If Jeff Bridges' latest role, an aging assassin fighting for survival, is one of his finest, it may be because it cuts so close to reality.
No, Bridges hasn't turned to a life of crime. But during the filming of his FX series "The Old Man," the Oscar winner faced the very real possibility of death.
During production, the 72-year-old actor was diagnosed with lymphoma. During treatment, he got hit with COVID, a double whammy that put his life in jeopardy.
"Yeah, a year-and-a-half bout with my mortality," Bridges said during a video chat with TV critics in March. "You know, in times like that, it seems that all your philosophies and spirituality and everything kind of comes to you. It tests you. You become more mature with that experience."
Bridges, who is now in remission, exhibited the same kid-like enthusiasm during the conference that he has throughout his 65-year career, one marked with memorable performances in "The Last Picture Show," "Starman" and "Crazy Heart." He may be the last person in Hollywood to use phrases like "far out."
John Lithgow plays an FBI honcho forced to track down his old friend in "The Old Man," which premieres June 16 on FX and begins streaming on Hulu the following day. He fondly recalls the six days he spent shooting a car scene with Bridges, the two of them swapping philosophies and dirty jokes.
"The whole time we had our mics on and the whole crew was listening to that, and they were hearing the birth of a great lifetime friendship," Lithgow said. "I mean, there's not much more left to our lifetimes."
The end of the road is a prominent theme throughout the seven-part series. Bridges plays Dan Chase, a former CIA operative who has been in hiding for 30 years. His cover is blown after an old adversary with political sway demands that the U.S. government track him down.
The hunt tests Chase's physical mettle and gives him the excuse to chew on juicy dialogue, especially when someone threatens his daughter.
"You're about to drive this to a place you're not going to like when we get there," Chase tells Litghow's character during a terse phone call.
It's a lot like "Taken" — if Liam Neeson's hero struggled to put on his socks and had to go to the bathroom twice in the middle of the night.
"We wanted to own what it means to be not just an action hero, but to deeply survive it and to get to a point in a human being's life where there are real things you are wrestling with," said executive producer Jonathan Steinberg. "We talk a lot about three-quarter-life crises. I think the tactile, visceral humanity of what it's like to wake up in the morning at that age is a necessary part of that."
In some ways, "The Old Man" is the polar opposite of Bridges' most beloved movie, "The Big Lebowski." The Dude thinks he'll live forever; Chase knows that's a lie.
He also has a sensitive side. In one of the sexiest scenes of the year, Chase quietly whips up gourmet scrambled eggs for his love interest, played by Amy Brenneman. The Dude would probably just throw his one-night stand a granola bar.
"They are very different cats," Bridges said.
The cancer scare didn't seem to give Bridges a heightened appreciation for his craft. He already had that in spades.
"I haven't felt any different, really," he said. "I have always approached life the same way, but this kind of made things sharper."