The Exact Moment Jeff Bridges Decided To Commit To Acting

It all came to a head when a director called him an "ass."

If you're an actor who has already performed in several TV shows and movies, been nominated for an Academy Award and appeared on-screen from the time you were a child, it would seem that you've established yourself in clear career path. Unless, that is, you're a 20-something Jeff Bridges.

By the early 1970s, a young Bridges had built a resume of successful roles that some aspiring actors only dream of. And yet, as the Oscar winner tells "Oprah's Master Class," he still didn't feel ready to fully commit to a career as a professional actor at that point in his life.

"I had some difficulty figuring out whether I wanted to take that acting path or not," Bridges says. "There was a lot of fear behind it."

Then, a phone call changed everything. Having recently completed work for several different projects, Bridges had a rare moment of downtime -- that's when he heard from his agent. The agent told Bridges that famed director John Frankenheimer wanted to hire him for the film adaptation of the Broadway play "The Iceman Cometh."

"I said, 'Oh, gee, Jack. I'm bushed, man. I'm going to take a pass. Tell him thanks a lot, but I'm going to pass on it,'" Bridges says.

His agent was surprised, but agreed to relay the news. Then, in a town where word travels fast, Bridges got another phone call.

"About five minutes later, Lamont Johnson -- the director who I'd just worked with on 'Last American Hero' -- he called me up," Bridges says. "He said, 'Jeff. I heard you turned down the opportunity to play in "The Iceman Cometh"... You're bushed? You're an ass.'"


Suddenly, Bridges began to reconsider both the role and his entire approach to his acting career.

"I thought, 'Well, this is kind of interesting. I really don't want to make any movies right now, but maybe this is a chance for me to explore the idea of becoming a professional actor. I understand when you're a professional, you've got to do it when you don't feel like it,'" he reasoned.

So, Bridges changed his mind and accepted the role. During filming, Bridges also learned an important lesson from his seasoned cast mates about his ever-present fears.

"Robert Ryan, most of my scenes were with him... We were about to do one, and we were at a table there, sitting opposite each other, and Bob took his hands off the table. Put his hands on his lap. I noticed these big puddles of sweat where his hands had been," Bridges says. "I said, 'Gee, Bob, after all these years, you're still nervous?' He said, 'Oh, yeah. I'd really be scared if I wasn't scared.'"

Bridges couldn't believe that such experienced, respected actors shared his sense of fear.

"Seeing these old pros -- guys who had been doing it for 50, 60 years -- how they dealt with all the same stuff I felt, with all that fear... I said, 'Maybe I can do this acting thing after all.'"

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