It may not spark an industry revolution like Frances McDormand’s Oscar-night call for inclusion riders, but Jeff Bridges managed to introduce Hollywood to a new term — “trim tab” — while accepting the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award.
The term, which became a main theme of the latter part of the speech, sent viewers at home scurrying to their nautical dictionaries and Hollywood luminaries in the Beverly Hilton alternately smiling or raising eyebrows at the vintage Bridges fillip. As the DeMille honoree explained, a trim tab is a small mechanism that helps stabilize a large ship or aircraft. Bridges credited philosopher, architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller with evoking the obscure piece of equipment, using it as a metaphor for an individual’s ability effect societal change.
“I like to think of myself as a trim tab,” Bridges said. “All of us are trim tabs. We seem like we’re not up to the task, but we are, man. We’re alive! We can make a difference. We can turn the ship in the direction we want to go, man! Toward love and creating a healthier planet.”
Bridges, who will turn 70 later this year, followed in the footsteps of his actor father, Lloyd Bridges, and got one of his earliest screen credits on the elder Bridges’ TV series Sea Hunt. His speech referenced his parents (including a note that he was wearing his dad’s cufflinks) as well as his wife of 45 years, Susan Geston, and his brother, Beau. The whole six minutes onstage reflected the experience of a Hollywood lifer whose acting odyssey began in infancy and has spanned seven decades. Diligently checking off a lengthy list of those to thank, whether or not they were in the audience, Bridges kept things lively by not reading from a piece of paper or seeming rote in any of his acknowledgements. He radiated a sincere enthusiasm for the craft, seeming to recall bygone projects on the spot and articulating why they were important.
The speech also carried more than a whiff of one of Bridges’ most indelible roles: the robe-clad, dissolute-but-heroic title character in the Coen Bros.’ The Big Lebowski, aka as The Dude. Acknowledging the link between the actor and that role, Bridges called the Coens “true masters” and said, “If I’m lucky, I’ll be associated with The Dude for the rest of my life.”
The other Dude-esque flourish (in addition to trim tabs), came when Bridges recounted a meeting with Michael Cimino, the late director of 1974 film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which also starred Clint Eastwood. “Man, I’m sorry, but I think you made a terrible mistake,” Bridges said he told the director the day before shooting began. “I’m not feeling this guy at all. I feel so inadequate.”
Cimino looked at Bridges, the actor recalled, and replied, “Jeff, you know the game tag?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘You’re it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean I’m it?’ He said, ‘You are the guy. You couldn’t make a mistake if you wanted to. You know, the life of this character is coming through you. It’s a done deal.’ … It was a wonderful vote of confidence and perspective. I used it in that film and all of the other films I’ve done, as well as my life. I’ve been tagged. We all have been tagged. We’re all alive — right here, right now!”
Summing up, Bridges told the audience, “You’re all trim tabs! Tag — you’re it!”
Bridges has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times. In addition to Lebowski, he has appeared in many of Hollywood’s most memorable films. He collected Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for roles in The Fabulous Baker Boys and Hell or High Water, and in 2010 played Rooster Cogburn, a role initially played by John Wayne, in the Coens’ remake of True Grit.
In 2010, his lead role in Crazy Heart earned him a long-awaited Oscar and also a Golden Globe. The first of Bridges’ five Golden Globe nominations came for 1984’s Starman and he received others for his roles in The Fisher King and The Contender.
Chosen by the HFPA Board of Directors, the DeMille Award is given annually to someone deemed to have made a lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Last year’s honoree was Oprah Winfrey, whose rousing speech sparked a fervent but short-lived wave of speculation about her running for president of the U.S. Past recipients have included Robert De Niro, Audrey Hepburn, Harrison Ford, Sophia Loren, Sidney Poitier, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Barbra Streisand and Denzel Washington.
Watch the the speech above.