Jeff Bridges is no stranger to the Western genre. Lloyd Bridges, Jeff Bridges’ father, took on a leading role in some of the best Westerns ever made throughout the ’50s and ’60s, and his Oscar-winning son has continued the family tradition.
In fact, The Big Lebowski star has been making Westerns since his career began back in the ’70s, and he hasn’t stopped since. In the past 13 years, two of Bridges’ best movies have been modern Westerns: Hell or High Water, and True Grit. They’re both brilliant films, centered around a brilliant Bridges performance.
But, for 2010’s True Grit, Jeff Bridges was forced to ignore icon John Wayne in order to get his role in the movie spot on. Bridges’ True Grit is based on a book of the same name from 1968 and is the second adaptation of the novel. The first adaptation, from 1969, starred John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, the same role that Bridges would take on 40 years later.
However, instead of looking back at Wayne’s performance for inspiration, Bridges did the opposite and tried his best to ignore his predecessor. Speaking with Time, Bridges was asked why his performance as the character was so different to Wayne’s take, and if that had been the intention.
“Yeah [the difference was intentional]. I mean, the guy’s an icon. He was wonderful in some of those Howard Hawks Westerns,” he started. “But when the brothers [Joel and Ethan Coen] invited me on board, I was curious as to why they would want to make the movie again.”
Bridges continued, “And they said, ‘We’re not making it again. We’re making the book as if the movie never existed!’ So I took them up on that, and I didn’t refer to the original movie at all.”
It’s a gamble, but a gamble that paid off for Bridges who secured an Oscar nomination for his performance in the movie. It makes sense too: trying to emulate an icon like John Wayne would always be a difficult task. So, instead, Bridges simply ignored Wayne and paved his own way, turning Cogburn into a grumbling, drunken menace.
For more on Westerns, check out our picks for the best Clint Eastwood movies, and see the six best Taylor Sheridan TV series and movies. Or, you learn more about all the new movies still to come this year, before seeing why we think the Western genre has always been a genre for women too. If you can’t get enough of Bridges, learn about how he rejected one of the best roles in Jaws.