Interviews


Bruce Willis


Occupation: Actor
Date of Birth: March 19, 1955
Place of Birth: Idar-Oberstein, former West Germany
Sign: Sun in Pisces, Moon in Aquarius
Relations: Father: David (welder, factory worker); mother: Marlene; brother: David (producer); wife (separated): Demi Moore;kids: Rumer, Scout, Tallulah (all with Moore); companion: Maria Bravo (marketing executive)
Education: Montclair State College dropout

 

THOUGH he's never exactly fit the Ah-nuld-and-Sly action hero paradigm  muscle-bound, monosyllabic, minimally emotive  explosions and man-on-the-run heroics have been the stock in trade of actor Bruce Willis ever since he roared to the top of the Hollywood A-list as John McClane, the reluctant Everyman protagonist of 1988's Die Hard. Several seasons of sleuthing and sexual sparring with Cybil Shepherd on ABC's Moonlighting made the blue-collar Jersey native a celebrity, but his testosterone-supercharged cinematic oeuvre and his 11-year marriage to onetime Brat Packer Demi Moore made him an honest-to-Pete superstar. His willingness to dodge bullets and crack wise in the face of sneering super-villains has revived his career more than once, but the stage-trained Willis has also bounced back on occasion with powerful performances in more high-minded fare, demonstrating a versatility that sets him apart from his pyrotechnic peers.

An Army brat and the eldest of four children, Willis was born on a military base in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. His father was discharged in 1957, and he took the family back to the States, where they settled in Carneys Point, N.J., so dad could take work at the Camden Shipyard. Rambunctious and cheerfully extroverted throughout his teenage years, Willis attended high school in nearby Penns Grove, where he was elected student council president and was active in various drama clubs. He ended up expelled for three months midway through his senior year as a result of his involvement in what he later characterized as "the annual riot, the black-white anti-human-relations fest." Plagued by a severe stutter since childhood, the ever-antic youth eventually tamed his tongue through acting, after discovering that he could enunciate clearly and calmly whenever he was playing to an audience.

Instead of doing the university thing straight out of high school, Willis found full-time work transporting work crews at the Du Pont factory down the road in Deepwaters. An industrial accident that claimed the life of a fellow driver prompted him to rethink his commitment to the blue-collar life, and he quit his job shortly thereafter. Directionless and not particularly driven, the former factory worker spent several months hanging out in bars and fostered his love of the blues by playing harmonica for a local R&B outfit called Loose Goose. He eventually took work as a security guard at the construction site for a large nuclear plant. Willis' long-dormant interest in theater eventually led him to Montclair State College, where he immersed himself in the locally reputed drama program. While at Montclair, he made a splash as Brick in a school production of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and frequently skipped his classes to jaunt to New York for off-Broadway auditions. Confident in his abilities and anxious to further the pursuit of his newly chosen avocation, Willis left school in the middle of his junior year and rented a tiny apartment in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.

For Willis, the requisite pay-the-bills job was a gig tending bar at the trendy Cafe Central, which at the time was a hip networking spot for many of the celebrities involved in the New York acting scene. When not mixing drinks, he fearlessly pursued acting jobs, frequently answering appointment-only casting calls without an appointment and then demanding he be allowed to audition anyway. He made his off-Broadway debut in a production of Heaven and Earth, and got his big break in 1984, when he was picked to replace Will Patton in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. While thus engaged, he caught the eye of a Miami Vice casting director, who tapped him for a guest appearance as a villainous, CIA-connected gunrunner; he gained further national exposure in a series of commercials for Levis 501 jeans.

Willis' cinematic résumé consisted of a paltry pair of uncredited cameos (in The Verdict and The First Deadly Sin) when he flew to Los Angeles in 1985 to read for a part in Madonna's Desperately Seeking Susan. That audition turned out to be a dead-end, and Willis was about to return to New York when he got wind of a casting call for a new ABC series to be titled Moonlighting. Willis ended up among the last of the 3,000 hopefuls to read for the part of David Addison, wisecracking foil to Cybil Shepherd's Maddie Hayes. Producer Glenn Gordon Caron immediately warmed to the relatively unknown off-Broadway thesp, and in direct opposition to the voluble objections of his ABC bosses, who didn't want to squander the plum part on a New York nobody, Caron gave Willis the part. As history notes, Moonlighting became a monstrous ratings winner.

Though Shepherd and Willis crackled with chemistry on-screen, they couldn't stand each other away from it, and their numerous high-volume off-camera squabbles gained Willis a reputation for temperament. The tabloids ate it up, and soon Willis was a popular checkstand whipping boy, as he lived large, endured a number of run-ins with the L.A. police, cut a pair of celebrity records for Motown, and made a high-profile bomb of a feature film debut in Blake Edwards' Blind Date. His Vegas wedding to Moore, whom he'd met at a 1987 screening of Stakeout, which starred the actress' then-boyfriend Emilio Estevez, further heightened his public profile. Derided as yet another TV-star with a wannabe-Hollywood jones, Willis persevered and silenced his critics for good with the astounding critical and commercial success of Die Hard, his first cinematic starring vehicle. Though he voiced a cynical baby in the surprise 1989 hit Look Who's Talking, Willis' movie career stalled out until he duplicated the success of his breakthrough characterization with Die Hard 2.

Over the next couple of years  while Moore was in the process of becoming the most sought-after actress in Hollywood  Willis made a number of attempts to break out of the John McClane mold. After punchless adaptations of Bonfire of the Vanities and Billy Bathgate and the atrocious singing-jewel-thief vanity project Hudson Hawk (which was based on Willis' own story) bombed in rapid succession, Willis briefly replenished his box-office drawing power by blasting bad guys and running from explosions in the The Last Boy Scout. He stumbled again with poorly received starring roles in Death Becomes Her, Striking Distance (his first action dud), and North, but revived both his critical and commercial reputations in late 1994 with high-profile supporting turns in Pulp Fiction and Nobody's Fool. His drawing power was firmly reestablished by the financial success of the 1995 films Twelve Monkeys and Die Hard With a Vengeance, and of 1997's The Fifth Element. Despite the fact that his 1998 summer actioner Armageddon was one of the most hyped and anticipated movies of the year, critic Roger Ebert pretty much summed up its paucity of entertainment value when he wrote, "No matter what they're charging to get in, it's worth more to get out."

In June 1998, just one year after successfully (and ironically) suing both an American and an Australian tabloid for reporting that their marriage was on the rocks, Willis and Moore parted ways, ending a decade-long union of which Willis once reported, "Our marriage is like anybody's marriage. It goes through ups and down. It's a little garden that you have to tend all the time. When we're home it's not like we walk around all dolled up going, 'We are celebrities! We are famous!' I change diapers. I clean up dog doo." Newly single, Willis continued to loom large at the box office: the well-received paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, in which he starred as a psychologist trying to help a haunted child, joined James Cameron's Titanic as the only film in history to score five $20 million weekends; he headed up the star-studded cast of Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions; and he co-starred opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in the middling romantic dramedy The Story of Us. The trio of roles  for which he waived his normal big money fee  represented for Willis a welcome and longed-for departure from his action-fare rut, yet fans of his popular Die Hard franchise can likely expect to see their bashed and bloodied hero fighting the good fight in a fourth installment, which reportedly could net its star a payday in excess of $25 million. In 2000, Willis logged an Emmy for Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his turn as the scary father of David Schwimmer's college-age love interest on Friends, a gig he took after befriending castmate Matthew Perry during filming of the box-office blunder The Whole Nine Yards. Also on the books in 2000 was Willis' star turn in the second-chance parable Disney's The Kid.

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