Bruce Willis Stands Firm
Updated: Jun 27, 2021
Bruce Willis (and Jessica Alba) in Sin City.
By Brad Balfour
It’s hard to believe that superstar Bruce Willis, a man often heard over many explosions in his signature action adventure films like those in the Die Hard series, should be so soft spoken. Yet after his wildly successful career as a hardnosed hero, Willis still tries to challenge himself and say so quietly. So now he starred back to back in two very dark, film-noir styled variations on the action film, Sin City and Hostage.
Though your character is another hard-boiled cop—Sin City is a three-part dark fantasy film?
There are only two groups of filmmakers right now, one being [Star Wars director] George Lucas’ team and the other being [Spy Kids director] Robert Rodriguez’ team who know how to use these digital cameras. It’s shot completely green screen and everything you will see in Sin City was added after the fact. I believe there were a couch and a coffee table in my scene with Jessica Alba but other than that we had to imagine everything that was there.
Bruce Willis in Sin City.
What were the advantages of having comic book creator Frank Miller as a second director?
It was great having him there. Robert Rodriguez threatened to walk out of the DGA (Directors Guild of America) because they told him that Frank Miller could not direct this film. Robert just said, ‘”Fuck you I’m gonna do what I wanna do.” After every take I would first look to Robert and make sure that he got what he wanted and I would turn to Frank and say, ‘was that what you were thinking?’
Miller said he wrote your John Hartigan sequence because he hated The Dead Pool (the last of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies). Do you see Hartigan as the last Dirty Harry?
No. I don’t think so. I never compared this to anything else. I just stayed within in the genre of Frank’s stories and as a pure film noir movie; Hartigan has a role to fill. He’s an honest cop and he goes up against everyone else in this city who’s not honest. And there’s a romance to it that is very interesting, and then Jessica Alba is really great. She did a really great job in the film.
Will you forever be trying to break out of that action hero image?
I always thought that by the time I was 40 I would be given better scripts and different scripts. I’m still learning how to act and I’ve learned stuff every time from different films that I do. I’ve learned more than anything from films that haven’t been successful that bombed and in some places just sucked. I try hard every time. I think that this film will go a long way in breaking that [stereotype]. I was around when Mel Gibson and I both did two films the same year; he did Lethal Weapon and I did the first Die Hard. Both films set a template for 18 years of action films after that. The genre just kind of ran itself into the ground. The ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances was one template. The buddy movie with two cops ran itself into the ground and ran out of gas. I was waiting for the genre to get smarter and go back to find interesting stories and I think this is a really interesting story. It’s as close as you can get to a Bruce Willis film without seeming like a Bruce Willis film. There are a lot of things involved that make it not Armageddon, not Die Hard, not “oh Bruce Willis is in a film, he’s going to save the world again.” This guy is emotionally crushed and I couldn’t have done this film 18 years ago without having been a father or being loaded up with that emotional weight.
There were some exciting action sequences when your character saves the family from a burning house. Did the fire scenes get scary?
Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis in Sin City.
I wasn’t afraid. The safety screw and stunt coordinators and all those guys and special effects team are complete pros. These guys kept us safe at all times. It certainly looks scary. I think the kids were a little scared because no one had ever been in a real fire before. There was a guy who was shaking down little burning embers of wood and I had these little burns all over my head by the end of that. (Bad guy psychopath) Ben Foster almost got set on fire when they tried to throw a real Molotov cocktail once and some of the gas leaked out of the bottle and fortunately somebody saw that happening and stopped it from happening. Other than that it was just hot.
Did you work with a hostage negotiator for the role?
There was a gentleman named Peter Weireter who was our consultant. He is also a good friend of mine. He was the primary hostage negotiator in Los Angeles for over 12 years. He was on the phone with me every night and if I ever had any questions I would turn to him. I’ve spent a lot of time with cops over the years and in this case the hostage negotiator. It’s a pretty simple rule [for a negotiator], “try not to let anybody get killed.” [In real life] I negotiate with three young women on a daily basis but I wouldn’t want to have that be my job.
You have this reputation as a tough guy on screen but you’re very generous in real life with the cast and crew. You have dollar day Fridays where you fill a bucket with dollars and literally give money away. Where does this come from?
It’s a little bit more than a dollar! I’m going to get in trouble with the government if you mention the amount! It’s a tradition that I’ve been doing for about 15 years. It’s hard work making films; not hard like carrying bundles of shingles up a 20-foot ladder but it’s hard in a different way. There’s a lot of waiting around and a lot of down time and when it’s time to actually work and shoot you have to be ready from an acting standpoint to commit something to film history and it’s just my way of just getting us all on the same team. I think it comes from having worked in films for 21 years. I think being a father has something to do with it. I was kind of the dad on Hostage.
