Based on the novel by Thomas Perry, “Old man” to see Jeff Bridges return to television for the first time in decades as a retired CIA operative who becomes involved in an increasingly deadly cat-and-mouse chase. Production was delayed first by the pandemic and then by Bridges’ battle with cancer and COVID-19, but the show, which also stars John Lithgow and 30 Rock’s Hiam Abbas (“Continuity”), has finally aired on FX in June and is now streaming on Disney+ internationally.
On the eve of the international premiere, Bridges spoke with Diversity about creating the show, his health issues and whether he ever plans to retire.
How did you first get involved with this project?
Many years ago, a friend sent me a book called The Old Man to read. And I didn’t read it, but my wife. And then they sent me the script and I thought, “Oh, that title looks so familiar.” My wife said, “Yeah, that was the book that Tim sent you,” and I read the script and said, “Oh, that’s really good.” I read the book and it turned the page. And I said, you know, I’d better meet these guys, Jon Steinberg and Warren Littlefield, the producers and the writers. And I met with these guys, and they were telling me what they had in mind, and I was very intrigued and thought, “Oh, this is something to look into.”
I was initially resistant to television. My father, Lloyd Bridges, did a few television shows and I could see how frustrated he was with how quickly the shows were shot and how they couldn’t pay as much attention to detail and so on. But then I started watching all this great content coming out of the tube these days. And I thought, “This is something worth exploring,” and I’m glad I did because I wasn’t disappointed. There was really no difference in making the show than making the movies.
What did you like about the character?
Well, I played a former CIA agent, and those guys are probably the best actors in the world. They act for their lives. So I said, “Oh, that’s what we have in common.” And we were very lucky with Christopher Huddleston, who was a CIA operative [advising the show.] He could really teach me all the ins and outs of it. As interesting as the story was, it was really the writing of John Steinberg and Warren Littlefield, I was a fan of the different things they were doing. And that cast they were talking about, that was the package that was starting to come together.
Did Huddleston tell you anything unexpected about being a CIA operative?
Yes, I was familiar with Stoicism, the philosophy of Stoicism. But he said it was his special stoicism and a lot of military, and they had that. So I started looking into it, I found it fascinating. I am more attuned to Buddhism and there is a lot in common with Stoicism and Buddhism. So it was very interesting.
Production on The Old Man was halted for three months, first because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then because you not only battled cancer, but also contracted COVID-19. When you returned to the production, did any scenes need to be rewritten to accommodate your health?
Not really, no. I had a few fight scenes after I came back. Most of the fighting was before I had all the health problems.
When you’re working on a project, do you have a feeling that it’s going to work?
yeah But I’ve learned not to trust those feelings very much. In my opinion, everything went well. But I know I’ve done movies in the past and I’ve been like, ‘Oh my God, I’m having a great time.’ And then how it’s all glued together, you know, the editing is very important. But in this case, not only did I have a great time working with all the people, but it was pretty damn well put together.
When you were working on The Big Lebowski, did you have any idea how iconic it would become?
Well, it’s funny you bring that up because we had a great time at that show. And when it came out, I saw the first screening of it and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be great.” But it didn’t do very well in America when it first came out. It was not a blow by any means. It was more successful in England, in Europe, and then returned to our shores. And you know, people kind of got it. It’s funny how things have to come together to make it successful. The Coen brothers you know, they are masters.
Is there a role you’ve ever still thought about that you either missed or the schedule didn’t work out?
Yes, there is a movie that I can’t even think of a name for. Once in a while, but not too much.
In the series, your character is a retired CIA officer. Do you ever plan to retire?
I thought that after my illness I didn’t know if I would go back to work. I thought I was going to retire, very seriously. And I don’t know. You know, my dad worked until the very end. I don’t know, I’m just leaving it to see how it turns out. I am unsure.