New York City was snowed in on Sunday – two feet of snow blanketed the town. That didn’t stop an intrepid band of journalists from doing the 16 Blocks junket in the heart of midtown. Of course some of those journalists had been flown in from Los Angeles, and were trapped in the city by all the snow.
The roundtables were in the morning, and we got to speak with director Richard Donner, screenwriter Richard Wenk and co-star David Morse, and then after that it was downstairs to a ballroom for a Bruce Willis press conference. Bruce kept us waiting for almost an hour, but it was worth it – he was fired up, and he had lots of stuff to say, only some of it about 16 Blocks. So here for you is the transcript of this almost shockingly honest and often hilarious press conference…
Q: You’ve portrayed so many different kinds of cops, you must have an encyclopedic knowledge. You could almost write a book about it. Can you talk about your insights and why do they fascinate you?
Willis: Well, I think it’s because partly because I’m from South Jersey and I have a strong affinity towards working class people. I believe that any job that requires you to possibly get shot at or get shot dead, you should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for. These guys don’t get paid anything. Yet they go out there and do it and there’s not a lot of them out there, and they are the last line between us and the wolves and the chaos that’s out in the world. There’s a lot of chaos in the world.
All these guys — cops, EMT workers, men and women, emergency room doctors and nurses and people that every night have to see horrific things — there should be thousands of films done about these guys. And they should get paid more money. A lot more money, I think.
Q: This is a one of your great character roles. The mustache, the gimpy leg, the booze. But the paunch, Bruce. Would Clint Eastwood do this? Is there too much of a deglamorization going on. Do you consider that a big risk with this movie, that it’s really not Bruce Willis, the macho action star, that’s doing 16 Blocks?
Willis: I don’t — I never consider any of those things. They’re all elements in the script. It never said that I had to be overweight, but I’ve known guys who are capable of drinking a bottle and a half of Scotch a night, and they’re a little overweight. I think they call it booze weight. So I thought it would help. But everything else — the limp and the attitude and how beat up he is — were all written by Richard Wenk, the screenwriter.
But that said, it could have just been another stupid run-down-the-street (or limp-down-the street) Bruce Willis film. This film didn’t really come together until Mos Def showed up with the character. No one knew what he was going to do, all we knew was that we were fortunate enough to get him. He showed up with a character that was just genius. That’s not him. He doesn’t talk like that, he doesn’t act like that, he’s a very smart creative young man. It changed the fabric of the film, and it changed the way we all looked at the film. There is sort of a spontaneous chemistry happening in this film that I’m not sure would have happened if it were another actor. I was asked yesterday, ‘How do you feel working with a rapper turned actor?’ I don’t think about him in that way at all. I think that he is an actor. If he wants to do poetry, then he can do that. If he wants to rap, then he can do that. But he is an actor and he’s a very creative guy. And everybody benefited from his performance in this film. Especially me. Especially my character.
Q: You are one of the few major Hollywood stars who are proud to be Republican…
Willis: Let me stop you right there. I’m a Republican — and everybody write this down because I’m sick of answering this fucking question.
Q: Can I continue –
Willis: You can continue, but let me answer that part of it. I’m a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, I want less government intrusion, I want them to stop pissing on my money and your money, the tax dollars that we give 50 per cent of or 40 per cent of every year, and I want them to be fiscally responsible, and I want these goddamn lobbyists out of Washington. Do that and I’ll say I’m a Republican. But other than that, I want the government to take care of people who need help, like the kids in foster care, the half a million kids who are in orphanages right now, they call them foster homes but they’re orphanages. I want them to take care of the elderly and give them free medicine, give them whatever they need. There’s tons, billions and billions of dollars that are just being wasted. Okay? I hate government. I’m apolitical. Write that down. I’m not a Republican.
Q: I thank you for this
Willis: There you go. Now you can finish your question.
Q: Can I change my question?
Willis: Go ahead. I just need to get that Republican shit out of the way.
Q: Do you think it’s legitimate to use violence in order to do the right thing?
Willis: Occasionally. Occasionally, when push comes to shove. I’m not a violent man or advocate violence.
I will say this: the example that comes to mind is — I think what the United States and everyone who cares about protecting the freedoms that the largest part of the free world now has should do whatever it takes to end terrorism in the world. And not just in the Middle East. I’m talking also about going to Colombia and doing whatever it takes to end the cocaine trade. It’s killing this country. It’s killing all the countries that coke goes into. I believe that somebody’s making money on it in the United States. If they weren’t making money on it, they would have stopped it. They could stop it in one day. They could stop it in one day. It’s just a plant that they grow, and these guys are growing it likes it’s corn or tobacco or any other thing. By the time it gets here it becomes a billion-dollar industry. And I think that’s a form of terrorism as well.
