Bruce Willis on Aging and Fatherhood the Second Time Around
Bruce Willis is calmer and cooler than he has ever been at any point in his life. He’s also been busier – having appeared in five films last year, including the sci-fi thriller ‘Looper’ and the critically acclaimed comedy-drama ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’
But in the end, nothing compared to Bruce as John McClane, his hard-pressed alter ego in the Die Hard films. That is, nothing perhaps until General Joseph Cotton in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. But is all this aggression really befitting of a 57-year-old actor, happily married to actress Emma Heming and now proud father to 10-month-old baby girl Mabel?
“Well, my family and friends are the most significant part of my life, and no film script will ever change that,” Willis smiles, speaking in a low, almost whispery voice. “Having a brand new baby daughter is an extraordinary thing – it feels like it’s the first time and it’s just as fun and exciting. You feel nothing but love for your child. It’s really remarkable.”
Willis is a remarkably mellow fellow these days compared to his former combative self. Ten years ago, he was cold and condescending toward the media, having grown resentful of years of tabloid stories about himself and his former wife Demi Moore, who were once the world’s most famous celebrity couple. Today, Bruce is a changed man, refreshingly pleasant and engaging in conversation, having adopted a new approach to the media. He is very much at ease with himself and the world around him, and he is arguably doing his best work as an actor now.
In the interview that follows, Willis opens up about himself and his career and how his life revolves around his relationship with his older daughters Rumer, 23, Scout, 20, and Tallulah, 18, from his marriage to Moore, and how he is faring as a new father to toddler Mabel.
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Q: Bruce, how does it feel to be a father the fourth time around?
WILLIS: I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m changing diapers like a champ. I was happy before she was born, and now I’m even happier. I’m in a good state of mind these days and I have been for some years now. I’ve learnt that my life revolves around my family and friends. When I’m not working, my days are devoted to the women in my life. I don’t need anything more than that.
With Mabel, I’m glad I’ve stayed in good shape over the years. I still have a lot of energy left so I can get up early in the morning and take care of her for a while and let Emma relax. What I’ve also discovered is how much love I feel for our baby. I think I’m even more open and more giving as a father now. I pay more attention now because I value it more and I’m less caught up with my career.
Q: You seem very calm?
WILLIS: I feel very relaxed. I don’t have much to get upset about in life. I sometimes worry about my daughters but I try to tell them how to avoid the bad guys out there. Your kids need your love and attention and being able to devote myself to them is very fulfilling. As I get older, spending time with my daughters makes things much easier. You learn to put your ego aside.
Q: You’ve acknowledged in recent years that you’ve undergone some changes in personal philosophy.
WILLIS: I want to get through the anxiety of making a mistake as fast as I possibly can. If I make a mistake or do something rude or hurt someone’s feelings or if I do anything that I consider a mistake, I want to try to correct that and make it okay as fast as I possibly can. It may just be me. I have a lot of anxiety about making mistakes.
There are things that I did as a brash kid … Over the years I learnt from my daughters how it was more important to listen than to speak. I’ve discovered through experience that I should hold back sometimes and be more reflective and save myself a lot of aggravation. You learn more by listening and observing. That’s something being with my daughters has taught me. It’s much better to stay quiet and listen and observe others. I’m also more aware of how fast time moves now and that makes me all the more appreciative of everything around me.
Q: In your 20s, you’ve often said you had the time of your life?
WILLIS: I probably had as much fun as any guy could have who is single and likes to party with good friends. I met so many interesting people in New York and before I started getting acting jobs, I was perfectly happy with my life as a bartender. I was making good money for a working-class kid from New Jersey and, honestly, I felt like I had the world at my feet. Even when I started making big films and earning more money than you could ever dream of, it didn’t make me feel any happier or more satisfied than what I had before. It put things in perspective for me.
WILLIS: She’s brought me her incredible spirit and class and beauty and love. Before I met Emma, I was very pessimistic about finding that special woman whom I would want to spend my life with. I thought it would be difficult for someone like me who is well known to find a woman who didn’t have an agenda and just wanted to be with me because they loved me, pure and simple.
