It was somewhat surprising when last week we got word that Bruce Willis was officially retiring from acting. His family cited some deteriorating health, especially around his cognitive abilities as the reason behind the move, something that had begun floating around the rumor mill in recent months. And with the announcement came an influx of folks in Hollywood offering up messages of support for the iconic actor and even recounting some of the work they had done together. It’s been a bit of a bittersweet time and recently Joseph Gordon-Levitt rang in on something that Bruce Willis had once said to them when they co-starred together in an excellent film.
While speaking with Vanity Fair (via The AV Club), Joseph Gordon-Levitt discussed his time working with Bruce Willis on the set of Looper. It was during the production, some of which the two shared screen time, that Gordon-Levitt says he overheard Bruce Willis say that JGA, “Sounds like me.” This obviously was, at the time, a high watermark for the young actor, hearing that one of the greats was complimenting him. That it seemed to happen with Willis not realizing that Gordon-Levitt was listening made it even a better moment for the actor. JGA had said he was measuring his success on the screen in his ability to play characters unlike himself. And on Looper the actor clearly got his chance.
Of course, the reason for Bruce Willis paying Joseph Gordon-Levitt this kind of compliment and why it hit especially well in this moment was that the two were playing the same characters at different ages. The movie centers on Gordon-Levitt’s character living in a future in which time travel is possible. He’s essentially a hitman, taking out folks sent from a different time period that the mafia wants to be eliminated. Things turn sideways when Bruce Willis, JGA’s older self, shows up and the two need to unlock what to do together. The movie went to great lengths to convert Gordon-Levitt’s appearance to look more than Willis, but he put in the time to talk like Willis as well.
A week or so ago, it was announced that Bruce Willis was stepping away from acting after letting on that he’d been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that affects mental acuity and memory. There had been rumors for some time that he was receiving assistance on sets of movies as well as stage productions, being fed lines when it was difficult to remember. And he’d taken a number of lower-budget, direct-to-streaming movies over the last few years, pumping out work at a crazy pace, possibly while he was still able.
And Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn’t the only one with nice words to say about Bruce Willis. Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta rang in with their own tributes to the actor whose career has spanned decades. Willis and Stallone had worked together on The Expendables. Travolta and Willis go back a long way, all the way to Look Who’s Talking and then of course to Pulp Fiction.