Speaker Well, I'm struck that that sitting here and T Bone Burnett House is is where it all started, because after I finished the screenplay, I sent it to Robert Duvall, a close friend and mentor. And he really responded to the screenplay. And he said to me, he said, what do you need to make this picture? And I said, well, besides lots of money, I said to people that I most need are T Bone Burnett and of course, and Jeff Bridges. And of course, I didn't know either of them. Well, I wrote the piece for Jeff. I feel fortunate that I firmly believe I have America's two finest actors, screen actors in in in my picture, and they both Mr. Duvall and Jeff. Aren't safe actors. They put themselves out in every performance and they never seem to mind the same territory. So haven't having that in mind and having grown up in this world of country music and having literally cut my teeth on the great bluegrass musicians of the world, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. It just seemed it just seemed natural that I go to T Bone because, well, let's just put it this way. I have three geniuses associated with this picture, T Bone, Jeff, of course, and Mr. Duvall. And I just wanted to make the picture as director proof as possible with those guys. But Jeff just seemed to be true to embody everything that I thought this character needed. Humanity, dignity.

Speaker A real point of view.

Speaker And nobody I can't think of another actor that regardless of what role he's playing, that you don't care for Jeff Bridges. Jeff could be playing a serial killer. And you'll find something about this man. His humanity that you as a viewer will latch on to. And I knew that this was a very difficult character for an actor to play. And it's a very difficult character for the audience to really relate to and invest in. And if I didn't have an actor that in the first frame of the picture you didn't care about and have this relationship because of his body of work? Well, the movie's not going to work. And on top of that, Jeff is a consummate musician. And he is. A very private man, you won't see Jeff on the pages of US Weekly, so you can really believe what you see on screen, whether he's playing the president, whether he's playing a broken down country singer or whether he's playing a serial killer, whatever Jeff's playing. You buy that characterization because you just don't know a lot about him.

Speaker Did you know?

Speaker Yes, I did. I knew a great deal about it. I knew that Jeff, besides being a world class actor, was also a sculptor. He's a painter. He's a wonderful photographer. A sketch artist. And I knew that he was a musician because I'd had his record that he that he produced alongside Michael McDonald. And I thought, my God, is there a perfect, more perfect candidate to play this role? There isn't. As I sat down and I was staring at this blank page and that cursor that's just blinking, blinking and blinking and kept saying to me, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Bridges, and to get both Jeff Bridges and T Bone Burnett. Well, it's you know, as a first time filmmaker, it's.

Speaker Stroke of luck. Also a little bit about why what how disease see this story?

Speaker What created this character? How did your character visualize this here? Right.

Speaker Yes. Well, growing up in southwestern Virginia, the type of in the 70s type of music that I was most exposed to were the greats, Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley. And I would see these guys, you know, every couple of months my parents would take me to bluegrass festivals and we would camp. And I literally grew up with these men onstage as it was the only music that I knew. And then my father, of course, would on his LP, would play jazz and classical. So music was always a very big part of my life. And I think as a filmmaker, certainly for your first film, it should be a very personal film, because I grew up in this world and knew it so intimately and then graduated to Merle Haggard and in Waylon Jennings and and Townes Van Zandt. And when you grow up very near Bristol, Virginia, which is the birthplace, Virginia, Tennessee, the birthplace of country music, where you can't help but have that in your DNA. And I was always struck that these people that I responded to, they all wrote about their life experiences and they all personalized them like I wanted to do a film. So I really wanted to tell Merle Haggard's life story. And for one reason or another, after spending quite a bit of time with him, I couldn't do it. So I turned to this very out of a very obscure out of print book and thought, well, I can tell this story by incorporating a bit of Merle's life, a bit of a bit of Waylon Jennings life, a bit of Townes Van Sant, Billy Joe Shaver, all my radio heroes, all the guys I have on my iPod. And I thought, well, that's a risk because of a Horton Foote and Robert Duvall is beautiful, tender mercies. So I thought, well, yeah, exactly. So you think, well, the bull's eyes about that small and the bar is very, very high. So you think, you know, can you do this? Can you execute this in a way that seems fresh or in a way that people respond to it and resonate? And I thought the themes that coursed through the movie of redemption and loss and loneliness and connection we all experience on a daily basis, whether you live in Los Angeles or if you live in in Virginia. We live in Pakistan. All of these themes course through our lives. And I felt like that was a story worth telling. And I felt like if I didn't get these guys, Jeff Bridges and T Bone Burnett and Robert Duvall, why make the picture?

