*While many have sung the praises of “Red 2” action star Bruce Willis’ success over the years, he began his career as a singer and released an R&B album on Motown Records called “The Return of Bruno” in 1987. His guest artists included The Temptations, Ruth Pointer and Booker T. Jones. “Respect Yourself,” the lead single from the LP received considerable airplay. Fast-forward to July 2013 and it would be safe to say most of Willis’ fans were born after 1987. Willis and co-star Anthony Hopkins, who is of African American lineage in “The Human Stain,” did a round of interviews together recently at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York for “Red 2.”
The Retired Extremely Dangerous (RED) operatives have returned with a vengeance in “Red 2,” the high-octane action-comedy sequel to the worldwide sleeper hit, “Red.” Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives John Malkovich (Marvin), Helen Mirren (Victoria), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Katja) for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device. To succeed, they’ll need to survive an army of relentless assassins, ruthless terrorists and power-crazed government officials, all eager to get their hands on the next-generovich ation weapon. The mission takes Frank and his motley crew to Paris, London and Moscow. Outgunned and outmanned, they have only their cunning wits, their old-school skills, and each other to rely on as they try to save the world-and stay alive in the process. The film also stars Mary Louise Parker, Byung-hun Lee, Bentley Kalu (Cammando), and Moe Jeudy-Lamour (Marine).
“Red 2” is more enjoyable the second time around so I asked Willis was there more pressure going in to top the first and Hopkins why he hopped aboard this time?
BRUCE WILLIS: I wasn’t that concerned. I was a little more confused on the first one because it felt like we were trying to do so many things at the same time; comedy, action, romance, but somehow it seemed to work out. There is more romance in this one than the first one, however. I haven’t seen the final cut so I don’t know how it ends. Don’t tell me. I’m always excited to see who comes to work on the films. I was very excited that Tony said yes and everyone was really excited. It’s nice that you get to work with people who you’re a fan of and you get to have fun. I don’t really feel like we took it that seriously. We just had a ball. We were just laughing and watching each other do what we do
ANTHONY HOPKINS: I love the first one. I just liked the work. I would read the phone book if I was asked me to do it. I’ve just reached an age where I want to be around. I’m a big fan of Bruce and I saw the first “Die Hard” and then “Red” and “The Sixth Sense.” I just love to work. I wouldn’t do anything but I tell young actors looking for advice to keep working. If you can do anything, just keep working. Just work, work, work. I have a young niece that has her first part in a film and she’s really good. She’s never acted before and I said just to work hard and enjoy it and have a great time at it.
Anthony, what did you think when you first read the screenplay about how you would shape your character and Bruce how did you want your character to have changed from the first film?
BW: My character is so befuddled. I like to play befuddled characters that don’t quite know what’s going on and are kind of behind the information chain. I always have fun working and goofing around because that’s what it feels like. I just love working.
AH: The director sent me an email and we met just briefly before, and I said, ‘It’s interesting I’m playing a crazy person.’ I was playing a mad scientist whose been locked up. He asked me what I thought and I said, ‘There’s a way of playing someone who’s very English,’ and I’m not English, I’m Welsh, ‘where they are very eccentric.’ There was a famous astronomer in England who just died named Patrick Moore who is a brilliant genius but completely off the wall. I said, ‘I think this guy’s been to Cambridge. He’s a nuclear physicist, he’s a theoretical mathematician, he’s a genius, but he’s completely bonkers.’ Of course, the CIA has locked him up because they think he’s dangerous. The twist is that he’s not mad at all but he feigns madness. I knew this man in England, another professor, who is completely off the wall, a genius but he never knew the time of day or where he was. He used to ask people where he lived. That’s what I wanted to play as a kind of foil; a distraction to the real plot to mislead people. I chose some old broken shoes and an old tweed jacket from the 1970s and said let’s go for it and that’s what they did.
Bruce, guns come into play a lot in your films. At this point is firing them second nature to you now?
BW: Safety is so important; not shooting your fellow actors, not shooting yourself, not having the gun go off in your pocket. Safety really is my biggest concern. Not hurting anyone. Sometimes, you get to work with kids; you don’t want to shoot the kids. You have to be safe. You don’t want to shoot anyone really.
AH: I had a gun in a scene and I was walking with Bruce and I noticed he made sure that everything was safe. The gun happened to be loaded at one point but he was very aware of the safety and consequences of a firearm going off. I haven’t done that much but he has. You don’t mess around. In England, if you have to have a gun on set, they are so tough. As soon as you fire a gun, they’ll take it away from you because we don’t have firearms. Well, very few, anyways. BW: Safety first. I have four daughters. Safety is my middle name around the house.
