In Praise Of Bruce Willis And The Thrill Of “The Grind”

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 19 Maret 2015 | 20.49

Fame didn't come easily at first for Bruce Willis, who, over thirty years ago, bought himself a one-way ticket to Los Angeles with tips from bartending in New York City's West Village. But lo and behold, the action star turns sixty today and has quite the career to look back on, despite the plea from many fans to stop making action movies. Yet, Bruce Willis can't stop and he's not going to stop. Why? Because like many actors who had a slow, difficult start to their career in such an unforgivingly brutal industry, Willis only knows how to grind it out.

It's easy to poke fun at actors, specifically action stars, who seemingly started out with a bang and slowly but surely succumbed to the quicksand of sequels and family-friendly roles. Willis, similarly to the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of the world whose careers hit serious stride in the '80, has gotten some flack for refusing to let go of the past. After A Good Day to Die Hard was received with more than a few groans, many wondered if the actor should let John McClane die already and hang out more often with Wes Anderson and Stephen Frears. There's a certain loyalty from Willis, however, and a genuine will to work with old collaborators, who not only helped propel his career, but, when it slumped, help him revive it.

After briefly appearing in episodes of Miami Vice and The Twilight Zone, Willis landed the lead role opposite Cybill Shepherd on '80s romantic dramedy Moonlighting, which earned him a Golden Globe and an Emmy in 1987 and pushed him into film, of which he had barely scratched the surface. Die Hard was released a year later and, in the blink of an eye, Willis was America's next action hero, famously doing his own stunts and appealing to audiences as both a man's man and a surefire heartthrob. Willis, along with Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone, aided in molding expectations of on-screen masculinity that spilled over into the next decade, but the house that muscle built, ultimately ended up crumbling, leaving many '80s action stars in the dust. Gibson got in touch with his director's side before failing to stick his foot in his mouth and insulting the majority of Hollywood. Stallone and Schwazenegger only play "dramatized" versions of themselves every year or so when a new Expendables takes up space at a theater near you (which, to be fair, also featured Willis in a similar role). Bruce Willis has bobbled a bit — did we really need a RED 2? — but to reiterate his notion of loyalty, it's worth arguing that those who work hardest, pay it forward, and don't necessarily take themselves too seriously, are viewed in a certain respect that isn't necessarily stripped away along with the subway poster for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

Willis came from humble beginnings, having been born in West Germany to a large military family. After moving to New Jersey, Willis worked odd jobs from a young age before auditioning and starring in high school and college play productions prior to moving to New York then L.A. and eventually landing his big break. But it was back to the grind in the early '90s as Willis' career came to a standstill. After In Country and Die Hard, voicing a baby in Look Who's Talking wasn't exactly the best career move, and neither was every C-Grade action flick he made from 1990-1993, including Mortal Thoughts, The Last Boy Scout, and the much-maligned box-office flop Hudson Hawk.

But then came Pulp Fiction and Bruce and his old buddies John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (who starred with him in Look Who's Talking and Loaded Weapon, respectively) got a career makeover courtesy of Quentin Tarantino's non-linear crime masterpiece. The role of Butch Coolidge, a washed-up boxing champ who passive-aggressively refuses to let bookies fix his fight, paralleled Willis' career in a way, mimicking the idea that you shouldn't count him out just yet as he's still got a few tricks up his sleeve. After the success of Pulp Fiction, Willis stuck with the Tarantino's inner circle for life and starred in Four Rooms (and, later, Robert Rodriguez's Sin City adaptations, as well as Planet Terror). Willis' career had been revived, and in the mid-'90s starring in the sci-fi thriller Twelve Monkeys and the cult-classic The Fifth Element. But then he landed the lead in one of the greatest sci-fi adventures of all time: Armageddon, which has circled back into the zeitgeist amidst hating on Gravity and Interstellar.

In 1999, Willis gave us the twist to close out the century in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense before snagging another Emmy for a hilarious guest star stint on Friends as the father of Ross's much-younger girlfriend. The aughts were hit or miss for the actor, however, sprinkled with sequels and odd melodramas like Perfect Stranger and dud comedies like Cop Out. The start of the next decade featured the same hum drum, but we got a taste of Willis' indie side in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom and Stephen Frears' Lay the Favorite. With a few more sequels to previous franchises under his belt, Willis has signed on for a new Woody Allen film, along with some action fare that is still in early development stages.

Unlike other movie stars who have made a wrong turns in their career paths, Bruce Willis is still very much in control. He's someone who was brought up by blue collar people, raised to work and work hard, respect those who saw something in him, and pay it back — something that's reflective of nearly every career move he's made. We see the thrill of the grind in actors who only achieved great success as they neared or entered middle age — Jon Hamm, Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, Melissa McCarthy, Bryan Cranston — all talents who hit their stride later in life, and hell if they'll slow down now. Willis was perhaps the first wave of the notion that 30's the new 20, and it paid off as the man refuses to run out of steam. Honestly, would you have known he turned 60 today? Here's to another sixty more, Bruce — but please no more Die Hard sequels.

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Photos: Everett Collection


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