On set: Jeff Bridges on coming back to Tron 28 years later

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Patrick Lee
Jul 4, 2015

We've been Tron geeks since the very first time we saw the original movie back when legwarmers roamed the earth, so imagine our delight to be invited to the set of the upcoming sequel Tron Legacy back in June near Vancouver, Canada. Following are our first impressions of the film, as well as our interview with star and new Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, who plays a dual role: Kevin Flynn and a computer program called Clu.

Ironically, as this movie revisits a cult phenomenon of the 1980s, our set visit coincided with news of Michael Jackson's death the same day: June 25, 2009. (Spoilers ahead!)

Tron Legacy centers on Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of the original film's Kevin Flynn (Bridges). Kevin went missing more than 25 years ago, and Sam has grown up without a father. As the film opens, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, reprising his original role), tells Sam that he has received a message from Kevin from a phone number that was disconnected two decades ago. Sam goes to the now boarded-up Flynn's Arcade, discovers Kevin's hidden lab and finds himself sucked into the virtual world of Tron, which has evolved considerably since Kevin first visited it.

We saw director Joseph Kosinski's new ideas for the new virtual world of Tron in the "war room," or board room, at the Canadian Motion Picture Park (the same studio where Watchmen shot), whose walls were lined with concept art and storyboards. We also looked through View-Masters to get an idea of the 3-D film's dimensionality, stills from the production (not from the movie) demonstrating the movie's look and feel:

♦Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) kneeling in his "safe house" in a white martial-arts-type robe.

♦Four "sirens" surrounding Sam Flynn: They're in skintight white illuminated catsuits; he's in a black one.

♦Sam with a disc on what looks like the bridge of a large ship, all orange and hexagonal windows opening onto blue screens beyond.

♦Concept art of characters: Bridges' Flynn in black robes and white robes, kinda Obi-Wan looking; Clu in a long black coat with orange lights; Sam in black tights with white lights and a helmet with a glass visor; Quorra (Olivia Wilde) in a black catsuit with a collar and diagonal light. When we see finished 3-D images later, the looks are slightly different: Quorra, for example, is wearing a black catsuit with cutout shoulders and an asymmetrical Louise Brooks black bobbed haircut.

Our initial impression was that Kosinski and his team have taken advantage of the quantum leap in visual effects technology to come up with a new, sleeker, darker, updated version of Tron world, but one that hearkens back to the original with the same feel and wonder, and we're eager to see a lot more. (Check out the initial teaser trailer here to see what we mean.)

In coming months leading up to the sequel's Dec. 17 premiere, we'll have more about what we saw on set, including a scene with lots of extras in a nightclub in the Tron world, which was a massive physical set, not green screen, and included a dance floor and bar, kind of like Ten Forward if it were on an Imperial Star Destroyer. (Click to enlarge the images.)

In the meantime, here's an edited version of our conversation with Bridges.

Jeff Bridges, it's amazing to see you back in this role.

Bridges: Isn't it amazing? It's been 28 years.

How has Flynn changed?

Bridges: Well, this is kind of a challenge for me, because I don't want to give too much ... —I don't want to deprive anybody of the enjoyment of seeing the film with any kind of twists and turns. So I'm probably not gonna answer too many of the plot—too many of your questions about that, because I want to make it fun for people without telling the whole plot. But it's certainly a different deal. [When] we made Tron, there was no Internet, man. No cell phones. No laptops or any of that stuff. So it's a completely different world that we're showing up in here, and the look of the film, it certainly, you know, benefits from that. ...

What's it like coming back to this character 28 years later? Is it hard getting back into his shoes?

Bridges: It's not really. It seems like we had a long weekend, basically, because [Steven] Lisberger, who directed the first one, is involved, very involved, in this one, which is great. You know, having the source of the material still engaged. I think it gave us all a lot of pleasure, because he's such a wild cat, but it's also kind of grounded in that first movie that was so unique and everything.