I don’t know what this has to do with 16 Blocks, but I’m in the mood. Did I answer your question? Violence — look, we live in a violent world, man. This country was founded on violence. Who’s kidding who? We came here and said to the Native American Indians, ‘OK, we got some bad news, we got some pretty bad news, and we got some really bad news. The bad news is we’re here. The pretty bad news is we’re not leaving. The really bad news is we’re going to take all your land, every tiny little bit of land that you guys have and put you on this little postage stamp of desert where you can’t grow a thing, unless of course we find oil on that land. Then we’re gonna move you to another little postage-stamp place in Arizona, and we’re going to fuck you over and give you blankets filled with smallpox,’ and if that’s not violence, then what is, my man. What is?
So I’m apolitical! Could I be any clearer? Could I be any clearer?
Q: Bruce, you’d done a number of movies with numbers in the title.
Willis: It’s getting sickening, isn’t it?
Q: What is this affinity for numbers?
Willis: It’s just a coincidence. It’s just a coincidence. I dunno. It’s easier for people to remember the names I guess. Although they’re doing good with Brokeback Mountain. People seem to know that name. I hear that come up a lot. But I don’t know. It’s a good question, but dig a little deeper.
Q: Do you think there’s any significance in numbers?
Willis: You asking me about numerology? I don’t believe any of that shit. I mean maybe, who knows? Here’s what I believe. I believe there are a lot of things in the world that happen that are inexplicable but still happen. And I accept that, and that to me is part of what I call God. So — but God is also this snow, and God is also the little buds that come out on the trees, little babies that get born. That’s my God. But organized religion you can set on fire.
Q: Donner describes you as being a very brave actor and mentions this is probably the right time to be playing this character. Do you think this is the right time? Why do you think that is?
Willis: Well, that’s a very nice compliment. I don’t think I could’ve played Jack Mosley 10 years ago. I knew when I was in my 30s that by the time I got into my 40s and late 40s that I would grow into, that I would know so much more about life and have lived more life. It just allowed me to give this character a different worldview than I had when I was in my 30s. And there are just such better parts now. There’s just so much cooler things to be able to do. You’ve all seen it, you’ve all read it, you’ve all seen the little things trying to make you feel less of a man because you’re losing your hair, but they can all suck my… you know what I mean? I’m a man and I will kick anybody’s ass who tries to tell me that I’m not a man because my hair’s thinning. And I like fooling around with looking different ways. I mean, look, I wear makeup in films. I don’t wear makeup in real life. It’s just part of the gig, that’s all. You wear clothes and you gain weight and you lose weight. Jared Leto, that cat just put on 60 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, who should never get out of jail by the way.
Q: Donner also mentioned the look in your eyes in the film, the level of desperation. What kind of preparation do you have to undertake that look?
Willis: You just heard 10 minutes of it. I don’t like the world. I don’t think it’s being run correctly and I think it could be done a lot better and because I’m old enough to have grown up at a time – look, I remember when Jack Kennedy got shot. I remember when the news was just ‘Here’s what happened and we’re going to show you what it is.’ Now the news is manipulated and managed and it’s all meant to scare you. They don’t show you anything good. They don’t show you anything good coming out of Iraq, all they say this many dead since President Bush took office. But a lot of great things are happening over there, I went over and saw things for myself and there’s a lot of jacked up things. So that’s where that look comes from. I don’t have to look too far to find it, all you got to do is think about the world my daughters will inherit and I get that look in my eyes.
Q: Donner mentioned that it was you that called Mos Def to bring him into the film. Were you familiar with his music? Why him?
Willis: We were friends. I’ve known him for a while and I first saw him in Monster’s Ball, very different from this. I said ‘Man, you’re awesome, just a tremendous actor.’ He said ‘I’m doing this play Top Dog Underdog, in New York, and if you come through there, come see the show’ which I did, and we started hanging out. When we were going through the casting process I said ‘I know this guy’ and they said he already passed. So I said ‘why don’t I make a call?’ I called him up and he was in Florida getting ready to do an album and I said ‘You should take a look at this, it’s a terrific, really good part.’
And I think this is a career-making role for him. I think people are going to see him in a much different way. I love him. He’s just like a little angel and in real life too, but in this movie he really has an angelic quality, which just comes out of him. He’s not acting that, it’s just Mos.
Q: Why make a movie about police corruption?
