.

Bruce Willis

Just a guy. Just a very fortunate guy.

December 8, 2000 12:00 AM ET

What jet lag? Wherever Bruce Willis's jet takes him, there he is. It is late October, and a few days ago he was in Milan, Italy, whooping it up during fashion week, drinking with Dennis Hopper at the Hotel Principe di Savoia. Yesterday afternoon, he emceed an event at New York's Planet Hollywood. At night, he took some buddies to a World Series game at Shea Stadium. Afterward, he called the pilot, told him to warm up the engines and flew to Portland, Oregon.

Now it's late Thursday night, and Willis - in khakis, a T-shirt and a leather jacket - is splayed out in the back seat of a Cadillac Escalade, relaxing after more than 10 hours on the set of Bandits, a comedy costarring Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. Finally he might slow down. "I take 'em as God hands 'em out - one day at a time," he says. "I just don't want to waste 'em."

Not a chance. At 45, Willis is like the "free man in Paris" Joni Mitchell once sang of, completely "unfettered and alive." His 10-year marriage to Demi Moore - from whom he's been separated since 1998 - is officially over, and he recently ended a 13-month relationship with Spanish beauty Maria Bravo. Though devoted to his three daughters - Rumer, 12; Scout, 9; and Talullah, 6 - he bops between homes in Hailey, Idaho, Los Angeles and his new $15 million Trump Tower apartment in New York. And if Europe beckons? "I like having the dough to come and go as I please," he admits.

But Willis is also a giver. Michael Clarke Duncan says Bruce tipped him off to his Oscar-nominated part in The Green Mile and personally phoned the director to get him the first audition. Haley Joel Osment says, "He introduced me to Julia Roberts. What boy doesn't want to meet her?" And Matthew Perry, who bonded with Willis on the comedy The Whole Nine Yards, marvels at his ability to be a friend. "I've done my share of movies, and everybody says they'll call, but nobody does," he says. "Except for Bruce."

Life got even better for Willis last year, thanks to The Sixth Sense. Relying on his own sixth sense, he took a pay cut against a percentage of ticket sales to star in it, and he hit the jackpot. The picture raked in $650 million, ensuring that Willis won't ever have to worry about the price of jet fuel.

Not that he ever did. Born on a military base in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany, Willis was raised in Carneys Point, New Jersey, by his father, David Willis, a now-retired welder, and his mother, Marlene Willis (they divorced when he was 16). As a teenager, he admired old-time movie stars like Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen and pined after such Hollywood beauties as Ava Gardner and Anita Ekberg. "Did you ever see Anita Ekberg in 4 for Texas?" he asks. "She's a babe. That's who I thought was sexy."

After studying theater at Montclair State College in New Jersey, Willis tended bar in Manhattan while struggling to find work as an actor. In 1984, he took over the lead from his buddy Will Patton in an off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love; that turned out to be the break he needed. He next landed a lead role opposite Cybill Shepherd on an ABC pilot called Moonlighting, which became a smash hit. By 1987, he had wed Moore, recorded a hit single ("Respect Yourself" charted at number five) and started work on the first of the three Die Hard pictures.

Nearly 40 movies later, Willis swears he's done the best work of his career in his latest project, Unbreakable, a psychological thriller that reunites him with Sixth Sense writer-director M. Night Shyamalan. "If I had my choice, I'd do every film with Night," he says. "He's the real thing." While in the Caribbean recently, Willis got hooked on sailing; he has since bought himself a boat. Though it seems a mite slow for a jet-setter, Willis claims that sailing reflects his new calm and contentment. "It's not like when I was starting out, ranting and raving," he says. "This is the new and improved Bruce."

How was work today?

Good. Easy for some reason. I had a funny scene, and [director] Barry [Levinson] came up with an idea that made it even funnier.

Yesterday you were at Planet Hollywood, then at the World Series, and then you flew all night to get back here.

I got a little bit of sleep on the plane, and a little bit more when I got in this morning.

Is it your own plane?

Well, it's not a commercial plane.

No surprise there. So you won't admit whether it's your own plane?

I don't know. Are we into admissions now?

I'm just curious if a big movie star like you has his own private jet.

No, the plane was not my plane. But I do have a plane.

You don't want to put the mileage on yours, eh?

That's right. I'm saving up for that trade-in.

Today, while you were at work, the news hit the wires that your divorce from Demi is final.

Oh, is that right? Is it out there?

Yes. It was filed last Friday, which I guess you know.

Uh-huh. Yeah.

Yours seemed like one of the most solid marriages. What went wrong?

