Who wants to see a fifty-two-year old action hero? If that hero is Bruce Willis, the epitome of cool who redefined the action genre decades ago, then sign us up! We talked to Bruno about making "Live Free Or Die Hard," beefing with Michael Bay, and why this one may be the best "Die Hard" yet.
It’s been nearly two decades since Bruce Willis crept barefoot across broken glass as tough cop John McClane in 1988’s "Die Hard," and a dozen years since the series’ last installment reaped boffo numbers at the box office. This summer has McClane fans yelling "yippee-ki-yay" once more as Willis resumes his iconic role yet again — and, he hints, it won’t be the last time we’ll see John McClane onscreen.
Willis sat with Rotten Tomatoes recently at a San Francisco roundtable interview to hype his return to the action genre; with an appropriately tongue-in-cheek title ("Live Free Or Die Hard," or alternately "Die Hard 4.0"), a new young sidekick ("Dodgeball"’s Justin Long, AKA the Apple computer guy), and a set of eye-popping, CGI-free set pieces, could this "Die Hard" be, as Willis has repeatedly enthused, the best "Die Hard" yet?
The hard-nosed Willis is trim in his fifty-two years, and speaks deliberately, as if decades in the movie biz have taught him to choose words wisely. An irreverent rebel of sorts in Hollywood — the New Jersey native always seems to have a rascally twinkle in his eye — Willis most recently delighted fanboys for days posting as himself on AICN, where he made himself available and receptive to a passel of questions about his career choices.
Here he discusses many subjects, including his tough, physical shoot on the set of "Die Hard 4," why youngish director Len Wiseman (who saw the original "Die Hard" at the age of sixteen) was a perfect fit for the sequel, and why the film’s PG-13 rating won’t matter once you see the film. Willis also mentions why "Die Hard 4" is the only film you’ll see this summer with real, live performed stunts (instead of, say, CGI-created battling robots?), why he went around the publicity machine to speak with fans online, and if he has any regrets about his infamous beef with Michael Bay (guess what the answer is).
Q: Could you talk a little about the journey to "Die Hard 4?"
Bruce Willis: The journey to it? That is such a literate question…can’t you ask me an easier question than the journey to "Die Hard 4?"
Q: Is that true, that it was a long, protracted journey?
BW: No. Not true. I saw a lot of scripts that went on to become other films that weren’t called "Die Hard," but they were kind of action films. I was waiting for a good script, I suppose, and this was a script that Fox had that we had been working on for a couple years, in a couple different ways and a couple different storylines. But it finally came together about a year ago, last May. It was a really fast shoot, and a really fast post-production, the whole thing was done really quickly in order to get it out for July 4th.
Q: Can you talk a little about Len Wiseman, because I understand he played a big part in making you want to do "Die Hard 4."
BW: He was sixteen years old when the first one came out, and he grew up on these films and grew up a fan. He’s a really good storyteller and he had the same goal I did, and that is to make a film that was a close to the first film as we could, and I think we did. I know we did.
Q: Have you seen the whole thing?
BW: I’ve seen the film. It’s great, it’s really great.
Q: Would you say otherwise?
CW: I wouldn’t say that it was great if I didn’t think it was great; I would kind of skirt the issue. ‘Cause I’ve done films that when I saw them I wasn’t as pleased as I was with this film. If you like "Die Hard," then you’re gonna like this film — I’m really proud of it. Everyone’s proud of it.
Q: What do you like most about playing McClane?
BW: I like the sensibility of this character, I like his attitude. A good friend of mine, Jason Smilovic, who’s a screenwriter — he wrote the film "Lucky Number Slevin" — he helped us out about a year ago, when we first started talking about storyline elements. He started talking about the "mythology of Die Hard." I’d never heard that said before, and it kinda makes sense that in a film that spans twenty one years, and over four films…for me, it’s kind of an interesting thing to go back and look at the first film and watch myself age over the 21 years… his lack of respect for authority, I think, is the thing that is most in line with my South Jersey sensibility. And why I was talking about the mythology of "Die Hard" is that there are certain things, there are certain elements that the audience expects from John McClane that happen in this film. That he loves his family. Loves his country. He’s not gonna let anyone do harm, he’s not gonna let anyone hurt anybody that’s innocent or can’t defend themselves.
We did have to kind of…be cautious about the whole 9/11 issue, because we didn’t want to make light of, or dishonor, the memory of the folks who lost their lives on that day. That said, the other three "Die Hard"s used the word "terrorist" all the time and just kind of took it for granted, prior to 9/11…it was just a story point. But it was always terrorists who were thieves, or terrorists who had some other plan. But we had to pay a little bit more attention to it on this one.
