Filmmaker Edward Drake on the essence of his action-hero muse Bruce Willis

Detective Knight: Independence director discusses the superstar's final string of films after his retirement

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Actor Bruce Willis has made his last outing as detective James Knight in the third and final instalment of Detective Knight: Independence.

Following the events of both Detective Knight: Rogue and Detective Knight: Redemption, Independence has Knight trying to find and stop Dezi (Jack Kilmer), an unbalanced emergency medical technician who has taken to impersonating a police officer to rob banks. Things become even more drastic for Knight when he discoveres that Dezi plans to blow up his family home.

Edward Drake, who has written and directed all three films, says that Independence, which has just hit cinema screens, is the perfect conclusion, not only to the Detective Knight trilogy, but to Willis’s career. In March last year, the star's family announced he had been diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder caused by damage in the area of the brain that controls language and comprehension, and that he was retiring from acting.

“We go out with a bang, literally,” Drake tells The National. He adds that Willis’s performances as Die Hard’s John McClane and The Last Boy Scout’s Joe Hallenbeck heavily inspired Knight’s arc.

Scroll through photos of Drake and Willis together on set below

“We had an opportunity to revisit the forces that have created Bruce’s characters that audiences have fallen in love with over the years. With Independence, we wanted to address all of the forces that created these characters.”

With Independence, Drake also wanted to look at the potential negative impact of these characters.

Independence is a neo-revisionist history of how Bruce Willis’s career has influenced the antagonist,” explains Drake. “Because of Bruce’s career as one of cinema’s greatest renegade cops, we wanted to explore if cowboy cops should be rewarded. That’s something that directly inspires the antagonist of this film.”

With the Detective Knight trilogy, Drake was also influenced by the manner in which television series “develop an arc for their characters,” which he used to explore Knight in a more probing manner.

“This was an opportunity to shoot something that was episodic in nature, but also showed growth. You can independently watch each film as a contained story. But they each show how Knight ticks in different ways. If you revisit each film, there's a lot more context, naturally, that will actually change your point of view on why he chooses to disregard the laws of man in pursuit of his idea of justice.”

Detective Knight: Independence is the ninth film in two years in which Drake has directed Willis. Considering the actor's condition, Drake says his safety was the number priority while shooting all of these movies.

“We were very cognisant of creating a safe work environment for everyone. Bruce was aware of that. His team were aware of that. The crew understood that we were working with someone who, in order to deliver his best, needed certain conditions to perform under.

"We had to tweak the ways we normally shoot a film to accommodate what he was going through. I asked him many times, ‘Do you want to be here? Do you want to be making this movie? He always said, ‘Yes.’ I was always reminded that he's a movie star. Movie stars do not do what they do not want to do. Never in my mind did I even think or feel that he never wanted to be on set. He absolutely did.”

Working so closely with Willis on films including Cosmic Sin, American Siege, Gasoline Alley and Paradise City allowed Drake to see first-hand why he has remained one of the most powerful movie stars of the past 50 years.

For Drake, Willis’s innate “magnetism and charisma” are the main reasons for the thespian's enduring popularity. “What Bruce is able to do with a single look, 90 per cent of TV actors couldn’t communicate with two hours' worth of monologues.”

Director Edward Drake says Willis can say more with a single look than most actors could say in hours of dialogue. Photo: Lionsgate

More than that, though, Willis was able to ground action movies with an “everyday quality that is both physical and personal,” all of which he underscored with a “natural effervescence.”

“No one does it better than Bruce. He’s a movie star’s movie star. Someone pointed out to me the other day that he’s touched on every genre, he’s worked with all the greats, and his movies are responsible for so many magical moments in movie history. Not just Die Hard, but look at The Fifth Element, Pulp Fiction and Unbreakable, too. He’s just brought so much joy to the world.”

What really struck Drake about Willis, though, is how normal he was. Both he and Willis, he says, appreciated the importance of being respectful to everyone involved in production — and this is why he wanted to keep working with him.

This was especially impressive because the production of these films was incredibly short. Gasoline Alley was shot in a mere 10 days, while filming for American Siege lasted only eight.

“We both wanted to make a certain kind of film. Bruce was at a point in his life where he just wanted to play certain roles,” explains Drake.

“We might have been at different points in our careers. But there was an openness to our communication. Ultimately, we got to make some movies, have some incredible adventures and blow up a few cars along the way.”

Detective Knight: Independence is out now in UAE cinemas

Updated: January 23, 2023, 12:16 PM