Rumer Willis is trying to ignore her phone, which has begun purring in her handbag. She’s at a West Hollywood watering hole, describing the party her parents threw for her 21st birthday two days earlier in Las Vegas — the one with the red carpet and the famous people to go with it, including her father, Bruce Willis, her mother, Demi Moore, and her stepdad, Ashton Kutcher. ”I was probably the most tame one in the crowd,” she says. ”I was just so nervous about throwing up that I didn’t want to drink that much.” Finally, Willis fishes out her cell phone. ”It’s my mom,” she says. She places the phone to her ear, explains that she’s busy, exchanges I-love-you’s, and hangs up. Suddenly, she’s mortified: ”Now I’m that girl — the one who’s always saying, ‘Sorry! Gotta get this!”’
Last we checked, taking a call from Mom was not a punishable offense. But Willis is sensitive about how she comes across. She is one of the very few actors in Hollywood history who have had to dodge the shadows of three famous parents, a task made more difficult by Moore’s and Kutcher’s ubiquitous tweets. So far, Willis has been carving out a quirky niche for herself, playing kooky misfits. Last year, she was a back-brace-wearing dork in The House Bunny. Next week, she’ll play a bespectacled nerd in Sorority Row, a horror flick about mean-girl coeds targeted by a serial killer who uses a tire iron to impale them. But even if Willis’ career has been pretty low-profile, there’s no way around the fact that she simply bugs the hell out of some people.
Why? If your parents are famous, everyone assumes your life is one long party in Vegas. ”Because of how I grew up, I knew I would be treated a little differently,” says Willis, who spent her childhood bouncing between her parents’ movie sets and the family’s home base in Idaho. ”Everybody has an opinion, but I don’t have to let that play a part in the way I lead my life.” While her two younger sisters — Scout, 18, and Tallulah, 15 — have yet to make the leap into full-time showbiz careers, Rumer has been acting since age 6, when she was cast as Moore’s daughter in 1995’s Now and Then and 1996’s Striptease. Okay, so there might have been some nepotism involved in landing those roles. But these days, Willis has been taking a stab at financial independence. She’s supported herself since leaving USC to pursue acting, working retail at a clothing store for money until she made The House Bunny. Next, she’s lined up a recurring role on The CW’s 90210, as a lesbian writer on the school newspaper.
Still, tabloid reporters and bloggers — particularly Perez Hilton — love to make merry at Willis’ expense. ”I just don’t like how she’s achieved fame,” says Hilton, who adds that he thinks she’s entitled, lazy, and ”famous for being famous.” But Willis generally goes to great lengths to prove she’s not a princess. ”She puts a lot of energy into reversing that expectation, almost to the point of ridiculousness,” says Sorority Row director Stewart Hendler. ”For example, she would carry her chair from set to set. I was like, ‘Sweetie, there are people for that. I need you to act.”’