It was about 2:30 in the afternoon yesterday when my phone rang. The Caller ID was blocked, so I picked up the receiver and said, "Hello?"
"I'm looking for Mike Ryan," a raspy yet oddly familiar voice replied. "This is?" I said, sheepishly, hoping that our conversation wouldn't be followed by a knock at my door and a summons. "Hey, this is Bruce Willis," the voice responded. This would have been a perfectly reasonable start to an interview ... if I had known that I was interviewing Bruce Willis.
The day before, I had been told that Bruce Willis might be available for interviews in support of his new time-travel thriller, "Looper." That's it. Smash cut: He's calling my cell phone with no warning. (Apparently, he decided to bypass the studio press office and handle this round of interviews personally, John McClane-style.) Normally, I would have prepared pretty intensely for an interview like this. Not this time.
Mike Ryan: So I had no idea you were calling. I was asked if I was interested in talking to you, but that's the last I had heard.
Bruce Willis: Figures. Welcome to Hollywood. Should I call back later?
You know what, let's try it. We can talk about "Looper," which is great.
It is doing great. It's an interesting thing to see a film come to this fine point.
It's not like you haven't done interesting roles in the past, but I really liked seeing you in both "Looper" and "Moonrise Kingdom."
Yes, I do, too. I've been asked a lot lately how these two things came about in the same year. On both films, nobody knew when we started what the outcome was going to be and what the response to these stories was going to be. And now they have both come out and they both got ... surprised responses to them. I was just taking a shot. I wanted to work with Wes Anderson and I wanted to work on "Looper" and work with Rian Johnson. And that was about the acting work -- my contribution is just that. I just had my own drive to work with these storytellers.
It's weird to hear you say, "I was just taking a shot." I mean, you're Bruce Willis. Why do you have to take a shot?
Because telling a good story, on any level -- telling a good story in a bar, telling a good story on a film, telling a good story in a book, in an article -- always remains a challenge, doesn't it? And even if you tell a great story, it's never a sure thing to know which films or which stories are going to get noticed. Or get more noticed than other stories do.
Can you tell if that's going to happen when you're filming?
Both films had an appeal and had great scenes in them -- that when we were doing them I was like, "Oh, yeah, that was fun and funny and, in some cases, novel." And in the case of "Looper," when you're making the film, you're just chopping out the scenes. You know, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing. And getting, for the most part, the emotional scenes down and getting what Rian wanted. But after the film gets music and a big score and all of the other scenes are woven into it, it becomes a much bigger tapestry -- a much bigger story and a much richer story.
I feel the lower budget of "Looper" made it grittier and better. Does that make sense?
It absolutely does. Rian Johnson is always really sure-handed and is really sure of what story he wanted to tell. What themes he wanted to include may have been a little surprising to people. The level of violence was a theme -- it was a chosen theme. Because if you look at the opposite of that and say, "A futuristic world does not include violence," that would be a completely different theme.
You're playing John McClane again, too, [in "A Good Day to Die Hard"]. What do you like doing more at this point?
Well, I like challenges. I like trying to do things where there is a risk of failure. There's a risk of going, "I didn't quite do what I wanted with that." Or, it didn't quite live up to what I thought I was going to get to." So I like challenges. It's me competing with myself. You know, it's a solitary game for most actors -- you really are competing with yourself. I don't feel like I'm competing with any other films out there.
Is there still a risk to doing another "Die Hard" movie?
Yeah, the risk is more ... I guess it's a personal challenge. Because there are gaps of time between each movie. It's a kind of ageist tryptic: "Oh, OK, now I'm this age," and trying to tell that action movie, "Die Hard" theme -- but I'm a little older. How fast can I run? How well can I fight? So that's a challenge and, you know, it's a fun thing to do. There's a story, if you look at all of them from the first film to the one we just did. And you see me age over these films -- that has its own interest to me.
We see you age, but I feel that you're doing pretty well for yourself in the "in shape" department.
Well, it's part of it. And I need to be in shape now to be able to lift up my little baby girl and carry her around. It kind of works out on a lot of levels.
Keep in mind that I'm making questions up on the fly ...
[Laughs] Right ...
Is it weird that I liked "Hudson Hawk"? People did not respond well to that movie.
