everything is added in post production. It was very different to anything I’d worked on before.

Were there any similarities between the shooting of the two movies?
The biggest similarity between the filming of the two movies was the way that you have to act a lot with your mind. We spent a lot of both film shoots in huge rooms with no sets, so you have to imagine where you are and you have to imagine what’s going on in the scene. It’s always a challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun.

What do you think of the new light cycles in TRON: Legacy?
I think they’re great. They are much better, more sophisticated and more refined than the light cycles in the original movie. [Director] Joseph Kosinski was an architect, so he came at the project from a new angle and the film has a heightened design feel to it due to this. He hired a wonderful production designer called Darren Gilford who worked in car design, so that also added a different element to the project. I’m really impressed and happy with all of the vehicles in the movie. I think they all look great.

What was it like to play two different characters in the movie: Kevin Flynn and Clu?
It wasn’t too difficult. The director did his best to separate the days where I played Flynn and Clu, which made the work much easier. The makeup process was very different for each of the characters, so it was much better to separate the days and keep these two apart.

What was it like to see a younger version of yourself in Clu?
It was a little bizarre, but it wasn’t too strange for me because I have movies that chart my different looks over the years. However, I was amazed that they could pull off this feat with such accuracy. What they did in TRON: Legacy was amazing. They modeled Clu on the period of my life when I worked on Against All Odds – and it all looks so real. The guys who worked on it are magicians.

Did you have any input into the look of Clu?
I helped in any way I could, so I gave them a lot of family pictures to use as reference. The same guys who worked on Benjamin Button came in and worked on Clu. When they first arrived, they brought along Brad Pitt’s head in a glass box and they set it down on the table. It was uncanny. It wasn’t like a wax head that you might see in a museum. In fact, it looked like Brad Pitt’s head had been cut off and it was just sitting there. You were waiting for him to, “Hi.” It was so realistic.

What inspired your performance of Clu?
My inspiration came from the script and the story. That’s always the place where I start my work on a character, but then I look at aspects of myself that might apply to each character. In this case, I’m playing a couple of guys, so I would magnify certain aspects of myself for one and maybe dampen those for the other.

Video games and arcade games are constantly featured in both TRON movies. Are you a gamer?
I don’t play video games much now, although I remember playing one with my daughters. I believe it was called Myst. I hope they make a movie of that game because it was a wonderful world to visit. You weren’t killing anybody in the game, but it was very dramatic. That was the last video game I got into.

Were you interested in arcade games in your youth?
I think I was a grown man when arcade games came into fashion. I can remember playing Pong, but that wasn’t in my youth. I played Pong on the movie set where I met my wife, which must have been 35 years ago. That would’ve been the 80s and I was working on a movie called Rancho Deluxe with Harry Dean Stanton. I distinctly remember playing Pong there. I was really into video games when we made the original TRON. The walls of the soundstage where we shot the original movie were lined with video games and they were all free. You didn’t have to put any money in them.

Were there many arcade machines on the set of the first TRON movie?
When we filmed the first movie, Steven Lisberger – the director – had video games all over the soundstage and I used to get locked into them. Have you heard of a game called Battle Zone? I used to love that. They had to tear me off of that thing to get to work.

That sounds amazing…
It was great! Everyone would be playing them all day long. The crew would come up to me and say, “Come on, Jeff… We need you on set.” And I’d reply, “I’m preparing, man. I’m getting into character.”

Do you play many video games now?
I don’t play too many video games now. I feel like I’ve fallen away from technology. I have a love-hate relationship with the internet, although I have a website that I like to play around with.

How would you describe the story of TRON: Legacy?
TRON: Legacy is a father and son story set in a crazy computer world. It’s the sequel to a movie that was made 28 years ago!

How much fun did you have shooting TRON: Legacy?
The movie was a lot of fun to film because every day was different. Some days, we’d be working on a sound stage with an amazing set. Other days, I’d be walking around a huge, empty warehouse wearing a leotard with little balls all over it.

That sounds a little crazy…
It was very crazy and very bizarre, but it was a fun challenge because that’s how the special effects were shot. My face was covered with 100 tiny dots and I wore a helmet with two antennas sticking out of it. I am used to acting in costume, but this was very different. I soon learned to get used to it, though.

How did you shoot the special effects for the original movie?
It was all very basic back then. There was a lot of adhesive tape and tennis balls used on the set of the first film. TRON: Legacy benefits from advancements in technology since then. It’s a completely different world now.

How has technology changed since you made the original movie?
The first TRON movie was made nearly 30 years ago. Back then, there was no internet and there were no cell phones. There were no personal computers either. It was a completely different world.

Are you not happy with today’s technology?
In some ways, technology is wonderful – but there is a darker side to it that we don’t examine as much as we should. We need to think about the ramifications of what we’re doing. We drink water from plastic bottles that we think are biodegradable, but then we discover that they last for hundreds of years. We bitch about oil spills, but every year we put 100 million tons of plastic into the ocean. That’s worse than the awful oil spill in 2010. I think it’s a matter of educating people and thinking about where we want to go with technology – and what we want to do with it. We could use it in beautiful ways, but I think it’s natural for us to want immediate gratification.

Are there any positive aspects to advances in technology?
What are the good things about technology? Like most things in life, technology is a double-edged sword. When we made the first TRON movie, there was no internet. Now, it’s a huge part of our everyday lives. The internet gives us the chance to link up and be connected – and that’s a great thing.

Can you survive without the internet?
Listen, I don’t Tweet. I don’t Facebook. I don’t do any of that stuff. It’s all too much. I have a website and I draw, but that’s about it. I went to the internet because I thought it would be a way to release an album that I created years ago. I can put it out there in the world and then I get messages from people in places like Russia saying, “I dig your thing, man.” That’s exciting. That’s a positive thing that technology can do. That’s a positive link. I’m very happy about that. Very happy indeed.

Is it true that you kept your TRON helmet from the original movie?
I kept the helmet and the leotard from the original film and I actually wore it for Halloween one year. I dressed up as my character, Kevin Flynn, and walked around! It got a lot of strange looks, but I didn’t care.

What science-fiction books and movies were you into when you were young?
As a kid, I loved science fiction. When I was growing up, I read books by Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein – and I’ve always loved science fiction movies. I don’t think you can get a much better movie than 2001. However, I also like the movie Starman, which I appeared in. Science fiction is great.

We’ve heard a rumor that you’re interested in photography…
I am! I usually take photos on the set of all my movies. In fact, you can see some of the shots on my website.

Did you take many pictures on the set of TRON: Legacy?
I wanted to take lots of pictures, but the lighting was very dark on the set. I didn’t take as many pictures as I usually take, but there are a few out there.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
I don’t know if I have any advice! Just keep taking pictures of things you think are interesting. That’s how I started out.

And what advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Train hard and practice your craft. Get involved in all aspects of drama, but keep on trying because it’s a tough industry to crack. Good luck!

We can’t let the interview end without mentioning your Academy Award win for Crazy Heart… Where do you keep your award?
It’s sitting on the shelf by my kitchen.

How did it feel to win?
It was truly wonderful. To get that acknowledgment from your peers is fantastic, but the really cool thing was that the movie was all about music and it’s caused my own music to bloom. I’m in my sixties and I’ve been working on music since I was a teenager, but I’ve had to put it in the back burner. However, I’ve now been able to go back into the studio and make an album. That’s amazing for me. I couldn’t be happier.

TRON: LEGACY is Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Movie Download April 5th!


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