It’s kind of strange to see Bruce Willis playing a 25 year old when he’s actually almost 60. It’s not strange when the 25 year old in question is action movie icon John McClane. From blowing up portions of skyscrapers and airports to half of New York City and hanging of a fighter jet, Willis has spent the last quarter of a century or so playing one of the world’s most recognizable, catch-phrase spewing, action heroes as the face of the Die Hard franchise.
Despite appearing in the fifth instalment in the thus far successful series of blockbusters, A Good Day to Die Hard (which finds Jersey Boy McClane heading to Russia to bail his now grown up son out of a tight spot), the actor certainly hasn’t slowed down and his successes last year in both Moonrise Kingdom and Looper have kept him in the spotlight outside of his tougher talking persona.
During a recent press junket, Willis talked about the history of John McClane, moving the action to Russia, being a father himself as opposed to an onscreen dad, the physicality of the movies, and that special catchphrase everyone knows and loves.
Live Free or Die Hard was six years ago now, so what made now seem like the right time to come back?
Bruce Willis: We only do another Die Hard when they have another really complicated title that no one quite understands. (laughs) We had JUST gotten to where we thought we might understand Live Free or Die Hard, and now we have A Good Day to Die Hard which, I have to be honest with you, I’m still pretty baffled by that. But it’s a good movie. They’re both good movies
We have to come up with a story. That’s what triggers another film. This film was much more germane to the Die Hard franchise, and that has to do with family and family conflict, and that’s always been a high ticket number with Die Hard. In this case I’m fighting with my son, Jai Courtney, and I have to tell you this because it’s not in the film and somehow it got scratched, but why my son Jack and I have such a conflicted relationship is because when he was 15 years old he set South Philadelphia on fire, and you don’t hear that in the film. I guess it was a little too SHOCKING. So that’s why we did this film. (laughs) I’m not sure if I answered your question, but it’s a complicated and long process to get one of these films up off the ground.
After 25 years what have you come to learn about John McClane as a character?
BW: Over the past 25 years there’s been a certain amount of good will that’s sort of been visited on these films. The character and the characters are the people you want to root for; people like me, people who think they’re too smart or they think they have everything figured out, when they really don’t have anything figured out. Now we have my son who also thinks he knows everything, but no one here on Earth really has everything figured out, and it’s fun to watch people try to figure it all out and get out of each other’s way. Along the way John Moore and his team make it so harrowing with the chases and the stunts that it’s like the same effect of going on a rollercoaster. You know you’re not going to fall off the rollercoaster, but it sure seems like you’re gonna go flying out of the car. These films are like big entertainment rollecroasters, or at least that’s what the intent is.
I’ve been talking about this a lot over the past few days as to what it means to be in a franchise like this for over 25 years, but you can only really see that from the end of it. No one ever knew at the beginning that we would be doing five of these films. It’s a strange, great honour to still be running down the street and doing what we do and being fun and scary and interesting and still have the core of the character in this one.
After all this time, McClane has become solidified as one of the best big screen characters of all time, and he has this great character arc where he’s been separated, divorced, and alcoholic, a cop, not a cop, and now in the last two films someone trying to connect with his kids. What’s it like as an actor getting to do all of that with a character over a long period of time?
BW: That stretch of time is a pretty large one, and it’s hard to compress that into a few sentences. I remember every film and everything we did and where we were, and it is a life in itself. 25 years is a life in itself, and I have really good memories of it all. I really do.
And as crazy as it is and as crazy as they continue to try and make these films there aren’t many injuries, no one really gets hurt, and I have a warm place in my heart for Die Hard. And thank you for liking it because I really like it, too.
Now that John is trying to reconnect with his kids, how do you draw on that and alter the character as a father himself?
BW: Ah, well, that’s my favourite job. I have four girls now and they’re a pretty captive audience, you know. They can’t run away from you even if they don’t like your jokes. (laughs) And I still love doing that. I love to make my kids laugh, and I still do the dumbest things possible to make ‘em laugh. I do that with my youngest daughter now. One is a film concept, and the other is real life where you’re trying to get them ready to go out into the world and grow up to be women that have good morals and good intentions and are nice people and are kind, and I never knew until they got older that I was having any impact on them, really.
I think it’s good that we’re talking about that because I think I was mostly just an okay dad for most of my life with the character, and we really set some obstacles for ourselves to the point where we see him in this film. I thought he was a gangster and in much worse trouble than I thought he would be in over in Moscow. Regardless of my feelings of what I thought of him as a child, it made sense for the character to kind of go to Moscow and help him.
McClane has always been a fish out of water character, but what was it like bringing him to Moscow this time?
BW: Well, 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 Easter Europe and Russia. I think we were all excited about the idea of getting out of the United States and having it feel more international, so we gave my son a job that was pretty obscure and undercover. I don’t speak any of the languages, really. We got a couple jokes out of that. It just opens it up, and I like seeing myself having to figure something out. I like seeing myself not being able to figure out how the car works or not understand what someone is trying to say to me. I mean, I can hardly understand English, so to try and shoot in Moscow brought that along.
The stunt work that you have to do is still pretty intense. You still look like you’re in pretty good shape, but what’s the difference between now and when you first?
BW: Well the difference between trying to be fit and actually being fit is actually like the difference between life and death. (pauses) I’m just kidding. I made that up. (laughs) There is no life and death in Die Hard, only life. We have a lot pf really well trained stunt people who carry out everything and keep us safe. And even though it looks like we just lept out of the 110th floor of the Hotel Ukraina, we’re okay. Jai (Courteny) not so much. Apparently he’s still hearing some ringing in one of his ears. But it’s okay really. They keep us safe.
But to answer your question, no. There’s not a tremendous difference. It’s a very simple difference. I get up a little slower after I fall into something. But yeah, it’s okay. I’m doing alright. I’m here today. (laughs) On the last one, though, I got kicked in the head at some point and I had to go and get some stitches, but I hardly ever really bleed.
Why do you think that of the films in this particular genre that yours has been able to stick around the longest?
BW: I think that those kind of questions are what you guys do and that’s how you earn your living. You come up with these kinds of questions where you ask why this thing works or this thing doesn’t work. I have had the opportunity lately to think about these things in terms of action movies and how they compare or compete with each other, but I have come to this understanding: I don’t compete with anyone. I compete with myself, and I just try to improve my work and just try to do better than I did the last time. 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 and that the emotion is true. I wish everyone well. I still am a big film fan and I still go to see them. I go to see action films and comedies and all kinds of weird things. There is no competition.
Is “yippie kay yay” always in the script or do you have to figure out where to put it yourself? And was that line something that was scripted back in the first film?
BW: That was an adlib. Alan Rickman was such a good bad guy – because he was constantly picking on me (laughs) – and he said something to me and I just had to let that line slip out and it just became a part of the fabric of the film.
Now when we say it… John had an idea that we should say it right away and get it out of the way and that wasn’t really working, but it always comes at a moment of high, high danger. But it’s just amazing to me that this line has lasted that long. (laughs) Kids say it to me on the street. Grandmoms… That’s a little awkward. But I’m glad that they all say it!