I like it a lot. I still take pride in that film. it was just a little outside the realm of what people [expected]. You know, some people come to the theater and they go, "I only want to see him do this kind of film." And that was, it was satire. We were trying to make each other laugh -- make the actors laugh. We had a really funny cast, and a lot of people didn't get to see the film because the critics chose this picture to, you know, take the trash out on.
And they did.
Every once in a while the press wants to say, "Now we're just going to take this card out and throw down the ace of spades and say, 'We're not going to like this film.'" There are a lot of people who caught on to this film, and I hear it referred to as a cult film, still. And from a studio's point of view, the film is in profit.
I didn't know that.
Yeah, no one else will tell you that. But it is. They're still grinding the wheat on that. So...
Before you made "The Sixth Sense," you made "Mercury Rising," which also co-starred a child. Were you hesitant at all to make "The Sixth Sense" because of that factor?
I remember really clearly the impact the script of "The Sixth Sense" had on me. It was so unlike anything else I had read. I read it in the first hour that I was given the script. And, two hours later, I said, "I want to do this film." And I didn't think about any of the elements -- just that I was so fooled by typewritten words. And I was so completely surprised at the end of it, "Oh, man!" It's a really difficult trick to do. I don't compare my prior work with anything I read. Although, having done as many films as I've done, I do have some science-fiction and supernatural themes in some of the films that I've done. I'm just drawn to it. "12 Monkeys" was also an "off the charts" story.
I've seen a lot of comparisons between "12 Monkeys" and "Looper."
They're very similar.
When you think back, are those two of the movies that you are most proud of?
Yeah. I mean, all three, they're novel stories. "Moonrise Kingdom" is a very novel story. There's nothing like it, except another Wes Anderson film. And even in his library, I think he would say, too, that "Moonrise Kingdom" was really different than anything he has ever done. And highly romantic. I mean, "Moonrise Kingdom" is a romantic film. And there's some romance in the science fiction of "Looper" that we didn't really talk about. We were just talking about, "OK, here's what we want to see happen in this scene -- and now you're going to do this and you're going to do some horrific things." But the stuff that comes out of it is kind of romantic. And that ending is a pretty big surprise.
What are your memories today of "Moonlighting"? There were always stories of friction on the set, but, now, 25 years later, are those good memories for you?
I have a lot of good memories about it -- a lot of great memories about it. There are all of those memories I have about the fun and frantic pace we were working at to get ten pages every day, out of seven shooting days. That's one thing. The other thing is it was a huge quantum leap for me. I had just been doing theater in New York and I think I had done one TV role, on "Miami Vice." And then I got this job in California and it was a huge leap. A very exciting time --- just to be able to offered that kind of work and then get a job where you do it for five years. And you're just racing through it. And it's a huge catalog of stories now.
Under the circumstances, I hope this went OK.
It was great -- hey, it's just a conversation. And I'm really pleased how well "Looper" turned out. And I'm really pleased for everyone involved. The actors -- and especially for Rian. He knew what he wanted, got the cast he wanted, told the story he wanted and never had to compromise. And that story is an uncompromised science-fiction, crazy, violent, romantic, modern film.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.'
A fanciful film with the patina of hyper-realism, Looper is well served by actors who behave not as if they were dropped carelessly into the future but spent their whole desperate lives there.
The dystopian setting... makes for some bold cultural commentary, but as usual with Johnson, the engaging ideas feel like affectations rather than products of a fully developed sensibility.
Gordon-Levitt is flinty, and Willis, on his A-game, is fiery. Together, they take us on a helluva trip.
"Looper" weaves between past and present in a way that gives Johnson and his actors opportunities to create a surprisingly involving narrative.
Johnson establishes the machinery of the time-travel concept, then steadily pushes it into the background in favor of exploring his characters and the difficult questions they face.
A clever, clever contraption about trading in your future to feed your present, and the lost boys and regretful men who willingly embrace such a bargain already believe they have nothing to live for or look forward to.
As in the very best Anthony Mann and John Ford westerns, Looper at once understands the visual power of violence and is deeply critical of it.
Looper imagines a world just near enough to look familiar, and just futuristic enough to be chillingly askew.
If high-toned futuristic time-travel pictures with a splash of romance float your boat the way they do mine, you'll have yourself a time.