Q: How do you feel that this "Die Hard" improves upon ones of the past?
BW: Being able to look back at all three films is something I did before we started shooting this film. At the time, we tried to make a good film. "Die Hard 3" is great, it has great elements in it. "Die Hard 2," because it came out so soon after the first film — the first film is so well built, and so well crafted and so claustrophobic, and the good guys and the bad guys and the hostages are all in one building, it’s almost a perfect action scenario– the second film was kind of everywhere, we were all over the place. In retrospect I didn’t like the fact that the second film was so self-referential to the first film.
But there are big "Die Hard" moments in the second film; me jumping out of that helicopter onto the wing of that airplane is a "Die Hard" moment. And the sequel business is a much different thing now, sequels are treated with a lot more care and a lot more respect these days than they were in the early years of sequels being made. I think we were really fortunate to have Sam Jackson and Jeremy Irons in the third film. I like that it was set in New York. I like the idea of my character being an alcoholic in the third one. And he’s just, you know, a mess and he still has to deal with these terrorists, or fake terrorists. There are big "Die Hard" elements in that; me, that dam breaking and me riding that truck kind of surfing on that big dump truck I thought was interesting.
But this film, I didn’t have to do. I didn’t have to do this one, I really could have retired undefeated, but I always wanted to make a film that was much closer in nature and in the overall feel, much closer to the first film, which for me is the only really great one. And we did it. When you see it, you’ll see what I mean, it really lives up to the mythology of "Die Hard" and it lives up to, I think, what the audiences have come to expect.
Q: Is this going to be the last one?
BW: I don’t think so, I think they’re already talking about getting a script together for the fifth one.
Q: What was your best experience of shooting this new one?
BW: When it was over. When it was done. It was hard, it was a really difficult shoot, physically, and it was just a tough schedule. We had a lot of nights, and we’d go back and forth from one week of nights, to one week of days, which is a difficult thing. It’s like being jet-lagged all the time. The director got an ulcer. He never slept, just working all the time.
The thing that I think makes this different from other films that are out right now, especially films that are out this summer, is that 90 percent of the stunts that are in this film are real stunts, or real guys, real stuntmen, real cars…I think you saw this scene where this car tumbles in the tunnel, that’s a real car! I think other films would probably make the choice to CGI the car, and my 13 year old daughter Tallulah, who I go to see a lot of movies with, we went to see a film one time that had a lot of CGI effects in it and I asked her what she thought afterwards and she said, you know I just didn’t think anybody was in danger, it never seems like anyone’s in danger, because you know that those creatures aren’t real, and you know that it’s all computer graphics. So if a thirteen year old knows about CGI — I mean, she has a little bit of a head start because her mom and dad work in films — I think kids know, that they’re not looking at something real. So this film, the stunts were all pretty hardcore, smash mouth stunts. The car that they shot into that helicopter, it was a real helicopter, it was a real car. They actually did that. Me jumping out of the car at 25 miles an hour really happened. I’m glad that’s over.
Q: This movie deals with analog vs. digital, and recently I read your AICN thread…in a realm where very few filmmakers put themselves out there for fans. Why did you do that, and will you revive your website?
BW: Well I think I’m kind of past my interest in my own website, it was just taking up too much of my time. It was an interesting social experiment; I put it together because, to be honest with you, I was tired of talking to reporters — nothing personal — or talking to my friends about my films. My friends are always honest with me about films. But I really wanted to talk to, you know, regular people and kind of have a forum to interact with them; not just about films, but about everything. The AICN thing came about because Sylvester Stallone told me he did it, I think he answered twenty questions that they choose. So I went in to check out the site, and I talked to the guy who runs the site, a guy named Harry Knowles, and I thought it was really interesting. What I saw was a website full of people who were really passionate about films…sometimes in a dark kind of way, but they’re really film fans and I just wanted to talk to them.
Q: Do you feel any regrets or any backlash from what came out of that? Like the Michael Bay thing…
BW: I don’t have any regrets. I don’t have any regrets. What I say is what I say, I don’t always say the right thing, I don’t always say the politically correct thing…but yeah, I don’t have any regrets about that.
Q: So will you be going to see "Transformers?"
BW: I’ll probably go see it. I’ll probably go see it. I’m a fan of films. But I don’t think I have anything else to add about what I said about Michael Bay…
Q: You’ve had to defend this movie from being PG-13, will we ever see an R-rated John McClane again?
BW: I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been asked not to comment on that…I don’t know if I’ve had to actually defend it. I have the benefit of having seen the film, so I know how hardcore it is. Fifteen minutes into this film, you’re not gonna be going, wow this really feels like a PG-13 film — it feels like an R-rated film. The argument becomes a non-issue.
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