Bruce Willis Talks to Tim Nasson about Die Hard
Bruce Willis was born Walter Bruce Willis on March 19, 1955 and is a two-time Emmy Award-winning and Golden Globe-winning actor and singer.
Bruce Willis came to fame in the late 1980s (remember the Tuesday night televsion soap “Moonlighting?”) and has since retained a career as both a Hollywood leading man and a supporting actor.
Willis was born in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany to the American soldier David Willis, and a Kassel-born German mother, Marlene, who worked in a bank. After being discharged from the military in 1957, Willis’s father took his family back to Penns Grove, New Jersey, and he worked as a welder and factory worker. Willis was the oldest of four children. He was always an outgoing youngster, although he grew up with a stutter. Finding it easy to express himself on stage, Willis began performing on stage and his high school memberships were marked by such things as the drama club and school council president.
Rather than go to college after graduation, Willis farmed sheep in a mining village in Alabama, transporting work crews at the DuPont Chambers Works factory in Deepwater, New Jersey. He decided to quit after a colleague was killed on the job, and thereafter became a regular at several bars , Willis also discovered an innate knack for playing harmonica. After a stint as a Private Eye (a role he plays in his 1991 movie, The Last Boy Scout), Willis returned to his original passion of acting. He enrolled in the drama program at Montclair State University, where he was cast as Brick in the class production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Jack Prince as Big Daddy, William Applegate as the doctor and Kevin J. Lynch as the Rev. Tooker. The ambitious junior finally decided to leave school in pursuit of more lucrative movie roles by heading for New York City.
Willis returned to the bar scene, only this time for a part-time job and as a way to meet New York celebrities. He is rumored to have been ‘discovered’ while working at the Museum Cafe on New York’s Upper West Side. After countless auditions, Willis finally made his theater debut in the off-Broadway production of Heaven and Earth. He gained more experience and exposure in Fool for Love, a stint on television’s Miami Vice, a Levi’s ad campaign, and a commercial for Seagram’s wine coolers.
Willis first found fame with his starring role in the hit TV series Moonlighting (1985–89) establishing himself as a comedic actor. However, it was his then-unexpected turn in the Die Hard series that catapulted him to fame. He also was successful in his role as the voice of little Mikey in the Look Who’s Talking series.
In the late-1980s, Willis enjoyed moderate success as a recording artist, recording an album of pop-blues entitled The Return of Bruno, which included the hit single “Respect Yourself”, promoted by a Spinal Tap-like rockumentary parody featuring scenes of him performing at famous events including Woodstock. Follow-up recordings were not as successful, though Willis has returned to the recording studio from time to time.
In the early 1990s, Willis’ career suffered a moderate slump starring in flops such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and Hudson Hawk, among others. However, in 1994 he had a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s acclaimed Pulp Fiction, which gave a new boost to his career. In 1996 , he produced the cartoon Bruno the Kid which featured a CGI representation of himself. He went on to play the lead roles in Twelve Monkeys and The Fifth Element. However, by the end of the ’90s, his career had fallen into another slump with critically panned films like The Jackal, Mercury Rising and Breakfast of Champions, saved only by the success of the Michael Bay-directed Armageddon which was the highest grossing film of 1998 in the US. The same year his voice and likeness were featured in the Playstation video game Apocalypse
In 1999, Willis then went on to the starring role in M. Night Shyamalan’s film, The Sixth Sense. The film was both a commercial and critical success and launched Willis’ career to a new level of stardom. He once had to appear in the hit sitcom Friends without pay, because he lost a bet to Matthew Perry, his co-star in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards. He won a 2000 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his work on Friends (in which he played the father of Ross Geller’s much-younger girlfriend). He was also nominated for a 2001 American Comedy Award (in the Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series category) for his work on Friends. Willis was originally cast as Terry Benedict in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) but dropped out. In Ocean’s Twelve (2003), he makes a cameo appearance as himself. He recently appeared in the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse as the villain, a mutant soldier. This marks Willis’ second collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez, following Sin City.
Willis also appeared on Japanese Subaru Legacy television commercials, optimising the car for sale, with the backing music of Jade from Sweetbox, “Addicted” and “Hate Without Frontiers”. Tying in with this, Subaru did a limited run of Legacys, badged “Subaru Legacy Touring Bruce”, in honor of Willis.
Willis has appeared in four movies with Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon).
On October 16, 2006, Willis was honored with a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star is located at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard and it is the 2321st Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Willis was married to actress Demi Moore from November 21, 1987 to October 18, 2000. The couple gave no public reason for their breakup. Willis and Moore had three daughters during their thirteen-year union: Rumer Glenn Willis (born 1988), Scout LaRue Willis (1991) and Tallulah Belle Willis (1994). Since their breakup, rumors persisted that the couple planned to re-marry, but Moore has since married Ashton Kutcher. He and Moore have maintained a close relationship.
