The Dude is up against the Duke. In the new "True Grit," Jeff Bridges provides a wildly different take on boozy one-eyed lawman Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne did in the 1969 original.
Bridges reunited with Joel and Ethan Coen, who also directed him on 1998's "The Big Lebowski," in which he played the Dude, a middle-aged stoner whose "I'm the Dude, man" outlook has become intertwined with the actor's own persona.
While Wayne, known as the Duke, played Cogburn as another of his larger-than-life, gruffly lovable Old West idols, Bridges buries himself in the character with a Sphinx-like inscrutability and a whiskey-and-tobacco-sluiced growl of a voice.
The Coens and Bridges based their Rooster on the novel by Charles Portis that inspired both films, but did any traces of the Duke spill over? And are there any hints of the Dude in Bridges' Rooster?
The Coens, along with Bridges and co-stars Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper and Hailee Steinfeld, ponder the Dude-vs.-Duke question.
Joel Coen: I don't think there's any of the Duke there. To the extent there's any of the Dude there, it's only to the extent that you're talking about somebody who's playing the same instrument, which is his own personality and physicality. ... He's quite a bit older, but he's still Jeff Bridges, and Jeff Bridges did this other character, and inevitably, there's part of the actor. No actor transforms a hundred percent. ... Having said that, Jeff is a transformative actor, not a movie star who kind of always plays himself, and that's what's so interesting about him as an actor, and why again we wanted him to do this.
Ethan Coen: It's really not John Wayne. I think for everybody, the actors and us, the movie was done pretty much without reference to the other movie ... or to "Big Lebowski." Although ... the one parallel was, on "Big Lebowski," pretty much the only directing we were called upon to do with Jeff is, Jeff would walk up to us before a scene and ask, "Did the Dude burn one on the way over here for this scene?" And similarly, on this, the question was, "How drunk am I in this scene?"
Matt Damon, who plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf: I was the one looking into his one eye, you know, but there's just a tremendous amount of soulfulness to him and depth, and it just seemed like a totally unique portrayal, something he was having a lot of fun with. ... Jeff works out of a place of joy. ... Whereas some people might try to work from a darker place, he works from that kind of place of light, and you can feel it when you're with him, because he's genuinely joyful when he's working. I mean, there are things, like, getting off the horse in the corn-dodger scene — where we're shooting the cornbread — his dismount and the jacket flying over his head. All those things are like little things that kind of actually happened because Jeff was totally into it at the moment. I didn't see those as Duke-esque or Dude-esque. That just seemed like Jeff kind of getting into the zone and just having fun.
Hailee Steinfeld, who plays willful teenager Mattie Ross: I would say if anything, more of the Dude than the Duke. ... I think that there needs to be another name created for his performance, but I do have to say, it's in the trailer, this one line, it's when Mattie says, "Can we depart this afternoon?" And he looks at her and says "WE?" I think that's the biggest Dude moment.
Josh Brolin, who plays cowardly killer Tom Chaney: There's no Dude in there. Yeah, there is. (Brolin imitates the Dude's occasionally falsetto voice) "Yeah, man. Hey, man. Yeah, man." ... The Dude has several keys, you know, octaves, and the Dude always goes high in the octave, and then once in a while — I'm just going with you here — Rooster, you know he's so dry, his voice is so low. It's like Nick Nolte. And once in a while, he'll go (Brolin makes a high-pitched hum). You know? And I go, there it is. There's Jeff. There's the Dude.
Barry Pepper, who plays outlaw Lucky Ned Pepper: Neither (the Dude nor the Duke) in my opinion. I'm such a huge fan of Jeff's filmography, and for me, having met and worked with him and spent time on and off the set in every different environment and seeing the way he is naturally, he will forever and always be the Dude to me. He's just such a super-cool, water-off-a-duck's-back, easy-go-lucky personality. Everywhere he goes, people smile, and they enjoy being around him, and it's an infectious quality to have on a film set. ... It was remarkable to watch him morph into Rooster Cogburn, and to see that transformation was really extraordinary to watch him, because I wondered, how is he going to do this? Because he has such a distinct personality. ... The Duke? Maybe in just the sense that they both have the ability to take this sort of roughnecked bounty hunter, sort of outcast, roguelike character and create this kind of lovable, vulnerable, interesting, watchable character.
Jeff Bridges: There was a guy the other day who said, "Gee, I thought there were a lot of elements of 'The Big Lebowski.' ... Rooster, the first time you see him he's in the toilet, and the Dude's in the toilet." I thought, yeah, that's a little stretch, but I can get it. "Abide," they both use that word. I think it's somewhere natural for people to go, people who enjoyed "Lebowski." ... All my characters have some element of me in them, and it's kind of a stretch, but if you look through all of my work, you could probably see a bit of the Dude in everything I've ever done. ... Do you see any of the Dude in the Duke? Now we're talkin', man!