NEW YORK -- "How many times can you run down a street with a gun in your hand, screaming 'NOOOO'?"
For Bruce Willis, that's merely a rhetorical question he poses over a light dinner between taping a "Charlie Rose" interview and a gig with his band.
It gets boring, he says, explaining why he hasn't yippee-ki-yayed his way through a "Die Hard" movie since 1995.
Sure, the 46-year-old movie star did the sci-fi action film "The Fifth Element" and wore the hero's mantle in the blockbuster "Armageddon" in the last seven years. But for the most part, he has found varied roles in comedies, dramas and, of course, the supernatural megahit "The Sixth Sense."
Willis, who first gained notice with his Emmy-winning turn as a wisecracking roue in "Moonlighting" (1985-89), has even done guest appearances on "Friends," winning a second Emmy two years ago.
"I'm lucky. I've had a little success in other genres," he says. "Because that really determines how versatile you get to be. You're not going to be invited back to do other comedies if you don't do one that makes some dough. It is a business. Hollywood's not just everybody out there going, 'Let's get together and make a movie.' It's a big business."
Willis, who's gone from a working-class South Jersey upbringing to paychecks upwards of $20 million, maintains he isn't straining to display his versatility, however.
"I would get asked back if I just did 'Die Hard 9'," he says, lightly chortling. "As long as it made money, the studios would ask me back. I'm just trying to keep myself interested, so I don't get bored."
'All that escape stuff'
His latest film, "Hart's War," co-starring Colin Farrell, features Willis as the highest-ranking officer at a German POW camp during World War II. The film combines elements of "Stalag 17," "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "The Great Escape," and melds a little of the characters played by William Holden, Alec Guinness and Steve McQueen in those respective movies into Willis' Col. William McNamara.
Willis took the part because "it's not clear what kind of guy he is -- whether he's a good guy or mendacious."
Plus, it was a World War II movie and "had all that escape stuff," and he's a fan of both.
"It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I'm at a point in my work now where that's as much of a criteria as anything else is," he says.
David Ladd, a co-producer of "Hart's War," felt Willis had the right bearing and age to play the fourth-generation West Point officer. "Bruce IS a colonel," he says, laughing, in a telephone interview from Vancouver, British Columbia, the location of his next movie.
If you saw Willis' last movie, "Bandits," and then "Hart's War," Ladd says, you'd have to wonder: Is that the same actor?
"Bruce is not a guy who sits around and talks about acting. He just does it. That may be a bit why he's underestimated as an actor," says Ladd, the son of the late actor Alan Ladd and a former head of production at MGM.
Willis says the release of "Hart's War" is "coincidentally well-timed." They shot the film last year and had no idea it would be released on a wave of patriotism after the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.