Bruce, you seem to be the go-to guy for action movies and Mary Louise was said that she’d want you there over anyone else. Have you been looking for something out of left field to do?
BW: I think I’m very fortunate when I get asked to do a lot of different kinds of things. Some of them include weapons. Some of them include jokes. Some of them want me to make out with women who I’m not married to. It’s a strange thing isn’t it? What if you were asked right now to lean over and lay one on? It would add to the day. It’s always fun.
*Dame Helen Mirren is one classy lady and she can handle firearms with the best of them. She was an assassin in Lee Daniels’ 2005 “Shadowboxer,” where her stepson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., was also her lover. [Gooding starred in “Instinct” with Anthony Hopkins in 1999]. The proliferation of guns in America was noted in “Red 2” when Willis questioned Malkovich about giving Parker a gun. Parker’s response was, “Why not? Everyone else in America has one!” That conversation about weaponry continued with Merrin.
So Helen, what weapon of choice did you prefer this time around?
“I like the sniper gun the best. I hate to hear myself even saying that but it’s true. The guns I found the most horrifying are these small machine guns. They’re terrible because you can cause such havoc. I could literally wipe almost all of you out if I had one here. And I happen to have one here! [laughs] That would be a headline, wouldn’t it? As far as I understand you can buy them here in gun shows; it’s dreadful.”
You appear fearless in so many roles. What does scare you?
“What scares me is plastic; plastic bags and plastic bottles. Why does my water have to come in a bloody plastic bottle? The landfill and the ocean; I don’t know, I’m just terrified with the proliferation of plastic.”
You’re part Russian and British. Does it bother you that the Russians are usually the baddies?
“I did a film called “2010” in which I played a Russian. Actually, I wasn’t a baddie, I was a goodie. I remember having an argument with the costume designer because she was an American woman and she said, ‘She’s Russian, she would have horrible, big, ugly clothes.’ Russians had to be shown to be sort of funky and behind the times, and in particular, usually fat and ugly. There were no beautiful Russians in the times of Communism as far as the Americans were concerned. And of course suddenly all of these unbelievably gorgeous Russian models are coming out of Russia. It’s interesting how without really realizing it we’re constantly being fed imagery. I think the Brits are a nice convenient target to make for baddies because you can’t be accused of racism or religious bigotry by making the Brits the baddies. America has a strange love-hate relationship with the Brits in general.”
One story said you had a crush on Bruce. Is that true?
“I do have a crush on Bruce. Don’t tell him, for god’s sake. Don’t let my husband know. Oh, my husband knows. I have two kinds of crushes on him; I have the classic fan type crush and then I have a more aesthetic crush on him as an actress looking at an actor who I think is really a wonderful, wonderful actor. There are two Bruces; he’s brilliant in the action movies but he’s also this fantastic character actor, and I’m hoping we’ll see more and more of that side of him.”
You will be 68 on July 26th. How was it doing the action scenes?
“It’s fun. It’s always great to do action scenes. They’re called action scenes because they do the acting for you. You don’t have to act in action scenes; the action does it all for you and it’s great. And I was very lucky; a lot of my action scenes were with John Malkovich, and he was just so good at that gun stuff. He was just brilliant.”
You have done an assorted number of films from “Shadowboxer,” “The Tempest,” “The Queen,” “Savage Messiah,” to “Teaching Mrs. Tingle.” Is there one that you’re most recognized for?
“It’s funny, there’s a segment of the population who usually seem to be working in the Gap, or for a while, they’ve moved on now, but who only knew me from ‘Mrs. Tingle.’ They’d never seen any of my other work but they had seen ‘Mrs. Tingle,’ and they were usually about 17 or 16 years old. And I’d go into the Gap and I’d be buying my t-shirt and they’d look up and they’d go, ‘Oh my god! It’s Mrs. Tingle!’ so horrified. Luckily, they’ve moved on and they’re much older now.”
Do you still find all of this fun or are you’re looking forward to retiring?
“I don’t know; you don’t know that until it happens, I guess. I mean, as night follows day, inevitably it will happen, but I have no idea. I do love gardening and all of that, but I do love my work. But mostly I love the people that I get to work with. In my job and all the jobs related to my job, including your job, you get to constantly meet and work with and be involved with clever, imaginative people who constantly surprise you and push you forward and inspire you. So I think I would miss that a lot if I didn’t work anymore. I’d miss the people that I get to meet and work with, including the press.”
Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]