Bruce Willis, who is stepping away from acting amid cognitive difficulties caused by aphasia, alarmed movie staffers two years when he misfired a gun loaded with a blank – and last year perplexingly asked what he was doing on a film set, according to a report.
The 67-year-old “Die Hard” star, whose family announced Wednesday he had received the brain disorder diagnosis, had been exhibiting signs of decline on set in recent years, nearly two dozen sources concerned about his well-being told the Los Angeles Times.
The “Pulp Fiction” star — who was often paid $2 million for two days of work – struggled with an inability to remember his lines and was fed his words through an earpiece known in the industry as an “earwig,” several sources told the paper.
A body double was used in most action scenes, particularly those that involved the use of prop guns, the LA Times reported.
On the set of “Hard Kill” in Cincinnati two years ago, Willis allegedly fired a gun on the wrong cue, according to the outlet, which cited two people familiar with the incident.
No one was hurt and the movie’s producer disputed that the incident occurred, but the actors and crew members were alarmed by the alleged discharge from the firearm, according to the report.
Another gun incident occurred on the set of “Hard Kill” in 2020, when actress Lala Kent, playing Willis’ daughter, was supposed to be protected by his character from villains.
“I’m supposed to think my life is about to end, and then my dad steps in to save the day,” Kent told the paper.
Willis was supposed to deliver a line that served as her cue to duck before he fired a gun – but he discharged the firearm without uttering the line, according to the report.
“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,’” Kent told the paper.
She said that although she asked director Matt Eskandari to remind Willis to say his line before firing again in the next take, the same thing happened.
Eskandari did not respond to calls from the newspaper seeking comment, but another staffer said he remembered Kent being shaken, and a third crew member said he recalled an incident in which Willis “did fire the gun on the wrong line.”
The crew member told the paper: “We always made sure no one was in the line of fire when he was handling guns.”
The film’s armorer denied that the incident occurred and Randall Emmett — Kent’s former fiance and co-founder of Emmett/Furla Oasis, who has worked on 20 Willis movies — also disputed that Willis fired a gun prematurely.
“I fully support Bruce and his family during this challenging time and admire him for his courage in battling this difficult medical condition. Bruce will always be a part of our family,” Emmett told the newspaper.
Mike Burns, who directed Willis in last year’s action thriller “Out of Death,” sent the movie’s screenwriter an alarming email in June 2020, writing, “It looks like we need to knock down Bruce’s page count by about 5 pages,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We also need to abbreviate his dialogue a bit so that there are no monologues, etc.,” he added, according to the paper, which spoke with nearly two dozen people who had expressed concern about Willis’ well-being.
But Burns said he had been unaware of the severity of Willis’ mental condition until the actor showed up on set in the film, which was among 22 movies the actor churned out in four years.
“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 LA Times.
The director said he was forced to cut all of Willis’ scenes – about 25 pages of dialogue – into a single-day shoot.
Burns said he eventually decided not to do any more Willis movies after his experience on the set of “Wrong Place” last year.
Before the shoot, he reportedly asked one of Willis’ associates how the actor was doing and was told that he was “way better than last year.”
“I took him at his word,” Burns told the paper, referring to the associate.
But he said he soon realized that Willis “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,” Burns said.
Another startling episode occurred on the set of the low-budget flick “White Elephant,” whose director Jesse Johnson said “it was clear that he was not the Bruce I remembered,” the paper reported.
When he asked the actor’s team about his condition, “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 told the newspaper.
Two crew members reportedly said that Willis asked, “I know why you’re here, and I know why you’re here, but why am I here?”
One of the sources said, “It was less of an annoyance and more like: ‘How do we not make Bruce look bad?’ Someone would give him a line and he didn’t understand what it meant. He was just being puppeted.”
A representative for Willis declined to comment to the LA Times.
Meanwhile, Willis’ longtime stunt double Stuart Wilson described the actor’s changes in an interview with The US Sun.
“We had seen some changes, but a lot of times with bigger celebrities that are really, really popular like, like Bruce, they have a million different things going on,” Stuart told the outlet.
“Sometimes when you were talking to him, he just seemed sidetracked and we would think it would mean nothing but you would wonder if there are other things going on,” said the stuntman, who worked with Willis for 17 years.
“Obviously we knew there was other stuff going on at a certain point in time. We realized because he’s getting tested for different things, but at the time we didn’t know exactly what it was,” Wilson added.
He said he noticed slight changes in Willis’ appearance when he saw him two weeks ago.
“He’s just a little leaner now but never was a big eater anyway. You know, when we go out to dinner, he’d order you know quite a bit of stuff and he just picks at it,” Wilson said.
“So he’s a little leaner. When I saw him a couple weeks ago, he’s just a little leaner than normal but not emaciated, and he’s always been in pretty good shape,” he added.
The stunt double also noted that using an earpiece to be fed lines is not that unusual.
“He was doing ‘Misery’ on Broadway, a guy named Adam, who’s an actor and also does what they call an earwig,” he told The US Sun. “He would use an earwig on occasion just to help out, especially if it was very dialogue-heavy and we just flew in.
“He’s got all this stuff to do. And he just got off another film. So a lot of times we use earwig stuff just to make it easier for production,” he said.