Rian Johnson Reflects On Bruce Willis’ Legacy Now The Looper Actor Has Retired

Bruce Willis in Rian Johnson's Looper
(Image credit: Sony)

The film industry, as a whole, reacted with shock and sadness when legendary actor Bruce Willis announced his retirement from acting back in March. There was some confusion as to the motivation, until it was revealed that Willis was suffering from aphasia, which affects an individual’s ability to communicate. Fans and fellow co-stars such as John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone started to share messages of encouragement and faith, and those accolades assuredly will continue to flow in as more news about Willis’s condition arrives. Especially from directors lucky enough to have worked with Willis over the years, including Looper filmmaker Rian Johnson. 

Rian Johnson has gone on to become known for his work in both the Star Wars saga – he directed the divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi – and his original Knives Out series. The sequel, Glass Onion, currently is available to anyone with a Netflix subscription. And while doing press on behalf of the movie, Johnson returned to CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast, where we spoke about Glass Onion, Breaking Bad, and of course, Johnson’s time on set with Bruce. The director got candid about their working relationship, as well as his take on the actor’s legacy, when he told ReelBlend:

It was incredibly sad to hear the news. Bruce is, obviously, he's one of the all-time great movie stars of our generation. He's a fantastic actor who has left some incredible performances that I think are going to only grow in estimation over the years to come. Just personally for me, you know, he was so wonderful and lovely and generous to work with on Looper. He showed up and just and worked so hard on the part. And also was just so lovely to me. This is a few movies ago. I was still pretty young. I had just made a couple of films. In many ways, I was quite green and he could not have been more respectful and lovely. … When Bruce was on set, everything just kind of locked into place and we moved fast. He wouldn't go back to his trailer in between setups. He would stand there on set and just hang out with the crew and wait. And so we were moving super fast when he was there. And he cared, man. He cared so deeply about it. He really invested in it. But more than that, he was just a lovely, wonderful human being to work with. So I got so much respect and love for that guy.

This is a refrain we have heard often as actors and directors spoke about Bruce Willis’s effect. Off the screen, Willis was a champion for young directors with interesting stories and strong voices who needed the assist that came with his celebrity. Johnson joins a sizeable group of filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) who were able to make their masterpieces thanks to Willis agreeing to participate. 

Rian Johnson focused on that influence as he went on to say: 

His legacy, I have a feeling, it's just going grow in estimation over the years. I feel like over the course of his career, every once in a while he would put some support behind an up-and-coming filmmaker that he believed in. Whether it was Quentin at the time (who) was only coming off of Reservoir Dogs and… M. Night. You look at those performances, or you look at him in 12 Monkeys, it's… when he committed to a role and threw himself into it, there was nobody better.

The sentiment has been echoed by Quentin Tarantino, solidified by Live Free or Die Hard co-star Justin Long, and likely will only continue to grow as more people come to appreciate Bruce Willis for the force he was, and will always be, in Hollywood.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.