Jeff Bridges says 'just being alive is a gift' as delayed series hits Disney+

The star of 'The Old Man', available to stream now in the UAE, opens up about health scares that rocked production

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While many major TV and film productions, from Hollywood to Bollywood, were interrupted owing to Covid-19, most didn’t also have to deal with their stars contracting the virus and receiving a diagnosis of potentially fatal lymphatic cancer at the same time.

However, that was the double blow The Old Man faced in 2020, as its star Jeff Bridges was given the difficult news. It prompted a two-year delay in the production of the CIA action-thriller series, which is now finally streaming on Disney+ in the UAE.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the famously laid-back actor seems to have taken it all in his stride.

He describes the experience as “like a long weekend where a bizarre dream happened", before turning to one of his best-loved films to rationalise the situation.

“On a good day you're aware of that precious quality of life," he says. "But sometimes I'm thinking of a quote from The Stranger in The Big Lebowski where he says: ‘Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you'.

“Sometimes you're on top of life, but every now and then, whatever good philosophies you have, sometimes life will get you no matter what.”

The 72-year-old actor’s openness is characteristic of a man who The New Yorker once described as the “least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived". He’s also been looking at the positive side of his all-too-close encounter with cancer and Covid.

“Just being alive is a gift, and sometimes that gift is something that apparently you don't want,” he says. “Who wants cancer and Covid? But as I look back on it, I say: ‘You know, that was nightmarish sometimes, but I'm glad I went through it.’ I learned things during that time that I wouldn't have learned in a smoother time.”

For Bridges, the challenge of his illness presented an opportunity to test his abiding philosophies and belief system. The actor once described Lebowski as the “Beatles moment” of his career, however it seems his brush with his own mortality was a more life-defining moment.

“I find as I get older, all of those things that you believe in, that you strive for, they're all tested and with each test, there's an opportunity to go to the next level,” he says.

“We spend so much of our lives trying to avoid stress, but life is stressful, so you’ve got to practice how you stress properly. What's the best way to be stressed? I'm going to get stressed, so how do I do that? Our species has been around for thousands of years and you can learn from that. Just be open and you'll learn life is wonderful that way. It'll keep presenting us with challenges and those are to be met with that love and openness. I pick that as my strategy.”

This encounter with Bridges is becoming increasingly like an afternoon in the company of his ever-chilled, slacker philosopher The Dude from the aforementioned Coen Brothers classic Lebowski, so it comes as a surprise when Bridges reveals that despite his unflappable reputation, he is actually a long-term anxiety sufferer.

“Apparently I’m laid back, but I've got the other thing going too. I'm just as anxious and paranoid as the next person,” he insists.

“I always feel ill-prepared and not ready. When I was a kid, I’d get in the car with my mother going off to work, and she could tell I was anxious. She’d say: ‘Jeff, do what I say, remember? Don't take it too seriously, and have fun.’ And I’d be like ‘thank you,’ and I’m fine.”

Bridges’s mother, the American actress and author Dorothy Bridges, died in 2009, but he still finds a way to overcome his anxiety through love. Another lady in his life has now taken on the anxiety-checking role his mother once played.

“Now my wife, Sue, we've been married 45 years, and I'll be anxious for a role, like with The Old Man. I'll be going off to work and say: ‘I'm so anxious.’ And, she says to me: ‘Jeff, you're always like that. Come here — just remember not to take it too seriously and have fun,’” he explains.

“I’d forgotten, and I’m just like: ‘Thank you, mom, I forgot.’ So that's the challenge — always to relax, don’t you find?”

The Old Man is now streaming in the UAE on Disney+

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Updated: October 16, 2022, 5:57 AM