Bruce Willis, July 2007
by David Sheff
A candid conversation with the Die Hard hero about leaving the GOP, hanging out with Demi and Ashton and how he became a reformed asshole
Flashing his inimitable smirk and saving hostages from terrorists in an L.A. high-rise, Bruce Willis became a box-office sensation in 1988 playing John McClane, the bloodied yet unstoppable hero of Die Hard, often called one of the best action movies ever made. The pyrotechnics-heavy film and its two sequels–Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)–have grossed close to a billion dollars. Fans of the original trilogy have waited 12 years for a new installment. Now the wait is over: Live Free or Die Hard opens on June 27. As Willis would say, uttering his famous taunt from the movies, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
Though best known for the Die Hard movies, Willis has an impressive body of work, includingan eclectic list of films such as Armageddon, 12 Monkeys, The Kid, The Jackal, The Fifth Element, Sin City, The Last Boy Scout and Grindhouse. He was unforgettable as Butch, the boxer in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. And unlike most other action heroes, he has taken risks by signing on to play small supporting roles in independent movies like Nobody’s Fool, co-starring Paul Newman, last year’s Fast Food Nation and this year’s Astronaut Farmer. He has also been handsomely remunerated; as one of Hollywood’s most highly paid actors, he commands more than $20 million a movie. He reportedly earned more than $60 million in salary and points for his part in the sleeper hit The Sixth Sense.
Willis has frequently appeared in gossip columns, especially when he married another of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Demi Moore. The pair had three daughters, Scout, Rumer and Tallulah, before divorcing in 2000. Moore remarried to Ashton Kutcher, star of That ’70s Show. Willis attended the wedding, and the three are surprisingly good friends. For his part, Willis has remained single.
He was born in Idar-Oberstein, West Germany on the military base where his father was stationed. His mother worked in a bank. When the elder Willis retired from the armed forces, he moved his family to Penns Grove, New Jersey and was employed as a welder and factory worker.
After graduating from high school (he was class president), Willis moved to New York City to act. He made a living by waiting tables and tending bar and getting bit parts in theater, commercials and television before landing the lead role in Moonlighting opposite Cybill Shepherd and becoming a major name. The series ran for five years in the latter half of the 1980s. In 1988 he set a record for an actor’s salary when he was paid $5 million for the first Die Hard movie.
Willis is also known for his partying and his politics. He owns the Mint bar in Hailey, Idaho, the town where he and Moore raised their children. (He has homes in Hailey and Los Angeles.) It was not uncommon to run into him at the bar or on its stage; he performs as frontman and harp player for his band, the Accelerators. He has been an active supporter of a string of Republican presidential candidates including George W. Bush. In addition, he has been one of the few Hollywood celebrities to publicly support the Iraq war. In this interview, however, Willis, 52, for the first time announces that his political views have evolved.
Contributing Editor David Sheff, who conducted last month’s interview with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, met Willis in Los Angeles. “I last interviewed Willis in 1996,” Sheff reports. “He was married to Demi Moore and living most of the time in Hailey. Years later Willis seems no less devoted to his children, who are now teenagers, and no less irreverent and fun, yet he has more confidence and maturity. He’s still passionate but more thoughtful about politics. He has less hair, however–none, to be exact. His head was freshly shaved.”
Playboy: A decade ago you said you were bored with Die Hard. What has changed since Die Hard With a Vengeance?
Willis: With a Vengeance just felt like the last squeak of a genre of movies about an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances, trying to save the day. I knew it was going to somehow reinvent itself, though. It just took a while. The new one satisfies the mythology of Die Hard but also brings a lot of new juice. It took a while for me to want to do it. Live Free or Die Hard was a huge risk for me. I was prepared to retire undefeated. The first three films made almost a billion dollars. So why?
Playboy: We’re game. So why?
Willis: Enough time had passed that I wasn’t bored with the idea any longer. Quite the contrary. I was psyched. I wanted to see what we could pull off. I waited for a great script, and we got one. Frankly, making it was a blast. But it was risky because the potential for failure is high. There’s competition–this summer there’s Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, Pirates 3 and a Harry Potter–and the marketplace is different now. People watch movies in different ways; they don’t always go to the theater.
