Jeff Bridges has had an acclaimed and eclectic Hollywood career for decades now, ranging from his breakout performance as Duane Jackson in 1971’s The Last Picture Show to his iconic personification of the Dude in 1998’s The Big Lebowski to his award-winning role in 2008’s Crazy Heart. Bridges has been nominated for five acting Golden Globes, which is part of the reason he’s being honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at this year’s ceremony.
But star performances aren’t the only criteria for the annual honor. Anke Hofmann, vice president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organization behind the Globes), tells EW that the DeMille Award is also meant to recognize people in the entertainment industry who actively engage with the world around them. And Bridges fits the bill.
“We put a lot of thought behind who we pick. It’s not a random choice. We always give it to someone who deserves it professionally, and there’s no question that Jeff Bridges deserves it,” Hofmann tells EW. “But we also look at the heart. Jeff Bridges is very much engaged in ending hunger for children and helping the environment, and that matters to us.”
Bridges sits on the advisory board for the Amazon Conservation Team, a charity organization dedicated to protecting both the wildlife of the Amazon rainforest and the livelihoods of the indigenous people who live near it in Brazil and Colombia. Childhood hunger is a particularly important issue for Bridges: He co-founded the End Hunger Network in 1984, and is still a national spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign, which aims to end childhood hunger in the United States.
Such efforts were not always a component of the DeMille Award. When it was first given out in 1952 to its superstar producer namesake, it was meant to honor incredible individual achievements in entertainment, regardless of whether the person was an actor, director, animator, or studio executive. But according to Hofmann, the award’s meaning has changed over time.
“It was first introduced to just recognize people’s accomplishments in general, in the entertainment business. Now I don’t want to speak on behalf of the HFPA, I would like to speak on behalf of myself, but to me nowadays the DeMille Award has been given more meaning than back then,” Hofmann says. “The world is on the one hand very much connected, but also more disconnected than ever. It has become so easy to judge people or critique people. I personally welcome this fact that we are celebrating someone as a human being. That to me is the biggest plus of having a Cecil B. DeMille recipient, because we can actually celebrate somebody, applaud somebody, and shine a light on their social and philanthropic engagements. To me, the Cecil B. DeMille Award is needed now more than back then. Back then it was just to honor someone’s achievements, but now it has become more of a humanitarian award.”
Last year, for instance, the award went to Oprah Winfrey. Though Winfrey is one of the most successful and celebrated TV hosts of all time, as well as an Oscar-nominated actress and producer, she used the occasion to give a powerful speech about the history of civil rights struggles and their legacy in the modern #MeToo movement. Similarly, it probably wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Bridges to use his speech to talk about the issues of environmental degradation and childhood hunger that he’s worked on over the years.
“We’ve interviewed Oprah many times, and in interviews you don’t always focus on someone’s roles or career, we also focus on their lives, and she has always impressed us with her engagement with the community,” Hofmann says. “Same with Jeff Bridges. In recent years this award has become very human, not just career-oriented, and I love that.”
The 76th Golden Globe Awards will take place Jan. 6 in Beverly Hills, Calif., starting at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. The ceremony will air live on NBC, hosted by Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg. Stay tuned to EW for further coverage.