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Beau Bridges On His New ‘Matlock’ Series And Dad Lloyd’s Famed Comedic Turns In ‘Airplane!’ And ‘Seinfeld’: “He Had The Look Of A Startled Fawn”

Actor Beau Bridges is being honored in a place of special significance to his family.

The star of The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Descendants, Norma Rae, and more than 200 other films and television series received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sonoma International Film Festival on Friday. His late father, actor Lloyd Bridges, traced his roots to the town in California’s wine country.

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“I can really feel my dad, Lloyd’s spirit here with me in Sonoma, because this is where he was raised,” Bridges tells Deadline. “He was born in San Leandro and raised in Sonoma on Spain Street. He was an altar boy at the St. Francis Church, and then he moved to Petaluma, went to Petaluma High School. So, this is his territory, and to have this acknowledgement here in the seat of our family, so to speak, is really special to me.”

Beau Bridges on set in 'Gaily Gaily' in 1968
Beau Bridges on-set in ‘Gaily Gaily’ in October 1968

Beau Bridges’ earliest performances came on the big screen in the late 1940s in Force of Evil, No Minor Vices, and The Red Pony. His latest work — the lead role in The Neon Highway, a drama opening theatrically this month in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, and other cities. The actor tells Deadline he has started shooting the CBS series Matlock, starring opposite Kathy Bates in a show inspired by the classic episodic legal drama of the 1980s and ‘90s. It’s set to premiere later this year.

“I had my first couple days work just a couple days ago,” he says, “[shooting] at Paramount in L.A.”

In Matlock, Bridges stars as the head of a New York law firm that employs Madeline “Matty” Matlock, a septuagenarian firecracker, played by Oscar winner Bates. “She’s going to be great in this,” Bridges says. “She’s really funny. It’s hard for me to keep a straight face with her. She’s great.”

'The Fabulous Baker Boys'
‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’

As part of the Lifetime Achievement honor for Bridges, the Sonoma festival screened his 1989 film The Fabulous Baker Boys, which co-starred his younger brother Jeff and Michelle Pfeiffer. The Descendants, released in 2011, paired him on screen with George Clooney.

“That was a fun project. I’ve worked with George now a couple times, and it’s always a pleasure working with him,” Bridges says. “He’s such a great guy. And we filmed it pretty much in our backyard. We have a home in Hawaii.”

Beau, Lloyd and Jeff Bridges attend the 1989 Academy Awards March 3, 1989.
Beau, Lloyd and Jeff Bridges attend the 1989 Academy Awards March 3, 1989.

Beau and Jeff Bridges grew up in Los Angeles, where their father made his career in film and television, starring in TV’s Sea Hunt as a Navy diver Mike Nelson. The boys would follow dad into the industry.

“He loved this business and so we could see that,” Bridges recalls. “He never pushed it on us, but he was our teacher. He was a great dad too.”

Much later in his career, Lloyd Bridges got to display his gift for comedy, appearing in Airplane! as hyper-stressed air traffic controller Steve McCroskey, a character known for lines like “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue,” and “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”

Robert Stack (L) and Lloyd Bridges in 'Airplane!'
Robert Stack (L) and Lloyd Bridges in ‘Airplane!’

Lloyd was, Beau assures us, playing against type.

“My dad, just personally, was a real straight arrow. And Jeff and I growing up — he was very concerned about drugs and everything coming around the scene — he would question us and express his concerns. And then he did that part in Airplane!, “A bad day to give up sniffing glue.”

Beau continues, “Jeff and I went up to him and we said, ‘We can’t believe that you would do this film.’ I said, ‘You have so many young people that look up to you. You are sort of a heroic character to them with Mike Nelson in the series, and you’d accept a part where you do this.’ We really rode him really hard, but then he realized we were screwing with him.”

Lloyd Bridges in 'Airplane!'
Lloyd Bridges in ‘Airplane!’

Bridges explains how the Airplane! team filmed a particularly memorable scene when a strung out McCroskey, back on booze and pills, appears with his hair on end. “They hung him upside down to get that effect where his hair was sticking up.”

Lloyd Bridges died in 1998 at the age of 85. About a year before his passing, he appeared in two much-loved episodes of Seinfeld as Izzy Mandelbaum, a hard-charging octogenarian fitness trainer. Beau and his wife Wendy were in the audience as the cameras rolled at the CBS Radford lot.

“It went long. It was ‘til like midnight they were taping,” Wendy recalls. “It was crazy.”

Lloyd Bridges with Jerry Seinfeld in 'Seinfeld'
Lloyd Bridges with Jerry Seinfeld in ‘Seinfeld’

“He was doing a lot of physical stuff,” Bridges adds. “And he was getting up there [in age] and he was doing pratfalls and stuff like that. We didn’t particularly like that. But he loved comedy and there was an aspect to him as a person that lent itself to comedy. My mother would say that sometimes he had the look of a startled fawn on his face, and he put that to good use, bumping into stuff and all that.”

Beau Bridges, 82, has earned three Primetime Emmys during his career and dozens of other awards to go with his Lifetime Achievement honor from the Sonoma International Film Festival.

Beau Bridges and his son Ezekiel "Zeke" Bridges attend 'The Neon Highway' world premiere in Nashville, Tennessee.
Beau Bridges and his son Ezekiel “Zeke” Bridges attend ‘The Neon Highway’ world premiere in Nashville, Tennessee.

Commenting on what he’s learned during a Hollywood career of more than 70 years, he says, “I keep getting informed with every job I do, watching other people do it. Probably more than anything would be gaining even more of a respect for the whole idea of storytelling than I had when I first began. I mean, it’s been happening for thousands of years. People have been telling stories, and when you’re young and you’re first starting, you see it as a business and all this. But I really appreciate being able to be a part of that whole thing. That’s why I really love doing it, I think.”

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