Was it inevitable that your daughter Rumer go into acting?
I don’t think it was inevitable. I think that it was always a fun thing and the rule in our family is that if they want to act in films they have to do it with their mom or me. Because I produced this film I told Rumer when she expressed an interest in the film that she would have to audition which she did. She came in and did a great job and won the part.
Bruce and Rumer Willis in Hostage.
How did it go?
She was very prepared. She improvised a bit where she said, “I’m not gonna fuckin’ take this anymore!” It was great and the line actually stayed in the film in that scene. She came to play. In our house the kids are now saying the line that’s been around for a while ‘go big or go home,’ [from Die Hard] and she really nailed it.
What was it like acting with her?
It was really fun. I didn’t direct her in any of her scenes; I left that to [director] Florent [Emilio Siri]. It allowed me to reach a much higher point of departure emotionally as opposed to me working with a young actress I didn’t know. I carried around my little Polaroid that the guy who plays the FBI guy gives me in the movie [of Rumer and her film mother bound and gagged] every night of shooting and I would look at that and it took me right to the horrific idea of what it would feel like to actually have your children taken away from you.
Do you have any reluctance about her becoming an actress?
Bruce Willis in Hostage.
Not at all. If she wants to do this when she’s on her own, I would support that. They’re all going to college, so their desires and goals might change once they go. I’m not sure if Rumer, Tallulah or Scout [his other two daughters] will think about this now but when they’re 30 years old and look back to when they were 16, they can say, “Wow I looked like that when I was 16.” It’s just kind of cool to have that mark of their life [on film] at that time. My daughters have all been raised in what’s almost like circus life. My kids say to me all the time, “Dad we’re set rats.” They know the difference between the real world and the illusion of what films are.
Now that you’re a father was it easier imagine something so horrible happening?
There are a lot of people who will see this film that don’t have kids. If you don’t have kids you do not understand what it’s like to have kids. I can talk about it for 10 years and you wouldn’t understand what it is like to have kids. It’s a different feeling. I can’t stress enough the horrific image of having your children taken away from you. Before I had kids I didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody else’s kids. My three daughters are my three favorite people on earth to talk to and hang out with and spend time with. I would step in front of a truck for my kids.
Because Hostage fits in the action genre, did you ever see it as a Die Hard 4?
No I think this character is very far away from John McClane. John McClane is a wisecracking cop from New York that I did 18 years ago. I don’t think I could’ve played Jeff Talley [his character in Hostage] 18 years ago. But you can’t put anyone into an airshaft, or an air duct [as happens in one scene where the young boy escapes] and not conjure the image of John McClane in the first film.
Bruce Willis in Hostage.
You’re known for some strong positions in politics and the Iraq War in particular:
Nobody is pro-war. I am against terrorism. I would like to see terrorism stopped. Those are my politics as it concerns the world. I went to Iraq to see for myself what was going on over there. I don’t watch the news, I don’t read newspapers; I don’t rely on what I feel is a manipulated form of information from reading newspapers and the electronic media. That theory was confirmed when I went to Iraq because what I saw when I was over there was soldiers, young kids for the most part helping people in Iraq; helping getting the power turned back on, helping get hospitals open, helping getting the water turned back on and you don’t hear any of that on the news. You hear ‘x’ number of people were killed today which I think does a huge disservice. It’s like spitting on these young men and women who are over there fighting to help this country. I know a lot has been said about war for oil, blah, blah, blah. You know what? I disagree with that. Hitler was only in power ten years. Saddam Hussein was in power for thirty years and did terrible things to his own people. There are people that survived Saddam Hussein’s regime but it was a good thing that Saddam Hussein was taken out.
Justin Timberlake makes his acting debut with you in the upcoming film Alpha Dog. Being a musician yourself, can rock stars make the transition to acting?
I think he’s great. I didn’t have many scenes with him but from what I was told by [director] Nick Cassavetes he did a great job. I don’t think anybody can automatically become an actor. I think that acting is a craft and you have to learn the tools of that craft before you commit anything to film history. We live in a pop culture world where they want everybody to be an actor. They want Britney Spears to be an actress. I don’t think anybody could just be thrown into that world and become one.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 24, 2005.
Photo Credits:#1 © 2005 Courtesy of Dimension Films. All rights reserved.#2 © 2005 Courtesy of Dimension Films. All rights reserved.#3 © 2005 Courtesy of Dimension Films. All rights reserved.#4 © 2005 Courtesy of Miramax Pictures. All rights reserved.#5 © 2005 Courtesy of Miramax Pictures. All rights reserved.#6 © 2005 Courtesy of Miramax Pictures. All rights reserved.