Raise a White Russian and rejoice: The Big Lebowski was released 20 years ago, on March 6, 1998, and Yahoo tracked down the real-life “Dude” to reveal what it was like to be the inspiration behind the Coen brothers’ classic.
Jeff Bridges’s character, known as the Dude, is based on Jeff Dowd, a film producer and promoter, activist, and bowling nonenthusiast, who is also known as the Dude.
Dowd worked with Joel and Ethan Coen on their first film, Blood Simple, and the filmmakers were struck by his personality. “Virtually every actor I meet, even guys like [Robert] Redford… like to do a Dude impression because I mumble and go off on tangents,” Dowd recounts. (Watch above.)
The Coens came up with an idea of putting a Dude-type character at the center of a modern film noir, and The Big Lebowski was born.
When making the film, Dowd was frequently on set, where he would often huddle with Bridges. The star, Dowd admits, nailed several aspects about him, including his body language and his clothes. However, anyone who meets Dowd quickly learns the real Dude is not quite as laid-back, or as perpetually stoned, as the cinematic version.
Watch Dowd break down how the real-life Dude differs from The Big Lebowski Dude:
Dowd says that he wasn’t exactly blown away upon initial viewing of Lebowski. “So for the first time towards the end, I was like, ‘OK.’ … On the second viewing, third viewing, 10th viewing. That’s when people like it … and they can deal with the great satire and irony and phenomenal actors and phenomenal writing that Joel and Ethan do.”
The Big Lebowski wasn’t Dowd’s first time in the spotlight. As in the movie, the real Dude was part of the Seattle Seven, a group of antiwar protesters tried for conspiracy to incite a riot in 1969 during a demonstration in the city. He continues with his activism to this day.
Dowd, a founding member of the Sundance Institute (along with Robert Redford), also continues his work as a film producer, consultant, and promoter.
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