Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson: breakable, or not?


John Reading talks to the stars and director of the New Year's first blockbuster

From Film Review Feb 2001

"Everybody was unavailable, so I went with Bruce," explains M Night Shyamalan of why he re-teamed with Bruce Willis for Unbreakable, his eagerly awaited follow-up to the surprise international blockbuster The Sixth Sense.

M Night Shyamalan on set"No, it's a thing where I look back at other directors I've admired. You see collaborations that started to establish a pattern of film-making. I just observed that, whether it was Hitchcock and some of the actors that he kept using or Spielberg with Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it's a nice language to work in, to have a mass audience relationship.

"I'm trying very hard to develop a kind of understanding of what this name means when you see it on a movie. For me and for Bruce to do movies together and make Unbreakable a different movie, but still satisfy an audience in different and exciting ways and make it very original, that was very important."

Likewise, Willis was eager to reunite with Shyamalan. In fact, the mega-star agreed to star in Unbreakable even before Shyamalan finished penning the screenplay. "There was huge excitement on my part," Willis notes. "I couldn't wait to get started on this film. I spent a lot of time in pre-production with [producers] Sam [Mercer] and Barry [Mendel)]and the whole crew getting ready. I'd call Night, saying, 'When are we going to start shooting the movie?'

"I don't think there was any trepidation as far as we'd had a film that was as successful as The Sixth Sense." continues Willis. "And something really interesting happened for me on this film. Because of working with Night on The Sixth Sense and the relationship we developed on that film as actor/director and also as friends, coming into Unbreakable there was an extraordinary level of trust that I generally don't get. Night and I started on this at a much higher level of communication than normally happens on films. That allowed me to really put a lot of my performance in Night's hands."

Unbreakable casts Willis as David Dunn, a regular guy leading a regular existence (as an unhappily married security guard) in Pennsylvania. While riding on the train one day, his life takes a wild turn, as the train crashes horribly and he emerges not only as its sole survivor, but also without a scratch. Soon after he's contacted by Elijah Price (Samual L Jackson), a comic book art gallery owner from New York City who's spent his life coping with a disease that renders his bones as fragile as glass. Price explains that if someone can be as breakable as he is, then there must be someone at the polar opposite, someone who's unbreakable...

Jackson hadn't worked with Shyamalan before, but he and Willis had appeared together in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I, Pulp Fiction and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Not only was he pleased to re-team with Willis, not only did he appreciate the fact that Shyamalan wrote the Price role with him in mind, but Jackson felt a deeper kinship to Price than anyone could possibly realize.

"I've had knee surgery, so I've actually been on crutches for ten-and-a-half weeks in New York City in the winter," he says. "I kind of understand that dynamic of being bumped around and not having access to things. I also understand his sense of ridicule as a child, being called Mr Glass and all of those things, because I stuttered when I was a kid. Kids used to call me things like 'duh-dud', 'ba-ba-ba'. So I stayed in the house, too, or I would go outside and beat people up. I understand how you could isolate yourself and get a different kind of feeling about society because those things happened to you. And I do read comic books, still. So I have a healthy respect for comic art. I relate to Elijah in a lot of ways Night didn't know. Karma-wise, maybe I was supposed to do this."

Expectations for Unbreakable were, of course, sky-high. Everyone expected it to be as terrific as The Sixth Sense was. And people will have been watching every scene closely, trying as hard as possible to figure out Unbreakable's twist ending well in advance of it actually playing out on screen. It's unlikely that Unbreakable will match its predecessor in terms of box-office (although it has taken over $90 million between Thanksgiving and New Year in the US, and £6.3 million in 11 days in the UK). In that way, The Sixth Sense was a true phenomenon. As far as its overall quality and the wallop that the kicker supplies, that's up to individual moviegoers.

"These movies start with what I'm feeling at the time," notes Shyamalan, who insists that Unbreakable - despite the words of Bruce Willis in subsequent interviews - is not the first in a planned trilogy. "After The Sixth Sense, people were saying, 'He's the next this or the next that or maybe he's a fluke.' So this movie is about a man - David Dunn - who is feeling what I was feeling. .."

Image copyright: Buena Vista
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction.

Film Review Feb 2001 issueMore from M Night Shyamalan in this issue, plus our review of UNBREAKABLE

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