“If some crazy idea stays in my head for long enough, then there’s no fighting it,” he says. “I just say, Okay, let’s go. Let’s do this.”
Bridges was sixteen or seventeen years old when he learned to stop fighting it. He had acted a few times — his first tearful lines onscreen were spoken to his black-and-white father, Lloyd, on an episode of Sea Hunt — but he wasn’t sure that acting was what he wanted to do. He liked music better, experimenting with his brother Beau’s guitar, along with other objects and instruments. His family had a beach house back then, down in Malibu, and one night, as he and some friends were leaving, he saw that they had left a light on deep inside the house. He went back to turn it off and click: He was in blackness.
“Normally, we push away the things we’re scared of,” Bridges says. “But for some reason, that night, I decided to let that fear in. I decided that it was okay for me to be afraid of the dark.”
He imagined all those things that aren’t there in the light. And by the time his friends came back inside and snapped on the lights — he had remained inside the darkened house for so long — they found him curled up in a ball on the floor, trembling and bathed in tears and sweat. He had opened the door to fear, and fear had rushed in.
“And then there was a rose,” he says now, looking clear through the fog. A single rose, in a tiny vase, on a table. And he imagined that the rose hid the same things that the dark kept hidden, and he felt his heart start racing again. He was terrified of the rose, and that’s the exact moment when Jeff Bridges learned the secret that would unlock the rest of his life. That night, he learned that there was no such thing as acting. There was only imagination, and that long succession of dreams and nightmares we all harbor. And if only he continued to let everything in — if all of us decided to let everything in — those things would join our imaginations and carry us wherever we might want to go.