Bruce Willis :: Still a ’Die Hard’ After 25 Years
A Good Day to Die Hard is the fifth adventure of John McClane, the cop who took on a dozen terrorists all by himself in the 1988 classic "Die Hard." In that film, he fought off East German terrorist in Los Angeles. In the three subsequent sequels McClane has saved Dulles International Airport from insurgents ("Die Hard 2: Die Harder"); track down a terrorist bomber in New York City ("Die Hard with a Vengeance"); and deal with cyber-terrorists in the post 9/11 world ("Live Free or Die Hard.")
Throughout the series, McClane has been played by one actor - Bruce Willis. That first film turned the television star ("Moonlighting") into a blockbuster action hero; in the 25-subsequent years, Willis shows no signs of slowing down. (No Low-T endorsements for him!). His success with the iconic role has as much to do with his ability to both connect with audiences and confound them over the years.
"I think that over the past 25 years, there’s been a certain amount of good will that has been visited on these films that the character and the characters engender," he said. "People root for you. People want to see you because you know someone like me. Somebody that thinks he’s too smart. Somebody who thinks he has everything figured out when, in truth, he doesn’t have anything figured out. But no one here and no one on Earth really has everything figured out. It’s fun to watch people try to figure it out and get out of each others way."
Being a dad
Each "Die Hard" film has had a different director. Only John McTiernan made two, the original and the third film, "Die Hard with a Vengeance." The latest, A Good Day to Die Hard is directed by John Moore, this time sending McClane on a thrilling ride through the streets and landmarks of Russia.
"John Moore and his team make it so harrowing," Willis continued. "That car chase and the stunts that we did. It’s the same effect of going to an amusement park. It’s like going on a roller coaster. You really know your not going to fall off the roller coaster but it sure seems like your gonna go flying out of the car. These films are like big entertainment roller coasters. That’s the goal anyways. That’s my goal."
One of the benefits of lasting two and a half decades is that John McClane can now have grown-up children. His daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joined the adventure in "Live Free or Die Hard." Now McClane goes to Moscow to reunite with his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney). Fatherhood is now something else McClane and Willis have in common.
"It’s my favorite job, being a father," Willis said. "I have four girls now. They’re a captive audience. They can’t really run away from you even if they don’t like your jokes. I just enjoy it. I love making my kids laugh and I still do the dumbest things in the world to make them laugh. I do that with my youngest daughter now. In the films, being a dad is part of the concept; but in real life want to get them ready for the world. To have them grow up to be women with good morals and good intentions. But I never knew until they got older that I was having any impact on them."
While Willis is heavily involved with his real life children. McClane hasn’t seen Jack in three years. "It’s not in the film because somehow it got scratched, but the reason my son Jack and I have such a conflicted relationship is because when he was 15 he set South Philadelphia on fire. You don’t hear about those things in the film... We really did not have a very good relationship from the time he set Philadelphia on fire until the time I see him in this film. I thought he was a gangster and in trouble in Moscow. Regardless of my feelings for him as a child, it seemed like the right thing to do to go and try to help him. This film was much more germane to the ’Die Hard’ franchise in that it has to do with family and family conflict. That’s always been a high ticket number with ’Die Hard.’ In this case, I was fighting with my son, Jai Courtney. So that’s why we did this film."
Watching McClane and son unite to get the bad guys gives this "Die Hard" a twist on the four predecessors. That, and moving the action abroad gave Willis the confidence to embark on a fifth film in the series.
"Moscow was really built for a couple of fish-out-of-water like us. I can’t imagine a bigger ocean of non-communication than Eastern Europe and Russia. I think we were all excited about the idea of getting out of the United States and having the film be more international. So we gave Jack a job that is pretty obscure and undercover. It just made a lot of sense. I don’t speak any other languages really. We got a couple jokes out of that. It just opens it up. I like seeing myself not be able to figure things out. Not being able to figure out how the car works. Not being able to figure out what someone is saying to me. I can hardly understand English."
Not slowing down
As an action hero, Willis hasn’t seemed to slow down at all in the past 25 years. Just last year he starred in "Looper," as the older version of hired assassin Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He also joined The "Expendables 2" on their mission. Later this year "Red 2" hits theaters; but before that he joins the forces of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation. "Willis says there’s only one difference between making action movies at 57 than there was at 32.
"It’s a very simple difference. I get up a little slower from the ground after I’ve fallen into something, [like] that dumpster I fell into. But yeah, it’s okay. I’m doing alright. I’m here today. And we have really highly technical stunt personnel who keep us safe even though it looks like we’ve leapt out of the 110th floor of the Hotel Ukraina. We’re okay. It’s okay really. They keep us safe."
John McClane’s signature line has become so well known it’s been part of the marketing of the last two "Die Hard" sequels, even though it contains a word you can’t print. "Yippee ki-yay, motherf***er" is what McClane says to the bad guys in each film. On the posters for "A Good Day to Die Hard," it is paraphrased "Yippee ki-yay, Mother Russia." Willis recalled when he first said it in "Die Hard."
"It was an ad-lib. Alan Rickman was such a good bad guy. He was constantly picking on me. He said something to me and I just happen to let that line slip out and it just became part of the fabric of the film. Now when we say it, it always comes at a moment of high danger. It’s just amazing to me that the line has lasted this long. Kids say it to me on the street. Grandmoms. It’s a little awkward. But I’m happy that they say it. Football players. Basketball players."
No compete clause
Part of the reason for Willis’s enduring career has been his range as an actor. As successful as his "Die Hards" or "Armageddons" have been, he’s also been a successful dramatic actor ("Pulp Fiction," "The Sixth Sense") and comedian ("Moonlighting," "The Whole Nine Yards.") That may make Willis more durable than the Stallones and Schwarzeneggers of the world, both of whom had new movies underperform in the last month. That said, Willis doesn’t think about the competition.
"I don’t compete with anyone," he said. "I compete with myself. I just try to improve my work and try to better than I did the last time. So I’m not really competing with "Moonrise Kingdom" or "Looper" or any other film. I just try to make it look like I believe what I’m saying in the film and that I really feel hatred, or love for my son. I wish everyone well. I’m still a big film fan. I still go to see films. I go to see other action films and I go to see comedies and all kinds of weird things. There is no competition."
Willis has now said there will be a sixth "Die Hard," which could possibly extend the series into a third decade. He never could have imagined that when he made the original.
"I’ve been talking about this the last couple days about how does it feel to be in a film that has stretched over 25 years, but you can only see that from the end of it. No one ever knew at the beginning that we were gonna be doing five of these films. It’s a strange, great honor to be able to still be able to run down the street and do what we do, and make it look fun and scary some times and interesting and still have the core of the character in there."
A Good Day to Die Hard opens Thursday, February 14.