‘The Big Lebowski’ Reunion: Steve Buscemi Tells Jeff Bridges and John Goodman Why He Almost Turned Down the Cult Classic

The three amigos talked first impressions of the Coen brothers' script and how the Dude became a Buddhist icon in an interview with Today.
Big Lebowski

20 years out, The Dude still abides.

Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi recently reunited for the 20th anniversary of “The Big Lebowski,” the cult classic that made Joel and Ethan Coen modern legends to slackers and stoners the world over. Though “The Big Lebowski” disappointed at the box office when it premiered in 1998, earning a relatively meager $17 million against a budget of $15 million, word-of-mouth buzz and home video sales turned it into the cult sensation it is today. Thanks to The Today Show, the three cast members recently took a nostalgic sit-down through their initial reactions to the script, favorite fan interactions, and one of The Dude’s most abiding legacies.

On their initial reactions to the script, Goodman said he loved it right away. Buscemi, who plays the much-maligned Donny Kerabatsos, had the same reaction, but almost turned down the project nonetheless. “When I was reading the part of Donnie, I kind of didn’t get it,” said Buscemi. “I felt bad for the guy. I thought, ‘Why does Walter bully him all the time?’ And as I’m reading it, I thought, ‘How am I gonna tell Joel and Ethan that I don’t want to do this? And then when I got to Donnie’s last scene … I saw the relationship. I saw how much Walter really loves Donnie and how they’re like brothers, and I found it very moving.”

Bridges jumped in to share an intriguing fan theory that Donnie is actually a figment of Walter’s imagination, an old war buddy, and The Dude merely plays along to keep the fantasy intact. The conversation then turned to the movie’s initial lukewarm reception.

"The Big Lebowski"
“The Big Lebowski”Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

“It was a weird thing that it came after ‘Fargo,'” Buscemi, who starred in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-nominated 1996 film, said. “These guys could have done anything! So it was avery strange movie to make following that.” Around five years after the film came out, however, college kids started quoting “Lebowski” to him. “The thing that struck me was how many times they saw it,” Buscemi said. Added Bridges, in a most Dude-like inflection: “Well, you keep seeing new stuff in it. New shit keeps coming to light.” The table erupted in laughter.

Bridges has no doubt shared many interactions with “Lebowksi” fans over the years, but one proved particularly fruitful. “I was sitting next to a Zen master at this dinner party, and he leans over and … he says, ‘You realize in many circles, The Dude is considered a Zen master,” Bridges said. The man told him the movie contained “many modern day koans,” referring to a phrase or question used in Buddhist meditation. These koans include: “The dude abides,” “Shut the fuck up Donny,” and “Well, that’s just like your opinion, man.” The meeting led to a book collaboration, “The Dude and the Zen Master,” co-authored by Bridges and his dinner party partner, Bernie Glassman.

The entire extended Today interview is a must-watch for any abiding “Lebowski” fan. After 20 years, these guys still crack each other up. Check it out below.

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