Turning 50 is no big deal for actor Bruce Willis. Although the Hollywood action man isn't as high profile as in his Die Hard days, he's still in demand and his new movie, Hostage, opened in cinemas this week. He talks to Steve Pratt.

Happy birthday, Bruce Willis. The Hollywood action man reaches the ripe old age of 50 on Friday. And, if his Hollywood career isn't quite as high profile as in his Die Hard heyday, he won't let it spoil the celebrations.

He's still in demand to headlines films - his latest thriller Hostage opened in British cinemas this week - and finds plenty of work in lower budget, less mainstream pictures.

"Fifty is the new 40," he insists, revealing that his birthday bash isn't going to be a surprise but that the musical guests are. His wish list includes Tony Bennett, Nora Jones and our very own Tom Jones, who performed at his 40th party.

A bit of a singer himself, whose recording of Respect Yourself reached number five in the charts in 1987, he'll probably give guests a number or two himself. "They'll have to twist my arm," he says, with a grin that suggests they'll have trouble stopping him taking the microphone.

He doesn't want any presents. "It's what I say every Christmas, as I now have three of everything on earth please don't send me any gifts, make a donation to the Foster Care Foundation," he says.

"I started it last spring because it didn't exist. You'd have thought there would've been some sort of programme to help these kids. It provides scholarships so they can go to college."

One person we can be sure won't be receiving an invitation to the party is actress Cybill Shepherd, with whom he starred in Moonlighting, the TV series that made his name. On screen, they played sparring private detectives. Off-screen, they weren't the best of friends.

Shepherd has hinted she'd like to return to Moonlighting but Willis is less keen. "I don't watch television - just movies and sports - but I'm told that every time she's on a talk show she looks at the camera and says, 'I would love to do a reunion show and a movie' and I just don't think it's going to happen," he says.

'In jest," he says with a smile, "here is the order it would go in before I would get to the Moonlighting reunion show - I would become a judge on American Idol, I would be the centre square on Hollywood Squares, then I would do Moonlighting. I'm just kidding.

"If she was here now, I would give her a big hug and ask, 'how are you doing?'. It was a pretty good show for its time and I would rather leave it alone. The good news is that the first few years are coming out on DVD this summer."

Willis has good reason to be thankful to Moonlighting for launching his career. "I got an agent in New York because of the off-Broadway play I'd done and my second audition was for Moonlighting," he recalls. "I was not usual leading man material and it took time to convince them I was right for the part."

He went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest movie stars but, like contemporaries Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, suffered when blockbuster action films went out of fashion. There is talk now of making Die Hard 4, in which case he'd have to return to the gym to get in shape.

He claims not to work out regularly, although he looks fit enough without his shirt in Hostage. He only works out now for the movies.

The scene in which his policeman has to strip to his boxers to prove to the bad guys he's not armed was the most demanding scene from a vanity point of view. "I had to go and work out to look in shape," he says.

After Hostage, he made a film called Sin City in which he had to be completely naked. "It was shot tastefully, so the good parts you won't be seeing. As soon as that scene was shot, I stopped working out," he says.

Making Hostage appealed because, although there's some action in it, it was more of a psychological thriller than what industry people would label a Bruce Willis movie. "Because of the success of a couple of films I've done, Die Hard and Armageddon, I've saved the world five or six times now. Audiences have started expecting me to win and save the day," he says.

"Hostage was about a guy who didn't look like he was going to win. We worked very hard at constructing a story that had multiple obstacles, physically and emotionally, and right until the very end it looks like I wasn't going to succeed."

One of his co-stars helps keep it in the family - his 16-year-old daughter Rumer, one of three daughters he had with ex-wife Demi Moore. It was Rumer's idea to be in Hostage, although her proud dad insisted that she auditioned for the role. "She's a tough little kid and has some acting chops. I left her alone, I didn't want to direct her, she brought ideas to it. She didn't overact or push anything. She knew less was more," he says.

Willis admits that having his own daughter playing his screen daughter, who's held hostage with her mother, helped him reach "some places emotionally that I might not have been able to do if I was working with another actress who wasn't my daughter".

He adds: "All I had to do was think about any of my kids being held hostage. It's an emotional movie and anyone with kids can relate to having one of their kids snatched. Not only that, but would you sacrifice another family to save your own?."

Reaching 50 is a good time to assess how his career's going. "This year marks the 20th anniversary of Moonlighting which kicked all this off," he reflects.

"Twenty years is a long time to be famous and still get to be asked to be in big juicy Hollywood films and little independent films. I still love acting and still think I'm learning how to act. I always said my best work would come in the years between 40 and 60 if I was fortunate enough to hang around."

What he doesn't like is the whole Hollywood hoopla surrounding fame and celebrity. He's experienced it first-hand, most notably during the break-up of his marriage to Demi Moore.

"Ten or 12 years ago the tabloid media took a look around and saw no-one was going to stop them from doing what they wanted to do. It got so much more venal and voracious," he says.

"The situation in Los Angeles is similar to the one in which Princess Diana lost her life. It happens all the time, not that people lose their lives but I've seen near misses and car accidents all the time.

"The paparazzi are out of their minds. They're organised, there are no boundaries whatsoever. I wish it was otherwise. I hate to say these words but it might take an innocent person being killed to say, 'you guys have gone too far'."

The way the movie industry has changed worries him too. "Heads of studios were creative people, now the people who run them are accountants and run them as a business," he says. "I certainly miss the old days when there were creative people running the studios."

He points to the difficulty that Clint Eastwood had getting his Oscar-winner Billion Dollar Baby in front of the cameras.

"It should have been easier to get that film made but there's a fear in Hollywood that I've only seen in the last five years. The studios are afraid to take risks on creativity."

* Hostage (15) is now showing in cinemas.