‘The Old Man’ brought Jeff Bridges to TV. John Lithgow had no advice.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — It’s a pretty safe bet that any show called “The Old Man” that starts with a scene about frequent urination will have some things to say about mortality — as it does. (Yes, it’s a thriller; don’t worry, it gets more exciting.)

Jeff Bridges, 72, who plays the title character, Dan Chase — a rogue ex-CIA spy with two very loyal dogs and a knack for killing at close range — knew the show could raise some tough existential questions. He also knew that his many bone-breaking fight scenes would be harder to pull off at his age than, say, the one he did in the 1972 western “Bad Company.”

He didn’t know he would be playing many of these fight scenes with a huge lump of cancer in his gut.

“What makes me laugh, I’m doing this scene, all this fight stuff, and I have a 9-by-12-inch tumor on my body, taking these punches,” he said last week in a three-way interview. with its co-leader, John Lithgow. “But it didn’t hurt; there was no pain, so I didn’t feel them.”

“Laugh” seemed like a funny word in that context, even for a kind-hearted famous man in a Hawaiian shirt and Hoka sandals, even for the guy who had played it. the guy. But then his views on life became more and more Zen-like over the years – or as he put it, “Buddhist leaning”. As he and Lithgow, 76, talked about “The Old Man,” the conversation was rarely less than lighthearted, even when it turned to heavier subjects.

Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine and based on the novel by Thomas Perry, “The Old Man,” a cat-and-mouse drama, premieres Thursday on FX. (The episodes will air on Hulu starting Friday.) It’s Bridges’ first regular TV role since he was a child, appearing on shows like “Sea Hunt,” an adventure series starring his father Lloyd. It’s also his and Lithgow’s first collaboration, despite their award-winning, sweeping careers spanning decades. (Bridges has the Oscars, Lithgow the Emmys and Tonys.)

“The Old Man” was a great way to bond. Eyes gleaming, Lithgow nodded as Bridges described being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma months after production was shut down by the pandemic — and then becoming infected with Covid-19 during chemotherapy.

The cancer went into remission, but Covid nearly killed him — five weeks in an intensive care unit, he said, “made the cancer look like nothing.”

When Bridges and Lithgow finally started working together, they were ecstatic. The shutdown came after they filmed four of the seven episodes, and Lithgow — who plays Chase’s stalker and former colleague, FBI man Harold Harper — doesn’t share a scene with Bridges until the season finale.

By the time they filmed, two years had passed since production began. The stoppage was over, but it took Bridges many months to get back to literal fighting form.

“In a way, our working relationship played out the same way the show did,” Lithgow said. “It was such a big reward and worth the wait.”

Unfortunately, the complications didn’t stop there. Days before we met on a sunny day here at the Four Seasons Hotel, a person close to Lithgow tested positive for Covid. And while he’s tested negative several times since then, protocol dictated that he and Bridges not share a room.

They settled down happily, as for an hour me and Lithgow, who has the gentle qualities of the perfect dinner host – warm, curious, respectful, but not shy – sat down together for a video chat with Bridges, who had moved to a different suite after her half of her photo shoot ended. These are edited snippets of the conversation.

This is the first time they work together. Did you have a relationship before that?

JOHN LITHGOW I’m not sure Jeff still remembers, but we met very briefly at one of the awards season luncheons on the red carpet. Do you remember that? But I felt like I knew him; I’d seen him since he was 19, in the movies.

JEFF BRIDGES And what a gas it was to work with this guy, man. We had so much fun, huh John?

Jeff, what was it about this story that finally drew you to modern TV?

BRIDGES I dragged myself into doing TV because my dad had done six or seven TV shows, and I saw the hard work he had to do. So I was a little excited about that. But I read the script. I said, “Oh, that’s good.” I read the book, and “Oh!” And then I said, “Who is our team? Who is the writer? I have to meet these guys.” And then the cast started to come together, and I got excited and said, “Oh, I’m on board.”

John, you’ve done a lot of prestigious era TV series like “Dexter”, “The Crown” and others. Do you have any advice for Jeff?