Playboy: How do you minimize the risk?
Willis: There is no minimizing the risk. Ultimately, you just make a decision and go for broke. You hold on for the ride. This film is at least as good as the first one, probably better, and the first one was my favorite.
Playboy: At the time of Die Hard With a Vengeance you said, “Pyrotechnics are no longer novel.” Have you changed your mind?
Willis: The world of special effects changed that. You can now generate enough horsepower on computers so that effects are less cost-prohibitive. They have a much bigger bang now. They don’t look like a big gas fireball, which is what they used to be.
Willis: Yeah, they used to blow up big bags of gasoline. That was as far as they had gotten with the pyro effects. The new ones blow you away, make you stop breathing. We also pushed the stunts. I don’t want to say it was a dangerous movie to make, because the safety consciousness of stunt people today is better than it has ever been. But I did stunts in Live Free or Die Hard that I probably shouldn’t have.
Playboy: Like what?
Willis: Jumping out of a car at 35 miles an hour. I probably shouldn’t have done that.
Playboy: Were you hurt?
Willis: Let’s just say my chiropractor wasn’t surprised to see me. It was a lot easier to do this kind of stuff 20 years ago. I didn’t think twice about it. Now I do. And I feel it. Small stuff like getting knocked in the head while diving off the top of a banquette onto a concrete floor. Pads or no pads, it takes a toll. But once all the yelling and screaming and the gunfire is over, you forget about the blood on the floor. You forget about the fact that every day you wake up and you’re banged up.
Playboy: You’re 52. Are you more careful now?
Willis: I don’t know if kids play army anymore, but I did when I was a kid. I did stuff that would give most parents heart attacks. It’s hard to shake the little kid in me.
Playboy: Did a stuntman teach you how to jump out of a moving car without hurting yourself?
Willis: I don’t know if anybody knows how to jump out of a car without getting hurt. You hope for the best.
Playboy: In making Live Free or Die Hard, how much did you consider fans of the first three movies?
Willis: There was a lot of resistance from fans about our wanting Live Free or Die Hard to be PG-13. The fans wanted it to be R and thought we would tame it. We didn’t.
Playboy: Why make it PG-13?
Willis: It gives us a wider audience. It allows parents to take their kids.
Playboy: Is it therefore less violent than it might have been?
Willis: Actually, it’s more smashmouth, back to the first film. Some of the fight scenes are as tough as anything I’ve ever seen.
Playboy: Has what is acceptable for 13-year-old kids changed?
Willis: When Jaws came out, in the 1970s, it was rated PG. That’s a scary, violent movie. A lot of what constitutes a PG-13 movie is how many times you can say the word fuck. It curtailed my ability to say “motherfucker.” “Okay, we’ve said it once. Now we can say ‘fuck’ only one more time.” We had to get creative.
Playboy: Can you say “fuck” only twice in a PG-13 movie?
Willis: That’s the rule. You can kill as many bad guys as you want, however.
Playboy: But aren’t there also limitations on violence?
Willis: There are limits to that, too. There are “blood values.”
Playboy: What are blood values?
Willis: How much blood you can show, how realistic it is. It’s down to a formula. I remember seeing Bonnie and Clyde and Bullitt when I was young. I remember going, “Whoa, my God!” But now you can’t have blood bags blasting out at the camera. There’s a curve. We’ve moved from a time when society was looser to one when it’s more parochial. We’re heading into a very parochial time. It’s the opposite of the Roaring Twenties, the post-World War II baby boom years and the 1960s. The 1980s are looked at as a pretty loose time too, but now we’re in a more conservative time. You have to go to rehab if you call somebody a name.
Playboy: If you can find an open bed. These days it seems as if half of Hollywood is in and out of rehab. In Britney Spears’s case, in and out and in and out of rehab. Are you cynical about the trend?
