Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde talk about rebooting ‘Tron: Legacy’

By Todd Gilchrist Friday, December 17, marks the culmination of almost three years of effort from director Joe Kosinski and Walt Disney Studios. After a successful proof-of-concept preview screened at Comic-Con in 2008, Disney recruited original ‘Tron’ star Jeff Bridges and enlisted Joe Kosinski to create ‘Tron: Legacy,’ a follow-up that further explores the world created by  Steven Lisberger in 1982. Hollywood News recently sat down with Bridges and his co-stars Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde to discuss the challenges of bringing this world back to life.

Hollywood News: When was the first time you saw the original ‘Tron,’ and how did it feel to enter this world?

Garrett Hedlund: I watched Tron for the first time in 2003, actually. And it was when I was filming in Malta, the island of Malta. And I just watched on the balcony off of some guy’s laptop, and I dug it. I think back then I was just really impressed with the way the creator’s mind works, you know, with Steven Lisberger. Because when you’re at that age, you’re really inspired about things. I mean, when I read Brave New World, I was really sort of questioning all this – all the junk about genetic engineering and socialism and totalitarianism. You’re wondering, you know? So I was trying to crack his mind and everything about technology and the circle of life and questions and answers and questions to be answered. And then of course you got the young, energetic, maniacal Jeff Bridges, and all I remember was I just wished I could’ve hung out with that guy. It’s still to my benefit I got to play father and son with such an incredible, wise actor, and just a brilliant person that he is today. But I wouldn’t have minded hanging out with the Jeff of 1982 for a few days.

Hollywood News: You’ve been in a lot of high-profile films since you arrived in Hollywood. How do you think that this role fit into the kind of career trajectory that you’ve been on?

Hedlund: Well, in an odd way it’s kind of a weird little thing, you know. Like when I was sitting in a little town called Durban, North Dakota with my mother once, and the town population is 8. There was a grain elevator and three other houses. And we were watching ‘A River Runs Through It’ and my mom said to me, “that one’s you.” She pointed to me as the Brad Pitt character, so I had a fear that she knew I was always mischievous and in trouble.- but then I had a fear I was going to be killed after a bad poker hand in an alley at some point in my life. And then for my first film to be working with Brad, it was just incredibly surreal – nothing really unbelievable happened to me in my life until then. And then for the next film, I was driving the tractor on the farm, singing “Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw, and all of a sudden he’s playing my father in the next film. And then after the next film, I was working with [Mark] Wahlberg. And when I was in high school, reading ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and John Malkovich’s portrayal of Wingfield was so inspiring to me, it was the first time that I think my instincts in my head were right, reading the voice of desperation, and him playing [the character] that way. So that I was when I thought, maybe I can be an actor – I think this voice was kind of right. And then when they called me up on ‘Aragon’ and said, “well, John Malkovich is playing the King now,” and I was like, I’m in. It’s like I got to keep connecting the dots. And Jeff has always been one that I’ve had that weird little notion about. It’s weird to talk about it, I guess, but I’ve always been so inspired by his work that being able to work with him just fills me with such incredible disbelief. But at the same time, just incredible gratification and thrill and excitement – curiosity to see what tomorrow is going to bring in this kind of journey.

Hollywood News: What was your reaction when you first watched Tron: Legacy?

Olivia Wilde: It surpassed all my expectations. What happens so often as an actor is you retain the information about the scene that you yourself shot and you obsess over certain scenes that you found the most challenging or interesting, and the rest of the film kind of falls away in your memory or it fades a little bit. So it’s been so long since I actually kind of read the script in its entirety, you know, a good year or more, so being able to watch everyone’s performance, watch all elements of the story come together was just extraordinary. I was blown away by everyone’s work and that was my reaction – “oh my God, everyone pulled it together.” I think that was probably the most astounding thing – just being able to see the entire picture together and realize how much hard work paid off.

Hollywood News: What did you do to make sure that Quorra was interesting and formidable within this world?

