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Willis: Moonlighting Again

'Fool for Love' launched his career; now he's revived it in adopted Hailey, Idaho.

May 03, 1997|TIM APPELO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HAILEY, Idaho — On his lucky day 13 years ago, struggling nobody Bruce Willis became somebody by seizing the lead cowboy role in Sam Shepard's off-Broadway hit "Fool for Love."

This past week, Willis, 42, leaped back in the saddle, reviving the play at the Liberty Theatre, a beautiful proscenium stage he refurbished in his adopted hometown of Hailey, Idaho.

Willis and wife Demi Moore have reportedly poured $10 million into the Sun Valley area (about what he reportedly earned for his voice-overs in "Look Who's Talking"). In fact, the couple could earn enough from one movie together to write each of Hailey's 6,000 citizens a check for $5,000.

"What's cool is, Bruce has been bustin' his hump with everybody else, loading sheets of plywood and painting sets," says Rusty Wilson, who plays the cowboy's rival for a hot-to-trot waitress played by Wilson's wife, Denise Simone.

"A lot of people just see the film version of Bruce, but he's sensational, man!" says Keith Joe Dick, a veteran Hollywood heavy ("Tapeheads") who plays the cowboy's Old Man and sings backup in Willis' rock band, the Accelerators. "It's great that we can share a dressing room and giggle about the Three Stooges."

"Bruce wanted to do ["Fool for Love"] because it was the last show he did before he got 'Moonlighting,' " says Moore after a weekend performance, where she emitted ear-piercing two-finger whistles and the loudest raspy cackle in the house. "He's got eight bruises--he's got a big one on his butt."

The play does in fact require the stars to whomp each other and the walls for 90 minutes straight. "Bruises? Every show I get a new one," Simone says.

"I have quite a few bruises," says Wilson, whose testosterone-challenged character mostly gets intimidated, not whomped.

"Oh, right, he's so proud of his one bruise!" Simone jibes.

"Fool for Love" also gives former party animal Willis a chance to, as the play puts it, "get real mean and sloppy, just like old times," whooping and boozing and feuding with his fiery mate. These scenes in particular appeared to amuse Moore.

But Willis and his co-star go back even further than his falling-down rising-star days. "I've been friends with Bruce since Montclair State College, oh, 22 years ago," Simone says. "We just formed a mutual friend base that just kept us entwined for a long time." Both went to New York to act; Simone met Wilson on a National Shakespeare Co. tour of the United States and set up the troupe Company of Fools with him in Richmond, Va.

"Bruce came to see Demi, who was shooting 'G.I. Jane' last summer [in Virginia], and we happened to be doing a production of 'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,' " Simone says. "Bruce got to see it and said, 'Would you consider doing your work out in Hailey? Me and Demi have this wonderful space. Idaho's a great state.' And . . . it is!"

All Hailey breaks loose in the all-Idaho revival of "Fool for Love." It is a bit funnier and less scary than the half-scary, half-funny original production, partly because an ebullient Willis so wholly dominates it. He does tend to dominate small plays, films and towns.

*

This cowboy ain't knucklin' under to no fate, and when his woman knees him in the groin, one can't help joining Moore in a belly laugh. But Willis sure hasn't forgotten how to ride a live audience, and he leaves Sam Shepard's own performance in the part (in Robert Altman's film) in the dust.

"Fool for Love" inevitably plays differently here than in Manhattan. There, Shepard's Wild West characters were archetypes. In Hailey, they're neighbors.

"We're geographically in a part of the country where they know people like this," Simone says. "They know every single character in this play. In New York, you'd have to go to the western stores and get a western shirt and distress it. Here, we just walked across the street to the thrift store [the Barkin' Basement], pulled a $2 shirt off the rack, and had Bruce's costume."

The bucking rig and glove Willis uses came courtesy of the local high school's Wood River rodeo team.

When locals pitch in to help Willis, it's just payback time. "He's done a lot for the community, you bet," says a playgoer named Jack, who came from Twin Falls to stand in line to see the show. "He's brought a measure of class that we haven't had," adds Jack's Twin Falls friend Twig.

"We drove from Boise--about three hours," Kim Graham says. "We thought it'd be fun to see him in person."

Says Moore: "I talked to people who came over here who hadn't been to a play--ever!"

After the curtain fell to deserved applause, Willis joined Moore and friends to celebrate at the Mint, the pool hall they own a block down from the Liberty. Willis was jubilant, if newly bruised--he probably hadn't had this much fun since he helped Tom Jones belt out "Great Balls of Fire" at his own 40th birthday party in a nearby bowling alley.

"Watch out! I'm a little stinky," Willis warned his wife. "I am stinky--stay away!" Asked for a comment about the show, Willis looked as if it were the reporter who reeked. "Awwww . . . a reporter! I was tryin' to keep 'em out!"

OK, Willis hates reporters. But he loves to preside over a good time had by all in the private sector. "He's a regular guy," says Meg Mazzocchi, a Hailey bookseller. "Los Lobos was at the Mint Friday night--the place was rockin' so hard that the floor was shakin.' It was a total locals' fun night, and Bruce came on with them and played his harmonica--and he was good!"

In Hollywood, Bruce Willis may be a $20-million man and 800-pound gorilla. But in Hailey, he's just a fool for fun.

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