7 years later, ‘the Dude’ still abides
By Jake Coyle
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,” in stores today.
Eight years later, the fan base for the movie continues to grow. On Friday and Saturday, New York will host the “Lebowski Fest” – the fourth year fans will dress up as characters from the film, bowl a few games and sip the Dude’s white Russians.
AP: How similar are you to the Dude in the movie?
Dowd: A lot of the body language is 110 percent spot-on. That’s very, very similar.
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.
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. ... I was around Ralph Nader when he started up his PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) organization. ... 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: 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.