Q&A: Rumer Willis
Rumer Willis could have remained famous for being the scion of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, but successful stints on Dancing with the Stars and onstage in Chicago placed her well on her own path as a performer. Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen spoke with her in advance of her Nov. 4-5 tour-stop at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, where she explores her talents as a song stylist that led the New York Times to describe her as “a natural.”
This year you were in The Unauthorized Musical Parody of The Devil Wears Prada at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Angeles, and you completed several movies yet to be released including the film version of musical Hello Again, and What Lies Within is listed as still filming. Are you as busy at is sounds or is this schedule more manageable than it seems?
I’m definitely busy but I like working. I would rather be working than not.
Your Over the Love tour is 22 dates, with 18 of those shows in less than four weeks. That pace doesn’t seem uncharacteristic for you. It that natural, or are you pushing yourself extra hard to take advantage of the opportunities coming your way?
I don’t know if I’m necessarily pushing in any way that maybe I haven’t before, but I would say I’ve definitely found a second wind, or a first wind. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. I’m just excited to be able to have the opportunity to be able to showcase a different side of myself and a different aspect to my creative outlet.
Your energy level in clips from Dancing with the Stars leaps from the screen.
Your friend Joanna Jones with Baz: Star Crossed Love performed at the Smith Center’s Composer’s Showcase last week. Do you feel like you already have some sort of connection to Las Vegas’ performing arts center?
I think that’s kind of the beauty of every place. Whoever’s played before or come before you, I feel like they kind of leave a piece of themselves there. I used to perform in one of the shows, a different version (For the Record: Baz) with the same company in Los Angeles at a place called Rockwell and then at a place called the DBA. I’ve just kind been a part of that whole family for a while, and I know most of the cast.
You seemed pretty comfortable being on the red carpet for the Star Crossed Love opening, and being in Vegas. I saw you on Letterman being interviewed about how your dad taught you how to play craps.
(Laughs) Well, I spent my 21st birthday in Vegas.
You cover material made popular by artists such as Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lesley Gore and Nancy Sinatra in your show. What do they have in common that attracts you to them as singers, or song interpreters?
I always love picking songs by artists who sing songs like … people who are trying to tell a story with their lyrics and music, and they’re really trying to share a part of themselves, I guess I would say.
Was that a prime factor in the origin of the show, sharing a part of yourself?
Yes and no. I think it kind of came together … just, you know, I put a list of songs together and during the first round of it I realized what I wanted the show to be about. Even without thinking the show became a through-line about the story of love, something that everybody struggles with no matter where you’re from or what job you have, or how much money you have. Everybody struggles with love, or finding a relationship.
A critic for The New York Times wrote this about your cabaret performance: “The collective experiences of the songs she chose describe a sensitive young woman who has been so emotionally abused by her peers in the dating pool that she has turned to older men.” How do you feel about that statement, and do you think it’s the persona they are addressing and not Rumer Willis?
I don’t necessarily try to have a persona. The most important thing for me is to be honest when I’m onstage, and to be honest about what I’ve been through in my life. I’ve definitely been through quite a bit in my life, but I don’t ever look at it as being … or try at least now to not look at it as being a victim of the things that have happened to me. I try to look at it as an experience that shaped who I am, and hopefully even the bad stuff can help somebody else and what they’re going through, then it’s worth it.
Does the path to this begin with your two-year residency at the Sayer’s Club in Hollywood? What was that like?
I definitely have always wanted to do something like this, but I never even really thought it was possible. Then I had this moment after I did Chicago … my roommate and best friend was actually in the show with me. “Why don’t we do a cabaret show or something like that,” and then I ended up getting a show at the Café Carlyle. From there we said, “OK, if we did one show why don’t we try doing a few more, see if we could make that work.”
What does playing Carlyle Café mean to a performer? Was it a turning point for you as a singer?
Definitely. I feel like it changed my perception, I would say, of what I thought people would want to hear, in the scope of putting myself out there. I didn’t think there would still be people that would want to hear music like that.
How did you feel when you received that enthusiastic Times review?
Oh, I was ecstatic!
How did you form a relationship with musical director and pianist James Sampliner (Honeymoon in Vegas, Legally Blonde)?
We met through mutual friends. I was looking for someone who was really a leader to help figure out the show. He did the Café Carlyle but he’s actually not the musical director of the tour. We’ve had a guy named Christopher Bratton help us out a lot, but a guy named Will Herrington is going to be the musical director on the tour. Everyone in the band is a friend of mine, or someone I played in the band with in other shows.
What were rehearsals like, or is that about to happen?
We’ve been rehearsing a bunch, trying to refine the show so that it’s the best possible version it could be. I wouldn’t play with a group of people that I didn’t feel have the same kind of passion for music I do.
Your fans are exceptionally enthusiastic and supportive, which is understandable after watching the highlight reel of your 20 dances for Dancing with the Stars. Is it safe say your career can be divided into before DTWS and after, especially in the way you’ve been embraced by the public?
Yeah, I think the outpouring of support I got from DWTS was so incredible. I was in awe of people’s level of support and outreach, and outpouring of love for the story I was telling about sharing myself.
Your parents were there too, and were very supportive. It helped heighten the drama when the camera would cut to them. Was it different seeing your parents in the audience at DWTS than it was for Chicago?
That never changes for me. They’re just my parents, so when my family comes to support me it’s just like anybody else’s family coming to support them, you know?
Did DWTS get you all set up and in shape for Chicago?
Definitely. I don’t think I could have done Chicago if I didn’t have the training, the kind of rigor and routine of eight shows a week.
You have recording plans coming up, correct?
That’s the goal. It’s been on and off but I’m just trying to, like you said with my busy schedule, just try to find time to get my album done.
What the plan for working with Linda Perry? Have you written songs with her? Do you plan to in the future?
I do have a few songs written but the finished product is not done yet. Hoping that after the tour we can work on that a little bit more and kind of go from there.
Which of your upcoming films are you looking forward to the most, or should fans be looking forward too?
I hope that they’re looking forward to all of them (laughs). I do a lot of projects that I would want people to see. I don’t think many people do.
Well, you work on a lot of independent films that are on the festival circuit. Hello Again is a musical. That’s probably the one that has the best chance at wide release, right?
Yeah, I hope so. It’s such a great project and I think it would really be incredible.
The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, 7 p.m. Nov. 4-5, starting at $39 plus tax and fee. 702.749.2000