Bridges comes from Hollywood royalty. His father, Lloyd, who starred in the television series Sea Hunt, and his brother Beau, eight years older than Jeff (they played lounge singers together opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys), both encouraged and shaped him. But he's always lived in the shadow of nepotism, which may account for his chronic ambivalence, and explain why his career has skittered between big studio movies and small indies.

As the '00s come to a close, Bridges is wondering whether it's always been this hard "for an old guy to get a job" in the industry. Yet he will follow in John Wayne's footsteps as the iconic Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit, scheduled for release in 2011, and he's in post-production on a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi thriller Tron. About the Oscar buzz, he says modestly, "Any time you get acknowledged by the guys who do what you do, that's pretty good, right?"

Jeff Bridges: Wonders if it's always been so hard "for an old guy to get a job."
Jeff Bridges: Wonders if it's always been so hard "for an old guy to get a job."

Mostly, though, Bridges comes off like a man slightly bewildered by his own good fortune. "I have my favorite possession in my pocket," he says, and pulls out a dog-eared old photo of a lovely young woman. Her name is Susan Geston, and she was working her way through college as a maid near the Montana set where Bridges was shooting Rancho Deluxe in 1974. In the photo, which someone who worked on the set sent him a few years ago, she's smiling, but, Bridges explains, she was turning down his request for a date. They've been married for 35 years.

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