Bruce Willis tells Eileen Condon how a night on patrol increased his respect for the frontline New York city cops...

He's known for his hard-hitting action roles in movies such as Die Hard and Armageddon, but when actor Bruce Willis witnessed the aftermath of a real life shootout recently, he admits it shook him up.

"It was very disturbing," he says. "Nobody likes to see that. And the really depressing thing is it goes on every night. Maybe one or two things get reported, but today we're too busy going for the sensational in the news."

Bruce came across the grim scene while patrolling Brooklyn with real cop Detective Mike Keenan, as research for his latest movie 16 Blocks. He now really respects members of the New York City Police Department.

"I really wanted to get out there on that shift and see those guys work. I believe that for any job that requires you to possibly get shot dead, you should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

"Those guys get paid hardly anything, yet they still go out and do it. They are the last line between us and the wolves and the chaos that's out in the world. They should get paid a lot more money," he says.

Not only was the New Jersey-born star prepared to get his hands dirty on the street, he was also happy to transform from superstar to slob.

In the movie, Bruce plays Jack Mosley, a disillusioned detective with a drink problem, meaning his usually supertoned physique had to become a little more paunchy.

"It actually never said I had to be overweight in the script, but I know a lot of guys who are capable of drinking a bottle of Scotch a night and they're a little overweight. I think they call it booze weight," says Bruce with a wry smile.

"I thought it would help because Jack is the kind of guy who is hiding from himself. He used to be a good cop who took down a lot of bad guys. He's trying to numb that nagging feeling in the back of his mind that says you did something wrong. I was really intrigued by the opportunity to play a broken-spirited man on the brink of slipping into oblivion."

The film centres around Jack's seemingly simple assignment to take petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) from jail to a courthouse 16 blocks away to testify before a grand jury. The journey proves to be rather eventful and changes Jack's life.

The washed-up detective and Hollywood superstar couldn't appear more different on the surface, but Bruce insists he has plenty in common with his character, especially his anger at the world.

"I don't like the world right now. There's such chaos," he says, shaking his head.

"I personally feel that it seems like the world is out of control and we can't affect the politicians. We can't get the lobbyists out of Washington. We have no connection with our senators and congressmen. They don't give a shit about us. They're just up there. It seems like their job is to do nothing and give the appearance of doing something."

Despite his staunch political views, Bruce says he's not planning a career in the White House.

"It's been stated that I'm a Republican. But I'm a Republican only as far as I want a smaller government, less government intrusion and for them to stop wasting my money," he laughs.

"There's billions and billions of dollars that are just being wasted. I hate government."

Instead, the talented star intends to focus on his acting, which is going very well at the moment. After a minor career slump in the mid-90s, the past few years have seen the star back on top with a run of box office smashes including Sixth Sense, Hostage and Sin City.

Bruce thinks he's not only in better shape than ever at 51, but also in his acting prime.

"I knew when I was in my 30s that by the time I got into my 40s and late 40s, I would know so much more about life and have lived more life," he says.

"I always thought my best work would come in the years 40-60, if I was fortunate to hang around. There are so many more better parts now, and much cooler things to be able to do."

The other thing guaranteed to lighten up the sometimes grumpy older man demeanour is the mention of his kids. Besotted dad Bruce has three daughters, Rumer, 17, Scout, 14 and 12-year-old Tallulah by his ex-wife actress Demi Moore and says fatherhood transformed his life.

"Before I had kids, I was just thinking of myself. I was all me - my world. When I had my first daughter, who's now a young woman, it was like, 'Oh my God'," he laughs.

"Who cares about anything else? I love being a dad. I know there are a lot of men who don't take care of the babies they bring into the world and I just don't get that."

You can only hope they don't cross the path of the rather angry Bruce Willis right now.

* 16 Blocks opens on Friday