Twenty-four years ago, director Michael Bay had yet to dream up the high-speed car chases in “Ambulance,” but was instead focused on a team of deep-core oil drillers who were tasked with saving the world from an asteroid the size of Texas.
Perennial action hero Bruce Willis headlined the 1998 space movie, playing Harry S. Stamper, leader of the rough-and-tumble crew of newbie astronauts. It may be hard to imagine now, but “Armageddon” was only Bay’s third feature, so landing Willis was a major coup, particularly since the director had been inspired by the action star’s movies (especially 1988’s “Die Hard”) since early in his career.
In a recent interview, Bay reflected on Willis legacy and told Variety what makes the actor — whose family announced last month that he will be stepping back from acting — so iconic.
“Bruce, he’s a movie star,” Bay said simply. “He can command the screen. He’s very funny too.”
Of working with the iconic actor, Bay added: “He takes control of the cast, and he’s got a great fun energy and I had a great time. He was tough at first, and by the way, ‘Armageddon’ was a total fun set. … It was almost like camp.”
And just like any good camper, Willis was a little mischievous on set. While the crew filmed scenes at NASA, Bay says the actor attempted to break into the space shuttle.
“They stopped prepping it for one hour, for us. We are on the gantry [the Orbiter Access Arm, which allows access into the shuttle], and Bruce was able to walk in,” Bay recalled, explaining that the actor was allowed to sit on the capsule door, but go no further. “He goes to me, ‘Mike, we’re gonna do one take; the second take, I’m going to make a run for it and I’m going to go inside the shuttle.'”
So the pair walked from the cleanroom to the capsule door, Bay continued, “Bruce is about to break into the space shuttle … and these guys, all in suits, fully masked up, they’re like [wagging his finger side to side], ‘Uh, uh, uh!’
Bay recounts the happy memory comes as the world learned that Willis has been recently diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder caused by brain damage that affects a person’s ability to communicate.
“As a result of this and with much consideration Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him,” reads the Willis family’s statement reads posted to social media by his wife Emma Heming Willis and their daughters Mabel and Evelyn, along with his ex-wife Demi Moore and their daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah.
“This is a really challenging time for our family and we are so appreciative of your continued love, compassion and support,” the statement continues. “We are moving through this as a strong family unit, and wanted to bring his fans in because we know how much he means to you, as you do to him. As Bruce always says, ‘Live it up’ and together we plan to do just that.”
“Ambulance” is now playing in theaters.