Bruce Willis: Planet Willis

Bruce Willis, star of three blockbusters, two infamous bombs, the coolest movie of the last five years and the new Last Man Standing, explains his new acting style, disses the guy who wrote a roman à clef about him, and once again complains about the wages of celebrity.

_________________________________________

Bruce Willis's assistant calls to say that he's waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel in a tony London suburb. I take a deep breath and head downstairs where Willis is slouching by the back door. As I make my way across a lobby crowded with vacationers and businesspeople, I see a woman recognize Willis--in slow motion, she just uncurls her fingers from her teacup and lets the steaming liquid fall into her lap. Willis doesn't see it happen, but he must have seen thousands of incidents like this, because he quickly beckons me outside, where it's windy and rainy, yet somehow preferable to the warm room crowded with people.

As we walk along the Thames, Willis is giving me the hairy eyeball. He doesn't exactly turn towards me, but I can tell that his eyes are glued to my face, searching to see if this is going to he one of those interviews in which, he'll explain later, "I relax and say what's on my mind and it comes back to bite me in the ass." I've read Willis's press on the flight over, and, I have to admit, this guy must have teeth-marks all over his tush. Women journalists in particular seem to take umbrage at not only what he has to say and how he says it, but at the mere fact that both he and wife Demi Moore are in show business and that they've had three children in seven years (daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah).

But I remember Willis as the affable bartender from New York's Cafe Central years and years ago, a guy so funny and breezy that even when you were falling-down drunk (and in the early '80s. almost everyone was), he could still make a joke that would have half the room in hysterics. When I bring up the old days, Willis says, "Stephen, my assistant, is a guy I used to tend bar with at Cafe Central. I have a pretty good close circle of friends and family. I don't really make new friends, rarely, and I've had most of my close friends for a long time."

"Before you were famous?"

"Oh yeah. From the New York days and some friends from college, some guys from high school. That's the only thing that seems real. I know a lot of people, but then there's a line between who I consider my friends and family, and everyone else."

"Those were some wild days, huh?"

"New York in the early '80s was like nothing else. Everyone would start drinking by nine sharp, and they'd stay there till five in the morning. There were no breaks, nobody calling the shots. I saw some things at Cafe Central, some famous people..." He starts to laugh. "Yeah, it was a time like no other, and I'm very glad to have been there."

"I remember times at Cafe Central when you were me only one who was still standing..."

"I was just sober the longest, that's all. When people talk to me now about why I don't drink, it's hard to explain. It's that I had done it all, two or three times! So, yeah, those were the days, and I'm glad I lived through them, and I'm glad I don't have to live through them again,"

We walk until the chill is too much for both us, and then turn back to the hotel. We are about an hour and a half from London, in a town that has neither good food nor a movie theater, but is close to where Willis has rented a house while he shoots The Fifth Element, a futuristic sci-fi movie directed by Luc Besson, a Frenchman most famous for La Femme Nikita and The Professional, among others.

When we get back to the hotel, we're led into the dining room, which won't be open for another hour or so. We have the whole room to ourselves. Willis eyes the tape recorder suspiciously. "I really hate to do interviews," he tells me.

"Me too. But that's why they pay me the big bucks.'' I push the "on" button and the tape begins to roll. "It's just that every time I do an interview, I wind up wishing I hadn't. Everyone has an axe to grind, everyone comes to the interview already sure of what they're going to write..."

"In your case that seems to be true. I read where one journalist said you came to the interview without your personality," I start to giggle.

"That's funny?" Willis asks, not amused.

"No, no," I sputter. "Well, yes, it's a good line, but no. it's not nice."

"I'm telling you, everyone comes at me and they already know what they want to say."

"Cross my heart, I come here with no preconceived notions, except that you're one of the few people I've interviewed that both my male and female friends love. The guys love you because you do all those 'dick' flicks and..."

'"Dick' flicks?" he asks, trying not to laugh.

"It's all right to laugh with me," I tell him, because while my whole intention is for us to relax and have fun, his intention seems to be that we have no fun at all. Right now, I'd rather be interviewing Harrison Ford, who has a habit of leaving the table if he starts laughing, in order to pull himself together and put the dour face back on. Willis has reset his facial muscles into that glare, and doesn't seem to want to budge.

"Dick flicks?" he repeats.

"Yeah, all the Die Hards and The Last Boy Scout and Pulp Fiction, all those movies that reek of testosterone."

"You don't like those films?" he asks.

"Some of them, sure, loved Pulp Fiction, thought you were great. I have to admit that the rest of them sorta rolled off my back. But then my female friends like you because you interspersed those films with 'chick' flicks, like In Country and Mortal Thoughts and Nobody's Fool. Lots of women only know you from those films, so they think you're a really sensitive guy who makes little movies that don't make all that much money."

"I am a sensitive guy," he says, without even the slightest wink. "People think they know the real me. but they don't. And then they write things that make me sound like such a schmuck..."

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