LITHGOW Oh my God, no. The notion of giving advice to Jeff Bridges is so absurd. I mean, I was full of stories. Jeff and I had a wonderful rehearsal day, and then we went to film our two separate stories, and we barely saw each other. I was working with Alia Shawkat on my story, and he was working with Amy Brenneman on hers.

We were both having a fabulous time, but we were both restless, wanting to be together. Chase and Harper have such a fascinating and complex history. We were two tigers waiting for that red meat.

Jeff, what was it like for you to return to production after two difficult years?

BRIDGES It all seems like a bizarre dream because I went back to work, and I thought I was going to die for a long time. I was really in surrender mode thinking, “Change gears here, friend, because this is the end.” And now, blink my eyes, and I’m back at work with all the same actors and crew, and it felt like we had a long weekend. That dream quality, I still have it now in my life. It’s not necessarily a nightmare either. There were some wonderful things that I think you only discover in moments like this.

These fight scenes are brutal. Did you have to recover first or did you adapt your approach?

BRIDGES No, we had some fights and things we had to do, and it was important to the story. I had a coach, Zach Wermers, who had been my physical therapist since my illness, and we met three times a week. We had these little goals. The first one said, “Well, let’s see how long you can last.” And I stay for 45 seconds, and then that’s it.

My big goal was to get my daughter down the aisle without oxygen. After I did that and danced with her, I said, “Well, maybe I can go back to work?” I really didn’t think I would be able to do that.

Do you think the show has anything specific to say about American foreign policy right now?

LITHGOW My God, yes. The inciting event for this entire series is something that happened 30 years ago, during the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, when the United States was involved, but covertly. When we started doing this, nobody dreamed that there would be a Russian incursion into Ukraine. It was like, “History caught up with us.” Not that it sheds any light on contemporary events, but it resonates.

And yet, what is even more compelling is the personal torment of these characters. It is this combination of great global anxieties and extremely personal conflicts that is the way we are all living our lives these days.

BRIDGES For me, it’s about consequences, which are personal, individual, but also global. What you do matters, when all the chickens come home to roost.

You’re both in your 70s; I’m younger, but being forced to face big questions about aging and mortality at work every day feels like torture. You ran right into it, though.

LITHGOW Well, we’re both old, there’s no getting around it. And for me, these are the most interesting years of my acting career. I mean, we’re pretty cast – we’re not pretending we’re younger than we are. To me, we’re just very lucky actors that we’re still viable and hireable, and that there are still projects as complex and challenging as this that really have age. They are about mortality.

BRIDGES There’s one thing, and I don’t know what to call it – adolescence in old age? Something that we’re going through, that we’ve never gone through. It’s kind of like a weird puberty, getting older and having different perspectives on things.

Do you think dealing with these existential themes as artists helps you process them as people?

LITHGOW We live with these issues. At the most basic level, I can’t learn the lines the way I learned when I made “Third Rock From the Sun.” I used to be an amazing genius at this. And now there are those moments when I’m in the middle of a scene and I’m worried about my next line. This has never happened to me before.

Everyone knows what it feels like, when you get to be our age, of just trying to remember someone’s name. I tossed and turned in bed for two hours one morning, trying to remember the name Max von Sydow! These things happen, and of course it fills you with dread: “Oh my God, I’m losing my marbles.” But you have to recognize that it happens.

BRIDGES And it’s a new and fresh feeling. It’s like when you’re a teenager, you say, “I have to ask this girl out!” And this is our version of it. One way to deal with it, I think, is to hang out with other older brothers and talk about it, and have a little vision and say, “Oh, I’m not alone.”

LITHGOW Yes, we are survivors. There’s a reason Shakespeare called this the “second childishness.”

BRIDGES Here it goes!

LITHGOW You just have to just embrace it, and acknowledge it, and let it make you feel happy, not unhappy.

If you have to deal with these issues anyway, it must be nice to have a career where it’s your job to engage them on a meaningful level.

BRIDGES God, it really is a blessing.

LITHGOW And think what it’s like to make a friend like that. I’m 76 years old, and to stumble upon this wonderful friendship at our age is great.

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