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M. Night Shyamalan Praises ‘Big Brother’ Bruce Willis in Wake of Aphasia Diagnosis

Photo Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images

Horror director M. Night Shyamalan is opening up about his close friendship with Bruce Willis in the wake of the actor’s aphasia diagnosis. Shyamalan praised Willis for his career and for helping him feel “protected,” and he also likened him to a “big brother.”

Willis and Shyamalan grew close despite vastly different upbringings

Willis and Shyamalan have worked together on multiple movies, including some of Shyamalan’s early works like The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000). The Unbreakable franchise has grown into two sequels, 2016’s Split and 2019’s Glass. Shyamalan has long been a fan of Willis, telling The Hollywood Reporter about having “his posters up on my wall, and only he could play that character in Pulp Fiction or Die Hard.”

Bruce Willis in 2018
Bruce Willis attends an event in 2018. (Photo Credit: Rich Fury / Getty Images)

Despite having very different backgrounds, Willis, Shyamalan, and their families have remained close over the years. Willis was born in 1955 in West Germany, where his father was stationed with the US military. After returning to America, Willis’ father entered the workforce as a hardworking, blue-collar man – the type of character Willis often portrays in his films. After completing high school and attending two years of drama school, Willis worked as a security guard before dropping out and moving to New York City to pursue an acting career.

He starred in small off-Broadway roles throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s until he landed roles in the romantic comedies Moonlighting and Blind Date. He married actress Demi Moore in 1987, and the following year he starred in his most defining role as hardened ex-cop turned family man John McClane in Die Hard. Willis went on to star in a myriad of action and comedy films until his recent retirement from acting in 2022.

M. Night Shyamalan in 2015
Director M. Night Shyamalan attends an event in 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo Credit: Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic / Getty Images)

Shyamalan was born in India in 1970 and his family moved to the United States shortly after. By the time he had completed high school, Shyamalan had created 45 home movies. After studying film at NYU he released his first film, Wide Awake (1998), which didn’t perform as well as he had hoped. The following year, he became an overnight success with The Sixth Sense – starring Bruce Willis – setting the stage for his specific brand of psychological thrillers that explore supernatural themes.

Shyamalan says Willis ‘protected’ him

Shyamalan recently opened up about how Willis supported and inspired him as a young filmmaker. “He’s the one that took the big risk on me and protected me,” he explained. He also praised Willis for being a “true movie star” with the “electric charm of this blue-collar, great-looking guy.” He added that Willis “could take over a room with his humor and his charm, and that’s what he could imbue into his characters.”

Behind the scenes photo of Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan
Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan share a laugh between takes while filming The Sixth Sense. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Zayne / MovieStillsDB)

“Bruce and I have actually stayed in touch,” Shyamalan said in a 2020 interview, “and our families have stayed close. So, we’ve stayed in touch and he’s always been the big brother in my life… since I was a little kid, you know.”

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Willis received an outpouring of support after he announced his retirement from acting due to a debilitating neurological diagnosis, aphasia, which affects a person’s ability to speak, hear, read, and write.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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