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George Clooney with a plaster on his nose: Jeff Bridges’ best photograph
My best shot
‘This is George Clooney on the set of The Men Who Stare at Goats. I’m playing with the idea of comedy and tragedy – the masks of ancient Greek theatre’
Interview by Edward Siddons
Thu 10 Oct 2019 01.00 EDT
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‘As the shot is exposing, I shout “shift!”’ … Clooney on the set of the 2009 film. Photograph: Jeff Bridges
[size=89]As an actor, and coming from a family in entertainment, I’ve spent pretty much my whole life on set. But what a lot of people don’t realise is just how much downtime you have between scenes. Photographing those moments became a way of documenting my life and the lives of people around me, like a personal archive.
Ten years ago, I had just finished filming Crazy Heart when I got a call from George Clooney pitching me his new film, The Men Who Stare at Goats. I was exhausted, but it was such a crazy idea I was immediately interested. When I started to explore it in a little more depth, I knew I had to do it, and off we went into this crazy thing together.
I had never met George before, but he was splendid to work with and for. He produced the film and starred in it, and we had such a great time making it. He created such a relaxed atmosphere on set. As this picture shows, he’s playful – an entertainer who’s game for pretty much anything.
I shoot on a Widelux, a mechanical swing-lens panoramic camera, which is how I got this doubling effect. I get George in the far left of the viewfinder, then as the shot is exposing, I shout “shift!” at which point he turns his face and makes his sad face. The actor doesn’t move across or anything, they just turn their head.
I'd get mad at myself for taking photos, or writing songs, or pouring myself into any pursuit that wasn’t acting
This image is part of a series of photographs that plays with the idea of comedy and tragedy and the masks of ancient Greek theatre. Partly, it’s a way of me exploring what is to be an actor, and tapping into the thrill of acting as I see it: the chance to represent what it means to be a human being – the extreme joy and sadness that make us human. But it also speaks to the masks we all wear in different situations.
I’ve always been interested in photography. As a kid I played with my dad’s Nikon, and when he installed a darkroom in our house I loved getting into the technical side of it and seeing what shots would come out of the soup. The first wide-lens camera I had was a wedding gift from my wife, and I’ve shot pretty exclusively on Widelux cameras ever since.
I started shooting on set during the filming of King Kong in the 1970s. My character had a Nikon strapped around his neck, so I thought I might as well use it. I guess it started out as part of my character but it became this passion.
Jeff Bridges: 'He's a real chameleon'
I used to get mad at myself for taking photos, or playing music, or writing songs, or pouring myself into any creative pursuit that wasn’t acting. I would berate myself that it was a waste of time, that I should focus on one thing. But I’ve come to realise that creativity feeds creativity – it’s all part of the same thing and that you should give yourself time to explore your passions.
Shooting on set is a pretty amazing thing. First, because the lighting is spectacular. And second, you’re shooting people who know how to interact with a camera. For me and a lot of actors, even being around a camera changes something in your chemistry.
I never intended to publish these shots. Originally, I did it so I could make little books for the cast and crew to remember the experience and time we spent together. Usually, at the first script reading or the producers’ meeting, I’ll ask if people are OK with me shooting backstage. They tend to be pretty cool with it.
But it felt as if I should share the work with the world. It’s a way of giving something back to the motion picture industry that has been such a wonderful home to me for decades.
• Jeff Bridges: Pictures Volume 2 is published by powerHouse Books on 15 October.
Jeff Bridges’ CV
‘Keep your fingers out of the shot!’ … Jeff Bridges
Born: Los Angeles, California, 1949.
Influences: Mary Ellen Mark, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Richard Misrach.
High point: “The joy of developing an image that completely exceeds your expectations.”
Low point: “Getting your photos and finding that they’re disappointing or not quite right, somehow.”
Top tip: “Keep your fingers out of the shot!”
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