Willis: The thing that I like about this film that comes out of – and I’m not sure it would have happened had Mos not done the film – but the story in the film is kind of a microcosmic view of what’s going on in the world, the chaos in the world. I personally feel that the world is out of control and we can’t affect the politicians, we can’t get the lobbyists out of Washington, we have no connection with our senators and congressmen who don’t give shit about us, they’re just up there. It just seems that their job is to do nothing, is to give the appearance of them doing something but they’re not doing anything. And money corrupts. It’s all about money and everybody needs money. If cops were paid $150,000 a year, instead of 40 thousand dollars a year to get shot at every night, and have 5 kids that you’ve got to put through school on 40 thousand a year, no way, it’s not going to happen. And as a man, in this modern world, we’re still the hunter gatherers, we’re just the modern version. We have to protect our family and we protect the cave, you want a house where your kids are safe and you’re going to do whatever that takes. And sometimes it takes breaking the law and becoming corrupt. Money does corrupt.
Q: You attended the aftermath of a shootout driving around with a detective while preparing for this role. What do you get out of that process? It must have been disturbing?
Willis: It was definitely disturbing; nobody likes to see that. But it goes on every night and maybe one or two things are reported. But we kind of go for the sensational now in the news – if it’s not sensational or tantalizing or making fun of someone, it doesn’t make the news. I don’t watch the news. I’ve turned it off and I feel so much better for it, which is why I have that youthful glow about me. But I wanted to get out there, I wanted to get out there on that shift that those guys work. I haven’t done it for a while. And I was with a really good guy. They’re dealing with things that none of you guys, nobody in this room or city wants to deal with and they’ve been dealing with it for less than 50 grand a year. After taxes how much is that? 35 maybe? You can’t feed your family on that.
Schoolteachers too, while we’re talking about being political. 100 grand, let’s throw money at them. In ten years we’d have a much smarter group of kids coming out of the schools because you’d get great teachers. Great teachers can’t work as teachers now because they can’t afford to raise kids on 35grand a year. So let’s throw some money at the problem. Let’s not build one more rocket, let’s take one rocket less, one bomb less, and you can solve a lot of problems.
Q: Did you see yourself early on changing up between different kinds of characters and films and being flexible?
Willis: I’ve done different kinds of films but not all of them get seen. In the last two years I’ve done a different bunch of films that all seem to be coming out in 5 months of each other and they’re very different. Well, you guys will see them. You see everything. You’re probably sick of it already and it’s only February.
Lucky Number Slevin is a really great movie. Wait till you see Alpha Dog; crazy, really represents what’s happening in the Valley in California, these kids are getting high all day long.
Q: Sin City 2?
Willis: Not yet. Clive Owen is in it, but we’re talking about a prequel. 16 Blocks coming out and I did Over the Hedge, an animated movie that is really funny. It has jokes for kids in there, but also a lot of jokes for adults.
But I don’t have a plan to say I want to do THIS film because I want to make THIS statement. I think my job is to be entertaining. If you’re going to come out of your house, get in your car, park your car, buy tickets, buy food and popcorn and all that stuff and sit in a movie theatre, instead of sitting in front of that big flat screen where you can just wait and get the DVD, it’s our job to be entertaining. I never gave any thought to I wanted messages for this film. I think messages are for documentaries, if you want to try to teach somebody something. And I don’t know if people learn from documentaries anyway.
Q: This movie does have a kind of message that people can change. What were the things that changed you?
Willis: Having 3 kids changed me. I think the kind of change we show in this film is the most difficult kind. If your doctor says, ‘Hey, you’ll die if you smoke another packet of cigarettes,’ you’ll give up but most of the time it comes down to those kinds of life threatening situations to get people to change. The kind of change you see in this film, comes because my character wakes up; and he doesn’t do it by it himself. It’s one of the things I love most about this film, is that my character couldn’t have changed had it not been for Mos Def’s character and Mos Def’s character couldn’t have changed without my character. So what does that say? Do we need each other? We need each other’s help to change sometimes. Change is a difficult thing
Q: How have your kids changed you?
Willis: Here’s how it helped me change. Before I had kids, I was just thinking about myself. I was just all me, my world. When I had my first daughter, Rumer, who’s now a young woman, it was like ‘Oh my God.’ It’s unbelievable the change that came over me. Everything else seems stupid once you have kids. Everything else you worry about, ‘Oh, how am I going to get this? How am I going to get that? I want this, I want that.’ Then you have this little baby, this little tiny infant that needs your help, you just go, ‘Oh, who cares about everything else.’
I really lean into being a dad. I like being a dad. I know there are a lot of men out there who don’t take care of the babies that they bring into the world and that is a horrible situation. I can’t imagine that. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why that happens. But it does
Q: Entertainment Weekly says…
Willis: Did you just say Entertainment Weekly? Do you work for them?
