Amy Brenneman is opening up about working with Jeff Bridges while he battled two major illnesses while shooting The Old Man.
At the 28th annual Critics Choice Awards on Sunday — where Bridges received the Lifetime Achievement Award — Brenneman talked to PEOPLE about working alongside Bridges while the actor dealt with cancer and COVID — and why he’s her role model.
“I was with Jeff Bridges every day for 60 days,” Brenneman, 58, said. “I mean, literally we didn’t act with anybody else, and I changed because of it.”
The actress then described what it was like when Bridges suddenly disappeared from set during his illness.
“I was always with Jeff and … then he was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “Honestly, during the cancer, he was really lively,” she said. “I think you’re going to beat this,” she told him.
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Brenneman said he stayed in contact with her while in treatment. “When he was sort of high on the steroids, he would call me. I was like, are you in that part of the chemo cycle? So cute,” she remembered.
But things were different when he contracted COVID, she said, remembering that “it was like crickets” when it came to hearing from her co-star.
“That’s where it’s like… because he’s a huge communicator,” Brenneman shared. “I’m like, f—, he is fighting for his life and he was.”
Brennenman is relieved her “role model” is okay and considers him an inspiration.
“You look at people that are 15, 20 years down the line that are still creative, that are still brilliant, and you go, that’s the way you do it,” she praised him.
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“The only thing that parallels his artistry is his generosity and his connection, and, it’s sort of the deeper reason of why we all do this — human connection,” the Private Practice star said. “And Jeff talks very openly about that, and I am that way too. So I feel like I met my mentor.”
“He brings out the little kid in me of being in a musical at five. It’s like, oh my God. We get to just pretend to be other people. It’s hilarious.”
Last year, Bridges told PEOPLE he was simply grateful to be alive after he recently survived non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer of the lymphatic system) and nearly died of COVID-19.
It began while he was doing exercises one morning at home and felt something unusual in his stomach. He went to the doctor and was shocked by what they discovered. “I had a 12-by-9-in. tumor in my body. Like a child in my body. It didn’t hurt or anything,” he said.
The Big Lebowski star was diagnosed with cancer and quickly began chemotherapy by infusion, followed by oral chemo.
But in January 2021 his health took a turn for the worse when he contracted COVID (the vaccine wasn’t yet available). The chemo treatment had weakened his immune system and the virus hit him hard.
He spent almost five months in the hospital where he was in extreme pain and couldn’t roll over in bed without calling the nurse to help him with oxygen. “I was pretty close to dying. The doctors kept telling me, ‘Jeff, you’ve got to fight. You’re not fighting.’ I was in surrender mode. I was ready to go. I was dancing with my mortality,” he said at the time.
The Oscar winner is now in remission.