Jeff Bridges Says ‘People Can See Themselves’ in ‘The Old Man’



Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne as a cranky, retired septuagenarian, body all achin’ and racked with pain after a lifetime of dangerous missions.

Now imagine he gets the call that he’s got to get back in the game, or else risk the lives of himself and everyone he loves.

This is the intriguing, often heart-stopping premise of “The Old Man,” which examines the art of espionage in our post-Cold War world and its impact on those who conduct it. Based on a novel by thriller master Thomas Perry, the seven-part first season of the FX series leaps back and forth in time, from the Soviet Union’s war on Afghanistan in the 1980s to the deadly legacy of that conflict in the present day.

“He’s heroic, but perhaps not in the way he thought he was,” executive producer Warren Littlefield said of Jeff Bridges’ titular character at a FX FYC panel on June 8 in Los Angeles. “There’s a mystery to tell when forces come after him to assassinate him. But it’s also a mystery for himself, and a journey of who he is.” 

The depth of the tale helped Littlefield to assemble a dream cast comprised of Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award winners and nominees Bridges, John Lithgow and Amy Brenneman, who joined him in conversation. During the panel event, the actors discussed how they were attracted not so much by the story’s life-and-death stakes and elaborate fight scenes (and actors do love those), but the chance to create characters of greater complexity than the spy genre usually permits.

Foremost among them is Bridges’ role as Dan Chase, a one-time CIA operative gone rogue. (But wait, is that really his name? This is one of the many questions keeping viewers guessing throughout Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg’s scripts.)

In his Oscar-winning role in “Crazy Heart,” Bridges’ character was haunted by poor choices in a life ill-lived. By contrast in “The Old Man,” Chase is doubly undone by the ravages of both memory and time. His wife is dead, his daughter is living a double life, his body is failing and his life’s mission — protecting America — is in ruins.

“Absolutely,” replied Bridges, when asked whether his character is seeking his true identity. “Aren’t we all? I certainly am, especially in these times. You don’t really know who you are until you’re tested, somehow. These times are testing us all, I think. And Dan Chase gets very tested. He’s a CIA guy doing CIA work, pretending to be somebody else. He’s acting for his life, man. The script,” he chuckled, “keeps giving you more balls to juggle.”

Co-star Lithgow couldn’t agree more. “I kept on saying to [creator and showrunner] Jon Steinberg, ‘I’ve got five emotional balls in the air, and you’ve just thrown me a sixth and a seventh and an eighth.’ And Jon would simply smile, because that’s exactly what he intended.”

Harold Harper (Lithgow) is Chase’s prime ally and prime antagonist, whom we meet at a moment of profound personal sorrow. The actor explained, “[He] has been a CIA officer and an FBI officer in his long career. He has been in the business of suppressing his emotions, pretending to have other ones. Suddenly he’s having to deal with one set of problems, when in his mind he’s dealing with these others that none of us could handle. For a character man, you just look for those inner conflicts, and the whole process of how you just feed emotional information to an audience. That’s a wonderful challenge.”

The third side of this unusual triangle is Zoe (Brenneman), an unhappy divorcee drawn tentatively, then full-out into Chase’s unenviable dilemma. Brenneman believes that of all the characters, Zoe knows herself the best, because she alone has had to cope with the pressures of everyday living.

“These guys have been in the world of power and shadow and mirrors, and Zoe’s like, ‘Real world, man, I can’t pay the rent.’ So I always say she is as complex as guys that worked in espionage 30 years ago, because she’s an American woman living in 2022. And as that, you’ve got to be a shape-shifter to get through.”

Brenneman relished her role as “the outsider.” “Every single other person in the story is involved with the spy game and has been, sometimes for decades. But Zoe’s like, ‘I don’t know what y’all are thinking, but you’re crazy.’ She sees things very clearly and fearlessly because of what she’s been through. She’s got nothing left to lose.”

In a genre notable for skullduggery and derring-do, “The Old Man” stands apart as a true ensemble character study. Littlefield pointed out that Dan Chase’s introduction is totally heroic, “and by the way it’s Jeff, so the audience is already falling in love.”

He continued, “But we also realize this is a man who’s very prone to violence. And as our story unfolds, he realizes he’s not quite the hero he thought he was, and that’s all new to him. What’s coming at him so hard and so fast is also revealing who he is. The audience is experiencing that, and it starts to shatter. And then when we look at Harold, at Zoe, Emily [Alia Shawkat] and these other characters, they’re just as complex. They’re just as fascinating as the journey Dan Chase is on.’ And that I think is what keeps our audiences there, wondering what the hell is coming next.”

No report on the unique qualities of “The Old Man” would be complete without a hat tip and a tossed treat to its canine contingent, Chase’s backup team of rescue Rottweilers, prosaically named Dave and Carol. Playful as puppies, they possess additional skills suggesting they’ve picked up plenty from their daddy’s Take Your Doggies to Work Days.

A team of five dogs, under the tutelage of Hollywood animal trainer Sarah Clifford, was enamored with Bridges-as-Chase and properly so, though the actor had one disheartening moment. “It was the first time working with this new dog I just loved; it was great. And the dog went right by me and just started loving John. And what was it, John? Something on your shoe?”

“Yeah,” Lithgow replied. “It was the hamburger I’d put in my pocket.”

“Oh, is that what it was?” Bridges quipped, eyes narrowed as if ready to pounce, in a true Dan Chase moment.


Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.