“They’re such smart kids,” Bruce says. “Way smarter than I was. They campaigned for Obama. They’re involved in the world, in politics. They know exactly what Hollywood is, and they know what it’s not, and they don’t take any of that very seriously.”
Given his own fraught relationship with fame, it’s something he’s particularly proud of. “When I was a kid, I had a horrible stutter. Really, I was that guy that you’d just go”—he draws in breath in audible pity and makes a cringing face. Onstage, the South Jersey native found that his stuttering subsided. After dropping out of the theater program at Montclair State University, he spent several years bartending and taking on low-paying acting gigs before landing the part of private eye David Addison opposite Cybill Shepherd on the hit TV comedy Moonlighting. “The worst thing you could do to a person is say, ‘Here’s a lot of fame that’s never going to go away,’ and not explain it,” says Bruce, who spent decades resenting his celebrity even as he propelled it to new heights with the Die Hard movies.
His loneliness after the end of his 13-year, high-profile marriage to Moore only intensified this angst. “I had a very dismal view of my chances at romance,” he says, “because when I actually sat down and did the math, made my chart of what I wanted in a woman—honesty, integrity, class, beauty, a sense of humor—and combined that with me being famous, it seemed the possibility of finding someone I could trust and who would want to be with me because they loved me and not just because they had an agenda was really minimal.” But then Emma came along: “She was a real person, and she didn’t want anything from me.”
But coming to grips with his celebrity has taken more than the love of a good woman—it has apparently involved research. “Did you know fame is a 20th-century invention?” Bruce asks suddenly. “Charles Lindbergh was the first international superstar. Prior to that, it was just rich people who were famous. They would write about what Diamond Jim Brady would eat. He would go to a restaurant, and people would watch him eat—he’d eat, like, six ducks!”
Still, perhaps the only thing worse than having fame is losing it, and Bruce is still in the game. “Look at his longevity,” says director Kevin Smith, who will be working with Willis and Tracy Morgan on A Couple of Dicks, a comedy shooting in New York this summer. “Stallone, Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger—none of these action stars have kept it vital and viable for more than 20 years like Bruce has. In this cynical age where people root for failure, people want to see him succeed, because he’s always been a heart player.” Willis, who stars in Surrogates, a science-fiction thriller coming out in September, is nevertheless prone to unprompted criticism of his own career. “A character from New Jersey or Chicago who’s in law enforcement—I’ve been playing some version of that guy forever,” he says. “There are a handful—no, a couple of handfuls—of films I’d just like to take off my list.”