”The Green Mile”’s Michael Clarke Duncan received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod on Tuesday for his role as Tom Hanks’ gentle giant death-row prisoner, John Coffey. If Duncan wins on March 26, listen up for his thank-you list. ”I haven’t thought of an Oscar speech yet, but if I do I will mention Bruce Willis,” says the 6’5”, 315 lb. actor. ”You could say he’s my angel.”
Willis earned his wings while working with Duncan on ”Armageddon” in Orlando. A fan of Stephen King’s ”The Green Mile” book series, Willis realized his hulking costar was custom-made for the movie adaptation, which was already gearing up for production. ”He said, ‘I want you to go buy this book, read it, and when we get back to Los Angeles I will call [director] Frank Darabont for you and tell him I have found John Coffey,”’ Duncan says.
The fledgling actor, who had small parts in ”Bulworth” and ”The Player’s Club,” initially resisted tackling a ”heavy piece,” but Willis assured him he had the chops for the role. Darabont wasn’t convinced. ”Maybe he was nervous in the reading, but I wasn’t entirely sure when I first met him,” says the director. ”Still, there was something about his soul I couldn’t let go of, and I kept coming back to him even as we auditioned other actors.”
Though Darabont finally cast Duncan, he hired an acting coach to work with him. ”In the final analysis, it doesn’t seem like he needed it,” he laughs. ”Once the cameras started rolling, he was transformed, and to this day I don’t know where it came from.” And Willis? ”He was our yenta,” says Darabont, ”our matchmaker — bless his heart.”