Bruce Willis helped Michael Clarke Duncan get his Oscar caliber role
Duncan, far right, and Willis, second from left, are seen here at a 2010 event. (Photo: Andrew H. Walker)
In 2000, Duncan appeared on "Larry King Live" alongside Willis to promote their film "The Whole Nine Yards." When prompted, Duncan talked about one of his jobs prior to acting -- digging ditches for the gas company in Chicago. It was something he always saw as temporary until he became an actor. "It was hard work. The guys used to call me 'Hollywood' because they didn't think I was ever going to make it," Duncan said. "The big joke was that they would always call and I'd be like six feet below the surface of the earth on this big main [pipe] getting all this dirt from around. They'd say, 'Hey Big Mike, Bruce Willis is on line two, he wants you to do a movie.' And everybody would crack up, and I'd just sit there and I said, 'You know what, one day you guys are going to have to pay at least $8 to see this face.' And here I am [points to Willis] sitting beside him."
Yes, Duncan did eventually move to Hollywood, first working as a bodyguard for the likes of Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-plus pound Chicago native took on small television roles then got his big break in 1998's "Armageddon" -- where he first worked with Willis. The film's director, Michael Bay, paid tribute to Duncan on his website, describing the actor he hired to play Bear. Bay said Duncan wasn't a natural born actor at first: "I remember looking to Ben Affleck and thinking we might need to fire him. But I told him 'Mike, I hired you for you, I want the sweet, Mr Clarke Duncan I met in that room'. I said, 'the audience is going to fall in love with you'. He looked and smiled with [his] deep voice and said 'Ok'. From then on out he became the most improved actor on the set. That was the award he got at the end of the film. Everyone loved him, his infectious spirit and great belly laugh."
(Photo: Castle Rock)
The 1999 film, also starring Tom Hanks, went on to gain four Oscar nominations, one of which was a best supporting actor nomination for Duncan. When he got news of his nomination, Duncan was so excited that he claimed he could have fought Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and the Rock. When a reporter suggested he could do that anyway, he replied, "Not all at the same time, man." Duncan, who had described his "Green Mile" role to the New York Times as 'a gift from God,' was also nominated for a Golden Globe the same year.