The family of Bruce Willis announced Wednesday that the actor is stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with the cognitive disorder aphasia, but new reporting suggests that Willis’ health decline was affecting his work on the set of recent films.
In January of 2020 on the set of the film “Hard Kill,” actress Lala Kent told the Los Angeles Times that Willis twice missed his cue to fire a gun. The actress said she asked the film’s director, Matt Eskandari, to remind Willis to say his line before firing the gun, but on two takes Willis fired the gun before delivering the line, taking the actress by surprise. “Because my back was to him, I wasn’t aware of what was happening behind me. But the first time, it was like, ‘No big deal, let’s reset,’” she said.
In recent years, Willis had been making a slew of direct-to-video films, and the director of one of those films – “Out of Death” director Mike Burns – told the LA Times that he was asked to compress Willis’ work in the summer of 2020. “After the first day of working with Bruce, I could see it firsthand and I realized that there was a bigger issue at stake here and why I had been asked to shorten his lines,” Burns told the Los Angeles Times, as he revealed he was tasked with capturing about 25 pages of dialogue for Willis in just one day of filming.
Burns said he was reluctant to direct another Bruce Willis movie, but was assured by one of Willis’ associates that the actor was in a better place. When he showed up on set to start shooting “Wrong Place” in October of 2021, Burns said, “I didn’t think he was better; I thought he was worse … 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.”
The LA Times reports that an actor traveling with Willis would feed the actor lines through an earpiece, and most action sequences featuring Willis’ character were shot using a body double.
Aphasia is characterized by the loss of ability to understand or express speech, and “White Elephant” director Jesse V. Johnson told the LA Times that Willis was “not the Bruce I remembered” when they were shooting the film in April of 2021.
Johnson said when he approached the actor’s team with concerns, “they stated that he was happy to be there, but that it would be best if we could finish shooting him by lunch and let him go early.” Johnson was offered the chance to direct two additional movies with Willis, but declined. “We are all Bruce Willis fans, and the arrangement felt wrong and ultimately a rather sad end to an incredible career, one that none of us felt comfortable with.”
The 67-year-old actor’s family made his health problems public on Wednesday, but said his aphasia diagnosis was recent. “To Bruce’s amazing supporters, as a family we wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” the statement began. “As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”