Speaker Yes. And, you know, and that's not necessarily enough, isn't it? No. No, it's not.

Speaker So you now start this journey with these other two guys? Yes. It's my understanding, as I heard. Just say with you. With him on. Around this time, he was re-elected, although he's although he signs this is good news seen since.

Speaker Yes, Jeff is very reluctant to take on any part. Bringing him to the dance is is not easy. And I just as I had sent off the screenplay and an impassioned letter to Jeff, I was reading as I'm custom do I read lots of interviews from filmmakers that I really admire. And I was reading the Coen Brothers Filmmakers interviews, and they said that it took them about a year to get Jeff attached to The Big Lebowski. So I thought, my God, it'll just never happen. First time filmmaker, I had never directed a commercial video high school play. Nothing came at this from it from from an actor standpoint. And of course, I had Robert Duvall seal of approval. That meant a lot. Who knows if T Bone would have read the screenplay if it didn't have Mr. Duvall's name or if Jeff had or if Jeff would have. But I also wrote T Bone an impassioned letter because I just think he's one of a kind genius artist. And Tyvon responded quickly and said he loved the screenplay. And let's let's do this. And and I knew that I had a kindred spirit and t bone when I came into his living room and he was upstairs in his office and his assistant said to me, she said, t bone, I'll be down in a few minutes. And I'm sitting in his office and I'm looking around and I'm looking at Grammys and I'm looking at bathtub's and I'm looking in all of this memorabilia of what his life has encompassed. And in over the corner is a cut out, a Life-Size cut out of the very diminutive Dr. Ralph Stanley, a man that's social with my family. Again, I grew up at his feet. And I look at that and I say to myself, my God, this might just work out. How coincidental was that? And then from that point on, getting t bone attached was. Because it was a music picture that meant a great deal to me personally, but also for the wider audience, the readers. When you see Robert Duvall's name and T Bone Burnett, if you don't pick this up, then you're a fool. At least to read it. And at that point, it's on me as a screenwriter to be able to craft a story that you feel like is is worth telling.

Speaker But I never would have gotten Jeff if not for T Bone and for Mr. d'Hiv also. I think.

Speaker Yeah. Absolutely. So now and then you have also attached to this, I assume, and partially because both of them, you have the incomparable see the remarkable footage that we will hope to be able to include. Yes. I mean. That process of working through that character that you have with you. And I believe can you do right?

Speaker It wasn't here and I can't say enough about the person Stephen Bruton was and what he contributed to this process. Stephen and T Bone Burnett, of course, grew up. Childhood friends shared a love of music, passion for the same type of musicians. And when I when I asked people, I said, whom should we bring on? And to help us shape this music when he thought about it for about three seconds and said, Stephen Bruton. And it was the perfect choice. And Stephen and Jeff and T Bone and I here in T Bones House, we were. Well, it was, you know, when you lose.

Speaker Well.

Speaker Yes, Stephen also died here. This house. So I'm just as he passed away.

Speaker But, yeah, we you know, we could never have made the movie without without seeing.

Speaker Yeah.

Speaker Yes. Yes. No. OK. Well, one of the things you were talking about, one of things I still love about that, what it says to Jeff and what I also love is it's just really going to work. Oh, yes. Yes. Being there is finding this can finally finding that at this moment and then kind of going back where you would have been. That's right. And that time musicians, which is kind of what you're saying you grew up in. You wanted to. You remember this part where he says that you wouldn't be listening maybe tomorrow. Oh, for sure. Oh, yeah.

Speaker Well, when I told Jeff when I first met him in Santa Barbara, I said, Jeff, if we do this right way, you would have been the fifth highwayman. It was Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. So I said, had we had this character been a real person, you would've been the fifth high woman. And Jeff said, Aha, I get that. And I supply Jeff with lots of videos of of of Waylon and Billy Joe and in towns and.

Speaker And because I was always drawn to their their outlaw sensibility. And these are men who who who operate on the periphery of country music. And again, wrote about their very hard living lives. And that really appealed to me. So, Jeff, he did his homework. Stephen was there every step of the way. And T Bone and Jeff and Steven really were able to shape this world in a way that I'm not sure any other artist could have.

