You’re the sentimental favorite to win this year’s Oscar for Best Actor. Do you agree with people who think you’re one of our most underappreciated actors?
J.B.: No, but I love the title. I certainly don’t feel underappreciated—I feel very well stroked. But I prefer the underdog position rather than, “Hey, I’m hot, man. Goddamn. Look what I’m gonna do now.”
And you’re certainly memorable as an underdog—there’s a virtual cult surrounding your role in The Big Lebowski.
J.B.: I like the poles. Whether I’m playing underdogs or upperdogs, they go hand in hand. With my father, I saw the good side of developing a strong persona, but I also saw his struggles. If you do the same thing too often, people think that’s who you are. I remember recommending my dad for Blown Away. I said, “I know a guy who could be my uncle, who looks like me and is a good actor, named Lloyd Bridges.” And the guy was like, “Your dad’s a wonderful actor, but he’s more of a comedian.” I said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” He had to read for the part! So I like doing both.
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Jean, Bad’s much younger love interest. Was it hard to make the romance credible?
J.B.: I didn’t really think about it too much. People fall in love for mysterious reasons. Jean is attracted to Bad’s honesty. That’s kind of a country-music thing, that honesty you can relate to. You can relate to somebody’s pain and you have compassion, which can lead to intimacy. But ultimately she sees who he really is, which is an irresponsible fucking drunk. T.B.: My philosophy is that you don’t want to make movies about terrible music. If Bad was drunk, he was still gonna be a good [artist]. That was the idea.