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Bruce Willis And Kevin Smith's Feud Explained

Bruce Willis is undoubtedly one of the biggest movie stars of the modern era. Equally famous for his action and dramatic roles, he has been a Hollywood A-lister for four decades. Throughout his career, the actor has worked with some of the most famous directors on the planet — whether it's Michael Bay with the 1998 film "Armageddon," M. Night Shyamalan in the supernatural thriller "The Sixth Sense," or Quentin Tarantino in the cult classic "Pulp Fiction."

In his later career, Willis also had the opportunity to collaborate with Kevin Smith, the director and writer behind "Clerks," "Chasing Amy," and "Dogma." Unfortunately, this particular project didn't exactly work out, and "Cop Out" marked the start of a feud that has lasted more than a decade. Since the release of the film, the pair have frequently aired their grievances for all to see.

But what exactly led to this falling out and why did Smith and Willis make their beef public? Read on to get the scoop on what happened as we discuss the details of the feud between the two stars.

The pair worked together in the 2010 comedy Cop Out

The feud between Bruce Willis and Kevin Smith has its origins in the 2010 buddy comedy "Cop Out." Based on a script written by Robb and Mark Cullen, the movie sees Willis portray a veteran police detective named Jimmy, who is partnered with Tracy Morgan's character Paul. The pair become embroiled in a criminal plot when Jimmy's prized baseball card is stolen and ends up in the possession of a gangster played by Guillermo Diaz.

Marking the first time that Smith had directed a film that he had not also written, it was originally due to be titled "A Couple of Dicks" but saw numerous name changes to make it more palatable as a mainstream release — something Smith fought against and ultimately led to the title "Cop Out" as the director felt it was a cop-out to not stick with the initial name. Over several months, Smith and director of photography Dave Klein storyboarded the whole movie to get Warner Bros. to greenlight the project.

They previously collaborated on Live Free or Die Hard

While "Cop Out" was the start of the feud between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis, it was not the first time they had worked together. Smith was cast in "Live Free or Die Hard," the fourth film in the "Die Hard" series. The franchise produced what is arguably Willis' most famous role in the form of John McClane, a police officer and reluctant hero who ends up thwarting numerous criminal plots despite his attempts to stay out of trouble.

Despite being best known as a filmmaker rather than an actor, Smith appears in a significant role in "Live Free or Die Hard." he portrays the hacker Frederick "Warlock" Kaludis, a villain who grudgingly helps McClane locate Timothy Olyphant's antagonist Thomas Gabriel. Smith even rewrote some of the script, changing up the scenes in which he appears, although his work went uncredited. According to Smith, Willis suggested they work together on another project after the film was released, suggesting that the pair had a friendly relationship at that point.

Smith took a pay cut to work with Willis

As "Cop Out" was a studio movie that Kevin Smith hadn't written, many fans accused him of doing it solely for the money. Yet according to Smith, this could not be further from the truth. Speaking on X, formerly known as Twitter, he explained that he was so determined to work with Bruce Willis after "Live Free or Die Hard" that he actually took a significant pay cut to get "Cop Out" made and secure the actor's services.

In response to a question, Smith explained that he initially agreed to an 84% pay cut and that many other members of the cast and crew were also paid a lot less than normal. Meanwhile, Smith and producer Marc Platt took a further 50% reduction to ensure the movie came in under budget so that Warner Bros. would greenlight the project.

The director also gave some examples of just how far he went to make sure this collaboration with Willis went ahead, showing the true extent of how little Smith was paid. He explained: "I made more as the director of 'Dogma' in 1998 than I did as the director of 'Cop Out' in 2009/2010." Smith went on to say that his agent and lawyer suggested he skip directing "Cop Out" as he could make more money elsewhere. "To suggest I did it for the money is ludicrous," Smith said. "As it was the least I've been paid to direct a film since 1998 — 11 years prior."

Cop Out was a critical and commercial failure

"Cop Out" proved to be one of Kevin Smith's most expensive movies, with a budget of around $30 million. Up until that point, the only film that he had directed that had cost more to make was the 2004 romantic comedy "Jersey Girl" with Ben Affleck. Therefore, "Cop Out" needed to perform well at the box office to be profitable.

Signs initially suggested that the movie could be a success. It opened second to Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller "Shutter Island" and ended up being Smith's highest-grossing movie, earning a total of $55 million worldwide. Despite all that, the film failed to be a hit, making back less than double its budget.

Even worse, though, was the negative critical reception. "Cop Out" was almost universally panned by critics, although CinemaScore suggested viewers were slightly more favorable. Most reviews noted flawed pacing and a lack of jokes that actually landed, making "Cop Out" something of a slog to get through.