Well, I can give you the philosophical answer, which is also the most universal: Things change. People grow at different rates. People change at different rates. It's difficult for any couple to keep their marriage intact under the best of circumstances, and our marriage was under a huge magnifying glass all the time. So it might have been a little more difficult for us.

Yeah, but what went wrong?

I haven't figured it out yet. I still love Demi. We're very close. We have three children whom we will continue to raise together, and we're probably as close now as we ever were. We realize we have a lifelong commitment to our kids. Our friendship continues. The institution has been set aside.

Was it hard to realize it was over?

That's private stuff between my wife and me. Any form of a relationship ending is a painful thing. The only thing I really know is, time is the only thing that heals any pain.

You said you still love her. What are those qualities you still love?

What I still love about her is between Demi and me.

Why is it hard for couples in show business to stay married?

I don't have a fucking clue. I can't tell you how other people's marriages work or what their recipe is for a good marriage. Some work, some don't. It's difficult to live your life and marriage under a magnifying glass, which is what happens to movie-star couples.

You got married, moved to Hailey and began buying everything in town - a diner, a club, a movie theater. Were you trying to create something bigger than just the two of you, bigger than you could manage?

Nah. I think you've read too many magazines. Both of us liked the town where we're raising our kids. Both of us tried to give something back. I never saw that as a bad thing. If you're asking me these things about marriage and divorce and relationships because you think I might have some insight, I don't. I'm like everyone else - just walking through it day by day, trying to figure it out.

OK, but

No more questions about the marriage.

All right. When did you throw out the rules and start living on your own terms? There were a couple of big, noticeable clicks. One was when I realized I was famous famous. When I realized there was no going back. I don't know what I thought before - maybe that fame was like a light switch that you could turn off and on and be anonymous when you wanted. But then I realized that I would never be anonymous again, whether I was working at Wendy's or acting in a movie, that was one click. Then everything changed in my mind when I had a couple of films that were critically barbecued and I survived. I was invited to be in other films. That was another click. I wasn't going to have to work at Wendy's.

How do you see yourself now?

My job is to be entertaining, to be interesting, to be watchable, to move people - whether it's making them laugh, cry, feel romantic, make them sad, frighten them. . . . To the studios, my job is to get people into the theater that first weekend. Only recently have I allowed myself to talk about acting in terms of what I get out of it. No one talks about the fact that actors really are trying to express themselves artistically.

That's because we're more interested in the turmoil of their personal lives. But, OK, when did you start thinking as an artist? Not until a few years in. I never thought of TV as an artistic expression. It's so hurried-up and determined by time and money. It was fun, a kind of acting college, graduate school. But it changed for me when I started taking supporting roles in other people's films [such as Pulp Fiction], which everyone said was a big mistake. They told me that movie stars didn't do stuff like that. I said, "What's the big deal?" I just wanted to work.

How do you deal with being so famous?

It's really just an illusion. Everybody sees me as this other creation, this holographic creation that's a composite of the movies and TV shows they've seen and the articles they've read. I know I'm famous, and I know people think I'm famous, and I know that's part of the gig. But the novelty has long since worn off.

Warren Beatty once told me about being recognized after his first movie. A woman who had been very excited to see him abruptly changed her opinion when she got up close. She said, "Gee whiz, you're nothing!"

That's my reaction when someone comes up to me on the street. They go "Wow, you're Bruce Willis. God, it's so nice to meet you." And I always say "I hope it's not too much of a disappointment for you."

Is there any criticism that has stung the most?

Not really. I always try hard. I don't regret anything, because I don't believe in regrets. Who knows whether or not the worst thing that ever happened to you isn't the thing that gets you to the best thing that ever happened to you?

What films are you most proud of?

There are a handful. I like Mortal Thoughts. I like Pulp Fiction a lot just as a film, as something to watch. I still enjoy being entertained. I like 12 Monkeys. I like The Sixth Sense. And this film, Unbreakable, is far and away the best thing I've ever done. Just saying that sounds so weak and flimsy, but when people see the movie, they'll know what I'm talking about.

What makes your collaboration with the film's writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan, so special?

I admire his work. I admire what he does. Most movies that come out of Hollywood are adaptations of novels, fiction or remakes of old movies, the retelling of an old movie in modern terms. But Night is in a very small category of people who make it up in their heads. He completely creates these stories. He created Sixth Sense out of his head. And he did the same with Unbreakable. It's exactly the vision he told me about before he ever turned on the camera.

Did you have any idea The Sixth Sense would be a phenomenon?

