Bruce Willis, as one of the most popular and highly paid stars in Hollywood, is familiar to most moviegoers. Joel Silver's name isn't a household word. But, as one of Hollywood's biggest producers, the controversial and press-shy Silver has brought to the screen such box-office hits as "Lethal Weapon," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Predator" and "Commando."
Together, the names Willis and Silver are fast becoming synonymous with the kind of big-budget action pictures that continue to be a staple of Hollywood. Their partnership started with "Die Hard" in 1988 and was followed by last summer's sequel, "Die Hard 2: Die Harder." This summer it's "Hudson Hawk"--an offbeat action-comedy that pairs Willis with Danny Aiello and Andie MacDowell.
Outside an East L.A. sound stage, the pair took a break from production on their fourth movie together, "The Last Boy Scout," to talk about "Hudson Hawk," their views of the movie business, fame and their nagging nemesis--the media.
Question: Some people look at you two and wonder how two such strong personalities can work together through three, and now four, films. What are the dynamics of your relationship and how has it changed over the years?
Silver: You know, Bruce and I have had very good luck. We met doing "Die Hard" and it was an unconventional film, an action film that was fresh, had a new approach and it really took the notion of an action lead and made him very vulnerable--
Willis: More of a human being than a super-human being.
Silver: --and very accessible, which to a large part was Bruce. There was a scripted movie there, but Bruce really brought an enormous amount of himself and what he is to that role of John McClane. During the course of that film, Bruce and I became very close friends and we began to appreciate each other and how well we do what I think we do. When Bruce came to me with this prize project of his own, "Hudson Hawk," something that he had personally labored over for many years . . . he said, "I'd like you to work with me on this project." During the course of that we went on and made "Die Hard 2," which was even more successful than "Die Hard." We ended up with our own internal rhythm of working together and "Hudson Hawk" was just the extension of that.
Q: Describe that internal rhythm.
Silver: Well, Bruce is a very good actor and he really likes to make these roles as much him as he can make them. I think Hudson Hawk is the character that's the most like Bruce Willis: He has a great sense of humor and he approaches life with great wit. He's very cynical, but he's very warm, and he's very real. And (we put) together these two other elements with Bruce--Dan Waters, who is a wonderful writer and Michael Lehmann, who is a very talented director, a very skillful kid and who really understood the kind of off-center, irreverent, off-base sense of humor that Bruce saw in this movie.
Q: Bruce, could you describe the birth of the idea for the film?
Willis: My friend Robert Kraft and I used to run around together in New York City. At the time he was a nightclub singer. . . . He wrote a song, and I wrote the lyrics, that was about 12 years ago. . . . It's called "The Hudson Hawk," and it's about this character, Little Eddie Hawkins, a guy getting out of jail and what happens to him. . . . We always said, someday we should make this into a film. When I got into a position where I was able to get scripts made, this was one of the ideas that I put into development.
Q: It's a difficult film to categorize. How would you, for example, describe it to the various writers you worked with along the way?
Willis: This film didn't really take on what eventually became the final attitude we shot with until Dan Waters got involved. . . . You can't describe this film and everything that it is in one quick sentence--it doesn't really fit into one hole. It is comprised of a lot of elements: It has very intellectual hip humor in it; it has very sophomoric broad slapstick comedy; it has elements of a road picture; it has more romance than any film that I have ever done; it has action; it has big stunts; it has a very dark sensibility. . . . It's a film that needs to be experienced more than explained. . . .
Q: A lot of the humor in the film is very irreverent and some of it--like the scenes where you break into song or fall off balconies and land in chairs in restaurants--could either leave audiences roaring with laughter or deathly silent. Did you guys make a conscious decision to take these kinds of creative risks?
Willis: Yeah, we knew that they were risks.
Silver: The first day on the movie when Bruce walked out of the prison in that hat--
Willis: And the black coat--
Silver: We said, are you sure we're doing this?