Sofilm: Do you remember the first time you saw “The Big Lebowski”? What was your first impression? What did you think of Jeff Bridges’ performance?
Oliver Benjamin: Jeff Bridges is one of those actors where you know that if he’s in the movie, it’s going to be good. And even if it’s not THAT good, you’ll still enjoy watching his performance. His acting seems to be so honest and effortless and even when he plays semi-jerks (like in the Fisher King or The Fabulous Baker Boys) you still feel like he’s so human and real. And yet I still think I was unprepared for the shock of seeing him in the role of a lazy “loser.” He always plays tough guys! And yet that was one of the things that made his performance so great. It was wonderful to see him play someone so gentle and unheroic, and to do it so convincingly. Aside from being a great actor, there’s something just so eminently likeable about Mr. Bridges.
Sofilm: Did you know Jeff Bridges before “The Big Lebowski”? In what movie did you first see him?
OB: I think the first movie I saw him in was Starman (1984), where he plays an alien. In many ways he plays an alien in The Big Lebowski as well! He’s like the only sane person in a world gone crazy.
Sofilm: How did you come up with the idea of the Dudeism? What are the great principles of it? How do you pratice it in your daily life? What particular element or scene of the movie correspond with your vision of the Dudeism?
OB: I had been a so-called “spiritual seeker” for many years before seeing The Big Lebowski, but never found what I was looking for. Most of the worldviews I encountered were too irrational for me. It seemed as if there were not many philosophical options for someone who is spiritual and yet also highly skeptical and scientifically-minded. After I saw the Big Lebowski I felt as if the movie contained the way of thinking that had eluded me. I did some research and discovered that the Dude’s character seemed to have some basis in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism — the Dude represented a modern day spiritual sage of the Taoist tradition, but without any of the superstitious aspects. So as an experiment, and a means to better understand the concept I decided to enshrine the idea in an actual religion, one which I would choose if it was already available. It turns out that a lot of people feel the same way as I do about Dudeism! So far we’ve ordained over 600,000 Dudeist Priests all over the world.
The main principle of Taoism (and by extension, Dudeism) is that there is a “natural” way to be and act in the world, one that avoids conflict and competition and instead seeks to “go with the flow” and not try so hard at everything — to see worry as a waste of effort. This way of living seems to reduce anxiety and foster contentment. By using the Dude as an example, we can all learn to become more like him — mostly calm and unworried. Of course the Dude does lose his cool a lot in the film but his superpower is that he snaps back to calmness extremely quickly. I suppose the scene in the film that really captures his attitude is when he’s in the back of the limo and recounts all the bad things that are happening to him but says “can’t be worried about that shit, life goes on, man!” It’s hilarious how unbothered he is. Most people would be freaking out at that point.
Sofilm: Have you met Jeff Bridges? Does he know about the Dudeism? What does he think of it?
OB: I’ve never met Mr. Bridges, but I know people who have and they all say the same thing: he really is the Dude! He’s commented on Dudeism a few times, and always has nice things to say about it. There are some videos of him discussing Dudeism on our website: www.dudeism.com/videos. He was asked what the Dude would think about Dudeism and he said he thought he would dig it. He also discussed Dudeism on a television show with John Goodman (Walter) and Steve Buscemi (Donny) during an interview to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the film.
Sofilm: What does Jeff Bridges represent for your community? How much does he have in common with the character, according to you?
OB: Well, although it’s the fictional character of the Dude and not Mr. Bridges that we exalt in Dudeism, Bridges is so much like the character and portrays the character so inimitably that it’s hard to imagine Dudeism without Bridges as its avatar. But as with most religions, you really need someone fictional to represent your ideal. No one can be exactly like the Dude, not even Bridges, but we can try, and that’s the point.
Sofilm: Jeff Bridges started practicing buddhism after shooting “The Big Lebowski”. Did it inspire you to create the Dudeism? Did you read the book he wrote with Bernie Glassman “The Dude and the Zen Master”?
OB: I didn’t know that Bridges was into Buddhism until several years after starting Dudeism. Reverend Gary Silvia, my second in command in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude (our official name) was acquainted with Glassman, and attended a Zen retreat with Bridges and his wife shortly after getting involved with the church. I think he was the first to inform Bridges about Dudeism. Gary said he was very cool about the whole thing.
Sofilm: Would you say that Jeff’s character as Cogburn in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” is some kind of an ancester of “The Dude”?
OB: I think you could say that there’s a little bit of the Dude in many of Bridges’ performances. Fearless, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, American Heart, The Door in the Floor. One particularly striking parallel is his character in Crazy Heart, a sort of bizarre parallel universe where we see what might have happened if the Dude got rich and famous. We discuss it here: http://dudespaper.com/lebowskiheart.html/
Sofilm: What is Jeff Bridges’ status in American film history today? What place does he have in the imaginary collective?
OB: I think that Bridges sort of “bridges” the gap between the golden age of Hollywood, when actors were godly, transcendent figures, and the postmodern age of cinema, when actors became more complex and multifaceted. He’s like a mashup of Burt Lancaster and Gary Oldman. (I’m not sure if the “bridges” pun will work in French)
Sofilm: Could you sum up Jeff Bridges in one sentence? Could you sum up what is Dudeism in one sentence?
OB: The film critic Pauline Kael famously said that Jeff Bridges is “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived.” I can’t really top that, but I can say that that’s probably why he is so perfect in the role of the Dude. And also why he’s so perfect as an avatar for a philosophical religion about naturalness. Perhaps this is exactly what Dudeism is: naturalness, in every meaning of the word.