He's played singers, sailors and serial killers, but there's one role that die-hard fans of Jeff Bridges can't get enough of: The stoner.
"Who knows? Mystery of the unknown," the Academy-Award winning actor tells CNN about the enduring legacy of "The Big Lebowski."
"Maybe it has to do with turning someone on to something you dig; it is like turning your younger brother on to Led Zeppelin, when he's ready to get it."
Sprinkle a healthy dose of "mans" and f-bombs into that quote and it could have been uttered by The Dude himself. "It's something that entertains people on a whole other level than most films," Bridges says, "and once they've enjoyed it, they have to share with someone."
The sharing is certainly growing for "Lebowski." This March 6 marks the 15th anniversary of the movie's release. Hard to believe that the Southern Californian odyssey that opened to mixed reviews (The New Yorker called it an "irritatingly antic caper") is now considered among the best in the Coen Brothers canon and a bona fide cultural phenomenon.
The appreciation goes way beyond the silver screen. Books are written about "The Big Lebowski," including one by Bridges himself. There are "Lebowski Fests" held nationwide where fans gather, often dressed as their favorite characters.
The "Lebowski Fest" slated for Los Angeles March 22-23 features the actors who played Woo, The Malibu Sheriff and the Ralph's check-out girl who watched The Dude write a 69 cent check for a carton of milk. This past weekend, the now iconic bathrobe worn by Bridges throughout the movie was auctioned off for an undisclosed amount.
There's even the "Little Lebowski Shop" in New York that sells merchandise ranging from shirts and mugs to action figures and a life-size cutout of The Dude.
"Business has been good," says Roy Preston, the owner of the store. "I have customers coming in ranging in age from 8 to 70 and from all over the world. There's something universal about it that speaks to people."
What's so universal about an unemployed slacker who wears bathrobes, loves White Russians and hates the Eagles? "He's the unlikely hero of our times," says Brian Balthazar, editor of the entertainment site popgoestheweek.com. "There are a lot of people that oddly enough want to be like him, to be completely intent in his apathy in life. And then have this guy embark on a crazy journey? It is literally the ultimate dude movie."
A dude movie filled with memorable performances. There's John Goodman as the Vietnam veteran whose observance to the Jewish sabbath prevents him from bowling on Saturdays. ("I don't roll on Shabbos" he bellows from the lanes.) John Turturro is the rival bowler named Jesus, who also happens to be a convicted sex offender.
Peter Stormare, who played both a porn star and German nihilist in "Lebowski" laughs when talking about the film's cult-like following. "I'm amazed because it's bigger than "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," he says. "I've been to two or three Lebowski fests and it's pretty bizarre to see 20 Karl Hunguses walking around. It's an honor and at the same time it's a little strange."
Stormare is also surprised by the film's continued success. "None of us really thought the movie would do well because they didn't do anything big for it when it came out," he tells CNN. "They didn't really promote it, and then it caught on like a sleeper and came just roaring as the years went by."
Bridges cautions that "Lebowski" may not be for everyone. "Your 12-year-old, or your teeny bopper, or most grandparents just won't get it," he says while making it clear it may be more of a "guy" thing.
"I can just imagine how many older brothers wait for their younger bros to turn 16 or whatever perfect age for them to truly be able to soak in all of the pointless amazingness that the "Big Lebowski" has to offer! All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back!"
The Dude abides, and 15 years later, so does the actor.
"I don't see this ever stopping or slowing down," says Bridges.