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Playback: Jeff Bridges on ‘Hell or High Water,’ Robin Williams and More

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On this week’s episode, Jenelle Riley and I take note of an interesting thread running through a number of the year’s standout female performances: motherhood. There are a number of examples: Nicole Kidman in “Lion,” Naomie Harris in “Moonlight,” Amy Adams in “Arrival”  — even earlier work like Susan Sarandon’s in “The Meddler” or Molly Shannon’s in “Other People.” And still to come is Annette Bening in “20th Century Women.”

We also take stock of the week’s biggest theatrical release, Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon,” starring Mark Wahlberg, as well as touch on the New York Film Festival, which commences Friday with the world premiere of Ava DuVernay’s “13th” and will feature the debuts of Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women” and James Gray’s “Lost City of Z.”

Later on we have the legendary Jeff Bridges in the Variety studio to talk up not only his latest film, “Hell or High Water,” but a few other odds and ends in his illustrious career.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

In “Hell or High Water,” he stars as a West Texas Marshal on the hunt for a pair of bank robbers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), and what’s most striking about the work is how at ease he is in the skin of the character. He seems to truly relish inhabiting the part, but that can be a difficult place to get to.

“Starting out, I find I’m quite anxious before the first couple of days of shooting, because the guy isn’t there yet until you’ve captured on film,” Bridges says. “Once you’ve captured him on film, even after one day, then you can start to apply more clay around this armature there.”

After winning the Oscar for 2009’s “Crazy Heart” and saddling up with the Coen brothers again in the 2010 western “True Grit,” two of Bridges’ films in a row hit the skids: “R.I.P.D.” and “Seventh Son.” Neither performed with critics or at the box office. How does he respond when that kind of thing happens?

“Normally I’m on to something else right away,” he says. “When a movie comes out, it’s a bit like you’ve got a horse in the horse race and you go, ‘Come onnnnn R.I.P.D.! Come onnnnn — oh, shit,” and now you go on with the rest of your day. But both of those movies, man, they were disappointing on an artistic, creative level far more than a financial, box office deal. They tend to do this with these big budgeted movies. They castrate the directors. They think the suits have a better idea of how to paste the thing together, and they screwed up. Both of those movies, I think, if they had left it in the hands of the filmmakers, they would have been much better movies.”

And two years after Robin Williams passed away, Bridges remembers his “Fisher King” co-star fondly. He was asked about the late actor quite a bit around the release of “The Giver” back in August of 2014 because it was in the direct wake of Williams’ untimely passing, but he says he still thinks about him quite a bit.

“When I first got on board [‘The Fisher King’], I was a bit concerned because, while there’s a lot of funny stuff in it, there’s also some quite dramatic stuff,” he says. “I had this long monologue that I had to give to Robin while he’s in a coma there and I had these visions of Robin looking up at me and screwing around with me, trying to make me laugh, and the opposite proved to be the case. He was so supportive in the most zen-like way … I learned that his comedic talent was just one of many in his actor bag.”

Hear all of that and a whole lot more in the streaming embed above, and remember to subscribe to “Playback” below!

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