Willis: Not at all. I’m cynical about the media’s point of view that it’s all entertainment, but anybody who makes a choice to go into rehab–or go in and out of rehab, if that’s what it takes–is brave. You fall down, you’ve got to get up. Drugs and alcohol aren’t bigger problems in Hollywood than anywhere else. They’re everywhere. Also, one drug is still advertised everywhere you look–at every sporting event, in every magazine. More people are killed by drunk drivers every year than by anything else. The problem is largely ignored. The big problem is the reasons people have for wanting to anesthetize themselves. We fight it the wrong way. The war on drugs is a joke. If somebody weren’t making money off cocaine traffic or drug traffic in general, it wouldn’t exist.
Playboy: You caused a stir when you suggested the U.S. government should fight the war on drugs by raiding Colombia. The president of that country called you ignorant and ungrateful.
Willis: I get passionate sometimes. I said Colombia because it was the first country to come to mind. The truth is that the drug problem has as much to do with what’s going on in this country. If there weren’t a demand, there wouldn’t be a supply.
Playboy: Have you talked about drugs with your children?
Willis: Demi and I both have. We have an ongoing conversation. They have the gene, and we warn them: “You have a predisposition to be an alcoholic.” It’s on her side of the family and mine. It’s something to be aware of. My kids are strongly antidrug.
Playboy: Is it hypocritical to tell your children how bad drugs are even though you’ve done them?
Willis: We’re the last generation that can actually say we didn’t know drugs were bad. I remember being in health class when they were teaching us about LSD and marijuana. They didn’t know a thing. We were of that experimental generation of the 1960s. No one knew, but now we do. We know, and yet look at the crack problem, look at the meth problem. Drugs are taking people down, ravaging lives. I know lots of people who went down because of drugs. Many people from our generation are gone.
Playboy: Do you use any drugs? Do you drink?
Willis: I’ve gone full circle. I smoked weed, and my kids know that. I quit drinking for a chunk of time. I never drank when my kids were around. By now I’ve learned I can have a couple of drinks or some wine and then stop. I’ll have a martini from time to time–vodka, ice-cold, straight up, bone-dry, twist. But especially when you’re working, the recovery period is just too much. I go for months without drinking anything. This works for me, but I know people who have to maintain 24-hour vigilance. It’s a dangerous thing to say, “Yes, I was in AA, and now I take a drink on occasion.” Hardcore AA people will say that’s a bad message. I’m just telling you my experience. As I said, though, I’ve lost people to drugs and alcohol–good friends. It has shown me how fragile life is and how quickly it can be taken away. There’s a lot I don’t know, but there’s one thing I can say emphatically and with certainty: Do not waste your time before getting help. I hear people say, “I’ll get to that when I’m in my 40s,” “I’ll do that when I’m in my 60s.” I’ve got a lot of friends who didn’t make it.
Playboy: You’re sounding more philosophical at 52 than when we spoke when you were 40.
Willis: Yeah, well, it’s called maturing. Hopefully, we get a bit wiser. It’s the benefit that comes with the aches and pains of being older. It’s the booby prize.
Playboy: What’s the difference between being an action hero at 52 rather than at 32, when you made Die Hard?
Willis: People have asked, “Aren’t you too old?” Nobody ever feels their age. In my heart I’m still 25. But I get that little knock every once in a while that says, “You’re not 25, kid.” That little creak you get when you get out of bed in the morning if you sleep wrong.
Playboy: Did you train in order to make the movie?
Willis: I was in a little better shape. I’m a little chunkier now. I had to get in shape because I knew six months of this film would kick my ass. And it did.
Playboy: For what movie were you in the best shape? In Pulp Fiction you played a boxer. Did you train like one?
Willis: I was in great shape for Pulp Fiction but for cosmetic reasons more than anything else. I had to be naked in the film. Any time you go through the script and it says “throws his shirt off,” you’re going to work out the next day. Nobody wants to see a fat, naked boxer. But I got in shape for the fourth Die Hard because I knew the stunts would be a lot harder to do 20 years later.
