After a statement revealed that Bruce Willis would be “stepping away” from acting after an aphasia diagnosis, a Los Angeles Times report has revealed that concerns over his cognitive state have been circulating for years.
Speaking to directors and other crew members who have worked with the 67-year-old actor, the article details Willis struggling to remember dialogue, expressing confusion at his surroundings, needing shortened work days and having issues with gun use.
“After the first day of working with Bruce, I could see it first-hand and I realized that there was a bigger issue at stake here and why I had been asked to shorten his lines,” said Mike Burns, director of 2021 thriller Out of Death. During the shoot, he was required to compress 25 pages of dialogue into one day of filming.
Burns was then asked to direct another film and after expressing concerns, an associate told him Willis was in much better shape but soon found out, after production, that this wasn’t the case. “I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse,” Burns said. “After we finished, I said: ‘I’m done. I’m not going to do any other Bruce Willis movies.’ I am relieved that he is taking time off.”
On the set of 2020’s Hard Kill, Willis allegedly fired a gun with a blank on the wrong cue twice in a row, according to Lala Kent, his co-star and Vanderpump Rules star. No one was injured and while a producer claimed to the LA Times that this didn’t happen, other crew members insist that it did.
On the set of the upcoming thriller White Elephant, crew members recall that at one moment Willis said: “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?”
Terri Martin, the film’s production supervisor added: “He just looked so lost, and he would say, ‘I’ll do my best.’ He always tried his best. He is one of the all-time greats, and I have the utmost admiration and respect for his body of work, but it was time for him to retire.”
Director Jesse V Johnson said he didn’t feel “comfortable” working with Willis again.
It was also reported that his management insisted that shoots were limited to just two days, often getting paid $2m a film, and that he would work no longer than eight hours each day although production sources allege that it was closer to four. His lines would often get fed to him through an “earwig”, industry speak for an earpiece.
In the last three years, Willis has made 21 movies. Recently, the Razzies, the annual awards given to the worst films of the year, created a category called worst performance by Bruce Willis in a 2021 movie.
The statement, released yesterday, referred to it as a “really challenging time” for his family. “We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him,” it read.
The major causes of aphasia, characterised by difficulty with language or speech, are head trauma or a stroke. It affects about 2 million people in the US.