Last week, Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney shared footage from their colonoscopies to support the fight against cancer. Now, Oscar winner Jeff Bridges speaks about his experience with lymphoma and Covid-19 in "Up the Antibodies," an initiative from AstraZeneca that explores the heightened risks immunocompromised people face as the pandemic drags on.
Edelman developed the effort, which features a :60 directed by Scott Cooper, who also made the movie Crazy Heart, for which Bridges won his Academy Award.
In "Lead From Behind," Reynolds and McElhenney played to their strengths, employing self-effacing humor to drive home an urgent message. For AstraZeneca, Bridges takes an earnestly folksy approach, effectively tapping into his gruff-yet-lovable persona. He's quietly intense yet reassuring, like a world-weary but optimistic version of The Dude, his iconic character from The Big Lebowski.
Both campaigns let their celebrities' vulnerability and humanity shine through. Bridges, Reynolds and McElhenney seem quick to share and eager to help, imbuing their work with immense credibility.
For his PSA, Jeff strolls through a sun-dappled meadow, delivering lines in a rich, weathered voice-over that commands attention. "I missed a lot of things when I was away," he begins. "You know—cancer, chemo, Covid. That kind of away. I missed my family, being with them. And I missed my friend, making movies."
As an ethereal score by T Bone Burnett, also an Oscar recipient for Crazy Heart, subtly swells on the soundtrack, Bridges basks in the daylight while strumming a guitar, seemingly lost in contemplation.
"My immune system was totally shot" after battling cancer, he says, which left him in a weakened state when Covid hit. And the virus nearly killed him. Today, however, thanks to advanced therapies, "you don't have to wait around for the worst," Jeff says. "You can up your antibodies before Covid comes knocking. 'Cause when your antibodies are up, well, you can get back to what you love."
He opens up further about his health issues in this extended interview clip, which is perhaps more riveting than the PSA:
"We're all connected, man," Bridges says at the end. "We're all in this thing together. And we make a difference in what we do." He seems like an old, wise friend, and you hang on his every word.
AstraZeneca maintains a low profile throughout, with its name popping up only at the close of each video, along with an "Up the Antibodies" URL. The company's Evusheld monoclonal offering—which helped protect Jeff from Covid reinfection after his wife, Sue, contracted the virus—is never specifically mentioned.
In addition to Bridges, "Up the Antibodies" harnesses additional star power, bringing actor Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, producer/writer Emily V. Gordon—the team behind The Big Sick—into the fold. The couple will reach out across various channels to share their experiences and further the cause.
"The only way for me to be completely sure of my health is to stay inside and never leave the house. And I'm not interested in leading that kind of life," Gordon, who's immunocompromised, tells People magazine. "That's why I'm very happy to be involved with this campaign, because I'm hoping to bring more advocacy, more research, more information, more stories, because then we can all be armed with the most important thing, which is information. We haven't had that for quite some time."
Michelle Tucker, EVP, creative health, at Edelman, spoke with Muse about collaborating with Bridges and bringing "Up the Antibodies" to life:
Muse: Was Jeff reluctant to take part? Did he jump in right away?
Michelle Tucker: When we learned of Jeff's story—that he had cancer followed by Covid—we knew he'd be perfect. So, we did our homework, creating concepts that were authentic to Jeff's life and interests, and pitched the ideas to him. He didn't get back to us right away, so we weren't sure he was interested at first. When Jeff got back to us, he asked to meet us on Zoom to talk through the ideas. Right from the first call, Jeff started to build on the ideas and scripts. Even his wife Sue was on Zoom to weigh in, saying, "Yes, Jeff, that sounds like something you'd say," or "No, we wouldn't go to that place, what about this place instead?"
Sounds like a true collaboration.
He asked so many great questions, and he really wanted to make sure that he was being true to himself and to the audience. It was clear that he wanted to make sure he had good chemistry with us, too. So at the end of that call, Jeff said he wanted to "keep jamming" with us on scripts on another Zoom call. We were all pretty stoked. Once we started talking about Scott Cooper as the director for the project, Jeff got really excited, and even suggested bringing on T Bone Burnett for the music.
How much did he contribute? Did he ad-lib on set?
Jeff had full scripts, so on set he was really locked in on nailing the performance perfectly. It was magical watching him work, because he's so focused on his craft. When I interviewed him for the long-form testimonial for the website, I prompted him with questions that he had seen prior to the shoot. The conversation just flowed so naturally. We let the camera roll, and he'd share his story in his own words.
Where did the shoot take place?
We filmed in early July at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. During pre-production, when we were talking about locations with Scott Cooper, he mentioned that Jeff and Sue have a strong connection to the Garden and often take their dog, Monty, there for walks. So, it seemed like a truly meaningful place where Jeff could be in his element. In fact, Sue and Monty showed up on set for a visit.
Who exactly are you trying to reach with "Up the Antibodies"?
As society has been moving on after the height of the Covid pandemic, there's a group of people who have been left behind: those who are immunocompromised. Jeff was one of those people. When he had cancer and Covid, he was so incredibly close to losing it all. He almost died. And when he was in recovery, he couldn't be around his loved ones. He couldn't work. He was missing out because he didn't necessarily feel safe to join the rest of the world due to the continued threat of Covid. Jeff's story resonates because this is how so many people feel every single day as they manage chronic illnesses and conditions that compromise their immune systems.
We want this community to know that we see them, and they no longer need to feel stuck or left behind because there's a way to get an extra layer of protection. We want to inspire them to get back to the things they love—the things that make them feel most alive. When Jeff opened up to share his experience, he validated the feelings and experiences of others just like him. His love language is love. And that's at the core of this campaign.
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