To cult movie fans, Jeff Dowd’s greatest accomplishment will likely forever be the fact that he’s credited as being the inspiration for the character of The Dude in “The Big Lebowski.” (For the record, it only requires a few moments worth of conversation with him to determine that Jeff Bridges really nailed the impression of Dowd’s voice.) There’s a lot more to Dowd than The Dude, however. His movie career spans decades, and he’s had his hand in many classic films, from “Gandhi” to “War Games.” Dowd spoke with Bullz-Eye about some of those flicks, his upcoming book, and the special edition of “Lebowski” that’s just hit stores. He also makes twice as many references to Huey Lewis than your average interview subject, and, as you’ll read, performs an act of coolness that confirms that he truly is…The Dude.
Jeff Dowd: Hey, Will, how are ya…?
Bullz-Eye: Pretty good, Jeff; how are you?
JD: Where are you?
BE: I am in Chesapeake, Virginia.
BE: And where are you today?
JD: I’m out in California.
BE: Good enough.
JD: Chesapeake, Virginia. Where’s that, exactly…?
BE: That is right next door to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
BE: Pretty close to the water, anyway.
JD: So you’re an East Coast beach guy.
BE: The palest one you’ve ever seen.
JD: (Laughs) So what can I do for you?
BE: Well, I understand that, unlike “Fargo,” which was purportedly based on a true story, I guess you were more or less the inspiration for “The Big Lebowski.”
JD: Well, the character, anyway. I mean, I knew Joel and Ethan (Coen) quite well; I got to know them during “Blood Simple,” and I think they wanted to do some kind of buddy movie, and they thought the character of what they thought I might’ve been like back in the ‘70s would be a good departure point…to put ‘em in there with Walter (played by John Goodman), a guy who would get him in a lot of trouble all the time, as often happens, whether it’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “Lethal Weapon” or “Some Like It Hot” or, y’know, any buddy movie where, like, one guy’s getting another guy in trouble.
BE: How did you come across the Coens? I know you met them in ’81, but how did that actually come to pass…?
JD: I actually met ‘em indirectly because of Robert Redford. An investor in “Blood Simple” happened to be in Sundance, when we were starting the Sundance Institute, and he said, “Hey, I put some money into this, what should I do?” And Redford took him over to introduce him to me on the lawn of this mountain up there in Utah. A couple of months later, I met Joel and Ethan Coen back in New York City, when I went back there for the New York Film Festival. I happened to be at 20th Century Fox that day with a film called “Heart Like A Wheel,” and, because I was in New York, I happened to have a jacket and a tie on, which you do in New York sometimes. So I was at the Fox offices, and they came in, and they’re kind looking real grubby, as Joel and Ethan Coen tend to look – especially back then – and chain-smoking cigarettes and unshaven and all that, and I’m looking like the suit from Fox! And they’re kinda telling me about this movie that’s in post-production, and you can imagine trying to pitch “Blood Simple.” “Oh, yeah, this dead guy gets dragged across a field, and, then…” Well, anyhow, we left, and I kinda sensed, “Well, that’s the end of that,” and I think they did, too, even though I was trying to humor them, because the setting was so weird. Fortunately, by chance, I ran into them down in the Village that night on the street. I had a leather jacket on, and we chatted for a couple of minutes. And, even more karmically, two hours later, I’m in a party in the East Village in some loft, and there they are there! So now we’re having a couple of drinks, and so we said, “Okay, there’s something going on here.” And they showed me the movie a couple of months later, and the minute you saw that movie…y’know, there’s certain movies where you’re five or ten minutes into them and you go, “Wow, I’m dealing with some real filmmakers here!” And you could tell that just by the choices they made in the acting and the cutting and everything. So I ended up helping them sell “Blood Simple,” which, I’ll just say parenthetically, was turned down 3 times by every distributor until we finally got it in front of an audience. Well, we had actually shown it to a couple of audiences, but we finally got a distributor to see it in front of an audience at the Toronto Film Festival, and, all of a sudden, the black humor started to work. I mean, if you sit alone in a screening room or watch it on a tape, then it really doesn’t work as well, because you think it’s a little weird to laugh at certain things, but, in the comfort of 800 people in a dark room, people tend to start to laugh at the places they’re supposed to laugh and get it a little more. So, then, we had a minor little bidding war, and the rest is history!
BE: And you’ve maintained the friendship with them over the years…?
JD: Yeah! I mean, they’re not the most social of guys in a lot of ways…not to say that they’re not very friendly guys, but they don’t hang a lot, so to speak. But, yeah, we see each other from time to time…I’ll be in New York or they’ll be in L.A. or we’ll be at a film festival or an event and have drinks or dinner or whatever.
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