It helps to have a father who knows a little something about the biz—and a grandfather, an uncle, two brothers, and a sister. Indeed there's no shortage of talent in the acting dynasty started by actor Lloyd Bridges. Yet more than simply offering his sons that first break, the granddaddy of the Bridges clan had serious lessons to pass on—lessons in craft, life, and show business—which may explain the legendary family's continued success.
While both Beau and Jordan began acting around the age of 6, their experiences have been vastly different from the start. Beau began in film and television, appearing in the 1948 film noir classic Force of Evil and his father's late 1950s hit Sea Hunt, and continued with guest roles on various dramatic TV shows. He has now done nearly 100 film and television projects, including standout performances in Gaily, Gaily, The Landlord, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and an Emmy-winning performance as Reagan press secretary James Brady in Without Warning.
His son Jordan, however, was bitten by the stage bug early on. While Jordan's first film role was in his father's TV movie The Kid From Nowhere—earning him a SAG card at age 5—he went on to do theatre at Bard College and then to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
The two have worked together on numerous occasions—even playing the title character at different ages in the TV miniseries P.T. Barnum—but their current project is the first time they've worked together onstage. Now starring in the Geffen Playhouse's production of Jane Anderson's Looking for Normal, father and son took time off from dress rehearsals to speak with Back Stage West about the acting pointers that have been passed down through generations—and those that are being passed back up, as well.
Jordan: The way it works in our family is, it's the family business. Much like in the Mafia. Every child is given the opportunity to act at a young age and to learn what it's like to be in the business. But I didn't really know I wanted to act when I was a child. I have a lot of interests, and I really wanted to finish my education—go to college—and didn't really want to have a career as an adolescent.
Beau: Your grandparents were very proud of you for graduating from college, because none of their children pulled that off.
Jordan: Then in college one of my directors kind of took me aside and said, unequivocally, "You're an actor. This is what you should be doing," and that kind of startled me into saying, "OK, maybe I should get serious about this." In our family, work ethic is very important, and before that time, I hadn't really committed to the idea of doing it. And I didn't really want to do it halfway.
Beau: I also went to work in my father's shop and began in film. But I always loved performing in front of a live audience. The form that it took for me was what you'd call street theatre—just going and putting on shows in parking lots or in the back of a truck. I'd do it with my brother and friends. We did a thing called Famous American Poets. I sent out leaflets to conservative businessmen's organizations like the Shriners, and I would read them American poets. The thing was, they were revolutionary American poets like LeRoi Jones, Bob Dylan. I would sometimes take along my grandfather—who was an old Englishman who had nothing to do with show business and politically disagreed with me on almost everything—and these businessmen would listen to me do these poems at lunch, and they'd be kind of affronted. Then I'd bring my grandfather out, and he would insult me and rag on me, and then they'd all kind of feel good about it again. I would perform in all kinds of places: prisons, hospitals, once where the refugees were coming across from Vietnam—I put on several shows there. Susan Sarandon was there, Micky Dolenz—lots of interesting folk I was hanging around with at that time. But that was the extent of my theatre experience. You have much more experience with theatre than I do.
Jordan: More training, not more experience.
Beau: You've been in more productions on the stage, with your college experience, so you've helped me with voice production and how to reach across with a performance to a live audience. Theatre is so different from film. Film is all about perfection, making things perfect by doing things over and over again until you get it right, or as right as you can get it. The scary part about theatre is that all your dirty underwear is going to show. But the nice part about it is that the next night you get another shot.
Jordan: I think that one of the great things is that there is all your dirty laundry out there to see. You can discover great things through "mistakes." You have to go along with things. You can't say "stop." You have to work through an uncomfortable silence or if somebody's walking out of the house. That's sometimes when the best moments are found—when you're caught off-guard. That's what makes it great—that it is an imperfect beast.
I have a theory that most people disagree with. I really feel that acting for film and acting for the stage are two different crafts. I think that they share things in common. But I liken it to a painter switching over to photography. There are similar things—you have to be conscious of light and color and form—but it's a whole different medium. But what's interesting is the interchange between the two disciplines and how you can apply things from one to the other.
Security Is Overrated
Beau: The business of acting is a business like so many other things, so the things that I wanted to make you aware of before you got into it—success, failure, all those issues—are not things that are only related to show business. If you were going to be a lawyer or a doctor or a maker of furniture, you would experience failure and success, and I would want you to be able to rock with any one of those. But in terms of the process of acting, it's wonderful, because it asks of you to examine life when you approach it. What you're doing is you're kind of recording a life. You're reflecting life, so you have to study your own life to do it. So of all the things my father taught me about acting, it seems like one of the more important was to try to be truthful to your feelings and express the truth. That's important in life. And always try to listen. Don't feel you have to do it alone. Listen to the other person who's there with you in the scene. Make sure you are hearing what they are saying to you. That's a life lesson. I think the most important thing that he demanded of all his children was to treat your fellow being with respect—not only your fellow actor but also everybody you come in contact with.
Jordan: That's been, for me, the biggest lesson I've come away with.
Beau: You need that so much in the process of putting on a movie or a play. You don't do it alone. It's a team effort, and so, to pull it off correctly, you have to have respect for those people you're working with. Those are the things that I remember hearing, and I try to pass them on to you.
I also think that the part of the acting life I love is the change, the absence of security, because, when you really look at life, you can't really count on anything. One of my favorite books that I ever read in my life—I read it way back—was called The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, and it has to do with this whole idea that people tell you that you can't really feel happy and content until you find security, and it really is a bad road to go down, because in the end there is no such thing as security. The only thing you can count on is change. So as soon as you accept that fact, you're going to get happy and content. In an actor's life you have to accept change, otherwise you're beat before you even start, because you can't count on a job, you can't count on a schedule, so you've got to just jump into the sea of change. There's a certain melancholy and sadness when the job ends, but you can't let that defeat you. You're excited about what the next one is going to be—but there's always that fear that no one's going to hire you again. It's a wild ride. BSW