Playboy: Why the shaved head?
Willis: John McClane’s head is shaved in the movie because mine is. It also made sense. If you look at the first film, I have all my hair. It’s a decline of hair, a process.
Playboy: Have you had second thoughts about showing the decline?
Willis: No. I do movies that I wear wigs in. I wear hairpieces. I wear mustaches. I wear beards. I wear makeup. Some of the biggest movie stars who ever lived, going back to the 1940s, wore wigs and hairpieces. It’s a convention of storytelling.
Playboy: You’ve also worn padding rather than gain weight for roles. Robert De Niro famously gained more than 60 pounds to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Would you ever gain weight for a role?
Willis: I was blown away when he did that, but I know how difficult it was for him to lose the weight. I was such a fan of that film and of him.
Playboy: Is it intimidating to work with someone like De Niro, someone you admire?
Willis: I’m working with him now. I’m doing a small part in a movie Barry Levinson is directing called What Just Happened? I’m doing it because De Niro has always been a huge hero of mine. I get to work all my scenes in the film with him. What can I say? Working with De Niro is a thrill.
Playboy: Before it became trendy, you were one of the first big-name actors who regularly took small roles in independent movies. Why?
Willis: They have given me the opportunity to keep challenging myself as an actor. The best parts aren’t always the ones in which you star and are in every shot. I got to work with Paul Newman; I did Nobody’s Fool because all my scenes were with him. I did Death Becomes Her because I wanted to work with Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and the director, Bob Zemeckis. I’m more proud of some of the small films than the big ones. Mortal Thoughts, Nobody’s Fool, Lucky Number Slevin. When I started, taking supporting roles in other people’s films was not the norm. You see it a lot more now. I think I was a forerunner. Now it’s considered cool. At the time, however, people predicted it would be the end of my career and affect my price. Those predictions were unfounded.
Playboy: Indeed. You reportedly earned $60 million for The Sixth Sense.
Willis: It was a big number, yeah. Nobody thought it was going to be a big, giant hit. Some people still don’t understand the ending.
Playboy: Terry Gilliam, who directed you in 12 Monkeys, said, “There’s great power in his stillness–not only when he’s blowing things up.”
Willis: It’s a great compliment. I got some bizarre award in Europe for my opening shot in Pulp Fiction. It’s just me watching Ving Rhames and listening to him talk. I worked on stillness and minimalism for a long time. I try to mix it up, though. I’m a tough critic on myself and push myself hard.
Playboy: Are you tougher than your other critics?
Willis: There are tougher critics.
Playboy: What would you say to the toughest ones?
Willis: I’m still here, motherfuckers. I’m still making movies, and I still get asked back. And for all I have and all the experiences I’ve had, I’m extremely fortunate, even though being famous can also be a fucked-up thing.
Playboy: Fucked-up how?
Willis: It’s bizarre. I’m still learning how to do it. In Hollywood they say everybody gets two years to be an asshole. Sometimes it lasts a little longer.
Playboy: Did you put in your two years? Were you an asshole?
Willis: There were times when I was less than humble, yeah. There were times I was less than gracious. There were years when I worked the entire calendar year just going from film to film, and I was moving fast and was unappreciative of the people around me. My default mode now is to be gracious and appreciative that I’m here. But there were times when I wasn’t.
Playboy: Because of arrogance?
Willis: Maybe. Or defensiveness. You start to keep people at arm’s length, and sometimes I kept people at far more than arm’s length. Also, I was protected by a group of people who kept me walled in.
Playboy: What changed?
Willis: I just didn’t want to live like that anymore. The novelty of fame has worn off. There’s nothing I don’t know about it. I’m an expert on being famous.
Playboy: When you read headlines about the troubles of celebrities–Paris Hilton’s, Mel Gibson’s–do you read them differently than the rest of us because you understand what it’s like to be inside their skin?
Willis: Sure. I know it’s difficult to live life in the public eye. Some people don’t handle it well. There’s a whole new crew of people who actually seek out fame. Shows like American Idol hold out the promise that anybody can be famous.
