It takes a big man to step into the cowboy boots of John Wayne, particularly in the role that that won him an Oscar, the drunken one-eyed lawman Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.
But at 6ft 1in and with his own Academy Award, presented last year for his performance as drunken country singer Bad Blake, Jeff Bridges is a worthy choice.
However, The Dude (as he was dubbed in The Big Lebowski) has not delivered an impersonation of the Duke in this new adaptation of the story by the writing/directing duo Joel and Ethan Coen.
“One of the first things the Coen brothers told me was that they weren’t doing a remake of the movie,” says Bridges. “They were making a movie of the book (written by Charles Portis) and making no reference to the other movie. It was as if it was never made.
“That was a relief to me because I wouldn’t want to jump into the Duke’s boots.”
He admits that a greater worry was who they would get play the part of Mattie Ross, the resolute and pious young girl determined to hire Rooster to hunt down her father’s killer.
The success of the film would largely rest on her shoulders as the story is told from her perspective and narrated by an older version of herself.
“The Coens wanted somebody who didn’t have that much experience, a fresh presence in that role,” Bridges explains. ‘‘I was concerned right up until the day we had our first big scene, the first scene that Hailee did. I was so thrilled and relieved that we had somebody on board who was going to carry the thing. She did a wonderful job.”
Hailee Steinfield is still only 14 but turns in an astonishingly assured performance as the scripture quoting Mattie and has, justifiably, been rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for her efforts, as has Bridges.
“One of the terrific things about Hailee is not only is she a great actor but she appreciates being 14, she is not one of those people who is chomping to be 35,” says Bridges. “We had a great time together.”
The 61-year-old star admits his paternal side was brought out by the fact that one of his own three girls is also called Hayley.
“It’s spelt differently but, yes, with three daughters it is very hard for me not to fall into that father kind of relationship.
“The Coens were very smart in not talking about things too much but there are a lot of parental undercurrents which couldn’t help but be up there on the screen based on our relationship off screen.”
Bridges admits that he is the type of actor who appreciates a relaxed set. An enthusiastic photographer he is usually to be found snapping his co-stars rather than disappearing into his trailer or staying in character for an entire shoot.
“I kind of like to get to know the other actors, even if you are playing characters that don’t like each other, that doesn’t really matter too much. I think its very helpful because then you can bring some of the intimacy and some of the knowledge of each other up to the screen.”
Bridges, who has studied Buddhism, is famously laid back in person but says his attitude towards working comes from his late father Lloyd Bridges.
“My father he was my teacher. Unlike a lot of folks in showbusiness he encouraged all his kids to go into it, he loved it so much (Bridges and his older brother Beau famously teamed up for The Fabulous Baker Boys).
“I remember as a kid of about eight years old sitting on dad’s bed and having him teach me all the acting basics. Making it seem like it was happening for the first time ... all of those things.
“But the biggest thing I learned from him I kind of realised as an adult. I got to work with him twice, on Tucker and on Blown Away, and I was impressed with the way he approached the work with such joy.
“When he came in the room and started to work you could tell he really enjoyed what he was doing and that spread throughout the whole cast and crew. Everybody said ‘Ooh this is kind of fun’.
“When you are having a good time you tend to relax and out of that relaxation comes your best work.”
Bridges’ recent movies have been reunions of a sort. True Grit saw him team up again with the Coens, with whom he made The Big Lebowski, while he revisited the character of Kevin Flynn for Tron: Legacy, the sequel to the cult hit Tron which was released 28 years after the original.
He is now nostalgic for a return to the story which earned him his first Oscar nomination at the age of 22, The Last Picture Show.
“I would love to continue the saga. Larry McMurty, one of greatest writers in America (author of The Last Picture Show and its follow up Texasville), has written several books with the same characters
“We made Texasville 20 years after The Last Picture Show. Now it has been 20 years since Texasville and I think it is about time we pick up those other books.”