Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Crazy Heart's Oscar-worthy performances

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal
The role and much of the music were written specifically for Bridges

By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Crazy Heart is a low budget film with a familiar storyline.

It is a tale of redemption about a flawed character whose life and career appears to be on an irreversible downward spiral.

Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country music singer-songwriter, who is broke, an alcoholic and reduced to playing at rundown bowling alleys and small town bars.

The actor, who is hot favourite to win his first Oscar for the role, portrayed the rogue character to much critical acclaim.

Nominated for an Academy Award four times in the past - his first was for The Last Picture Show in 1971 - Bridges has won a slew of awards for his latest performance. They include best actor at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards earlier this year.

The role was written specifically for Bridges by first-time director Scott Cooper.

"He's a great singer and he also is a guy that you immediately and innately like," says Cooper.

"I felt like if we couldn't embrace this character from the first frame, then the audience would be less likely to take this journey with him."

Jeff Bridges
Arguably, Bridges remains best known for cult film The Big Lebowski

"He [Bridges], time in and time out, gives remarkable performances...a guy who should have long ago been awarded an Oscar."

Above all, Bridges shines because he is utterly believable as a country music singer. He both looks and sounds the part and commands the stage like a seasoned Nashville star.

"A big plus was the music," explains Bridges.

"I'm a musician, have been since I was a kid, I write music and love country music - so that was the big draw."

The music for the film was written by Bridge's friend, T-Bone Burnett, who composed five of the songs specifically for the actor.

It was also a performance that allowed Bridges to draw upon his own life experiences.

"When I'm preparing for a role, I always start with myself and see what aspects of myself reminds me of the guy," he says.

While lapping up the plaudits, Bridges is modest about his personal success with a low-budget $7m (£4.6m) film.

"It's wonderful that the movie is getting that kind of buzz," he says.

"It's great to be acknowledged by the guys who do what you do - you know what they say, 'Atta boy, that feels great'.

"It's also wonderful to bring some attention to a movie that you enjoyed doing so much and also that turned out so great. It's a good feeling."

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean Craddock, a young reporter who is a single mother and half the age of Bridges' character. Her performance has earned the actress a nomination for best supporting actress. It is her first Oscar nod.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal was eager to return to acting after having a baby

"Man, she is something," says Bridges.

"She is one of the best actors I have ever worked with.

"She's so game, she is up for it, and really brings her heart and soul to any part she's playing in. It's wonderful to get a taste of that, she was great."

The unlikely relationship between the reporter and Blake develops against Jean's better judgement.

"We were playing people with really big, vulnerable hearts," says Gyllenhaal.

"I think we are people like that, and I think we just got down and did it, we lived it."

Crazy Heart was Gyllenhaal's first major movie role, aside from her appearance in The Dark Knight, since becoming a mother.

"This one came to me at a time when I really had a lot to express," she explains.

"I had an almost-two-year-old and I had made Batman since she was born, but that was 15 days over 8 months. I was welling over with really wanting to express something new."

Like Bridges, Gyllenhaal says she moulded the character on her own real life experiences.

"Everything in my entire life is absolutely and completely changed by becoming a mother," she says.

Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall
Oscar-winning veteran Duvall plays Bridges' mentor in the film

"Lots of things from my life come into this in that way."

But the actress says she has also been yearning to escape from the constraints of motherhood.

"I've been mothering and focused so much on that for so long and I just needed something for me, just a little something. I think that's exactly what Jean's going through.

Another Hollywood veteran, Oscar winner Robert Duvall, plays a hometown bar owner and mentor to Bad Blake.

"Jeff's wonderful in the part, he understands the part," says Duvall.

"Some people might not like it, but overall, I think it's a story that's been told before - but done well."

"It's about a very specific subject particular to America, particular to a certain portion of America, but yet at the same time, it's universal, in its appeal."

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