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'The Big Lebowski' at 25: Jeff Bridges explains why he didn't 'burn some herb' to play iconic stoner The Dude

Plus, co-star Julianne Moore talks about being pregnant with her first child while shooting the Coen Brothers' cult classic.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Jeff Bridges, 1998, © Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection.
Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, 1998. (Photo: © Gramercy Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

Released in theaters 25 years ago Monday, The Big Lebowski bombed at the box office. But it would ultimately, arguably become the Coen Brothers’ most cultishly adored movie, an incessantly quotable dark comedy involving a memorable ensemble of the filmmakers’ trademark oddballs and social outcasts unwittingly lured into the stickiest of dilemmas.

Thanks to a genuine, lived-in, unforgettable performance, it also made star Jeff Bridges synonymous with Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, the weed-smoking, “man”-dropping bowling aficionado whose uneventful life goes sideways after he’s mistaken for a millionaire who shares his name.

In a 2014 Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch below, with Lebowski beginning at 3:27), Bridges said it was “a bit naïve” to equate him so closely with The Dude. The actor has appeared in over 75 movies, and earned seven Academy Award nominations — not one of which was for Lebowski. (He won in 2010 for the country Western drama Crazy Heart.)

But he also admits he’s “got quite a bit of Dude in me, man.”

For one, Bridges, who has battled lymphoma in recent years but reported in 2021 that his cancer was in remission, has long enjoyed smoking weed himself. And sometimes while working. Ironically, however, the actor did not partake when it came to making Lebowski.

“I’ll burn some herb occasionally, but for that film I decided, ‘This is such a wonderful script, and quite detailed,’” he told us. “While it seems very improvisational, it’s all scripted. It was all done exactly [as written]. If you add an extra ‘man’ in a spot, it didn’t quite feel right. So I really wanted to have all my wits about me. I didn’t burn at all during that movie.”

What Bridges would do: He’d ask filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen before each new set-up, “Did The Dude burn one before this scene?”

“And they would say ‘Oh, yeah’ [or] ‘probably,’ that kind of thing,” Bridges remembered.

Lebowski’s all-star cast also included John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid and Julianne Moore.

In a 2019 Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Moore talked about being pregnant with her first child as she played eccentric artist Maude Lebowski, daughter of the man The Dude is mistaken for.

"I had to be in a harness and I didn't want to tell anybody I was pregnant because I wanted to be able to do it," she said, referencing the scene in which Maude paints by zipline. "But I loved every minute of it. I loved how precise the dialogue was. I loved working with Jeff. He was the one actor I've worked with, who, I couldn't look him in the eye because I would laugh too hard, so I had to look kind of below his face when we were doing scenes together."

The Oscar-winning actress also discussed that like many a slow-burn cult classic, The Big Lebowski was actually deemed a failure when first released. It barely made a dent at the box office as Titanic was still tearing up the charts 12 weeks into release, and also fell behind U.S. Marshals, The Wedding Singer and Twilight (the Paul Newman-Gene Hackman crime drama, that is) its opening weekend. It didn’t fare too well with critics, either.

"When I saw it, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is so funny.' And then the next day all the reviews came out and they killed it. And then the movie kind of bombed,” Moore said.

“And I was like, 'That seems weird. I loved it. I thought it was funny,’” she said. “And then gradually people started talking about it, people would stop me on the street, they started quoted lines, and you realized that it had become this big phenomenon."