Speaker Well, I'm also one of the interesting things that all said to me was that, you know, just talking about. And I think based on these guys, you say that that character, those guys, you know, that they do give a certain amount of mileage out of really keeping that going.

Speaker Oh, sure. Really, I'm really tough stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Likely to keep themselves there. So they also thing that changes here with that is that actually finds a point of redemption. That's right.

Speaker That's right. Because a lot of the musicians that I've spoken of traveled that very difficult road and found it very difficult to find that redemption, but ultimately did. And I felt like if we could if we could really have that as a major theme in the story, again, people would really relate to that. And it would give Jeff and his character a real goal of trying to reconnect to people that were important to him in life and and most importantly, reconnecting to the music that has nourished you and that you've flourished with. And if you don't have that connection and you don't have that drive to get well and to put out great music to the world, what you've been doing for years, then it's gonna be very, very difficult life from that point forward. And Jeff and everybody, including Tebow and Jeff under understood that as we were composing the music. Because it felt very, very clear and obvious to me that the music needed to seem timeless. And it needed to seem. Of a certain era. And that's not easy to do. Which is why I leave it to the experts. Well, to help do that.

Speaker Did you have a sense of sound?

Speaker Oh, yes. As I wrote the screenplay, I was listening to all the guys that I've mentioned, Haggard and Kristofferson and Towns and Billy Joe. And I knew that if I could put that together and I would in terms of a playlist. And I gave that a T bone and gave it to Stephen Bruton. I gave it to Jeff. And they all understood exactly what my world view was for the music. But how do we arrive at that and make that sound fresh? Using a character that doesn't exist. So that's where Jeff and T Bone and Stephen and I would sit in this very room and we would just pull out guitars like a guitar pull and really just play things.

Speaker And how about this? And how about a line from this song? It was a remarkable experience from the boots up that made you realize it.

Speaker Actually, tell me how you're feeling this at the same time. I got this right at the same time. You really it's one of the same things you're building at the same time.

Speaker That's right. Work, building and building characters. It's sometimes very if you're very honest about the process, when you're building a character, sometimes you have no idea where it's going to go.

Speaker And that's one thing I've learned from Robert Duvall. As an actor, as a writer director, you start at zero and you end it zero. You have no preconceived notions as to where a scene is gonna take place, where it's going to go, or where you as a character are going to go. But in building Jeff's character from the boots up, we realize that we need to have a real point of view in his music and that this was a man who was not only influenced by Hank Williams and some of the lefty for sale and some of the great older musicians, but also the great blues musicians. I wanted to bring in the guys from Mississippi and Texas Roadhouse so that we really had a very unique, interesting sound that paid homage to both the great bluesman and to the great country musicians.

Speaker He also created this original music. That's right. Because his music means he's a songwriter. That's right. Very nice. Very nice circle, actually. Creativity.

Speaker Hopefully all of it will it is, and I will say as as I'm now developing other projects as a screenwriter and as a director, they all are appealing for food for different reasons. But I can't imagine any ever being as much fun as as this one was. When you're sitting around with Jeff Bridges, Stephen Bruton, T Bone Burnett and all their lovely musicians, world class musicians, and hearing these guys play and helping create this music, that's going to be the backbone and the thread of this movie. It's just I just can't imagine it ever happening again.

Speaker You know, unfortunately, I don't know if this was in your heart at all, but I said this to help as well. You also can't not watch this and not feel and see Duvalle now show up in his home many years later and you feel this sort of set. It's about that. And ended.

Speaker That was that was by design for sure.

Speaker He has right to say that because as I said it, well, you one can't help but feel it reads Mazzilli. And I said, no, it's against their will.

Speaker No coincidence. I mean, Robert Duvall that I've made made this very public is my favorite actor. And I'm fortunate to be. To be as close to him as I am and as a frequent collaborator as I am with him, and I felt it very important for him to help ground this picture by not only being a producer, but also being an actor, because it's Pingo Marje to Horton Foote and to into Mr. Devall and to Bruce Parrish was lovely picture and a small tip of the hat. And it just felt like I had never seen Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall in the same frame. And what a shame that is, because you've got, in my estimation, America's two finest actors. And when you watch these two, you step back from the camera and you almost forget to call cut because they're just so genius. It's. With a very American art form, which is country music.

Speaker Yeah, exactly. I mean, really, this is the I do this whole thing was it was the thing I want to say about thinking about this, just sitting here.