In early 2006, Willis, who usually lives in Los Angeles, moved into an apartment located in the Trump Tower in New York City. Willis also has a home in Malibu, CA, a ranch in Montana, a beach home on Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos, and multiple properties in Sun Valley, Idaho.
He filled in for an ill David Letterman on his show February 26, 2003, when he was supposed to be a guest. He interviewed Dan Rather in what he would later call “the most serious conversation of my entire life”. On many of his appearances on the Letterman show, Willis stages elaborate jokes, such as wearing a day-glo orange suit in honor of the Central Park gates, or having one side of his face made up with simulated buckshot wounds after the Harry Whittington shooting. Also on The Late Show with David Letterman, Willis was seen trying to break the holding your breath under water record (parody of David Blaine) staying under for only 20 seconds. On April 12, 2007, he appeared again, this time wearing a Sanjaya Malakar wig.
Willis owns his own motion picture production company called Cheyenne Enterprises, as well as The Mint Bar and The Liberty Theater in Hailey, Idaho. He is also a co-founder of Planet Hollywood.
Willis made controversy on April 29, 2007 during a live broadcast Toronto Raptors Vs. New Jersey Nets playoff game by saying “Yipee-ki-yay motherfucker” at the end of the interview.
Wild About Movies: In the first three Die Hard movies, it seemed like John McClane was a reluctant hero who didn’t really want to be in the situations in which he was caught up. In “Die Hard 4,” it seems like he’s kind of embraced his role as the action hero.
BRUCE WILLIS: Really?
Wild About Movies: Is that the case?
BRUCE WILLIS: No, that’s not the case. All through it I’m reluctant. Now I’m extra reluctant.
Wild About Movies: He really took charge in the shootout and his reactions.
BRUCE WILLIS: No, no. One of the things that a friend of ours said early on is – a kid named Jason Smilovic who wrote Lucky Number Slevin came up with the idea that the phrase ‘the mythology of Die Hard’ – and part of the mythology of Die Hard is that John McClane loves his country, loves his family, that he’s not going to let anybody hurt anyone that can’t really defend themselves which is I think the situation that you’re talking about in Matt’s apartment. [referring to jet heard overhead] That jet may be landing right here. Harrier jet. I think given a choice, being able to not have to do what I do in this film or in any of the Die Hard films, I wouldn’t do it.
Wild About Movies: Are you as involved in your own daughters’ lives as your character?
BRUCE WILLIS: No, not at all. I just tell them I want to meet them. That’s the only thing that I ask for. I just give them that look, that little look, and you know what? I always put one of them in charge. If they bring a little group of guys over to the house, they have a pool party or whatever, I’ll just say ‘Dude, what’s your name?’ and he says, ‘Sinjin,’ and I say, ‘Sinjin, you’re in charge. If anything happens to one of my daughters, I’m coming to you first and then I’m going to kill all your friends right in front of you and you’ll be last.’ Yeah, so Sinjin generally is…Sinjin, if you’re listening to this… That’s the guy’s name. That’s his real name. These kookie names they come up with.
Wild About Movies: How did you hook up with Len, and how did he come to your attention?
BRUCE WILLIS: I don’t know. I can’t really remember what I was doing last week so to answer a question about something that happened a year ago. I’m just kidding. I remember. You know what? I just sat down with him and my daughter, Scout, actually told me that even before I met Len, before we sat down to talk about doing the film, my daughter, Scout, turned me on to Underworld and we sat up one night watching it and I thought it was great. It just so happened that a couple weeks later Fox asked me to sit down with him and it was a pretty easy choice to make. We both had similar ideas about and similar goals as to the kind of Die Hard we wanted to make. It’s really easy to sit here and talk about the film now because it really did turn out great. It’s actually one of my favorite Die Hards. But we both wanted to make a – to stay away from the CG aspects which would have been a real easy thing to do with a film like this – to try to compete with every other CG film that’s out this summer. And what was the second part of your question?
Wild About Movies: If you could make any kind of movie that you wanted to – and you do a lot of different things – you do Quentin’s movies and the Hip Hop Project and Ocean’s Thirteen — why revisit something that was 12 years old before you even start?
BRUCE WILLIS: That’s a really good question. I could’ve very easily chosen to retire undefeated. I mean the first three Die Hards have earned somewhere around $1.3 billion in international revenues and DVD sales and all that. But in retrospect, I was never really that … I was never as happy with the second and third one as I was with the first one and I always wanted to do one more and see if we could come close to the quality and the feel and just the level of drama and at the same time, I don’t know, just the elements of the first film. And the potential to fail was really high, was really great, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to be sitting here talking about a film that I’ve already seen and know is really strong and really powerful and really satisfies me in a way that was something I set out to do, that I wanted to do. And I’m a gambler by nature, you know. I’d rather take a risk than not. You guys have seen some of the risks that I’ve taken that didn’t succeed.
