An Interview with Katy Butler

A spiritual reporter talks with Tricycle about Buddhism, journalism, and her recent interview with actor Jeff Bridges

Tricycle’s editor-at-large, Andy Cooper, has written, “If one can speak of such a thing as Buddhist journalism, then Katy is, as much as anyone, one of its originators and still one of its finest practitioners.”

In addition to discussing the small setbacks and triumphs of her experience interviewing actor Jeff Bridges, Butler talks to Tricycle about how her Buddhism and her journalism inform one another in her life and work. 

Listen to Tricycle’s Sam Mowe interview Katy Butler here. 

To read more of Butler’s work, ranging from spiritual celebration to critical investigation of religious communities, see the following articles:

"Everything is Holy" (Tricycle, Summer 2005)

"Events are the Teacher" (Whole Earth Review, 1983)

"Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America" (Common Boundary Magazine, 1990 May/June)

Michael Muller

Also, if you still haven’t yet seen Butler's interview with Bridges, here are some things it covers that you probably don't know about him:

He says that a finished movie "is like a beautiful snakeskin you find on the ground and make a hatband out of." But making the movie is "a wonderful spiritual playground" and "the snake itself."

He considers himself "a Buddhistly bent guy." 

He has been meditating for ten years and is currently following an intense, focused Tibetan Buddhist practice called the Lojong teachings.

He once freaked out in an isolation tank.

One of his closest friends is a Zen master who wears a clown nose.

Even though he paints, sings, plays guitar, takes professional quality photographs, lobbies against childhood hunger, and has acted in at least 66 movies, he considers himself "quite a lazy fellow."

He's famous for playing laid-back, washed-up characters like "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski and Bad Blake in the Oscar-award-winning Crazy Heart. But he's not as relaxed as he looks.

"As an actor, fear comes up because I want to do a good job, an enlightened piece of work," he reveals in the interview. "You get attached to that, you overwork it, you over-think it. Then you come to the set, and people aren't saying the lines as you imagined. It's raining, and it's supposed to be sunny. You thought you were invited to a cha-cha party, you've learned the steps, and they're dancing the Viennese waltz! You can spend a lot of energy being upset, or you can get with the program—it's that Right Effort thing—and get the beauty of the way it is."

The interview took place in Austin, Texas in June while Bridges was filming the role of Rooster Cogburn for the remake of True Grit by the Coen brothers, to be released this December.

You can find out more about Bridges, his work, and his relation to Buddhism in the Fall 2010 issue of Tricycle. Sign up to become a Tricycle Community Sustaining Member to gain access now.

Image 1:

Image 2: Photograph by Michael Muller

Freelance writer Katy Butler began sitting at San Francisco Zen Center in 1977 and was lay-ordained in 1990 by Thich Nhat Hanh into his Tiep Hien order. A former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, she was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in 2004 and has also written for the New Yorker. “What Broke My Father’s Heart: How a Pacemaker Wrecked a Family’s Life,” appeared in the New York Times Magazine last June.

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Brucio's picture

Hi Tricycle,

I've been trying to listen to your interview with Katy Butler but your link seems broken. I hope you can fix it soon.