Beau Bridges on His Mentors: UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden and His Father

Three-time Emmy-winner Beau Bridges is in his eighth decade of professional acting. His name first appeared in Variety when he was just 6, in a March 29, 1948, review of the Arthur Miller play “All My Sons” at the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood. The reviewer enthused, “One of the highlights of the first act is a fine job by moppet Beau Bridges.” Early on, he appeared on TV shows such as “Rawhide” and “Sea Hunt” (acting alongside his father, Lloyd Bridges), and has continued in the Peak TV era on “Homeland,” “Masters of Sex” and “Goliath” among others. He starred with real-life younger brother Jeff Bridges in 1989’s “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” 

On stage, he has run the gamut, acting in a high-profile protest piece against the Vietnam War, and recently portraying legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden in “An Evening With John Wooden.” The one-person show kicked off the inaugural Solo Flights festival in Aspen, Colo. 

Do you remember “All My Sons”? 

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It’s a very distant memory, but I do remember hanging out at Actor’s Lab and walking around backstage with all the sets and the costumes. I remember being very excited; that was my first entree into the world. There was a comic actor named Arthur O’Connell in the play. We kind of hit it off and he got this thing going. Because I was 6 years old at the time, I would always get applause just for walking on the stage. I didn’t have much to say. I had two or three lines. O’Connell would get applause because he was very funny. He created this thing on the stage door to mark whether it was me or him who would get the loudest claps, as he would call them. It was pretty even for a while, then he started to pull ahead. I got a little competitive back then. After my little scene, he was sitting there on the stage with a newspaper in his hand. Before I exited, I tore the newspaper from his hand, ripped it up into a thousand pieces and threw it in the air then crawled off the stage. I thought they would give me loud claps and I would surge ahead of him. That was probably the first lesson I learned: Less is more, because I crawled off, met with silence.

Did you always know you were going to be an actor? 

Being a circus brat, I was aware it was a job my father really enjoyed doing. He would take me along to a lot of locations and shoots. The people in my life that mentored me: my father first off and coach [Wooden] at UCLA. I was very blessed my dad was my teacher. He gave me all my tools. [Wooden’s] Pyramid of Success is also an incredible thing. I pass it on to all my children. I pass it on to all my kids’ teams. I’ve used it in my life and in making movies.

What was your most formative early acting experience?

The job that really got my attention in terms of what acting is all about was the play “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” It was written by Father Daniel Berrigan during the Vietnam War, right after we were bombing hospitals. It was a very horrible time. I was playing David Darst, the youngest in the group. I went one day in the morning [to rehearsal] and everyone’s face was hanging low. The Catonsville Nine were told not to cross [Maryland] state lines and David got in his car and was on his way to Chicago to testify in the trial for demonstrators there and was killed. Since my character was dead, they had me stay in the audience when the other actors came out. I’d stand up and say, “I’m here. They killed me.” Every time they put this play on, I would come to life and give people his testimony. What happened in the name of our country — people getting killed and murdered that no one was aware of. I realized this acting thing isn’t just about entertainment; it’s about sharing news that enlightens. 

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