Broadway Rookies Bruce and Rumer Willis on Preparing for the Stage

Rumer and Bruce Willis. Photo: Norman Jean Roy

At ages 60 and 27, Bruce and Rumer Willis find themselves, oddly, experiencing the same career first: a Broadway debut. Rumer, Bruce’s eldest daughter with Demi Moore, is strutting Chicago’s stage as merry murderess Roxie Hart through November 1; Bruce is about to begin previews for Misery (opening November 15), in which he’ll star opposite Laurie Metcalf as captive writer Paul Sheldon. On a recent morning, Rumer breezed into a room at the New 42nd St. Studios near Times Square shortly before her dad, who bopped in, whistling, during a rehearsal break in the studio next door. “Look at those sneaks!” Rumer exclaimed, upon seeing Bruce’s sharp suit paired with black-and-white Nikes. After several prolonged embraces and “I love you”–ing, they chatted about their respective roles, the challenges of dancing versus sitting onstage, and why they’ll be avoiding orange juice for the near future. 

I’d imagine you two are in very different stages of preparation right now …
Bruce: She’s already up and running, she’s singing and dancing.
Rumer: It’s my third week. It’s a lot — the interesting thing about being in a situation like this is that it’s totally new for both of us. I’ve never tackled anything like this in my life. It’s definitely different from doing TV or movies, or even a normal play. It’s a whole different universe.

Since Broadway is new for both of you, did you seek each other’s advice at all about taking on these shows?
Bruce: I actually don’t think we had a conversation about doing it. The novelty of it is what’s really fun and really exciting. Historically, except for the Barrymore family, I don’t know who else has done Broadway at the same time. I’m sure some families have, but …
Rumer: We’re talking a lot about just how different it is. The stamina it requires, especially your voice. You really have to take care of yourself in a totally different way when you’re doing Broadway.
Bruce: It’s the first time in a long time I’ve even had to consider caring for my voice and not yelling, not making a lot of noise. I find myself speaking in a really low register all the time now. And there’s a lot of yelling in Misery.

At least you don’t have to dance while also singing …
Bruce: Rumer’s part is factored by five, you know? I just have to remember a lot of words.
Rumer: But you’re so much more exposed onstage! I can just do jazz hands and I’m fine! [Laughs.]
Bruce: I spend, out of 90 minutes, probably 80 either in a bed or in a wheelchair. I only walk in one scene.  
Rumer: [Laughs.]
Bruce: I’m not getting any exercise. Well, I do lift a typewriter over my head at one point. That’s about it. It’s weird. Laurie Metcalf and I have a really fun time together. She gets to whack my legs, kick me.  
Rumer: I look forward to my day off, very much so. Your body, you start to feel it.

Will you two be hanging out while you’re both working so close to each other?
Bruce: We’re only five blocks apart.
Rumer: I’m hoping once it settles down I’ll have more of a social life. But the thing about Broadway, it’s a lifestyle, it’s not just your job. You have eight shows a week, so you have to conserve your energy. Your life is all wrapped up in this bubble. You have to really want to be here. People do this for years; I’m only doing it for two months, and it’s crazy in my head. I’ve heard crazy things about saving your voice for stage: People telling me things like you can’t eat tomato sauce, you can’t drink orange juice. All these crazy things for your voice.
Bruce: I think about her every night. I’m thinking about what she’s doing, where she’s at. I look at my watch and think, Oh, she’s doing that dance down the bandstand right now. Yesterday I was about to call you and then was like, “Oh no, it’s almost eight o’clock!” And phones really are a problem in the theater.
Rumer: I saw somebody eating a full meal in the front row the other day!

Is being in a Broadway show in any way a badge of honor for you two, like you’re proving you’re capable of doing something?
Rumer: Not necessarily something to prove. I don’t really go about anything that way. Whether people like it or not, I can’t force people to stand up. It’s not, “I’ve made it to Broadway, now I’m something.” If I can make it through this time and prove to myself I can do eight shows a week and I’m doing something I love, that means more than anything. But I’m not gonna lie, walking through Times Square the other day and seeing a billboard with my face on it, that was pretty cool.
Bruce: There’s an extra shine on it for sure. There are expectations on Broadway that make it exhilarating. But to both have the same gig at the same time, it’s pretty cool.

Are there striking differences you’ve noticed between doing theater and film?
Bruce: In film you say, “Oh, can we go again? Can you let me pick up that one line?” You don’t have that luxury here. You’re gonna start here, you’re gonna end there, that’s it. That gets my heart beating faster.
Rumer: And sometimes the audience doesn’t totally get what you’re saying. Half the time you have a great audience, half the time you don’t, and you have to do the same show no matter what. I remember as a kid hearing you can’t base how you feel on applause, and it’s true. And we have a huge international audience. Sometimes they get right off the plane and come to us. The other night someone was sleeping in the front row!
Bruce: [Peering through the window] I think they need me back in rehearsal …
Rumer: I love you so much!
Bruce: I’ll call you about dinner. You gotta eat sometime!

Chicago is currently playing at the Ambassador Theatre.
Misery opens in previews at the Broadhurst Theater on October 22.

*A version of this article appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

Bruce and Rumer Willis on Preparing for Broadway