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  • Interview: Jeff Dowd, The Big Lebowski's Real Life "Dude"

    Mon, 22 Sep 2008 15:13:16

    Interview: Jeff Dowd, The Big Lebowski's Real Life "Dude" - The Dude abides in real life

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    Jeff Dowd is a Hollywood producer and much, much more. Sure, he produced Zebrahead with Oliver Stone and has served as a consultant and/or representative on a plethora of diverse films ranging from Blood Simple to Desperately Seeking Susan, but he has been sewn into the fabric of pop culture since as the inspiration for Jeff Bridges' iconic character "The Dude" from the beloved comedy The Big Lebowski. Dowd's mannerisms, attitude, and lexicon inspired "The Dude," so that's why we readily jumped at the opportunity to chat with him, coinciding with the commemorative 10th Anniversary DVD release of the film. We found out that the man who inspired The Dude is loquacious and switches topics on a dime, but more importantly, he still abides.

    Why do you think you inspired a cult beloved character? He’s a modern film icon, based on you!

    I don't think the movie is about The Dude character. People like the movie for lots of reasons, primarily because they know it is guaranteed fun and good to watch with friends and family. The artistry of the film is discovered through multiple viewings. The Dude is interesting and thousands of people come up to me to talk to me about him. He is portrayed as a slacker, so it's odd that people say that they were inspired by him. My friend Phil Cousineau says The Dude is a holy fool full of heart, like the court jester who is allowed to tell it like it is without getting his head lopped off, like St. Francis of Assisi or comedians like Lewis Black or Chris Rock or Stephen Colbert. Those guys are trying to find the truth in a satirical, comic way. I think people put on their corporate suits every day and their ability to "tell it like it is" becomes restricted by professional situations, so they appreciate the guys out there who are telling it like it is and are loyal to their friends, like The Dude. The Dude is loyal to his friend, Walter, who is a total a-hole. That's the appeal of that character. In this pressure cooker world, which doesn't have that many rewards for people intellectually, people are suffering from terminal boredom when they are not in the creative world, like you or I. There is an appeal to wishing you could drop out. The converse is what I am advocating these days: it is the worst of times that you have to make into the best of times. The appeal of the movie, as you know, is that it is something you can watch again and again. [It has] many great scenes, like great songs an album. They stand on their own. You can channel surf your way into the movie. Jeff Bridges had said that to me. College students like to watch it and people watch it together. A great number of Iraqi soldiers e-mail me saying how much they like it. Sports people love it, as do Wall Street people.

    The appeal of the film and the character is obviously universal.

    It's a family movie for both Blue State and Red State families. There are three generations in a family watching this movie during the holiday season instead of It's a Wonderful Life. It makes them all feel good. They have had their holiday dinner and are about to get into the dark side of the family…

    Exactly. It's like, what's left to do after you eat with your family other than fight? May as well watch a hilarious movie before you do it.

    You put the movie on and you realize your common humanity for the next two hours. It's remarkable that that goes on. I get Google Alerts sent to my e-mail for the movie, since I set them up for whatever movies I am working on or have worked on. For this movie, I get 20 alerts a day. Journalists are pulling lines out of it and I'm not talking about movie writers, but sports guys and news people. They pull a quote and make a reference in their stories. The film is in the vernacular and parlance of our times. People love repeating those lines in the same way people like doing the lines from Austin Powers movies.

    Looking back, 10 years after the original theatrical release of the film, how do you reflect on the portrayal of the character? Do you think a lot of people know that you are the inspiration?

    That's fine that people are not aware of me. It's not my story. The body language and the mannerisms and the personality of The Dude [are] me, or as much of me as can be, added to by a great actor like Jeff Bridges. I am fine with no one associating the character with me, but the fact is, an awful lot of people do. People may have seen something on the Internet and discovered that it was me. There are more than enough people who know, but it doesn't bother me if they don't. As for reflecting back, the DVD has some amazing interviews with the actors from the film, 10 years later. As you know, many times, the extra footage included on DVDs are usually done as EPKs [electronic press kits] that are filmed while the movies are being shot. That's certainly the case for new movies, so to have these actors looking back, like Julianne Moore and Bridges, seeing what they thought of the film after the fact is an interesting aspect.

    You’ve been involved with an impressive array of films over the years. What’s your favorite?

    That's like asking people to pick between their kids, you know that! There are different movies. Hoosiers was a great experience with lots of great stories. I love documentaries since I always learn something from them and I get to meet people I may not have ordinarily met and they are extremely life-enriching. I like political films, too.

    How do you pick what films you consult with and work on?

    I have to like the people and the film and have to think I can make a difference. People come to me with films, like narrative indie films, that I don't think I can make work in today's challenging marketplace. But above all, I have to love the film. When you work on a film, it's a year-long commitment, if not more.

    It's like a relationship.

    Yes. I have been seduced by the quality of a film before and ignored the signs that the people behind the film were going to be difficult. With Hoosiers, there was a situation. There were three sets of producers, financers, and distributors and I came aboard and the film was actually about to be dumped and I had to get all the producers talking to each other. It was like marriage counseling, after the divorce. It's like you make the movie and are fine, but when you are done, the people behind it are not talking and the film is the kid and it's in post-production, where you really need to focus. I had to try to get them to see that there is more in common than not, while trying to be a mediator. That's not the problem most of the time, though.

    Do you think 10 years later, this generation of MySpacing text messagers relates to The Dude?

    They totally appreciate him. The more people are active, the more they tend to appreciate those who are less active. The soldiers and sports people only have a little bit of free time and down time and those are the ones who appreciate The Dude, because they are in the fray. It's a form of escapism and an appreciation of those who are loyal to their friends and tell it like it is. They relate to him going through life metaphorically. "Let's go bowling" is really saying, "Let's do more! Let's change the world." Both the political candidates now are running on change. We are at the cliff's edge, economically, environmentally, and educationally and they are trying to provide an answer to that.

    —Amy Sciarretto
    09.22.08



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