When I read the script, I was completely fooled in the same way the audience was when they saw the film. No one, not even Night, believed we would be able to fool the audience the way we did. Generally, when there's a surprise ending like that, people go out and tell their friends what happens. But for some reason, they didn't. It was phenomenal. They just said, "No, you've got to see it."

Is Unbreakable similar?

Yes, it has elements like Sixth Sense. There are startling things all through the film.

I heard that during production, you had a "scholarship fund" for the crew. You'd put each person's name in a bucket, draw a name and winners got $500. Sharing the wealth a bit?

Yeah, well, the scholarship fund has become a kind of tradition on the set. You work long days over three months, and the people become a kind of family. It's a way of saying thanks to the crew, and it makes it fun.

A lot of attention was paid to all the money you made from The Sixth Sense. I think I read it exceeded $60 million.

That's a staggering amount. But it's not true. It sounds exciting. But it's just not true.

But you made a lot of money, right?

Yes, a lot of dough.

What does that kind of money mean to you?

It means I don't have to worry about paying my bills anymore. When I was knocking around New York and studying acting and doing off-off-Broadway stuff, I thought about my Con Ed [electricity] bill and my phone bill. They were real issues. But once I started making money and had a little left over, I didn't think about it. Now, the pragmatic side to all this money is my contribution to the industry. The Sixth Sense made $650 million. Disney has made more than a billion dollars on the last couple of films I've done for them. I think the actors deserve a percentage of that. But I'm aware that we're talking about an enormous amount of money. If you're making minimum wage or living check to check or even doing a little better than that and raising kids, and you read that Bruce Willis made whatever amount of dough on his next film, you go "That's a helluva lot of money." And it is.

Do your parents ever remark on your success?

They're proud. I think it's just as startling to them how much dough I make. They're like everyone else. The thing that jumps out are those big numbers. It's a good time to be an actor.

Are you vain about your looks?

I don't think so. I'm older. I have lines on my face. I'm losing my hair. It's not a big deal. I dig getting old. I like the fact that I don't look like a kid anymore. I was always wondering when I was going to become a man.

When you get bar mitzvahed, of course.

Very funny. I mean when I was going to start looking like a man.

Were you bothered when you started losing your hair?

No, not at all. I've always had a kind of challenge-authority frame of mind. Because men are told by all those stupid commercials that they're supposed to feel bad if they lose their hair, I was able to say "Fuck it, man." For that reason alone, it's not going to be an issue for me. This is who I am. It wouldn't be any different if I had scars all over my face. I'd just be who I am. Know what I mean? How I look is how I look.

When did you decide to shave your head?

I think I did it for 12 Monkeys, and I thought, Well, this is good. But it's not for everyone. You have to have a well-shaped head to pull it off.

How were you affected when your kids were born?

That's the only time I can safely say that I know God was in the room. The creation of life is a pretty good example that there is a God somewhere. All the love that happens in that room. Those were the most magical moments I've ever experienced. I caught the babies each time. We had all of our friends in the room. They were videotaping and taking pictures, yelling and screaming, laughing and crying. . . . It was a gas.

What kind of father are you?

I'm completely involved. Whenever I'm not working, I'm with them. And when I am working, I phone them all the time. They're all online, so I can e-mail them. Their school is really parent-friendly, so when I have time off, I go in and read to their class and help out.

Do you help with homework?

Yes.

Even the math? Your oldest is 12, and the math starts to get pretty hard.

I'm actually OK with it. She'll probably pass me in the next year or two. I stopped paying attention after geometry. Geometry taught me to shoot pool, and that was about all I've ever really been able to use it for.

It's sort of funny that a wild man like you has three daughters, don't you think?

Yeah, it's ironic. I've heard all kinds of explanations: that God is paying me back for something. But I'll tell you, I would have three more daughters tomorrow. They're great.

How are you going to react when they start to date?

I have a little time yet before I have to figure that out. Demi and I have tried to raise them to have their own voice and their own point of view. We try to help them have as much self-esteem as they can. Hopefully when that whole dating process begins, they'll be prepared. If not, I've got my speech prepared.

And that would be what?

Let me first say I think you have to be really direct. And I'm still honing this. But here goes: I'll say "Son, I was 16 once." "Yes, Mr. Willis." "And you know that I remember what 16-year-olds think about the young girls they go out with. Right?" "Yes, Mr. Willis." "And you know that there's absolutely no way that I would ever let that happen . . . and let you live. Right? You know that, right?" "Yes, Mr. Willis." "Great. Go out and have a good time."

