We met A Good Day to Die Hard star Bruce Willis to talk about the Die Hard franchise and how after 25 years, the public still cannot get enough of the wise-cracking John McClane.
We wondered what is the biggest difference between Willis’ work on Die Hard in 1986 and A Good Day to Die Hard?
“I get up a little slower from the ground after I’ve fallen into something – that dumpster I fell into,” Willis said and laughed. “But, it’s okay. I’m doing alright. I’m here today!”
Willis is clearly a fan of his franchise, but is even more passionate about its ability to work the words Die Hard into the title.
“We only do another Die Hard when they have another really complicated title that no one quite understands. We had just gotten to where we understand Live Free or Die Hard and then now we have A Good Day to Die Hard which, I have to be honest with you, I’m a little baffled still by that one,” Willis said and chuckled. “But it’s a good movie and they’re both good movies.”
The superstar, who recently had the honor of unveiling the Die Hard mural on the 20th Century Fox lot, said that the key to making five movies in 25 years… it all starts with the story. “That’s the thing that triggers another film,” Willis admitted.
He believes that A Good Day to Die Hard is unique in the franchise canon. “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, played by Jai Courtney,” Willis said.
As teased in the A Good Day to Die Hard trailer, the father and son dynamics are as explosive as anything detonated in the entire series. “I have to tell you because it’s not in the film -- somehow it got scratched -- but why my son Jack and I have such a conflicted relationship is because when he was fifteen years old he set South Philadelphia on fire!”
What Willis treasures most about being McClane for over two decades is the good will that is placed on him, due to playing that iconic action hero. “People root for you. People wanna 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,” Willis admitted.
What’s so magical about A Good Day to Die Hard is the audience gets to see that the apple does not fall far from the paternal tree. “Now we have my son who thinks he knows everything and that he has everything figured out. But no one here and no one on Earth really has everything figured out,” Willis said. “It’s fun to watch people try to figure it out and get out of each other's way.”
Willis also compares the Die Hard experience to a certain ride. “It’s like going on a roller coaster. You really know your not gonna fall off the roller coaster but it sure seems like you're gonna go flying out of the car,” he said. “These films are like big entertainment roller coasters. That’s my goal.”
When it comes to one of the most popular of Die Hard quotes -- the one that starts with "Yippee Ki Yay" -- Willis admitted that was one that came off the cuff… it was not in the script. “It was an ad-lib,” he said.
“Alan Rickman was such a good bad guy. He was constantly picking on me! He said something to me and I just happened to let that line slip out and it just became part of the fabric of the film.”
Audiences have come to expect the line, but Willis is always diligent about uttering it in just the right spot. “John (Moore, director) had an idea we should say it right away and get it out of the way. We tried that. It always comes at a moment of high danger,” Willis said.
“It’s just amazing to me that the line has lasted this long. Kids say it to me on the street – even grandmas. It’s a little awkward. But I’m happy that they say it. Football players, basketball players!”
What is so special about A Good Day to Die Hard is it took the premise set forth in the first film -- McClane is a highly skilled individual… who is truly a fish out of water -- and brought even more truth to it. The action takes place in Moscow, an especially effective move given how McClane’s character could be seen as a relic of the Reagan-era Cold War.
“Moscow was really built for a couple of fish-out-of-waters 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,” Willis said.
“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. To try to shoot in Moscow brought that along.”
Although others have tried, Die Hard seems to be the only action franchise out of the 1980s to survive through present day. But Willis does not go there. For him… it’s like comparing apples and oranges.
“I’ve had the opportunity lately to think about those things in terms of action movies and how they compare or compete with each other. I have come to this understanding: I don’t compete with anyone -- I compete with myself. I just try to improve my work and try to do better than I did the last time,” Willis said.
“I’ve been talking about this lately… about how does it feel to be in a film that has stretched over twenty-five 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 still be able to run down the street and do what we do.”
It is clear Willis marvels at the success he’s had with the Die Hard films (chronicled in this Die Hard trip down memory McClane) and relishes the rare opportunity that any actor has to portray one character over a long period of time.
“It is a life in itself. I have really great memories of it and it’s all been good. I have a warm place in my heart for Die Hard.”