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Jeff Bridges: Still ‘The Dude’ in San Luis Obispo

“Man, this is so cool!”

That was Jeff Bridges’ reaction Saturday night to receiving the King Vidor award for excellence in filmmaking at the 20th San Luis International Film Festival. “It’s wonderful to be acknowledged for my work like this,” he added.

James Cromwell presented the award before an enthusiastic capacity crowd at the Fremont Theater, followed by the actors swapping stories for 30 minutes, a Q-and-A and a screening of Bridges’ signature film, 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” — starring as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski.

Bridges appeared to genuinely enjoy the event, offering a variety of unaffected and unrehearsed answers.

“When ‘The Big Lebowski’ comes on TV, it’s like ‘The Godfather’ – I’m hooked,” he told the audience. “I always think that I’ll stop after John Turturro licks the bowling ball…. The movie is like candy; it’s so well made. The Coen brothers are so cool.”

Cromwell recalled that he had met the actor as an infant and spent time five years later at the beach with Bridges.

“He was the Dude even then,” Cromwell added. “Jeff continues to find ways to express his talents through extraordinary characters.”

Cromwell also noted that Pauline Kael has once called Bridges “the most natural and least self-conscious screen actor that has ever lived.”

Bridges has been nominated six times for Oscars, winning for 2009’s “Crazy Heart.” Asked by Cromwell what it meant to win, Bridges responded, “I’m still kind of figuring it out.”

Bridges allowed that he’s reluctant to commit to new projects.

“Every time I finish a film, I feel like I don’t want to ever act again,” he said. “I want to do something different. I want to stretch myself. That’s what acting’s all about. How do you make it fresh?”

The event included a collection of clips from “The Last Picture Show,” “Tron,” “True Grit,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” “Iron Man,” “Seabiscuit” and one as a boy with his father Lloyd Bridges on “Sea Hunt.”

“I had a great relationship with my dad,” he noted. “I’m just carrying on his work.”

Bridges also admitted that actors such as Fredric March and Robert Ryan had told him that they still felt fearful of acting even late in their careers.

“That fear thing,” Bridges said. “He’s your buddy. He’s always going to be there.”

Bridges also spoke passionately about his music — he performed at the Fremont last month with his band The Abiders — and his efforts with the End Hunger Network and No Kid Hungry campaigns.

The final questioner of the event asked Bridges for advice for a young actor.

“Make your own movie,” he responded. “Just do it, man!”

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