Playboy: Do you cringe as you watch the media and the public eat some newcomers alive?
Willis: Some of them are eaten; some fall by the wayside. Yeah, it can be brutal.
Playboy: Yet you put yourself in the fray not only by acting but through your political involvement.
Willis: There are just a lot of issues that bug me. I have never been good at keeping my mouth shut.
Playboy: What bugs you now?
Willis: My biggest problem with politics now is the same as it was 20 years ago: Until they get the lobbyists out of Washington, the perception of politicians as thieves won’t change. The hard fact is that bags of cash arrive in Washington every day, and politicians carry them off. No wonder people are cynical. I’m concerned about that and another issue you don’t hear a lot about. The United States was founded on taking a country away from Native Americans. You don’t hear a lot about what happens on the reservations now. Life there is as bleak as ever. I’m concerned about other things, too. Racism is still rampant. There’s prejudice against homosexuals. We have far to go on issues of inequality.
Playboy: For one of Hollywood’s most renowned Republicans, you’re sounding awfully liberal.
Willis: The world has changed, and I’ve changed. In the past my conservative point of view came down to one thing: I wanted smaller government, less waste. But I’ve always thought the government should take care of the elderly and others who can’t take care of themselves. The government should take care of kids. I’m involved in the National Foster Care program because the foster care system needs to be fixed, and it won’t be fixed by the private sector. Schoolteachers shouldn’t be getting $40,000 or $50,000 a year. Give them $150,000. I want the government to take care of people who need help. Half a million kids are in orphanages right now. I want the elderly to get free medicine, whatever they need. Billions and billions of dollars are being wasted.
Playboy: If you keep talking this way, you’re going to be kicked out of the Republican Party.
Willis: I’m no longer a member of the Republican Party.
Playboy: Since when?
Willis: For a while.
Playboy: Are you now a Democrat?
Willis: If I had to describe myself as anything, I would say independent, but I didn’t sign up for that party, either.
Playboy: But you helped get George W. Bush elected.
Willis: You have to thank Bill Clinton for that.
Playboy: What did Clinton do?
Willis: I was apolitical for a long time, but Clinton got me off my ass. I didn’t like his ideas of change just for the sake of change. In two terms, what did he get done? But I’m appalled by what’s going on now. Look at the returning vets. The Walter Reed hospital scandal is just another example of how we treat them. I say give them all a million dollars. If you serve your country and get blown up and you’re in a wheelchair for the rest of your life or you lose an arm, you should be taken care of. How about no more paying taxes for them? Politicians never have problems voting themselves raises. How about giving money to veterans and American Indians?
Playboy: Will you support someone in the upcoming presidential election?
Willis: We’ll see. I’m talking to candidates about these issues. I’ll see what they have to say.
Playboy: Since you helped elect Bush, do you feel any responsibility for the current state of affairs?
Willis: It’s complicated, and things have changed and continue to change. I’m of two minds about so many things–especially politics. Anything you can ask me about politics, I can tell you yes, but I also feel the inverse of that, too.
Playboy: Is this new for you?
Willis: I’m older. I have kids. Demi was pregnant with Rumer when I did the first Die Hard. There are things that fuck with my mind about the shameful inequalities. More than anything else, the passage of time has gotten me to see both sides of almost any issue.
Playboy: Yet you have gone on record as one of the few Hollywood figures who support the war.
Willis: It’s complicated too. I’m of two minds about it. In some ways I could argue that Vietnam set the stage for the free market and relatively free society in that part of Asia. Yes, I wanted Hussein out. I can see things working out in the region in the long run because they took him out, but I can also see the disaster. It’s not easy, and there’s no easy answer.
Playboy: Is it true you offered $1 million to anyone who killed Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda leaders?
Willis: That was something I said to someone in private. The press picked it up and sensationalized it.
Playboy: But you made the offer?
Willis: As I said, I was having a private conversation, and it was overheard by somebody in the press who made a big deal out of it.
