|By Fred Topel
In Theaters March 3
“I’m apolitical,” Bruce Willis said after a 10 minute tirade on politics. When the subject of his public affiliation with the Reupublican party came up in an interview for his new movie 16 Blocks, Willis set the record straight.
“Everybody write this down because I'm sick of answering this f***ing question,” Willis retorted, only half joking. “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 go**damn 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.”
After that, any question about 16 Blocks took on a political subtext. Willis plays a cop escorting a witness across town, dodging the corrupt cops who don’t want him to live to testify against them. Marking his seventh portrayal of a cop or investigator of some sort (the entire Die Hard trilogy only counts as one cop), Willis believes in glorifying the profession because they sacrifice so much for so little pay.
“They're dealing with things that nobody in this room, nobody in this city wants to deal with and they're doing it for less than 50 grand a year and after taxes how much is that? 35 maybe? You can't feed your family on that.”
And it’s not just cops. Willis includes EMT workers, ER doctors, nurses and teachers among the public servants who need more monetary appreciation. “Great teachers can't work as teachers now because they can't afford to raise kids on $35/40 grand a year. So let's throw some money at the problem. Let's not build one rocket. Let’s take one rocket less, one bomb less, and you can solve a lot of problems in the government.”
There are so many problems in the world, even an action hero can’t fight them all. Here are some other things Bruce Willis would like to see change. “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 Columbia 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.”
These social musings do relate back to 16 Blocks. The movie casts Willis as a run down, out of shape, aging has been cop. It would be the kind of role that Willis could do in his sleep after 20 years of playing underdogs who save the day, only now it has the added weight of intellectual pain.
“I don't like the world. I think the world is not being run correctly and I’m unhappy with it and I think it could be done a lot better. 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 there to see for myself. 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.”
Willis also came up with a hairdo and limp to match the character’s downtrodden state. Some of it was in the script but some of it came from Willis’s intuition. “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 till Mos Def showed up with the character.”
Mos Def plays the witness, a savant-like innocent criminal who inspires redemption in the hopeless cop. “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're going to quit smoking. 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 could not have changed had it not been for my character. So what does that say? That we need each other? We need each other's help to change sometimes. Change is a difficult thing really.”
16 Blocks opens March 3.