Speaking of a good time, I read that you don't believe in fidelity, that you didn't think it was possible.

That doesn't sound like me. It doesn't sound like something I'd say. It's too specific. The only thing I've learned in 45 years is that change will always occur. And it's how you deal with that change that's important.

Are you in a relationship now?

No. I'm taking a year to myself.

So you're no longer with Maria Bravo?

I can't discuss that. It would be a big betrayal of my trust with her. It's still kind of fresh. I've made a choice not to discuss it.

Can you see yourself in another long-term relationship?

Can I see it? Not right now. For most people, life is a series of relationships. Some are long-term, some are in a married state, some have everything but the slip of paper that says you're married, some are short, passionate relationships . . . it's all different. I think the people who get married and stay together are in the minority. I'll probably have other relationships. I'm not trying to predict when the next one will happen. I've been in and out of a relationship for the last 18 years, and I decided that I'm going to take a year to myself. See what that's like. That will be a far more unique experience to me than jumping back in a relationship.

Does that mean you will go out with a lot of women?

I don't know. I wouldn't even know how to go out on a date. I don't know what that's all about.

If you don't know how to date, what happens if you meet someone you like?

Well, it hasn't happened. I don't really put myself in that position. If you're not shopping, you're not going to buy clothes.

Are you still living in Idaho?

I have a house there, and if I'm not working, I'm there every weekend. But I don't know where I live now. It's a little gypsy-style right now. I don't really have to decide what I'm going to do.

You've stuck with Planet Hollywood from the start, through its bankruptcy filing last year. Why?

Because it was never a bad thing. When it first opened, Planet Hollywood was the darling. Then we expanded rapidly, probably faster than we should have, and it became time to throw rocks at this big restaurant chain. Now we've closed some stores, and the stores that are open are doing great. I think it's still a powerful company with great things to offer. My kids love going there, seeing all the stuff, and the food is good.

Are you making some money or just having a good time?

I'm doing both.

What's sexy to you?

Simplicity. Being able to look good without being a cosmetic dream. I also like honesty. I like people who are OK with who they are, who don't buy into all the marketing that tells them who they should be.

Why did a movie star like you agree to go on Friends last year?

I just did it as a favor to Matthew. I wanted to do it. I'd never done a three-camera show. I won an Emmy for it.

And you got to kiss Jennifer Aniston.

It's the illusion of a kiss. I actually didn't kiss her. I kissed her on the cheek. I would've liked to, but, you know, Brad's a friend of mine. And Jennifer's his wife. It just didn't seem appropriate. But she's a babe.

When you get into bed at night, are you a guy who wears pajamas, boxers or nothing?

J. Crew boxer briefs. They're comfy. I sleep naked sometimes, but I live part of the year where it's really cold in the winter.

Do you think of yourself as sexy?

No. I mean, I know what I think makes a woman sexy, but I have no clue about what makes a guy sexy - especially me.

How do you think of yourself?

Just a guy. Just a very fortunate guy.

You're right. It's staggering.

I've been asked what it's like to be a multimillionaire, and I'm always startled by the question because I have to remind myself, Oh, I guess I'm a multimillionaire. I certainly don't think of myself in those terms, though.

Then how do you think of yourself?

Primarily as a dad. As dad, actor and friend.

Do your parents ever remark on your success?

They're proud. I think it's just as startling to them how much dough I make. They're like everyone else. The thing that jumps out are those big numbers. It's a good time to be an actor.

Are you vain about your looks?

I don't think so. I'm older. I have lines on my face. I'm losing my hair. It's not a big deal. I dig getting old. I like the fact that I don't look like a kid anymore. I was always wondering when I was going to become a man.

When you get bar mitzvahed, of course.

Very funny. I mean when I was going to start looking like a man.

Were you bothered when you started losing your hair?

No, not at all. I've always had a kind of challenge-authority frame of mind. Because men are told by all those stupid commercials that they're supposed to feel bad if they lose their hair, I was able to say "Fuck it, man." For that reason alone, it's not going to be an issue for me. This is who I am. It wouldn't be any different if I had scars all over my face. I'd just be who I am. Know what I mean? How I look is how I look.

When did you decide to shave your head?

I think I did it for 12 Monkeys, and I thought, Well, this is good. But it's not for everyone. You have to have a well-shaped head to pull it off.

How were you affected when your kids were born?

That's the only time I can safely say that I know God was in the room. The creation of life is a pretty good example that there is a God somewhere. All the love that happens in that room. Those were the most magical moments I've ever experienced. I caught the babies each time. We had all of our friends in the room. They were videotaping and taking pictures, yelling and screaming, laughing and crying. . . . It was a gas.