Playboy: Do you regret having said it?
Willis: Do I wish it hadn’t been picked up? Yeah. It was taken out of context.
Playboy: Do you stay on top of the news?
Willis: I do, but I don’t read papers anymore. I get news on the Internet. I read a lot of what’s out there.
Willis: I read Michael Yon’s blog. It’s pretty straight dope on what’s happening in Iraq. I go to Yahoo for news, and I Google whatever I want more on.
Playboy: In the blog era, everyone is an analyst and critic. Do you support the trend?
Willis: As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Writing an antiwar book is like writing an antiglacier book.” There’s nothing you can do about it.
Playboy: But now more people than ever have something to say about your movies and your personal life. It’s the same for others in your position–Mel Gibson when he is stopped for DUI and makes anti-Semitic remarks or Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch.
Willis: Who cares if Tom Cruise jumped on a couch? He was excited. He was in love. And with Gibson, I do not condone drunk driving. I warn my daughters about it all the time. I warn them about being on the road at two a.m. in L.A. when they’re sober, because hundreds of thousands of drunk people are out there driving home every night. But everybody says things when they’ve been cocktailing that they wouldn’t want put in print or on YouTube. Mel sold a lot of newspapers during that time. A lot of people were stopped after having a cocktail and driving that night, but he just happened to be the famous one. It’s not an apology for any drunk driver, but I’ve done things when I’ve been drinking…..
Playboy: At this point are you unaffected by whatever is written about you?
Willis: I’ve had some of the worst shit said about me that’s ever been said. At a certain point I stopped reading it. I don’t let it into my house. I know it’s out there, though. We can go to the newsstand right now, and I bet we’ll find something being said about me. Gossip has become entertainment; it’s a major part of a billion-dollar industry. Who’s fucking who? I told an interviewer for Vanity Fair, “Look, you want to know who I’m fucking.” He started laughing and said, “Yeah, that is what we want to know.” I know that’s what sells. I said, “I know it sells, but I’m not going to tell you, because it’s not any of your business.” I think actors should be left alone, which of course they never will be. But it’s different for politicians. I expect a politician not to take a shit in the Oval Office for his four or eight years. That’s not asking too much, is it?
Playboy: You still don’t forgive Clinton?
Willis: I do, and most people have, I suppose.
Playboy: Do you hold her husband’s behavior in office against Hillary Clinton?
Willis: No, I’m not judging her. It’s him. And I know it’s a high-pressure gig, but try to behave. I wouldn’t want to be president. I can’t imagine wanting to.
Playboy: You once said you couldn’t run for office unless they were grading on a curve.
Willis: That’s still the same, but something has changed with this election, and it’s really cool. When we were kids we said someday a black man will run for president of the United States. People said, “No way. It will never happen.” We also said someday a woman will run for president They said that would never happen either. Both are happening this time. People say things don’t ever change. They do change. Another change is instant news. Now you couldn’t keep what a Kennedy was doing in the White House quiet.
Playboy: Or what you’re doing. Does the scrutiny affect the way you live your life–how and whom you date?
Willis: You don’t want to fly a waiver across the table–”Sign here”–but going out with somebody famous is a liability. It’s pretty much inevitable that if you continue to date someone for a long period of time, you’ll be in the papers.
Playboy: On the other, darker hand, do you have to watch out for women who would love to be in the papers–and see you as a way to get there?
Willis: Sure. They’re out there too.
Playboy: Recently a kiss between you and Drew Barrymore was widely discussed online. Are you dating?
Willis: Drew and I are old friends. I hadn’t seen her for a long time, and I gave her a kiss. There were other things going on in the room that night that weren’t reported, things far racier than my giving Drew a kiss.
Playboy: Such as?
Willis: Sorry, but if it’s against the law to kiss a beautiful actress who is a friend of mine, then lock me up and take me to the gulag. I’m a single guy, and I’m having a hard enough time in the world of romance without somebody giving me shit for kissing Drew.