Wild About Movies: Do you have a list of those?
BRUCE WILLIS: I think you know those films better than I do. The one with the shorts on the boat. Excuse me [makes gagging sound]. I remember saying before that film, ‘How bad can it be?’
Wild About Movies: Over the years the Die Hard 4 rumors included you and Ben Affleck in the jungle. Why this story?
BRUCE WILLIS: It was Cole Hauser. That was Cole Hauser. Ben wasn’t in that. It just seemed like the right time. It was a good script and a bunch of different elements conspired to kind of bring it together. At a certain point, it’s just a leap of faith. I just had to say, ‘Let’s take a shot.’ I liked what Len had to say about the film and I was pretty confident in the fact that if we got a good story that we could improve upon that which is what we ultimately did. But at the end of the day, when it’s the 11th and a half hour, you just got to say, ‘Here we go.’ Look, it could’ve sucked. We could be sitting here trying to get you excited about it. The really rewarding thing is to know that we have a great film. When I first saw the first cut of this film, I was so impressed and relieved at the same time. It really is kind of counter programming to what’s out there this summer. But the Ben Affleck thing, I don’t know where that came from. I heard that story too. Lotta rumors out there. Are you an internet guy? Yeah, there you go. A lot of rumors out there.
On another note: We didn’t shoot the film in sequence. Very few films are shot in sequence and had we shot the film in sequence, we might have stuck a little bit closer to the dialogue but we had to shoot alternate takes of almost every scene in case the scene that we didn’t shoot that was going to be scheduled a month from now turned out to either be in the film or not be in the film. There was one scene, the scene that had to do with Kevin Smith, that we called the Warlock scene because that’s the name of his character. We only had Kevin Smith for three days and it was a really locked in three days. Anything that we didn’t know if it was going to be in the film or not, we said, ‘Just put it in the Warlock scene.’ So by the time we got to Kevin Smith’s scene, it was a nine page scene. Fortunately, we had shot enough of the film that we knew what we needed from that scene and what we didn’t need from it. Kevin Smith actually helped us write a lot of that scene. Was not the best way.
Wild About Movies: A couple years ago, I think when I interviewed you for “16 Blocks, ” you said you thought your days were numbered in terms of doing this sort of action film, that audiences might not expect a guy to do things he was doing in his 30s when he’s in his 50s. What do you think about that now?
BRUCE WILLIS: Well, I know a lot of cops that are actually my age. If you get in shape, I’m living testament to the fact that you can do a film like this and still survive. I had to work out a lot to get my muscles to the size that they protected my bones so my bones wouldn’t shatter when I dove onto the concrete floor. But I lived through it. I get beat up and you see that happen on screen. But I’m glad I didn’t wait a couple more years. Don’t try this at home. There was a lot of healing. I wish I had kept a running log of just the wear and tear and how much actual hide got scraped off.
Wild About Movies: So is this really the last Die Hard?
BRUCE WILLIS: No, I don’t think so. I think that Fox is already talking about doing another one. I told them I would only do it if Len is involved. ’95 was the last one, so 12 years since Die Hard 3 and 21 years is the span of all four of them so you can see me when I’m 31 and you can see me when I’m 52. You guys will decide. There are moments in the film where you see me getting up a little slower. And I do things that I probably shouldn’t be doing. I was in much better shape on this one than I was on the third one, because I was supposed to be a kind of beat up, alcoholic cop in that one. I spent years researching that role, not the cop part.
Wild About Movies: Do you go back and watch the old ones?
BRUCE WILLIS: I looked at them just before we started shooting this and I know I liked the first one. I looked at the second and third one and said, ‘Can’t do that, can’t do that, can’t do that.’ One of the rules we had was that we banned ourselves from being self-referential. The second film, if you go back and look at the second film, there’s so many fuckin’ references to referring to the first film. And it was such bullshit, I just hated it. It was just really a stupid, stupid thing. I don’t know, I liked jumping out of the helicopter onto the wing of that plane. I like that from the second one. But I’d have to look at it to tell you if there was anything else I really liked. Icicle through the eye, that was good.
Editor’s note: I rarely endorse a movie before, during or after an interview. But “Die Hard 4″ is the sequel to see of the summer 2007! I remember sitting at the USA Cinemas 57 in the summer of 1988 on the Friday afternoon of the original “Die Hard” release, (after sitting through the matinee of “Bambi” beforehand at USA Cinemas Copley Place.) And both films, “Die Hard,” and “Bambi,” earned a five-star rating from me in my high school newspaper “Highlander Highlights” in Somerville, Massachusetts.