His credentials are undeniable – Bruce Willis is a veritable action hero. But even less die-hard fans (forgive the pun) would struggle to charge him with being a one-trick pony. For every John McClane there’s Armageddon’s Harry Stamper, for every Butch Coolidge there’s a Look Who’s Talking Too. Clearly his script-screening skills aren’t as potent as his delivery of putdowns, or as tight as his biceps.
So while some of Bruce’s movies may be hit or miss, you can’t help but sit up and take note when the 57-year-old star says his latest, Looper, is one of the three best scripts he’s ever read. ‘The reason you choose a film is always different,’ reasons Willis. ‘When I read Looper it was instant. That’s only happened to me [three times] in 28 years of doing films – I read the script, called my agent and said, “I’m in.” It was immediate and there was no question about it. I wanted to be a part of this film and I’m so happy that I was.’
To put it in context, this is a man who has acted in films as diverse – and great – as Pulp Fiction, Moonrise Kingdom, The Fifth Element and Sin City. And there’s the small matter of his genre-defining role starring in four movies as Die Hard’s wise-talking hero, Lieutenant John McClane.
The guy has read a few decent scripts in his time. Released in the UAE on Thursday October 18, Looper is a futuristic time-travel action thriller that immediately reminded Willis of one movie in particular from his storied oeuvre: the much-loved 12 Monkeys, directed by Terry Gilliam, in which Willis co-starred with Brad Pitt.
‘It’s a novelty for me to be involved in another time-travel movie, a science-fiction movie,’ says Willis. ‘It’s a very different kind of time travel and a different kind of story to 12 Monkeys, but there are similarities because neither film concerns itself with the actual elements of time travel. The mechanics of it are much less important than the emotional content of what my character in 12 Monkeys wanted to accomplish, and it’s the same with Looper.’
The film’s head-scratching plot takes place in 2040, a violent futuristic world ruled by the mob where time travel has been invented but outlawed, and is only available on the black market. ‘Loopers’ specialise in executing marked targets that have been sent back from further in the future by the mob. But there comes a time where every looper must also be sent back in time to be disposed of by his younger self, removing any trace of the crime and ‘closing the loop’. When retiring looper Joe, played by Willis, goes back to meet his fate at the hands of his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, not everything goes to plan.
For his part, Gordon-Levitt spent weeks in meticulous preparation for the role, studying Willis’s films, listening to tapes of his voice, copying mannerisms, and spending three hours each day being done up in prosthetics to make him look a younger version of the older star. ‘It’s kind of strange looking at the guy who is playing you, or a younger version of you,’ says Willis. ‘If you see the film you’ll hear the cadence of the way I speak – I hear myself [in Gordon-Levitt’s voice] and it does actually sound like me.’
The ambitious plot is the work of touted talent Rian Johnson, his third movie as writer-director following acclaimed indie high-school mystery tale Brick (2005) and postmodern caper The Brothers Bloom (2008). ‘Rian was much more than I hoped he would be,’ says Willis. ‘He was so prepared and so confident and he knew exactly what he wanted. I’d say that we didn’t take away more than five words that were in the original script – everyone said exactly what was on the page, which is very, very rare and shows how good that script is. It’s an honour to work with a script like that. In The Sixth Sense we said every word that M Night Shyamalan wrote, in Pulp Fiction we said every word that Quentin [Tarantino] wrote, and it was the same with Moonrise Kingdom. That’s a very unusual thing when there’s nothing to change.’
As he approaches his seventh decade on the planet, Willis’s workload shows no sign of slowing: Looper is one of six movies he will have starred in during 2012, alongside Sly Stallone’s recent ensemble action smash The Expendables 2 and forthcoming thriller Fire with Fire. Next year his profile is set to reach new heights as he makes his fifth appearance as John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard (poetically set for release on Valentine’s Day next year). But can he honestly say he enjoys acting as much as when he started out?
‘Sometimes not,’ Willis admits. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m somewhere too long. For the past couple of years I’ve been able to work in smaller chunks of time. My work on Moonrise Kingdom was maybe five weeks, and on Looper it was three or four weeks. I like mixing it up… When it’s like it was on Looper, it’s not a hardship and I still enjoy my job.’
Looper is in UAE cinemas from Thursday October 18.