When Jeff Bridges was offered a chance to be “The Old Man,” he took his usual stance: He said no.
“I resist everything, you know,” Bridges told the Television Critics Association. “Resist, resist.”
Especially this one (shown here). It’s a series (10 p.m. Thursdays on FX, starting June 16, for seven weeks), something he’d never done. And he’s seen, close-up, that this can be demanding.
“My father, Lloyd Bridges, did six series, and I saw what hard work” it was, Bridges said. “He (was) a very joyous cat, but also a really hard worker.”
So Bridges went into resistance mode … except that this plot, taken from a novel, was hard to resist.
“The set-up was really quite intriguing,” said producer Warren Littlefield. “A CIA operative from 30 years ago … is hanging out with his dogs in Vermont. And then something happens and his past comes back to haunt him in the present.”
This combines two skills Bridges has already demonstrated:
— Yes, he can play old and crusty. He started doing that a decade ago, winning an Oscar for “Crazy Heart” and a nomination for “True Grit.” It should be easier, now that he’s 72.
— And he’s done plenty of adventures, from “Starman” and “Against All Odds” to the original “Tron” and the “King Kong” reboot.
So Bridges reluctantly agreed to be “The Old Man.” By October of 2019, the show had its director (Jon Watts) and its stars (Bridges, John Lithgow, Amy Brenneman, Alia Shawkat); then complications grew.
In mid-March of 2020, the show shut down because of COVID. It resumed filming that fall, but soon had to stop: In October of 2020, Bridges was diagnosed with lymphoma; the cancer was finally in remission a year later, but during that time he had also been hit hard by COVID.
In February or 2022 – almost two years after the first shutdown – filming resumed.
Bridges describes the double blow as “that year-and-a-half bout with my mortality.” He dipped into his long-time interest in “philosophies and spirituality …. I haven’t felt any different, really. I have always approached life the same way, but this kind of made things sharper.”
He also worked on stoicism and on the “foundation training” concept: “We try to avoid stress, … but life is stressful. So it’s a good idea to practice stressing yourself.”
Bridges re-emerged as an action hero, despite cancer, COVID and, especially, age. Society “tends to over-glorify youth,” said co-star E.J. Bonilla, 33. It offers “this false sense that the best is behind us.”
Often, that’s not the case, said John Lithgow, 76, who plays Bridges’ adversary. “It only gets better …. An old actor is cast … in stories about age and mortality.”
Younger people might understand the feeling of being marginalized, said co-star Amy Brenneman, 57.
“Your body starts to break down as you get older,” she said, “so there’s a (loss of) power. Well, my character, Zoe, never felt power. So it’s like, ‘Oh, welcome to my world.’ You feel delicate; you feel powerless.”
But you boom ahead, especially if your past is chasing you.