I Was the Bowling Consultant on ‘The Big Lebowski’
For 25 years, fans of The Big Lebowski have quoted the lines, shared the memes and shit-talked the Eagles with reckless abandon. Such die-hards definitely still abide the Dude, and so do we, which is why we’ll be spending the next five days celebrating a quarter century of Lebowski. So grab yourself a White Russian, lay back on your favorite rug and take it easy — just like, you know, the Dude.
“Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling.”
Of the thousand or so quotable lines from The Big Lebowski, this one — “Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling” — could stand as a mantra for the entire film. The movie begins with bowling, ends with bowling, and no matter how many twists and turns the Dude’s saga takes, he always returns back to his local bowling alley.
In other words, bowling is central to The Big Lebowski, which meant the Coen Brothers needed to turn to an expert in the sport when making the film. Their man? Barry Asher, who the Professional Bowlers Association has named as one of the 50 greatest bowlers of all time and a member of the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame. He got to make an appearance in the film’s final scene, too — when the camera pans up from Sam Elliott’s closing words, Asher rolls a strike that then cuts to black.
These days, Asher runs the pro shop at Fountain Bowl in Orange County, California, where a few pictures of him on the set of The Big Lebowski adorn the walls. The son of a Hollywood prop master, Asher grew up on movie sets and knew the drill while working on The Big Lebowski. But he still cites his time on the film as a major highlight of his life, even if, as Asher laments, we never actually get to see the Dude bowl in the movie.
‘Fuck It, Dude, Let’s Go Bowling’
I grew up on a movie set. My father was a prop man on Abbott and Costello and Lassie. He also took me around on sets like The Cisco Kid and Superman — George Reeves even gave me an outfit once. It was a fun childhood, and had I not gotten into bowling, I probably would have been working on movies like my dad.
I happened to be the best bowler in Southern California, so whenever somebody needed a bowling expert for a movie or something, my name usually came up. That’s what happened in 1997 when I got a call from someone asking me to go out and help John Goodman and Jeff Bridges learn how to bowl. They told me they’d pay me a couple of hundred dollars, and I said, “Sure.”
They were making the movie at Hollywood Star Lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. I’d bowled on a pro team there when I was 17 or 18, so I knew the place well.
Steve Buscemi was in New York at the time, but Jeff Bridges and John Goodman were there. I went up a couple of times to bowl with John Goodman. He did pretty well, but his ankle was hurting, so he spent more time talking to my five-year-old daughter, who I’d brought with me. He had a five-year-old too, and my daughter knew him as Fred Flintstone, so she was excited to meet him.
Jeff Bridges never threw a ball. He didn’t in the movie either. When I was throwing a few, I said, “Come on,” but he told me, “I just want to watch you. You bowl like the Dude should bowl.”
See, I don’t “get set” like normal people do when they bowl — I just pick up the ball and throw it. Jeff started asking me questions about that, and I explained that, if I get set, I get stuck. That happened to me once in 1971 to the point where I quit over it. When I started back, I just said “fuck it” and threw the ball. Some time later, I saw Jeff Bridges talk about that on Larry King, so it left some kind of impression.
Once I was done with Jeff Bridges and John Goodman, one of the Coens came up to me and said, “We need a bowling advisor for 10 days or so.” I think they gave me $400 a day. My pro shop also did the embroidery for the bowling shirts in the movie.
‘Donny Was a Good Bowler, and a Good Man’
I coordinated that opening bowling shot of the film, where you see the bowlers rolling one after another. I had it so that when one person hit their mark, the next guy would go, and so on for eight or ten lanes. Those people weren’t all that experienced of bowlers. They were house bowlers, maybe a couple bowled league, but that’s it.
There’s another scene where you see the ball rolling really slow. They mounted the camera on the little motorized hand truck that followed the ball. I was trying to roll the ball really slow, but I stepped to the right and the hand truck rolled over me. The camera ended up busted on the floor. No big deal though — someone just said they’d get another one.
All the leads in the film could pass for bowlers, but Buscemi had the best starting position. Of everyone, he looked the most like a bowler. He and I probably had the most hang time on the film because there was this pinball machine there that he and I hung out at a lot.
When Sam Elliott came on the set, everything just stopped. He barely said a word. He was quiet and cordial, but he had an effect on people. There was a woman there who set up the scenes and secured locations, and she said to me, “I’m married, I got two kids, but I’d fuck him right here on the floor of the bowling alley. I’ve been around the biggest stars in the world, and none of them do to me what Sam Elliott does.” That’s the impact Sam Elliott had.
On the last day of shooting, I was told, “We changed the last scene of the movie. We’re writing you into it.” I asked them, “Do I get any extra money?” They said, “No.” Then I asked, “Do I get screen credit?” They said, “Yes,” and I said, “Good, that way I’m on screen for life.”
‘The Dude Abides’
The impact of the movie to this day is astounding. Somebody will come into the pro shop and see the big picture on the wall that I have of the last scene and go crazy. I also made it to about four or five Lebowski Fests. A few of them were right at Fountain Bowl, where my pro shop is, which was great. People were dressed to the hilt. Children were wearing Lebowski costumes. I remember when they announced me at one of them, I picked up a house ball, rolled a strike and the place went insane.
People are always impressed when I talk about The Big Lebowski, even on other movie sets. I did this one movie where the director came up to me, and when I mentioned The Big Lebowski, she went nuts and started telling everybody else, “Hey, this guy is one removed from the Dude,” which honestly is a very cool thing to be.