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The Ballad of Bruce Willis: Celebrating a Great Career

We nominated him four times and gave him a Golden Globe in 1987 as Best Television Actor – Musical/Comedy Series, for the ‘80s hit TV series Moonlighting.

We had lengthy conversations with him 10 times, from September 1989 to February 2013. We saw him become a major action star, an international success, and an actor in constant evolution through all genres, working with directors as diverse as Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms, Grindhouse, Sin City) and Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Glass ) and Stephen Frears (Lay The Favorite).

Performer, producer, father, and automobile enthusiast, Walter Bruce Willis, born in West Germany and raised in New Jersey, gave us 38 years of his talent. This week he has announced the end of his entertainment career, due to the decline of his health, culminating with a diagnosis of aphasia, “impacting his cognitive abilities,” his family said in a statement.

In a salute to over three decades of his presence in the industry and, especially, in touch with the HFPA, we follow his career guided by his voice, saved in our archives and at the Academy‘s Margaret Herrick Library.


“My first exposition (to acting) was at an 8-year-old cub scout jamboree. I was the star of the jamboree. I knew nothing about acting, I knew nothing about wanting to be an actor. I just had something inside of me that made me want to entertain people.”

“From a professional standpoint, success is being in charge, I think, or in control of the things that I choose to do. So much of an actor’s life is spent doing other people’s films, doing things that you are hired to do and hired to say these specific words. Now I am in a position where I have much more say over the material that I choose to work on, and I can therefore do films that make statements about things that I think are important.”


“I don’t hate (TV). In the almost 5 years that I worked in television, I explored the medium.  Kind of figured it out. It’s very limiting.  I don’t see myself going back to it.”



Die Hard was not well critically received, you know. The action genre seems to have some kind of taint of not being a serious dramatic film. We certainly don’t make films for the critics. We make these films for the audience who likes this genre.”

“If I didn’t get injured once a week, it wasn’t a good week. When I as a little kid I used to like to play army. Roll around, jump out, and I still think that I’m that little kid.”






I was very pleased that (director) Terry (Gilliam) chose to end the film (12 Monkeys)  on a not-so-rosy note. And I think it’s ok to walk out of a theater and carry emotions out. In this film especially I think it would have been a cheat to have it all be a dream or a figment of my imagination.”

“I think about what my career will be composed of at the end of my career what that body of work will be because and what my goal is to have as many different colors and as many different cards in that deck of films.”

“It’s difficult to remember what I did last week. I’m not as young as I used to be. Initially, I was – I was probably most moved and most compelled to become an actor by The Godfather movie. The Godfathers truly inspired me. I continue to be inspired by actors that are my contemporaries and older actors whose work I still enjoy.”



“We (Willis and director M. Night Shyamalan) were almost done shooting Sixth Sense and we had had a really good time on that and developed a friendship and a high level of trust so I didn’t know what the subject matter was going to be. The fact that it deals in the realm of paranormal just happened to be, you know, a coincidence and you’ve seen both films (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable)  so you know that they’re not the same.”

“I’m still a big fan of that magic of film which if you break it down to its essential components really is a group of strangers come into a big dark room and sit next to each other and look at flashes of light on a white screen and if the movie’s good enough and interesting enough within 15 minutes you’re drawn into that world and that it’s a magical thing.”





“I just got, you know,  bored doing action films and I think that the action genre needs to reinvent itself. I was there when – when what we’ve come to call action films, you know, modern-day action films were around in 1985, ’86 with Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Since that time you’ve – we’ve not – I’ve not only done two other Die Hard films (…) I just gotten bored seeing them and I’ve really gotten bored doing them.”

“After I finished RED I asked my representatives over at CAA to see if they could find films that were not action films or  that’s not a cop or a CIA guy or a retired cop or a security guy or anything that it has to do with law enforcement and they did and I did a few films that weren’t about cops.”

“I don’t like the process that happens prior to making a film of casting it and getting ready for it and whatever else it takes. I just like the actual filmmaking process of doing it and being on the set and trying to – trying to make something happen and trying to create something and here I am however 28 years later still talking about films after they’re made and say and here’s what I think about this process and this process was about a bunch of movie stars came on this film and every one of them was nice and every one of them was easy to work with and fun.

“There is a certain novelty to being able to play one character over 5 films over 25 years. You can never see that from the beginning. You can only see it at the end of that time, and you can look back and I remember every one of these Die Hards. I remember the – I remember where we were, what the story was  and I think there’s a great amount of goodwill that is shined upon Die Hard that – that people still enjoy the way we do it.”

Die Hard is not unlike that that it is just a mimic of violence, a mimic of closeness to destruction or closeness to death as a way of entertainment. If you went to the films and saw – and it was more of a documentary and you saw people really getting hurt or getting cars crashed or, you know, people walking away with real blood, you would stop going to the movies.”




“I spent a couple of years – a couple of years ago in 2011 I went to work with a bunch of directors that I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with, with Wes Anderson, Stephen Frears, Ryan Johnson and I got to do films that were way outside of a film like Die Hard. It was just character and just kind of fun and comedy and working with other, you know, great actors, and I had a ball doing that.”

“All filmmakers try to do great every time and not every film gets noticed and not every performance works out to be the, you know, the most exciting thing. I don’t know. All I can say is we’re, you know, I just try and try and I think some films get more noticed, you know, than other films do where you kind of catch on. I did a small film called Looper that is – it was great, wasn’t it? I love that film.”

“I still feel like I’m becoming an actor. I still feel like I’m trying to get it right. I’m still trying to be as good as I’ve been a couple of times over the last 28 years and whatever you try to do whether it’s that’s a really difficult thing if you try to hit a golf ball.”