Q: No but they said one of the films they never want to see is Die Hard 4. Does that surprise you since all the want to see it? And would you still do it?
Willis: Entertainment Weekly hates me. They’ve hated me since they’ve been a magazine. Fuck ‘em. And you can go and tell them that.
Willis: Because I’m a threat to them. Why does anybody hate anybody? Because they have some beef. Who cares? They can all blow me.
Q: What’s your take on Die Hard 4? Do you want to do it? Is it going to happen?
Willis: Yes, I would like to see Die Hard 4 happen. If it happens, if they get the script right, yeah, I’d consider it.
All those magazines, here’s a good example. Look at what happened to James Frey in the last two weeks. That’s a great book, a great book and so is the follow up book. And just because his publisher chose to say these are memoirs, it took it out of being a work of fiction – a great work of fiction, very well written – to this guy being sucker punched on Oprah by one of the most powerful women in television just to grind her own axe about it. Hey Oprah, you had President Clinton on your show, and if this prick didn’t lie about a couple things, I’m going to set myself on fire right now.
James Frey is a writer. He can write whatever he wants. It’s fiction. It’s just shameful how he was treated. It’s just shameful and it’s just not fair and not right. Justin Timberlake had a really good response when he was asked about that because I think he was asked to play James Frey in the making of that book. And he waited and waited and listened to everybody and said, ‘Have you heard of this magazine called In Touch Magazine? Or Us Weekly? Or People Magazine? Or any of these magazines. They lie about people and they just make up shit all week long.’ And you have to sue ‘em to get it changed. This is the world we live in. That is approved and that is okay and people go, ‘Ooh, ooh. Somebody’s boning this person over here or something, somebody did this over there,’ and they’re all lies and nobody’s yelling at them. So let’s leave James Frey alone, how about it?
I’m pissed off today.
Q: Don’t you think oprah had to respond because people were coming down on her?
Willis: Hey, I know a lot of women respect Oprah and I do too, but I just think she did it because she got her feelings hurt. She took it a little- – went a little deep. And you know what? He didn’t know what she was going to say to him. She said, ‘Come on in, it’ll be alright.’ And then she goes BANG. And I’m a fan of Oprah’s. She’s doing great. She does great things. That whole book club thing is a really great idea, but I think James Frey got treated a little unfairly.
Q: Would you write your memoirs?
Willis: No. Too many people would get hurt, because I would have to tell the truth. But it would be a great book!
Q: Let me first say I don’t scubscribe to EW.
Willis: They can hate me. I don’t care. Whatever. They can do whatever they want. I’m still here after 22 years. Still talking to you guys.
Q: You jump between big budgets and indies. Is there a greater chasm now between the films critics like and reward and those who audiences go see?
Willis: Hollywood’s changed a great deal since 9/11. It’s a much more cautious time in Hollywood now and it’ll come back. It’ll change. When five movies come out and make- – five different films of different genres come out and make $150 million each or $200 million each, it’ll go back. They’ll start spending money again. But it really is a cautious period of austerity in Hollywood.
The Oscars, I don’t know. I don’t have any comment about the Oscars because the Oscars are people’s opinions and I don’t think it reflects public opinion all the time. Sometimes it does. I will say that Jamie Foxx was unbelievable as Ray Charles. I mean, I thought it was Ray Charles. I was watching him, I said, ‘That’s not Jamie. That’s Ray Charles.’ And it was a brilliant movie and brilliantly done. So there’s an example where the world said, ‘Yeah, we agree.’
Q: But are the nominated films this year the Academy’s way of telling Hollywood to concentrate on story and character? Don’t worry so much about big budgets and special effects and such?
Willis: Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that so it’s just as good a theory as any. I don’t think the Academy has much influence over what films Hollywood chooses to make. Nobody knew that the films that got nominated were going to make the kind of noise that they did, so it’s all a crapshoot. It’s all a crapshoot. In this film, if we hadn’t gotten Mos Def, if we hadn’t had a great script, if we hadn’t had Richard Donner, this could’ve been another film that came and went and became a little round disc, a little piece of software and that’s really where it’s going. It’s almost like the movie is the commercial for the DVD sale because that’s what they want. Because let me tell you something, jack, that little round disc is going to be around forever. People have collections of those now and when one of them wears out, they’ll go out and get it again. I watch films all the time. I still watch them and I watch films over and over and over. I watch Goodfellas once a week on DVD. I watch Strangelove four or five times a year. I watch old movies and new movies and that’s how people are seeing it now. I can’t go out and see Dr. Strangelove in any movie theater. In New York, they used to have great revival houses. They don’t have that now so you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to watch them on DVDs.