Speaker So there's sort of this last picture, McMurtry, Horton, Foote, Duval, you know, the little Texas fairings and some of the of Jeff watching Jeff from here and the fact that Jeff also goes back and does things is sort of this interesting thing that as I watch this over these weeks of doing this. So now he comes to this film with Duvalle genius. In a funny way, is sort of like Texasville brought it on. It is. It's not the same exact thing. But there's this interesting thread, this thread that is is really remarkable in the way Jeff seems to work in a way.

Speaker There is something very circular about well, it as Jeff said, Jeff is a very American actor, and I take great pride in saying that he is a very earthy. Man, he cares about his relationships, his friendships. He just feels like a piece of Americana. And if you look at his of. It's very apparent. Same with Mr Devall and same with Larry McMurtry. And I felt like this was a bookend to. The Last Picture Show. Where Jeff really started in Texas and this character's from Texas, and you can see this arc.

Speaker And I hope that he continues to collaborate with Mr. Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry, and then I'm sure he will. But for me personally, I wanted to see that capstone and all the more reason I thought to cast Jeff.

Speaker Mr. Duvall. And then to use t bone because of the Americana.

Speaker Yeah. The other thing, I guess I'm sort of thinking in this is that if you know, tender mercies, the yes, you tender mercies is just resonant and beautiful, tender mercies. It doesn't know if you did no controversy. You sort of look at this. It is quite satisfying. Does it show up in this film, quite satisfied to just look at him and say, yeah.

Speaker So this so this is where he is now. Same here. That's right. I think that's right. Yeah, it's.

Speaker Well, Jeff said to me at the end of shooting the picture, maybe a couple of weeks after he said, you know, Scott, this this movie has changed my life. And this is before any, of course, the Oscar buzz, before I even showed Jeff a cut, which shows you the kind of artist Jeff is, a man who takes so much from the process and from the connection with the other performers or with the cameraman or with the prop man or what a caterer. Jeff brings everybody into the process. And for a first time filmmaker, it gives you so much confidence in a relaxed quality when you have a very short amount of time to shoot the movie and to get right. Lots of live music, three different states, and you never have enough time. But Jeff never seemed rushed. He was so engrossed in the process. And I really got a sense that for Jeff, he didn't care if the movie if you won an Oscar or if the movie got the acclaim because he took from it as an artist what he intended to take.

Speaker And that's the experience and amazing learning curve for you and for you. I mean, I know he said said to us that you are impassioned, completely and completely jazz encouraged all the way through, which I also think was extremely inspiring to everybody. And of course, passion is another thing. I think he's quite ready to seize.

Speaker He has. And Jeff will get to a first time filmmaker. He will just give himself over to you because he entrusts in you trust in your vision. And he certainly did that with me. And and Jeff would always question things. So that's his process.

Speaker Why do I wear these jeans? Why do I wear these sunglasses? Why are my clothes two sizes too small?

Speaker I would say, well, Jeff, because you live your characters living in the past in the 80s, and I want you to hold on to that. And I also like the fact that Jeff steps out of a truck and his pants are undone. I mean, all these these details are just so genius and just bring it to life. I mean, it's I can't say enough about his process, his inclusiveness and what it does for his fellow cast members and for the crew and certainly for the young guy who's at the helm.

Speaker So naturally that this guy has suddenly, as I say, is just seize the imagination of everybody. And this is an amazing right now because it's now. He also won an amazing dream for him to have come here. One that wins in the Oscar is when he can also be the character of doing something he also loves in tandem.

Speaker That's right. It's it's for those people who didn't know his real passion is for music.

Speaker Well, I have to say, you know, I did not know this much. Not many people know, though. I watched your film and I actually thought. He's good at this. Oh, yes.

Speaker And he worked very, very hard.

Speaker And you really think to. He's absolutely great at this. I would never veejays as well as I did here. And I did. And I didn't see it in the movies. I only saw this.

Speaker Don't tell me that. Sorry that I didn't.

Speaker But I was absolutely blown away by it. I said, Oh, that's great. Wow. You know, and this is a remarkable thing because many people didn't know this. And yet here's this other lovely accompanying thing, which is for him, this is such a huge part of his own life.

