Q&A: Jeff Dowd Is the Real ‘Lebowski’
NEW YORK – Call him the Dude. That or his Dudeness, Duder or el Duderino √≥ if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
Addressing Jeff Dowd √≥ the real life inspiration for Jeff Bridges’ character in “The Big Lebowski” √≥ is not a formal affair. But as the cult of the Coen brothers’ 1998 mistaken identity comedy has grown, so has Dowd’s fame.
The 55-year-old film producer first met Joel and Ethan Coen when he helped promote their 1984 debut, “Blood Simple.” The Coens decided the large, boisterous Dowd, who referred to himself as “the Dude,” would yield endless possibilities if inserted into a genre film √≥ a Los Angeles film noir.
“It was sort of imaging him in the context of a (Raymond) Chandler kind of story that got us started on the script,” Joel Coen says on the new collector’s edition DVD of “The Big Lebowski.”
Eight years later, the fan base for the movie continues to grow. A new collector’s edition DVD comes out Tuesday, and New York will host the “Lebowski Fest” Oct. 21-22 √≥ the fourth year fans will dress up as characters from the film, bowl a few games and sip the Dude’s signature white Russians.
Imdb.com notes that the Dude, “the laziest in all of Los Angeles County,” says “man” 144 times in the movie. Unfortunately, Dowd didn’t drop one “man” talking to the AP, but he did discuss his peculiar “somewhat icon status.”
AP: How similar are you to the Dude we know from the movie?
Dowd: A lot of the body language is 110 percent spot on. That’s very, very similar. Some of the dress is pretty close. This is what Joel and Ethan imaged I would have been like in the `70s. There was a period of time after when we were very active politically in the late `60s √≥ there was no “movement” anymore. A fair amount of people hung out for a couple years. We were hanging pretty heavy, and indeed for a while we drank white Russians somewhere between tequila sunrises and Harvey Wallbangers, or whatever the drink of season was.
AP: Did the Coens tell you they were working on “The Big Lebowski” with you in mind?
Dowd: I actually heard it through a guy named Ben Barenholt who produced a couple of their movies. “The boys are doin’ a movie about ‘ya, Dude.” They told me shortly after that.
AP: Did you work with Jeff Bridges beforehand?
Dowd: Just a day, but he got it. I’m pretty easy to mimic. (Robert) Redford does a good impression of me too. I’m kind of bigger than life and the way I use my hands and mumble and lay back with my belly sticking out. In the script, it says, “The Dude, in rumpled clothes. Casualness runs deep.”
AP: Do you bowl?
Dowd: Not that much. I know where Joel and Ethan got the bowling idea. It was during “Blood Simple,” when I was helping them with the marketing and distribution. I had an idea to throw a party at a bowling alley in Santa Monica and it was like a thousand people. That’s where that came from.
AP: Sam Elliot narrates at the start of the movie that the Dude is “the man for his time and place.” Is that true of you as well?
Dowd: I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the right place and the right time for the better part of half a century √≥ being around a lot of interesting people and a lot of interesting events. … I’m there at 17 years old traveling around Europe with the Living Theater and, by chance, the Rolling Stones. I was around Ralph Nader when he started up his PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) organization. I got involved with Redford … there’s a whole story about the first year of Sundance and how it was started. I was involved in the last demonstration against Richard Nixon at the Spokane World Fair. (Dowd was a member of the Seattle Seven, an anti-Vietnam protest group alluded to in “Lebowski.”)
AP: I hear you’re writing an autobiography?
Dowd: I’m almost done. It’s called “The Dude Abides.” It’s about how friends can get together and do things positively and hopefully using this somewhat icon status I have now, bequeathed to me by Joel and Ethan … it’ll help empower the younger generation.
AP: What’s it like, this “icon status”?
Dowd: The persona of that character automatically is an icebreaker. People are like, “Wow! The Dude!” And they want to give you a big handshake or a hug. It’s a very friendly feeling for them and obviously for me. It’s different than what happens with people being in awe with a star √≥ it’s like a friendly thing. People seem to be instantly at ease. From my point of view, that’s great, because that’s how the world should be anyway.
AP: Do you indeed have a rug that really ties the room together?
Q&A: Jeff Dowd Is the Real ‘Lebowski’