I heard that years before it came out, I heard, oh, they're gonna do a Tron 2, and I couldn't believe [it]. I said, "You're kidding me?" Nothing happened. And, finally, this came about, and I was so pleased, and we did kind of a, "Hey, this is not that strange." The first time I heard about this the Coen brothers did this [thing] where they shoot the trailer for a movie first without ever having made the movie in hopes to entice the financers. That's what they did with this one, to really entice Disney to say, "Oh, yeah, we own this thing. We might as well do one of these." So the trailer came off well. We played it at Comic-Con and [it] went over well.

Were you surprised at the reaction?

Bridges: Yeah, a little bit. I haven't been to Comic-Con. I got to this one coming up, but I hear it's kind of a crazy thing. ...

What was your reason for wanting to come back? Did it take persuading?

Bridges: Well, I got a pitch from Joe [Kosinski]—who, by the way, this is his first film. Can you imagine? I don't know if it's the most expensive ever made, but it's right up there. To have a first-time guy. Got to give Disney credit for taking that risk. They were smart, because he's such a calm, can-do guy. He's gonna pull this off. He made this wonderful pitch on the story, where it was going, and that was intriguing to me, and he showed me his commercial reel. He's out of commercials, and I saw some of the technology that he had available to him, that he could use. And then it was basically the same reason that I did the first one. The first one was cutting-edge technology at that time, and this one certainly is for this time. And it's a whole different way of making movies I hadn't experienced. A little bit in Iron Man, but nothing like this. ...

You said once the thing you remember most about making the first one was this really uncomfortable dance belt [that he wore under his white leotard], so is the same thing happening in this one?

Bridges: No dance belt, thank God. Here we have these wonderful suits that light up, so they have their own kind of problems, you know, heating up and stuff like that, but the suits are quite a bit different. ... I don't know all the technical stuff, but these suits are amazing. You know, I was talking about the lighting being so low that they're using. One of the reasons for that is so you can really see the suits, and the suits can even light the other actors off your suits.

Tell me about Lisberger.

Bridges: Well it is a little bit strange. I'm excited, because I think he's gonna be in it somewhere, in the movie. It will be fun to play with him. Just him being involved in it was a big plus for me. I think you asked what made me get involved again. Another chance to work with Steve and do that. And Bruce, too. Bruce is in it. Boxleitner. ...

What is it about your makeup that takes three hours?

Bridges: You'll see.

Can you compare the directors, as wasn't it Steven's first film as well?

Bridges: You know, it's kind of a shame, in a way, but the more seasoned directors a lot of times have more difficulty getting a job than first-time guys. New kid on the block kind of thing. I've had great luck with first-time directors. I love working with them, because it's like, you know, Orson Welles directing Citizen Kane. He doesn't know what he can't do. He's just so open, you know?

And Steven was like that. I remember I couldn't believe it we showed up the first day at work and around the walls of the studio—this is the first Tron—are video games that you have to put quarters in, just all over. I said, "God, Steve you don't think this is gonna raise a little hell with the work, you know? I mean guys are gonna be ..."—he said, "I don't know, I figured you might want to prepare before you go on the grid." I said, "OK."

So actually both things did happen. It did hold up the work every once in a while, but it was great fun. I remember I got locked into this game, Battle Zone. You familiar with that game? The tanks. God, hours. And they would come and try to yank me away. I'd say, "I'm preparing, I'm preparing." ...

They re-created Flynn's Arcade from the first film.

Bridges: Yeah, that was wonderful. They did a great job in re-creating that.

Is it similar to the original?

Bridges: It's as closely as they could come. I mean, I think that was a practical location in the original, and it's torn down. ...

It seems like there are little homages to the first one. ... Are there things that stick out in your mind? Are there things that they've re-created?

Bridges: Well, they've done the light cycles and the disc game. People I think [there] are fans of that, so they wanted to keep that. That's still in there, but it's taken to the next level. But it's quite remarkable what they've done on that.

Is there a new vehicle?

Bridges: There's another little vehicle. There's all kinds of new twists on it. Have you seen the demo or the trailer? So you can get an idea of how the guys flip on their—run and jump on their baton that has light cycles and all kinds of different things. ...

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