What kind of father are you?

I'm completely involved. Whenever I'm not working, I'm with them. And when I am working, I phone them all the time. They're all online, so I can e-mail them. Their school is really parent-friendly, so when I have time off, I go in and read to their class and help out.

Do you help with homework?

Yes.

Even the math? Your oldest is 12, and the math starts to get pretty hard.

I'm actually OK with it. She'll probably pass me in the next year or two. I stopped paying attention after geometry. Geometry taught me to shoot pool, and that was about all I've ever really been able to use it for.

It's sort of funny that a wild man like you has three daughters, don't you think?

Yeah, it's ironic. I've heard all kinds of explanations: that God is paying me back for something. But I'll tell you, I would have three more daughters tomorrow. They're great.

How are you going to react when they start to date?

I have a little time yet before I have to figure that out. Demi and I have tried to raise them to have their own voice and their own point of view. We try to help them have as much self-esteem as they can. Hopefully when that whole dating process begins, they'll be prepared. If not, I've got my speech prepared.

And that would be what?

Let me first say I think you have to be really direct. And I'm still honing this. But here goes: I'll say "Son, I was 16 once." "Yes, Mr. Willis." "And you know that I remember what 16-year-olds think about the young girls they go out with. Right?" "Yes, Mr. Willis." "And you know that there's absolutely no way that I would ever let that happen . . . and let you live. Right? You know that, right?" "Yes, Mr. Willis." "Great. Go out and have a good time."

Speaking of a good time, I read that you don't believe in fidelity, that you didn't think it was possible.

That doesn't sound like me. It doesn't sound like something I'd say. It's too specific. The only thing I've learned in 45 years is that change will always occur. And it's how you deal with that change that's important.

Are you in a relationship now?

No. I'm taking a year to myself.

So you're no longer with Maria Bravo?

I can't discuss that. It would be a big betrayal of my trust with her. It's still kind of fresh. I've made a choice not to discuss it.

Can you see yourself in another long-term relationship?

Can I see it? Not right now. For most people, life is a series of relationships. Some are long-term, some are in a married state, some have everything but the slip of paper that says you're married, some are short, passionate relationships . . . it's all different. I think the people who get married and stay together are in the minority. I'll probably have other relationships. I'm not trying to predict when the next one will happen. I've been in and out of a relationship for the last 18 years, and I decided that I'm going to take a year to myself. See what that's like. That will be a far more unique experience to me than jumping back in a relationship.

Does that mean you will go out with a lot of women?

I don't know. I wouldn't even know how to go out on a date. I don't know what that's all about.

If you don't know how to date, what happens if you meet someone you like?

Well, it hasn't happened. I don't really put myself in that position. If you're not shopping, you're not going to buy clothes.

Are you still living in Idaho?

I have a house there, and if I'm not working, I'm there every weekend. But I don't know where I live now. It's a little gypsy-style right now. I don't really have to decide what I'm going to do.

You've stuck with Planet Hollywood from the start, through its bankruptcy filing last year. Why?

Because it was never a bad thing. When it first opened, Planet Hollywood was the darling. Then we expanded rapidly, probably faster than we should have, and it became time to throw rocks at this big restaurant chain. Now we've closed some stores, and the stores that are open are doing great. I think it's still a powerful company with great things to offer. My kids love going there, seeing all the stuff, and the food is good.

Are you making some money or just having a good time?

I'm doing both.

What's sexy to you?

Simplicity. Being able to look good without being a cosmetic dream. I also like honesty. I like people who are OK with who they are, who don't buy into all the marketing that tells them who they should be.

Why did a movie star like you agree to go on Friends last year?

I just did it as a favor to Matthew. I wanted to do it. I'd never done a three-camera show. I won an Emmy for it.

And you got to kiss Jennifer Aniston.

It's the illusion of a kiss. I actually didn't kiss her. I kissed her on the cheek. I would've liked to, but, you know, Brad's a friend of mine. And Jennifer's his wife. It just didn't seem appropriate. But she's a babe.

When you get into bed at night, are you a guy who wears pajamas, boxers or nothing?

J. Crew boxer briefs. They're comfy. I sleep naked sometimes, but I live part of the year where it's really cold in the winter.

Do you think of yourself as sexy?

No. I mean, I know what I think makes a woman sexy, but I have no clue about what makes a guy sexy - especially me.

How do you think of yourself?

Just a guy. Just a very fortunate guy.

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