Playboy: What gets your blood boiling more: critics, tabloids or paparazzi?
Willis: Fuck critics. Fuck tabloids. Fuck paparazzi. Paparazzi got Princess Diana and Dodi killed. People don’t talk much about that, but they killed her. I’ve been in that situation. Motorcycles are so close to the car. People get amped up and freaked out. I always said, “Someday somebody is going to get killed.” Someone did.
Playboy: Are you beyond confronting a paparazzo who gets too close?
Willis: I’m not beyond it. There are times when I don’t want to be John McClane out in public at a restaurant. There are times when I’m with my kids. I’ll say, “Hey, I’m with my kids. Please respect that.”
Playboy: Do they?
Willis: Sometimes. The foreign cats don’t. They do whatever the fuck it takes to get the pictures. I guess I’m just lucky I don’t have to knock out the rent by taking pictures of somebody famous, maybe getting lucky and catching somebody smooching or, best, catching somebody without her panties on.
Playboy: In an interview, Colin Farrell said you showed up on the set of Hart’s War without knowing your lines because you had been out partying. Did you?
Willis: No, it’s not true. Colin also said I have a huge cock.
Playboy: Also not true? Indeed, the clip of the interview in which he said that is on YouTube.
Willis: He’s Irish, man.
Playboy: Which means?
Willis: You’ve got to take what that kid says with a grain of salt. I love him. He doesn’t take interviews very seriously, and he’s no stranger to a cocktail. He was just trying to wind me up.
Playboy: The press has had a field day with your friendship with Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore’s husband. Many men don’t want much to do with their ex-wife or their ex-wife’s current husband. Not you?
Willis: No, I couldn’t be happier for her, you know? I couldn’t be happier that Demi, as the mother of my children, found such a great guy.
Playboy: Did you know him before they were a couple?
Willis: I knew of him. In the luck of the draw I am fortunate to have Ashton in the family. It took a long time for people to wrap their minds around the fact that I could be friends with my ex-wife’s new husband, but we are friends. We all go on vacations together. We hang out.
Playboy: Did it take time for you to get used to the idea of their relationship?
Willis: It was pretty good right away.
Playboy: Were you ever jealous?
Willis: It’s a hurdle, but I’m fortunate to be the father of three daughters. People want to hold on to resentment and anger and blame and judgment, but Demi and I don’t because of the kids. I credit her, really. She has such a generous spirit about the whole thing. I also have to give credit to Will Smith.
Playboy: What did he do?
Willis: During some very dark hours he talked to me about it. He said, “Dude, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the kids and all the spouses or the girlfriend together. You’ve got to show your kids it’s okay.” It was like a light went on. Ding. So Will, thanks. And thanks for all those good movies you’re making.
Playboy: How much time do you spend with your children these days?
Willis: I see them every day.
Playboy: Has it humbled you to raise three daughters?
Willis: I’ve learned more about women from having three daughters than from my experiences with women.
Playboy: What did you learn?
Willis: To be perfectly honest, I admit I’m not that much further down the path of knowing how women think. At least I can admit I don’t know. I’m a lot closer to being in touch with my emotions than I was 10 years ago. I’m less of a Neanderthal, hopefully.
Playboy: As a former and possibly current male predator, how have you dealt with your daughters’ suitors?
Willis: I certainly know what 16-year-old boys are thinking.
Playboy: Were you an intimidating presence to guys who came to your house to pick up your daughters for dates?
Willis: There were a couple of years when the girls were giving me shit about it. I wouldn’t do anything demonstrative. I would just say, “I want to meet them.”
Playboy: With a shotgun?
Willis: I don’t need a shotgun. Just a look. My daughters will say, “Dad, you’re scaring them.” Me? Ashton has been a big help in this. He has a similar point of view.
Playboy: So you and Ashton share parenting strategies?
