It may have been one of New York’s chilliest winters seen in decades, as a thick blanket of snow piled high in the trendiest of Manhattan neighbourhoods. But when you’re as big a movie star as Bruce Willis, it’s easy to greet the press donned in a smart T-shirt with Kyoto blazed on your chest. Cheerful and ready to talk, Willis was more than ready to talk about the broken down, middle-aged cop he plays in 16 Blocks, Richard Donner’s first film in three years. Donner had previously commented that this unlikely role for the actor who has constantly redefined the proverbial macho man, has arrived at the perfect lime for Willis, whom the director further describes as a brave actor for taking on this character. Willis agrees and accepts his director’s compliment. “I don’t think I could’ve played Jack Mosely 10 years ago,” referring to the aging cop living with past demons. “I knew when I was in my 30s that by the time I got into my late 40s that I would know so much more about life and have lived more life. It just allowed me to give this character a different worldview than I had when I was in my 30s. Also there are just such better parts now and just so much cooler things to be able to do. You’ve seen it, read it, and seen the little things trying to make you feel less of a man because you’re losing your hair, but they can all suck my. you know what I mean? I’m a man and I will kick anybody’s ass who tries to tell me that I’m not one because my hair’s thinning. Besides I like fooling around with looking different ways. I mean, look, I wear makeup in films but not in real life. It’s just part of the gig, that’s all. You wear clothes, you gain weight and you lose weight.”
Willis has been on top of Hollywood’s A-list for over two decades, and in that time, he has played his share of cops. Even now, as Willis is about to turn 51, playing different shades of the man in blue, remains fascinating for him, he says, “partly because I’m from South Jersey and I have a strong affinity towards working class people. I believe that any job that requires you to possibly get shot at or get shot dead means you should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. These guys don’t get paid anything, yet they go out there and do it and there’s not a lot of them out there, and they are the last line between us and the wolves and the chaos that’s out in the world. All these guys – cops, EMT workers, men and women, emergency room doctors and nurses and people that every night have to see horrific things should have thousands of films done about these guys and they should get paid more money.”
Willis has become politically impassioned over the years, and no more than now, though his voice rises when asked specifically about his Republican politics, a rarity in a Hollywood generally defined by its political liberalism. “I’m a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, want less government intrusion, I want them to stop pissing on my money and your money, the tax dollars that we give 50 per cent of or 40 per cent of every year, and I want them to be fiscally responsible, and I want these goddam lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I’ll say I’m a Republican. But other than that, I want the government to take care of people who need help, like the kids in foster care. I want them to take care of the elderly and give them free medicine, give them whatever they need. There’s tons, billions and billions of dollars that are just being wasted. I hate government. I’m apolitical. Write that down. I’m not a republican.”
Asked whether Hollywood goes to far in terms of violence, Willis insists that it merely mirrors the world. “Look, we live in a violent world, man. This country was founded on violence so who’s kidding who? We came here and said to the native American Indians – okay, we got some bad news, we got some pretty bad news, and we got some really bad news. The bad news is we’re here. The pretty bad news is we’re not leaving. The really bad news is we’re going to take all your land, every tiny little bit of land that you guys have and put you on this little postage stamp of desert where you can’t grow a thing, unless of course we find oil on that land. Then we’ll move you to another little postage-stamp place in Arizona, and we’re going to fuck you over and give you blankets filled with smallpox, and if that’s not violence, then what is, my man. What is? So I’m apolitical and could I be any clearer?”
Willis may be forthright about his views on contemporary America, but as an actor, the Hollywood superstar says he is ready to take on a diverse number of roles. “I’ve done different kinds of films that all seem to be coming out in 5 months of each other and they’re very different. Lucky Number Slevin is a really great movie and wait till you see Alpha Dog, crazy, really represents what’s happening in the Valley in California, these kids are getting high all day long. There’s 16 Blocks coming out and I did Over the Hedge that is really funny. It has jokes for kids in there, but also a lot of jokes for adults.
But I don’t have a plan to say I want to do THIS film because I want to make THIS statement. I think my job is to be entertaining. If you’re going to comer out of your house, park your car, by food and popcorn and sit in a movie theatre, instead of sitting in front of that big flat screen where you can just watch the DVD, it’s our job to be entertaining but I never gave any thought to I wanted messages for this film. I think messages are for documentaries.” And as for the much rumoured Die Hard 4, Willis is not ruling it out. “I would like to see Die Hard 4 happen. If it happens, if they get the script right, so yeah, I’d consider it.”
And when he’s not playing movie star, there’s always fatherhood, which he says remains his biggest triumph. “Having 3 kids changed me a lot,” Willis says, reflectively. “Before I had kids, I was just thinking abut myself. I was just all me, my world. When I had my first daughter, Rumor, who’s now a young woman, it was like oh my God. It’s unbelievable the change that came over me. Everything else seems stupid once you have kids. Everything else you worry about, “Oh, how am I going to get this? How am I going to get that? I want this, I want that.” Then you have this little baby, this little tiny infant that needs your help, you just go, “Oh, who cares about everything else.” I really lean into being a dad. I like being a dad. I know there are a lot of men out there who don’t take care of the babies that they bring into the world and that is a horrible situation. I can’t imagine. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why that happens.”
Father, movie star, icon, political animal, Bruce Willis is not your average superstar. Perhaps he will put pen to paper and write his own memoirs. Well, maybe not. “Too many people would get hurt because I’d have to tell the truth. But it’d be a great book, let me tell you, it’s like Harry Truman said, the only thing new under the sun is the truth you don’t know. And they never got it right anyway.”