With Emma, I knew I had found a woman who didn’t need or want anything from me other than for us to be together and be happy.
Q: How is Emma enjoying her time as a mom?
WILLIS: Emma is doing great. She’s a very good mother, she’s very smart, and I’ve often said that she’s smarter than me and that I defer to her judgment in most circumstances. I love her so much and I value her opinion more than anyone else’s. I enjoy that kind of vibe between us and I just go and do my job from time to time and then try to spend as much time at home playing with the baby and making her laugh.
Q: There’s a great line in the film A Good Day to Die Hard where you say, “The crap you do for your children!” Do you recall any extreme or over-the-top things you’ve done for your own kids?
WILLIS: Sometimes you will do the craziest things in the world because you love your children so much and you want to see them so badly. I’ve done some impulsive things over the years.
I remember one time when my daughter Tallulah was three or four years old and I was overseas filming in Rome. I was talking to her on the phone and she told me: “Daddy, please come home!” So I got on a plane for the weekend, spent time with her and the rest of the family and flew back to Rome on Monday.
Q: Your kids are grown up now. Are you still learning stuff from them?
WILLIS: Well, I am learning about what it’s like for them to be young adults and in their 20s. I’m proud of the fact that Demi and I raised them to be very independent-minded and spirited. I enjoy talking to them and having very serious conversations and appreciating their perspectives on the world. As a father, it’s so gratifying to see that they’ve become very confident and engaging young women.
When your children are growing up, you have no idea really of how they’re going to turn out because you hear of so many teenagers having problems. But my daughters have grown up to be truly nice and polite adults. Rumer is working in films a lot, Tallulah is going to start university in San Francisco in the fall and Scout is graduating from Brown this year. I’m very proud of them.
Q: Were you a strict father when your older daughters were growing up?
WILLIS: No, not really. I was very protective of them, but deep down I’m a softie. Sometimes I would try to adopt the John McClane persona when a guy would come to the house to take Rumer out on a date. But then she would just push me aside and give me this stern look. (Smiles)
My girls have never had a problem telling me what they think or when think I’m doing the wrong thing. They would even tell me how to dress or complain if I would wear something they hated. But honestly I love that!
Q: What kind of rapport do you have with little Mabel?
WILLIS: (Smiles) She’s the boss. I’m under her spell. She’ll make these faces and then pull me by the ear or stick her hand in my face. It’s been a remarkable thing to experience raising a baby again. I just love it. I spend a lot of time singing to Mabel, especially this one song from The Wizard of Oz, which always makes her laugh like crazy. I can’t even begin to explain how much pleasure I get from making her laugh and watching her learn things.
Q: Do you think if you had sons instead of daughters you would behave differently as a father?
WILLIS: Well, I can only imagine it. I see little boys and little kids and I go, I would be protective of these guys too. But a certain age there’s something in guys that makes them say at a certain point, “I got it, I don’t need anyone to help … I don’t need to be protected anymore. I’m okay.” But girls are always, “Oh, dad…”
Q: Getting back to acting then and thinking of G.I. Joe, is it getting harder doing some of the action scenes at age 57?
WILLIS: Sometimes I feel like it’s tougher getting up after doing a fall but I tell myself I just fell harder than I thought! (Smiles) I don’t notice that much of a difference except when I look at the mirror and see more lines on my face and less hair on my head. When I did the first Die Hard, I thought I had too much of a baby face and I couldn’t wait to look a little rougher and weathered.
At some point, I suppose my body will tell me it’s time to give up the heavy action stuff – but right now I still feel I can deliver the goods and look credible doing it. I’m an actor. I don’t have to be as fit as a special forces guy! (Smiles)
Q: Does aging bother you at all?
WILLIS: No. I’m completely comfortable being this age. I know, from an intellectual point of view, that I’m getting older. I see myself getting older. But I don’t feel older yet. I look after myself for the most part, try to eat well.
When you’re in your 50s, the statistical average is, you’re gonna be dead in the next 20 to 40 years. While that’s not something I think about all the time, it makes me want to have a good day every day. As many good days as I can have.
— Richard Aldhous