Speaker Right. And I think that probably was daunting because he loves music so much and had had 15 years earlier made a gorgeous movie. And Baker Boys. So you think, well, should I mind that territory again? He was so beautiful in that picture as well, his brother and Michelle Pfeiffer. And you think, well, should I take what I love so much and take that risk? But again, just, Jeff, is it is a risk taker.

Speaker He also I have he is here. The notion that he this was the best music script he dresses. Well, that's why you. I mean, I think that's part of why. Yes. He was beloved. Yes, you're right. He had a lot to do with his speaking. Yes. But he signed this excellent use that. I think.

Speaker Well, that certainly means a lot to me because Jeff has such discerning tastes. And he, again, will question everything. But for the right reasons. And it makes you dig deeper. As an artist and as a performer. And I know that as we're burning film, I'm watching him opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell or Robert Duvall.

Speaker I know that as an actor, I feel like I'm in a position to say that there's a difference between being talented and gifted. And Jeff is gifted and there are very few that are. And that's humbling. As an actor to see that. And then you say, well, some people have it. Some people don't. Well, you extracted it as well as as.

Speaker Guided as well as were given a remarkable performance from you.

Speaker Well, I think, again, you get you can only get a performance if an actor is really open and if an actor is not afraid to fail because every time just steps before the cameras or any actor does, you're giving a part of yourself and you're putting yourself out there as a raw nerve ending for the world to see.

Speaker One thing I do think is probably true when you say this about the music being given for him is he plays it, he plays, he plays it, he does his record. He's got his pals. He plays music. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn't want to have I'm just making this up as I as I make it.

Speaker Now, you tell me does want to be standing there, being this character, regardless of where this character whose life and career. That's right. Not good enough either. Sure. Because he is really doing it well.

Speaker I think a.

Speaker I think the moment was about two days before we actually started shooting.

Speaker And Jeff felt like now was the time to get in front of my DP, which had a video camera, and we were rehearsing at the production offices. And Jeff put on his vest, put on his tight fitting clothes that very close.

Speaker I wanted him to feel like they came right off of Waylon Jennings back. And Jeff stepped into that rehearsal hall and I looked at him and he stepped up with a big Gretsch guitar and started singing. And I said to myself, My God, that's bad, Blake. It's all going to be OK because it's the first time and you just never know. And I was never questioning Jeff because I knew that he was working so hard to get to that point that it all coalesced in that moment. And I couldn't wait to see him perform. And then to see him perform live in front of 12000 people in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who were just blown away by his his musicianship and his skills. It was we piggybacked a Toby Keith concert. We called around to find out who was touring in New Mexico at the time, because I wanted that that that sense of immediacy, that sense of verisimilitude, that what you were seeing in the audience was a real a real crowd and not people that I was paying and feeding to clap because it was never going to feel electric. And when he comes out onstage, as Jeff Bridges, the place erupted and it was on YouTube that night. And it's just remarkable.

Speaker It is people that know. That's exactly right.

Speaker That's exactly right. I mean, I just can't say enough about Jeff's dedication, his attention to detail and his unwavering focus as a performer. And that's a big part of why I've had such a difficult time in choosing a follow up picture is because I've been so spoiled by such great performers that as an actor, you respond more to certain actors than you do others. And to be able then to to pull them together with a piece that means so much personally to me is is is very difficult to me now.

Speaker Thank God.

Speaker Well, you anytime you set out to make a film, seven million dollar independently financed film.

Speaker So it's look, if you don't have a cape or someone who flies or nonstop action, you're getting your film made.

Speaker It's like pushing a boulder up a hill by yourself. And the fact that we got it made was was just a stroke of luck. And in Thibeault and was very instrumental in that.

Speaker But I have to say that when you're making a picture, you don't set out to think, oh, my God, how is this going to be received? Is this going to be considered for Oscars or Golden Globes? Only that stuff. Because personally, I don't think. I think. I don't think it is. The academy is a meritocracy. Otherwise, Jeff would have won four by now. And Robert Duvall won four or five.

Speaker Al Pacino would have won countless. It just makes no sense to me who wins and who doesn't. But they got it right this year with Jeff Bridges. And being there and experiencing that with Jeff was next to getting married and the birth of my two girls, the greatest moment of my life.

Scott Cooper
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Scott Cooper, Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 01 Jan. 2010,
(2010, January 01). Scott Cooper, Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Scott Cooper, Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 01, 2010. Accessed January 27, 2022


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