Truth is like a good jazz standard: a different version emerges from everyone who sings it. When you start reminiscing with the stars of The Fabulous Baker Boys 25 years later, a kind of three-part harmony emerges. Everyone hits a different note, but somehow they’re still in sync. “We get all mixed up. We have different versions,” Jeff Bridges says. “But when we talk, we hash it out.”
In Entertainment Weekly‘s annual reunions issue, we bring together Jeff, his big brother, Beau, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays the torch singer who both energizes and threatens to destroy their piano-dueling partnership. The 1989 film, which earned four Oscar nominations, is the only time this trio teamed up on film.
After a quarter century, their memories are a little fuzzy—although everyone is sure his or her version is the correct one.
Who came to the movie when? Jeff, 64, thinks he was the first to be cast, but Pfeiffer says she was offered the script by writer-director Steve Kloves (later known for the Harry Potter films) five years before it got made, then lost the role briefly before it circled back her way.
Meanwhile, Beau, 72, insists that Jeff fought to get him the Frank role. “The studio wanted a sort of [bigger name] actor and Jeff said, ‘No, I want my brother to play it. He really provided me an opportunity,” Beau says.
Jeff says, nah. He acknowledges suggesting Beau to Kloves, “but I didn’t have to twist Steve’s arm. He kind of dug the idea of Beau doing it, too. If it had been another actor I would have had to figure out ways to demonstrate to the audience that we were brothers. You could put a lot of energy into that,” Jeff says. “With Beau, it was given. We just relaxed into those characters.”
Another disagreement: the knock-down, drag-out fight the two brothers have in the film.
“A pretty important flaw—we had no safe word,” Jeff says. When his character jumps on top of Beau and bends his fingers backward, threatening to break them so he can’t play piano anymore, “Beau was like, ‘Oww, oww, you’re hurting me! You’re hurrrting me!'” Jeff recalls. “In my mind I was thinking: ‘Oh, that’s good, Beau! Act your ass off!'”
Except, Dude, Beau says it didn’t happen that way. “Oh yeah?” Jeff says. “So what’s his version?”
Beau says there was a safe word. “I knew Jeff was going to get freaked out so I told him, ‘I want there to be a stop word, so if I say it, you know you’re hurting me.’ I can’t remember what it was—but he ignored it totally. He didn’t stop. It finally finished, and I excused myself and went to the hospital. I thought he’d broken my hand.”
Pfeiffer—who was nominated for Best Actress for her role—remembers being daunted by their fraternal chemistry, even back in the day.
“The bond that they have is so strong, anyone who is around it has to be envious of it,” says Pfeiffer, 56. “Jeff just tortures Beau and it’s hilarious. They are just on each other all the time in the most loving and dear way. They’re like they’re 12.”
The years haven’t changed anything, as Pfeiffer discovered when the three of them gather in downtown Los Angeles for the EW reunion photo shoot.
“It’s never, ever left them,” she says. “In fact, if anything, Jeff has become more boyish over the years.”
Instead of growing older, it’s nice to know the fabulous Bridges boys get even more immature.
A version of this article appears in Entertainment Weekly‘s Nov. 14/21 issue. For more classic TV and movie reunions, including Ghostbusters, Mean Girls, and Sports Night, pick up a copy of the latest Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday.