- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

NEW YORK — "How many times can you run down a street with a gun in your hand, screaming 'Noooo'?"
For Bruce Willis, that's merely a rhetorical question he poses over a light dinner between taping a "Charlie Rose" interview and a gig with his band.
It gets boring, he says, explaining why he hasn't yippee-ki-yayed his way through a "Die Hard" movie since 1995.
Sure, the 46-year-old movie star did the sci-fi action film "The Fifth Element" and wore the hero's mantle in the blockbuster "Armageddon" in the last seven years. But for the most part, he has found varied roles in comedies, dramas and, of course, the supernatural megahit "The Sixth Sense."
Mr. Willis, who first gained notice with his Emmy-winning turn as a wisecracking rogue in "Moonlighting" (1985-89), has even done guest appearances on "Friends," winning a second Emmy two years ago.
"I'm lucky. I've had a little success in other genres," he says. "Because that really determines how versatile you get to be. You're not going to be invited back to do other comedies if you don't do one that makes some dough. It is a business. Hollywood's not just everybody out there going, 'Let's get together and make a movie,' It's a big business."
Mr. Willis, who has gone from a working-class South Jersey upbringing to paychecks upwards of $20 million, maintains he isn't straining to display his versatility, however.
"I would get asked back if I just did 'Die Hard 9,'" he says, lightly chortling. "As long as it made money, the studios would ask me back. I'm just trying to keep myself interested, so I don't get bored that's why I seek out things that are different each time."
His latest film, "Hart's War," co-starring Colin Farrell, features Mr. Willis as the highest-ranking officer at a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. The film combines elements of "Stalag 17," "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Great Escape," and melds a little of the characters played by William Holden, Alec Guinness and Steve McQueen in those respective movies into Mr. Willis' Col. William McNamara.
Mr. Willis took the part because "it's not clear what kind of guy he is whether he's a good guy or mendacious."
Plus, it was a World War II movie and "had all that escape stuff," and he's a fan of both.
"It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I'm at a point in my work now where that's as much of a criteria as anything else is," he says.
David Ladd, a co-producer of "Hart's War," felt Mr. Willis had the right bearing and age to play the fourth-generation West Point officer. "Bruce is a colonel," he says, laughing, in a telephone interview from Vancouver, British Columbia, the location of his next movie.
If you saw Mr. Willis' last movie, "Bandits," and then "Hart's War," Mr. Ladd says, you would have to wonder: Is that the same actor?
"Bruce is not a guy who sits around and talks about acting. He just does it. That may be a bit why he's underestimated as an actor," says Mr. Ladd, the son of the late actor Alan Ladd and a former head of production at MGM.
While the careers of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger the other two members of the top action triumvirate of the '80s and '90s have foundered, Mr. Willis has continued to thrive.
"I think the big eye-opener for Bruce, as far as the public went, was probably 'Pulp Fiction' the first time he really branched out and did something different" that was very successful, Mr. Ladd says.
Mr. Willis' other meatier parts include a disillusioned Vietnam vet in 1989's "In Country," a cheating husband opposite Paul Newman in "Nobody's Fool" and a time-traveling loner in Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys."

Over dinner, the rail-thin Mr. Willis, his head shaved, is hoarse, subdued and thoughtful. He runs a gamut of topics as varied as his recent roles: September 11, his formerly tumultuous relationship with the media, actors who take themselves too seriously, the latest book he's reading, his own mortality and starting a record label.
Mr. Willis says the release of "Hart's War" is "coincidentally well-timed." They shot the film last year and had no idea it would be released on a wave of patriotism after the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
He doesn't pay much attention to the news day to day, but "those images are still scorched into my mind."
It has been a long time since he railed against the media, he says, explaining that he stopped once he figured out "how it works."
"I don't hate the press at all. I just don't pay much attention to 'em," says Mr. Willis, who along with ex-wife Demi Moore was once a favorite tabloid target.
"My big thing is just to try not to take what I do for a living that seriously," he says, adding that he knows actors who do. "It's a good job."
While he takes "the actual nuts and bolts of my job" seriously, he jokes that anthropologists 10,000 years in the future will look at films and say: "Boy, they were pretty impressed with themselves back in the late 20th century."
Thinking of the future also makes him think of the past and his current reading material "Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade," by James Reston Jr.
Mr. Willis works only about five to six months a year now, taking the rest of the time off to "hang out with my kids. I enjoy taking time off as much as I do working."
He remains cordial with Miss Moore and sees a lot of their three daughters Rumer, 13, Scout, 10, and Tallulah, 8.

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