Wilde: It was a true collaboration to create Quorra. When we originally started putting together ideas for it was really kind of up for grabs because Quorra was not in the original film. [But] Joe Kosinksi was very interested in making her a unique and unusual female heroine, in this film that was unlike any other. And so we worked very hard to make her very intelligent and powerful but at the same time childlike and nuanced so that she would not just be there as a kind of foil for the men, not just the eye candy; I think with a different team, that character could have easily turned into the temptress of the Tron world – she could have just been this sexy femme fatale. With a suit like that it’s easy to fall into that, I think. But because Joe was adamant that she not be that, we were able to work together to create Quorra. And I brought the concept of Joan of Arc very early on, six months before we start shooting, and I said, “Joe, I found Quorra. I figured her out. She’s Joan of Arc.” Because of Joan of Arc was this unlikely warrior – this child who could lead an army. She was kind of unnaturally powerful and seemed to have this connection to another world, to a higher power, to be guided by something greater than her and by selflessness. And that was Quorra. So once we found this historical reference, it was really fun to flesh her out. I was looking at ancient Korean Buddhist warriors and I think that Quorra’s one of them; they fight with swords, so Quorra needs a sword. And the next day, great, Quorra has a sword. So that’s part of the reason I feel so proud of the finished product of Quorra, because so much hard work went into it, so much collaboration, so much love and I feel very proud of the way she’s come out. She’s quirky and odd and I like that.

Another reason I was so adamant about making her so intelligent as well as being a warrior is because I really want her to appeal to the female audience, and particularly young females. I want girls to feel inspired by her strength and her wit and her intelligence and her compassion. I think that it’s rare these days to have a female character in these types of movies that isn’t just there to look really sexy in a suit; too often that’s what happens. When I was little we dressed as Wonder Woman [for Halloween], and Wonder Woman represented social justice and honesty – and now I’m not sure who they dress up as. I really want to Quorra to be appealing to both men and women, and I feel very proud of how she’s turned out.

Hollywood News: What sort of physical training did you do for this?

Wilde: Um, it was challenging. I was shooting House while I was training for Tron so I would wake up way earlier than anyone should ever wake up and go and do a few hours of training a day, which included crosstraining, cardio training, and martial arts training [because] a lot of what Quorra does in the movie is mixed martial arts. We had an incredible stunt team called 8711; they’ve done a lot of the big films of the last ten years, and they are just extraordinary. I really appreciated that they gave me the confidence to do a lot of my own stunts. But they said you’re going to have to train for it and I was completely open to that – and I completely physically transformed my body. I have never looked like that before and I will never look like that again. But it was important in creating Quorra to transfer myself physically, because once I understood what it was like to be able to fight and to have those kind of muscles and to have that strength, it changed the way I walked. It changed the way I stood. And I suddenly understood what it felt like to be able to protect myself, which I had never really felt before. So it was the first time I really realized how important that physical training is to creating the character beyond just the aesthetic.

Hollywood News: Did you stop training afterward?

Wilde: Yes, oh, it was such a relief. I couldn’t wait. The entire time we were shooting Tron I was planning my meal of the wrap day. I’m married to an Italian, so it was all about the pasta and wine – I couldn’t wait. I would just dream of my giant plate of pasta while we were on set. But on these big films, you’re so lucky to have the best trainers in the world teaching you how to fight, and everyone in their department is the best of the best, so it’s such an honor to have them focused on creating something for you to maximize the impact of your character. So you have to bring your focus and your energy and never complain, because this is such an honor to have these people working on you to turn you into a little warrior. I mean, it was quite an honor.

Hollywood News: Was this character always written as a Silicon Valley hippie, or did you introduce the Lebowski’ness of him?

Jeff Bridges: Yeah, no, that was Lisberger. What was it, like 28 years ago? Is that when it was? Gosh, man, it was the script basically from the original one. And that was before Lebowski still. So that I guess you could blame Stephen for that.

Hollywood News: What were your thoughts when you first saw Clu?

Bridges: Amazing. And for one thing, what that means for me as an actor that I can play myself at any age now. I love going to movies, but if there’s a movie where the character ages, or another actor plays the guy as a younger person, it always kind of takes me a while to get up to speed on it. But now, at any age, it’s quite remarkable – and they’ll be able to combine actors. I don’t know quite how I feel about this, but that’s coming up – to say, you know, “let’s get Boxleitner and Bridges, and put a little Brando in there and see what happens.” You know that they can write that – hire some other actor to drive that image that had been created. I mean, it’s getting pretty crazy.

Hollywood News: Did you have any hesitation about revisiting Tron?

