Several of Bruce Willis‘ recent directors spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the concerns they felt while working with the actor in the years leading up to yesterday’s announcement that Willis has aphasia and is stepping away from his acting career.
Aphasia is a language disorder caused by brain damage that affects a person’s ability to communicate. The directors witnessed the effects of Willis losing his mental acuity, which often resulted in the actor being unable to remember his dialogue.
Mike Burns, who directed Willis in Out of Death, said he was asked to reduce the actor’s speaking parts in his film.
“It looks like we need to knock down Bruce’s page count by about five pages,” Burns wrote in a June 2020 email, obtained by the Times, to his film’s screenwriter. “We also need to abbreviate his dialogue a bit so that there are no monologues, etc.”
“After the first day of working with Bruce, I could see it firsthand and I realised that there was a bigger issue at stake here and why I had been asked to shorten his lines,” Burns said, noting he was ultimately tasked with shooting all of Willis’ dialogue scenes (about 25 pages of the script) in a single day.
When Burns was asked to direct a follow-up Willis movie, Wrong Place, he was told the actor would be able to perform better. Burns said, “I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse. After we finished, I said: ‘I’m done. I’m not going to do any other Bruce Willis movies.’ I am relieved that he is taking time off.”
Jesse V. Johnson directed Willis in White Elephant after first working with the actor decades ago as a stuntman. They shot their film in Georgia last April, but Johnson said, “It was clear that he was not the Bruce I remembered.”
The filmmaker turned down a request to shoot more Willis movies after White Elephant.
“After our experience on White Elephant, it was decided as a team that we would not do another,” Johnson said. “We are all Bruce Willis fans, and the arrangement felt wrong and ultimately a rather sad end to an incredible career, one that none of us felt comfortable with.”
As reported by the Times, Willis’ film shoots were limited to two days in recent years. The actor was reportedly contracted to work eight hours each day, but production sources told the publication he often only worked for four.
An actor reportedly travelled with Willis and would feed him lines through an earpiece, and most action scenes Willis was set to appear in were filmed with a body double.
One incident on the January 2020 set of the movie Hard Kill left the crew especially shaken after Willis reportedly fired a gun loaded with a blank on the wrong cue.
Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent was acting in the film and was supposed to get a verbal cue from Willis before he fired the gun so that she would know to duck before he used the weapon. Willis never said his line, so Kent was unable to duck.
“Because my back was to him, I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind me,” Kent told the Times. “But the first time, it was like, ‘No big deal, let’s reset.'”
Kent said she told director Matt Eskandari to remind Willis to say his line, but Willis forget again on the second take. No injuries occurred on the set.
Variety has reached out to Willis’ representatives for further comment.
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