Willis: Sure. Isn’t that what the nuclear family is all about? We spent the holidays in Sun Valley. Ashton and Demi have a big pool in the backyard, so it’s a good house to come over and bring people to. He and I just stand at the door and say, “How are you doing?” They’re all very polite. Ashton took one of the kids aside, asked him his name and said, “Jimmy, you’re in charge of all your friends. You’re responsible for them.” The kid goes, “What?” I say, “That’s right. Anything happens to one of these girls, we’re going to take you apart first.” It was a joke, but he got the point. The other side of that is, in five minutes, the kids want to know how Pulp Fiction got made. My daughters say, “They came over to see me, and they’re out there talking to you for an hour!”
Playboy: With your extended family, do you now have to bring potential girlfriends home for the approval of not only your three children but your ex-wife and her husband?
Willis: It seldom gets to the point where I would subject my kids to someone I’m dating; I’m reluctant to bring people around my kids. It doesn’t happen often. I’m much more sanguine about dating these days, though. I don’t make excuses about who I see or don’t see. I’ve been scolded because I date 26-year-old girls. My feeling is that by the time you’re 26 you have a right to choose who you want to see. If I acted old, they would choose not to be with me.
Playboy: Would you date a woman your age?
Willis: Anything’s possible. Yes, probably. Fifty-two? I don’t know. I have nothing against women my age. I have friends from high school I still go out with. No matter what age they are, I’m always amazed when I hear my friends say, “Wow, I met this great girl. We’ve been going out for four months.” How do they do it? Staying with somebody for four days is a task.
Playboy: What have your daughters told you about women you were with? Did you listen?
Willis: Damn right, I listened. If there were somebody I just couldn’t live without, I’d say, “Look, Daddy’s in love, and you’ve got to cut me some slack on this one.” But yeah, I’ve gotten the thumbs-down from time to time.
Playboy: Would you like to fall in love?
Willis: At the beginning of his Fool for Love script, Sam Shepard wrote, “The proper response to love is to accept it.” For lack of a better one, it’s a good theory.
Playboy: You once said, “I don’t believe in the general success of long-term fidelity or monogamy.” Still?
Willis: I said that looking at the stats. The numbers speak for themselves. Chris Rock said, “A man is only as faithful as his options.” He’s got a point.
Playboy: Is this your way of saying you’re a confirmed bachelor?
Willis: Until proven otherwise. I’m open for a miracle, but I’m not holding my breath. I would like to have more kids. I’m a great dad; it’s something I do well. The idea of having a boy is still in my mind.
Playboy: Have you anticipated becoming a grandfather?
Willis: No, but I probably should. I’m getting there.
Playboy: Are you still performing with your band?
Willis: I haven’t in a while. Playing with my band is a way of expressing myself that is pure unadulterated fun. There’s Frank Sinatra, there’s Barbra Streisand, and then there’s how I sing. I don’t take it very seriously, but I don’t have to.
Playboy: Do you listen to a lot of music?
Willis: Driving the kids to school at one point I realized they were getting a steady diet of Grease 2, so I started their education in classic rock–the Beatles, Stones, Who, Spencer Davis Group, Traffic. Scout just turned me on to this band called Beirut that’s awesome. I turned my daughter on to Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. She went berserk over Neil Young.
Playboy: Being 52 years old is one thing, but do you imagine yourself at 70?
Willis: I try not to. I have good genes from my mom, the German genes. I drink a ton of water, and they say that’s good for you. I look after my health as well as I can. I try to eat well.
Playboy: Do you work out?
Willis: Yes, but I’ve been lazy lately because I worked out so much during the film. I was hiking yesterday. I just try to keep myself so I’m not aching.
Playboy: Did any of your kids inherit your famous smirk?
Willis: Tallulah has it a little bit. She looks the most like me, only beautiful. All three have my sense of humor. It cracks me up.
Playboy: When you’re walking down the street, do people hit you with your famous lines?
Willis: Yeah. “I see dead people.” “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.” “Zed’s dead, baby,” from Pulp Fiction. Who knew? Are we done with the interview? I’ll see you in 10 years.
Playboy: For Die Hard 6?
Willis: We’ll cut right to Die Hard 19. It’ll save me some wear and tear.