Bridges: Sure, I had a lot of hesitation, making any kind of decision really in my life. I mean, I’m really slow at it. I really resist. And with this one, I thought oh God – are they going to pull it off? I mean, I could see all the technology and everything, but are they going to be able to pull it off? And Disney did a beautiful job of that. Casting I think is so important – not only the actors, but the director, the guy you get to helm the whole thing. And they got Joe, who never directed a movie before – can you imagine the pressure of that? And his personality is so calm and sure, and he brings all of his architectural knowledge to the party, so that adds to the whole set design. So that’s wonderful. They also brought Steve Lisberger onboard, which I thought was essential because while the movie is able to be seen alone and still appreciate it, this is going to be a flow between this one and that one, and he was sort of the godfather of the whole thing. He was the source. So we would always go back to him and ask him, is this consistent with the myth that you started? And that was another thing that brought me to want to do this, because I thought we could use a modern-day myth about the challenge of technology – how we’re going to surf that particular wave. Those are tough waters we’re coming into now. We could do some amazing things, and we can also head off in the wrong direction very quickly, and this is kind of a cautionary tale in a way – to look ahead and make sure this is what the direction you want to go.

Hollywood News: What are the differences between working in 1982 and now? Did you have as much green screen work then?

Bridges: Well, that one was shot in 70 millimeter black-and-white, and colored in by some ladies in Korea. We were in white leotards and there was black duvet like this tablecloth, and this is basically the set – white adhesive tape for the gridlines, and that was basically it. And then there’s some CGI, all that kind of stuff, but this one? Wow, man, making movies without cameras – what an idea. When they said that, I said, what are you talking about? They said, “you work in the volume.” What’s that? Well, it’s a room, it can be any size, painted green, and there’s no cameras but there’s hundreds of sensors pointed at you. Before each take you assume the T [position]. You stand up like this, and now you’re in the computer. You’re in a white leotard with these dots all over your body, all of your face, and you might have a helmet on with cameras [aimed at your face], and then everything from makeup, costume, the set – and this is the one that kills me, camera angles is done in post. So if you are in the volume right now, they could say, “let’s start the scene way in the back of the room under the chairs, and we’re going to come up under the chairs. Or let’s start here. It’s all done in post now. It’s just crazy. Amazing. But the other thing, one of the wild moments in this movie, was when I was scanned to get my body into the computer, and it was just like out of the first Tron. You know, I stood there like this and there’s light going; it was just bizarre. For real, it was like for real.

Hollywood News: You don’t have to think about the lens in the volume now. But does that change your performance?

Bridges: Yeah, it was a challenge because I like relating to the lens and I like having a costume and a set – those are kind of grounding to you. It helps [because] so much of making the movies is creating an illusion, and the first person you have to create the illusion for is yourself. So when I’m in a costume and the person I’m working with is in a costume and there’s a set, that helps me be in those times and be in that character. So when you don’t have that stuff, you have to kind of go back, almost like more like a child in a way. It’s like when you were a kid and you didn’t have all of the cool gear to put you there – you had to use your imagination. So it was a challenge that way. And at first it kind of rubbed against my acting; it felt odd, and I didn’t like it. But in making movies and acting, you can’t spend too much time bitching about the way it is. You’ve got to get with the program as soon as you can, so that was challenging but it was a good exercise. And that’s the way it’s going. I mean, this is the way it’s going to be.

Hollywood News: How difficult or easy was it to integrate the spiritual themes into all of the technological and storytelling logistics of the film?

Bridges: Well, one of my concerns about getting into this movie was that it would just be a special effects movie, but it would have some helpful mythology to it. And I am good friends with this Zen master, guy named Bernie Glassman. We were just at a wonderful symposium he had – the first symposium of the socially engaged Buddhism [movement], and it was you know wonderful. He came on as an advisor, and I wanted to add some of this mythology and stories and some of those thoughts. I figured Flynn’s path, what he encounters on the grid, coming in and being quite full of himself and that sort of thing thinking you know that he can beat Clu. But as he says in the movie, the more he goes against him, the stronger Clu becomes. So he’s decided I just have to stop and see the universe and everything’s that’s involved; just like weather will change by itself, he’s applying some of that knowledge. And his problem and the way he gets trapped in the absolute is he goes there so far that he’s maybe stopped being able to engage – and his son comes and shakes that all up.

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