BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Jeff Bridges was ready to take on his first big television role in a quarter of a century with the FX Network series “The Old Man” when he had to face near fatal health issues – twice. While battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Bridges contracted COVID-19 in January 2021, a result of the chemo he had been going through significantly weakening his immune system.

After what Bridges calls 18 months of dealing with his own mortality, the Oscar-winning actor found himself healthy enough to finally tackle the TV project. FX’s “The Old Man” debuts at 10 p.m. June 16.

“In times like that, it seems that all your philosophies and spirituality and everything that kind of comes to you, it tests you.  So, all of that has been made more mature by that experience,” Bridges says. “I haven’t felt any different, really.  I have always approached life the same way, but this kind of made things sharper, in a sharper image to me.

“I went through about a year and a half of this bizarre dream and then came back.”

The series that lured Bridges back to television is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Thomas Perry. “The Old Man” centers on Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges), who left the CIA decades ago and has been living off the grid. When an assassin arrives and tries to take Chase out, the old operative learns that to ensure his future he now must reconcile his past.

With Dan Chase flushed out of hiding, the FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Harold Harper (John Lithgow) is called on to hunt him down because of his complicated past with the rogue fugitive.

The team behind “The Old Man” was willing to wait for Bridges to get better because they knew he was the perfect actor to play the aging action hero. The show is designed to look at a person dealing with all the issues that face someone who is growing older. That life is upset when events of the past come crashing back into this world.

Bridges says, “When you’re in the CIA and you’re kind of a spy and you morph yourself into different identities as needed and in a way you kind of lose your real identity, you don’t know really who you are really. That can be kind of disconcerting.”

The complications of the character was one of the reasons Bridges decided to take on a starring role in a TV series after so many years as a film actor. It took a top quality project to lure him away from the movies and his family.

One of his major concerns was how different making a TV series would be to working on a feature film. He found there is no difference because he had plenty of time to get the acting right and was surrounded by first-rate performers like John Lithgow.

The way “The Old Man” is structured, the characters played by Bridges and Lithgow don’t have a lot of scenes together. Lithgow jokes that he thinks the entire contact between the two in the first season is limited to a single phone call.

That didn’t stop Lithgow from heaping praise on Bridges.

“This is the most big‑hearted person,” Lithgow says. “It’s not like you’re working with an actor at all.  It’s like you’re working with a new friend.  I know I said it once before, but I can’t say it too often.

“It’s been a real privilege.”

Bridges has been working in films for most of his life but he did get his start in television. His first TV role was on “Sea Hunt,” a late 1950s TV drama starring his father, Lloyd Bridges. He laughs and says that his career is all the product of nepotism. It ended up being more than just an easy way to get a job as Bridges learned a lot about being a working actor from his father.

“The big thing I learned from him was the joy in which he approached his work – or his play.  I got to work with him twice as an adult in ‘Tucker’ and ‘Blown Away.’  And it was so great to see him come on the set and everybody was like, ‘Oh this is kind of fun.’  We can relax and have fun and play,” Bridges says. “When you relax like that, the good stuff, the story that you’re telling can come out, and you’re not tense, wondering if you’re not doing it in a loving place.”

Bridges will get to show off how relaxed he was once he got well enough to work on “The Old Man” when it premieres on FX and streams the next day on Hulu. The first two episodes of its seven-episode season will be available on the first day.