The director was somewhat starstruck

Part of the initial issue between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis may have been the way that the director interacted with the actor. Smith has openly discussed that he was a fan of Willis and was very enthusiastic about working with him. Speaking to CinemaBlend, the filmmaker admitted to being somewhat starstruck by the huge star even though he had collaborated with many famous faces in the past, including the likes of Alan Rickman, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon.

This had the effect of changing how Smith worked with Willis, treating him differently from any other actor that he had directed in his career. "But at first, I went as a fan, I was directing David Addison from Moonlighting," Smith explained. "I wasn't the 38-year-old Kevin Smith who had directed a bunch of movies, I was the 12-year-old who would lay on my parents' couch and watch David Addison on Tuesday." He later revealed that Willis was used to this kind of behavior and was able to get Smith into a mindset where they could seemingly work together.

Willis wouldn't do anything out of character

For his part, Bruce Willis also posed an issue for Kevin Smith on set. The filmmaker told the Chicago Tribune that the actor was unwilling to do anything that took him out of his comfort zone, forcing Smith to change how he interacted with him. The director quickly discovered that he would have to adjust his approach because Willis was a huge action star who knew exactly what he did and didn't want to do. Smith explained: "He's the caretaker of the Bruce Willis persona. He's been a star for 25 years while most of his peers have fallen by the wayside, so he knows what works for his image."

Part of this was down to the fact that Smith and Willis didn't have the same kind of history as the filmmaker shared with the likes of Ben Affleck or his other frequent collaborators. This meant that Willis wasn't as trusting of his director, or as prepared to simply do what he was told on set without question. "I had worked with Bruce on 'Live Free or Die Hard' as an actor, and we had a really good time doing it," Smith told CinemaBlend. "But working with Bruce as an actor and working with Bruce as a director are two very different things."

Willis couldn't ad-lib or be funny on the set

Bruce Willis came to mainstream attention for his portrayal of David Addison in the comedy-drama series "Moonlighting." Despite his background in comedy, however, Willis had largely transitioned away from the genre as an established movie star and instead focused on serious and action roles. This seemingly put him out of practice when it came to shooting "Cop Out," as he was unable to keep up with Tracy Morgan and the rest of the cast.

"He seemed shell-shocked by how fast Tracy could make up dialogue and be funny," Smith told The New York Post. "Tracy was so fun, and Bruce was like, what is he talking about?" This led to Willis trying to ad-lib himself, with very mixed results. According to Smith, the actor was only able to conjure up dated references that failed to find any laughs.

The situation deteriorated from there, with Willis allegedly becoming unwilling to shoot multiple takes or take part in scenes when his fellow castmates were trying to improvise new dialogue for the film. "Good stuff came out of that," Smith revealed to NBC. "But there were definitely times when Willis would be like, 'Will you stop tagging up on the jokes? Let the scene end Kevin!'"

Smith found Willis uncooperative and difficult

Although Kevin Smith was somewhat complimentary to Bruce Willis while promoting "Cop Out," which is understandable, he has since spoken out about how disappointing it was to work with one of his heroes. In an interview with The New York Post, Smith detailed how he found Willis to be uncooperative on set. According to the director, Willis would stop filming scenes when he decided he was done, refuse to read his dialogue, and put in as little effort as possible.

Speaking on Marc Maron's "WTF Podcast" (via Slash Film), Smith further explained that he found working with Morgan a dream and that he was the only reason that he continued to make the movie due to how problematic Willis made the entire experience. "It was difficult. I've never been involved in a situation like that where one component is not in the box at all," Smith said. "It was f**kin' soul-crushing. I mean, a lot of people are gonna be like, 'Oh, you're just trying to blame the movie on him.' No, but I had no f**king help from this dude whatsoever."

Willis accused Smith of being unprofessional

The feud has not been entirely one-sided. While Kevin Smith has been the most vocal about the difficult working relationship he experienced with Bruce Willis, the actor has hit back occasionally. A representative for Willis told The Hollywood Reporter that Smith was unprofessional on set and didn't do enough to work with the actors or develop relationships with the cast and crew. "He smokes way too much pot," the source said of Smith. "He sat behind his monitor. He didn't interact with the actors. The actors felt they were on their own."

In the same article, Smith hit back, saying that his record proved that he wasn't the lazy director that the Willis' talent rep had portrayed him to be. Responding to the claims in an email to The Hollywood Reporter, Smith claimed that Willis simply did not want to communicate with him. "I dealt with every actor who wanted to be dealt with on that set," he said. "If I was smoking so much weed, how did I manage to not only bring the film in on schedule but under budget? If I was supposedly so stoned, how could I shoot all day and then edit the film myself all night?"

