Feature by: Jack Foley
IT'S BEEN a long time since Bruce Willis donned a white vest
and took on a group of terrorists single-handedly, but the role
of John McLane, the wise-cracking super-cop of the Die Hard series
is perhaps what the star remains best-known for.
Yet as enduring as that role remains, the star himself has moved
on, appearing in some top class movies, such as The Sixth Sense
and Pulp Fiction, in a bid to stretch himself as an actor, even
though the Willis surname remains synonymous with action.
"I lost the passion for action movies
I just dont
feel like I can break new ground for myself as an actor,"
he said, recalling how he sat through a screening of his then
latest release, Mercury Rising, with his younger brother, and
realised the action sequences were derivative.
"I didnt know what else I could do with the genre.
It was a form of entertainment that became as boring to me as
episodic television," added the former Moonlighting star.
Now, however, Willis has returned to the action genre, albeit
in a more restrained guise, by playing a Navy SEAL Lieutenant
in Antoine Fuquas war drama, Tears of the Sun.
The story of a career soldier who becomes a hero by disobeying
orders and leading a group of innocent refugees out of a war-torn
region is something that appealed to the actor for a variety of
reasons, not least of which was its different perspective on the
war movie genre.
Willis confesses to wondering whether the time was right to again
show that individuals can make a difference and be heroes in the
world, post September 11.
A script called Rules of Engagement came across his desk at his
newly formed production company, Cheyenne, for an action film
about Navy SEALS sent into a war-torn African country to rescue
stranded American civilians, but the script was initially something
that Willis candidly refers to as being just another generic
Bruce Willis action film.
However, the actor decided to give it a makeover with director,
Antoine Fuqua, and developed it into what is now Tears of the
And Willis remains proud of the tone of the film, especially
how it takes on what he calls a crime against humanity,
without wrapping in into a package of guilt for entertainment
"Thats what I liked about what we did to the script,"
he explained in a recent interview with Scott Orlin, in a Californian
hotel suite. "We see this group of people who are in need
of help and these SEALS have to get them out of harms way.
"It interested me as an actor because it was an interesting
notion to see a team of men, in real time, on film, that are so
profoundly affected being moved by what they see," he adds.
"This is also a story about friendship, the bonds of friendship
and doing the right thing, whatever it is."
To prepare for the several months of filming in the triple canopy
jungles of Oahu, Hawaii, Willis and the other actors spent three
weeks being trained by actual Navy SEALS in weapons, techniques,
team movements and non-verbal communication.
While the gruelling schedule was tough on the actors, Willis
alone lost over 18 pounds, the approval from the SEALS that they
were doing it right was just compensation.
"After every take, we looked to Antoine to see if he got
what he wanted and then we turned to the SEALS to see if we got
it right," Willis says. "It was very important for us
to portray the Navy SEALS accurately."
Not to mention the opportunity it afforded to rediscover the
joys of rolling around in the dirt and mud, as he did as a young
boy (whenever given the opportunity).
"I was of the generation where my friends and me used to
play Army as kids," he recalls. "Now, here I am as an
older man and I am still playing Army as my day job. I imagine
all those kids could be a bit envious that I still get to roll
around in the mud, fire a gun and blow things up."
"But I guess I am a lucky guy," he adds, flashing that
trademark boyish grin.
When the interview swings round to the notion of heroism, however,
Willis is a little more serious, particularly when asked to comment
on what criteria is needed to be described as a hero today.
In fact, the actor doesnt claim to have any easy answer,
despite volunteering that he knows what works for himself.
"The only way into that, and the only way to ever really
qualify, is to live your life as a good man," he observed.
"I get that being a dad, and I am not sure that I always
achieve my goal
But, it is a great goal to have."