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Jeff Bridges on 'Tron,' 3D, and gadget addiction

CNET sits down with actor Jeff Bridges to talk about his work in Disney's upcoming sequel "Tron: Legacy." Find out his take on 3D TVs in the home, people who don't use e-mail, and why you're addicted to gadgets.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
6 min read
Jeff Bridges
Actor Jeff Bridges returns as Kevin Flynn in the upcoming 'Tron: Legacy.' Josh Lowensohn/CNET

VENICE, Calif.--Sitting across from me, Jeff Bridges leans back into his chair, looking almost through me as we begin to chat about reprising his role as fictional game developer (and geek icon) Kevin Flynn in "Tron: Legacy."

This past weekend, we're sitting here in an executive office inside Digital Domain, the special-effects studio that's in charge of the dazzling effects seen in the highly anticipated sequel that picks up 28 years after the events of the 1982 classic. The entire room is a light brown and bathed in soft incandescent light, making Bridges, in his denim jeans and button-down shirt, nearly blend in.

Bridges, 60, has done this several times today, and I'm one of the last journalists granted some time to ask him questions as part of Disney's long-lead "Tron: Legacy" press junket. That's industry lingo for a press meet-and-greet that happens well before a movie is out, or even finished, which in the case of the "Tron" sequel is another two and a half months. On the other side of the building, a server farm hums as part of today's dailies--the latest special-effects shots still in the process of being created.

Noticing me struggling to set down my iPad, which I had my questions written down on, my iPhone I was using to record audio, my digital camera for the blurry shot you see above, and a bag full of the cables that keep them charged, he lets out a bemused laugh and says, "Look at you, you've got your iPad, gooood!" I tell him I'm just a few years away from being a cyborg. Then again, I'm talking to the guy who donned what could be considered cyborg wear before I was even born.

I start by asking Bridges if he had gone back to watch the original film before beginning work on this one, or whether it was a lot like riding a bike. "I think it's more like the bike thing," he says."I don't think I screened the movie just before it began. I had seen it again maybe a couple years before, I think. But, it was very helpful to have Steve Lisberger--you know the original director and writer on board. Just somehow seeing his face, put me back into the grid."

Bridges plays a rather unique role in the film as both the good guy and the bad guy--two characters that are separated by nearly three decades. The effect was achieved by the visual effects artists at Digital Domain using some of the same techniques from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" that took Brad Pitt from a man at 90-some-odd years down to a teenager in a matter of hours.

The effect required Bridges' younger self to be played by another actor, while Bridges would then go back and reshoot the same scene wearing a special head-mounted camera system that would record his facial movements from four different angles. The two would then later be composited into one shot--a magic trick that will no doubt make it into the DVD extras. As for which one was more fun to play, Bridges said casually, "I approach it pretty much the same way."

Flynn and Clu
(Left) Bridges as 'Tron' protagonist Kevin Flynn. (Right) Bridges as Clu, Flynn's power-hungry control program. Walt Disney Pictures/Screenshots by CNET

One of the other starring effects in the movie will be a third-dimension, at least for theatergoers who opt to go with the 3D experience. The movie is also being offered in 2D. When asked whether he thought 3D would have staying power or if it was just a fad, Bridges said, "I don't know about a fad. I think it's a step along the way. You know, maybe movies will get to be pitiful for a while."

Bridges joked that he had never seen a movie with the classic cyan and magenta glasses, but that he had been enamored with a projector solution created by "2001: A Space Odyssey" special-effects guru Douglas Trumbull. "He came up with a thing called Showscan not too long ago, and it was simple. Twenty-four frames a second--that's as slow as you can get with natural movement, and so it's very primitive. And he came along and said, 'Why don't we put it at 60 frames per second and then project that?' And the resolution of that is almost 3D, just very rich."

Showscan is still around today, but is used primarily in theme park film rides. "That didn't really catch on because you need to change all the projectors in movie theaters," Bridges said. "But we're going to start to see innovations like that. It's going to pick up speed like it does, and who knows where it's going to go. I just hope that theaters remain. I think there's something very wonderful about getting into a dark room with a bunch of people. There's something cool about that. Brings us all together in one room where we can experience all those emotions."

Bridges said he's enough of a theater lover to the point where he'd be an unlikely candidate to get a 3D television in his living room. "That I would have to put the glasses on to see and stuff?" he asked in response to my question, "I don't think so, no." Part of that, Bridges explained, was a love-hate relationship with computers. Pointing at my pile of contraptions he said, "You seem like you're a prisoner to it. I mean it's kind of groovy, but come on, man. I mean, it's terrible isn't it!? And that's one of the themes of the film essentially--that you can get caught up in it so deeply, and it's hard to get out of it as soon as you get used to that stuff."

Bridges said that he hasn't gotten caught up in gadgets like smartphones, which he dislikes, despite owning one. "I have an iPhone that kind of pisses me off because I don't know how to work that. I often get these things and then I don't spend the time to learn how to use them, you know. Or if I learn, and if I don't use it for two days I dump that information. That's very frustrating for me."

Even so, Bridges said he got the hang of e-mail rather quickly, despite his in-box often becoming overwhelming. He's also a little shocked when he meets someone who doesn't have an e-mail address. "I love those guys, you'll see them every once in awhile. You go, 'What's your e-mail address?' and they say, 'I don't do e-mail.' Really!? And they're kind of like, 'Oh, how sophisticated," and I think, 'my god.'

The toys of 'Tron: Legacy' (photos)

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Among Bridges' other digital hobbies is his personal Web site, which he uses in lieu of Twitter or Facebook. There he posts some of his photography and artwork. "I do it all on a Wacom tablet ... But I don't keep up with the site often enough. Whenever I have something to put up on the site I do it," he said. "I went through a period where I did a lot of pieces on it, but now I haven't been doing that. I'd like to get back into it--it's fun. I'm doing more actual painting and sculpting and those types of things now."

Bridges is well-known for taking shots on set with his Widelux, a film camera that's able to capture panoramas. Over the years Bridges has turned some of those behind-the-scenes shots into gifts for crew members as well as putting 119 of them into a book called "Pictures by Jeff Bridges," which he published back in 2006.

In the case of "Tron" though, he had to hold back. "I took some [photos], but not as much as I have in other ones. Mostly because the lighting was so dim, you know the suits had to shine, so you had to keep the set really dim." Bridges said he might end up turning some of those shots into a book, or at least posting them to his site so fans can see them.

Speaking of fans, Bridges said he looks forward to seeing the film when it's finished--as he does with any project he's involved in. "I haven't seen the finished movie yet, but I've got my fingers crossed."

"Tron: Legacy" hits theaters on December 17. Bridges can also be seen a week later in the Coen brothers' 2010 adaptation of the 1969 film "True Grit."