The two often clashed on set

After "Cop Out" hit cinema screens and promotion for the movie ended, more stories about the conflict between Kevin Smith and Bruce Willis emerged. From everything that has been said so far, it appears as if the pair frequently clashed on set and this hurt the movie. One example is when the two got into a heated argument when Willis demanded to know what lens Smith was using for a particular scene and the director was unable to tell him, prompting the actor to respond furiously.

One encounter almost ended in violence after Smith had disregarded advice from Willis about shooting a specific moment using different eyelines for the actors. A sarcastic remark by Smith led to Willis ordering everyone off the set and then angrily confronting him. According to Smith, the actor screamed at him before asking if the director wanted to punch him. "It was f**king insane," Smith told The New York Post. "I'd compare it to high school theatrics, but I'd never engaged in so petty and faux-macho a standoff in my teens. And worse? We were wasting time and money — just so this lion in winter could show me he still had teeth."

The actor missed the wrap party, causing more issues between the pair

The animosity between the pair had lasting effects even long after filming had completed. In an interview with Marc Maron on his "WTF Podcast" (via Uproxx), Smith revealed that Willis wouldn't take part in promoting the film and was unwilling even to have his photograph taken with Tracy Morgan for the poster of the film, prompting the marketing team to photoshop the actor into the image. Smith said, "One guy wouldn't even sit for a f**kin' poster shoot."

Rumors of the feud between the pair first emerged in 2009 before "Cop Out" had been released. According to the National Enquirer (via Digital Spy), the actor didn't show up to the wrap party. Smith made a toast at the event, saying, "I want to thank everyone who worked on the film, except for Bruce Willis ... who is a f**king d**k!" A spokesperson for Willis released a statement shortly afterward suggesting that Willis had no hard feelings and only missed the party because he was taking part in promoting another film at the time.

Willis later called Smith a whiner

For the most part, Bruce Willis was largely silent about the frosty relationship he had with Kevin Smith, while the director was willing to talk about the disputes between the pair at every opportunity. For example, Smith told Contactmusic (via Digital Spy) that "Bruce Willis is probably the most intimidating actor I've ever worked with. I find him — and I don't mean this in an insulting way — undirectable."

However, that doesn't mean that the actor has been completely silent on the quarrel. In 2013, Willis called Smith a whiner and suggested that the pair were not suited to each other. However, his comments also indicate that he doesn't hold too much hostility towards the director.

"Poor Kevin. He's just a whiner, you know?" Willis told Time Out (via Digital Spy). "We had some personal issues about how we approached work. I don't have an answer for him. I'm never going to call him out and lay him out in public. Sometimes you just don't get along."

The feud continued for several years

The feud is something that continued for many years, with Kevin Smith regularly speaking about his time working with Bruce Willis when asked by reporters and fellow podcasters about the experience. It makes sense, then, that the pair have not worked together since, with Smith also not being invited to the actor's Comedy Central roast.

2018 saw the network broadcast the "Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis." Like its other roasts, various comics, friends, and co-workers poked fun at Willis and spent most of the time mocking him. Guests included Edward Norton, Cybill Shepherd, and of course, Jeffrey Ross. Smith was absent from the line-up, however, and didn't take part in the show.

Responding on Twitter to a question about not being involved in the roast, Smith explained that he doesn't like to make fun of other people generally and was fine with not being invited even though the two worked together on two movies. Yet, he went on to say, "But it does kinda feel like a ... what's the term I'm looking for here? A cop-out."

Smith later apologized for his comments

In recent years, Kevin Smith has rolled back on his criticism of Bruce Willis. The catalyst for this change of heart appears to be the actor's diagnosis of aphasia and other health issues that forced him to retire from acting in 2022. The condition affects a person's cognitive functions and can make it difficult to communicate verbally and via reading and writing. Upon learning of Willis' health problems, Smith took to Twitter to apologize to the actor.

"Long before any of the 'Cop Out' stuff, I was a big Bruce Willis fan, so this is really heartbreaking to read," Smith said. "He loved to act and sing and the loss of that has to be devastating for him. I feel like an a**hole for my petty complaints from 2010. So sorry to [Bruce Willis] and his family."

Reports indicate that Willis had spoken to "Cop Out" co-writer Mark Cullen a few months before his retirement and acknowledged he had made some mistakes during the film's production and harbored no ill feelings toward Smith. Meanwhile, the director showed emotion while speaking at WonderCon shortly after the announcement when asked about the news by a fan, putting an end to the feud for good.