The Coen Brothers’ 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski” has won over the hearts and minds of millions and has become a modern cult classic. The film follows The Dude (Jeff Bridges), a Los Angeles layabout who likes to bowl, toke, and meditate, and the Chandler-esque web of crime in which he finds himself trapped. In a short 1998 “Making of” documentary, the Joel and Ethan Coen, Bridges, and co-star John Goodman talk about the inspirations for “The Big Lebowski,” the film’s many characters including Sam Elliot’s The Narrator and John Turturro’s Jesus Quintana, cinematographer Roger Deakins, as well as the strange reactions from journalists.
The Coens first discuss the early inspirations for the film. The Dude character was based on Jeff Dowd, a man whom the Coens had known for over fifteen years, and the script started from the conceit of him being dropped into a Chandler-like story: “It just seemed interesting to us to thrust that character into the most confusing situation possible, the person it would seem on the face of it least equipped to deal with it,” says Ethan Coen. They then talk about Bridges performance and how he prepared to play The Dude, particularly how he would ask either one them before every scene whether or not The Dude “burned one on the way over,” so he would know how inebriated to play the character.
They also talk about the some of the minor performances in the film: Sam Elliott apparently had no idea what he was doing with his Narrator character, but the Coens didn’t think it affected his performance; Turturro created such a vivid characterization with such limited screen time because the actor, according to Ethan, “goes to the core of things.”
The Coens then praise cinematographer Roger Deakins and discuss their working relationship since 1991’s “Barton Fink”; Joel calls him “one of the top three or four DPs in the world right now.” They also discuss some of the strange reactions from journalists, including a lengthy interview they did with a writer for Floor Coverings Weekly because a ruined carpet was the catalyst for the film’s plot: “We did a really long interview with a woman,” says Ethan. “She was really taken aback. It was the one time we talked to a journalist and they were anxious to get off the phone and were just humoring us as we nattered on about the carpet and all the other floor coverings in the movie.”
“The Big Lebowski” is currently available for rental and purchase on DVD or from your nearest digital video store.