IAR INTERVIEW: Bruce Willis Talks 'A Good Day to Die Hard,' the Success of the Franchise, and the Legacy of John McClane

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 23:03 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR INTERVIEW: Bruce Willis Talks 'A Good Day to Die Hard,' the Success of the Franchise, and the Legacy of John McClane

John McClane is back! Yippee Ki-Yay Mother…. Well, you know how that goes.

On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, Bruce Willis returns to the franchise that made him a household name almost twenty-five years ago with A Good Day to Die Hard, which is the fifth installment of the popular action franchise and was directed by John Moore (Max Payne). Willis first gained attention in the ‘1980s for his role as wise cracking private detective David Addison on the groundbreaking TV series Moonlighting, but it was his portrayal of everyman police officer John McClane in director John McTeirnan’s almost perfect Die Hard that made him a box office superstar. Since then the actor as appeared in such popular films as The Last Boy ScoutPulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Sin City, Red, and most recently Looper, and Moonrise Kingdom, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor-nomination at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards. But it is the character of John McClane and the Die Hard franchise that he is known for best!

As a lifelong Die Hard fan, it was an absolute thrill for me when I recently had a chance to attend an intimate press conference, along with a few other members of the press, and speak to Bruce Willis about A Good Day to Die Hard, the overall series, and the legacy of John McClane. 

The original Die Hard saw McClane fighting terrorist/thief Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Los Angeles’ Nakatomi Plaza while visiting his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) on Christmas Eve after a trial separation. In the sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, McClane once again saved his wife from terrorists on Christmas Eve, this time in Washington D.C. at Dulles International Airport, forcing our hero to utter the line, “How can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” McClane would fight terrorists for a third time in Die Hard with a Vengeance, returning him to New York City where he was once again separated from Holly, suspended from the police force and dealing with a drinking problem. When Gruber’s brother, Simon (Jeremy Irons), enacts revenge on McClane by waging war on the Big Apple, he must team-up with reluctant Harlem shopkeeper Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) in order to stop Gruber’s nefarious plans. Live Free or Die Hard took place almost a decade later on Independence Day with a now divorced McClane (once again a cop) having to save his estranged college age daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) with the help of computer hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long).  

The fifth installment of the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, finds McClane traveling to Russia to help his son Jack (Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for murder. But all is not as it seems, as Jack is actually an undercover CIA operative tracking a dangerous group of terrorists trying to steal weapons of mass destruction. Now it is up to the father and son team to put their differences aside and do what McLanes do best … fight terrorists. The success of the overall series has spawned countless imitators over the years such as Passenger 57 (Die Hard on a plane), Under Siege (Die Hard on a boat), and Sudden Death (Die Hard in a Hockey Stadium), but there is only one John McClane!

Willis was first asked if any consideration was given to bringing actress Bonnie Bedelia back into the franchise, as well as the film’s puzzling title. “I always think of Bonnie Bedelia and having her come back,” he admitted. “Those things are unfortunately out of my hands. It has to do with the story. We only do another Die Hard when they have another really complicated title that no one quite understands,” Willis laughed. “We had just gotten to where I understand Live Free or Die Hard and then we now have A Good Day to Die Hard, which I have to be honest with you, I’m a little baffled by still. But it’s a good movie. They’re both good movies.”

“We have to come up with a good story, that’s the thing that triggers another film,” Willis continued. “This film was much more germane to the Die Hard franchise in that it has to do with family and family conflict. In this case, I was fighting with my son Jack. I have to tell, you because it’s not in the film, why my son Jack and I have such a conflicted relationship,” the actor began to reveal. “When he was fifteen years-old he set South Philadelphia on fire. But you don’t hear those things in the film. I guess it was a little too shocking.”

Willis also talked about why he thinks the series has sustained its popularity over the last several decades. “I think that over the past twenty-five years, there’s been a certain amount of good will that has been visited on these films that the characters engender. People root for McClane. People want to see him because they know someone like him,” he explained. “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. Now we have my son who thinks he knows everything, and that he has everything figured out. But no one on Earth really has everything figured out. These films are like big entertainment roller coasters. That’s the goal anyways.”

No Die Hard film would be complete without McClane’s signature phrase and Willis discussed the origin of it. “It was an ad-lib,” he confessed. “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. Then it just became part of the fabric of the film. With this film, we had an idea that we should say it right away and get it out of the way. We tried that but it always needs to come at a moment of high danger. It’s just amazing to me that the line has lasted this long. Kids and Grandmas say it to me on the street. It’s a little awkward, but I’m happy that they say it.”

A Good Day to Die Hard marks the first time that John McClane has fought terrorists on foreign soil and Willis talked about taking the franchise to Russia. “Moscow was really built for a fish-out-of-water story. I think we were all excited about the idea of getting out of the United States and having the film be more international,” the actor explained. “So we set Jack in a job that was pretty obscure and undercover. It just made a lot of sense. John doesn’t speak any other languages so 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, and not being able to figure out what someone is saying to me. I can hardly understand English, so shooting in Moscow brought that along.” Willis also mentioned a few of the other ideas for the fifth installment that were ultimately not used. “Die Hard on the moon, or Die Hard at the center of the Earth,” he joked.

Finally, I had a chance to speak with Willis myself, who has always been one of my favorite actors and was definitely one of my childhood heroes. I explained that in my humble opinion, I believe John McClane is one of the greatest characters in film history because in the span of twenty-five years he’s gone through so much. He’s been separated from his wife, back together with her, divorced, suspended from the police force, back on the job, dealt with an alcohol problem, and in this film and the previous one, fixing his relationships with his children. So I asked Willis if he could talk about what it’s like as an actor to be able to develop that kind of a character arc in a film series over the course of twenty-five years. “That stretch of time is a pretty large one. It’s hard to compress it into a few sentences. I remember every film, everything that we did and where we were. It is a life in itself. I have really great memories of it and it’s all been good. As crazy as it is to continue to try and make these films, there aren’t many injuries, and not many people get hurt. So I have a warm place in my heart for Die Hard.” So do we Bruce, so do we!

A Good Day to Die Hard opens in theaters on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14th

To watch our exclusive video interview with Jai Courtney about A Good Day to Die Hard, please click here.

To watch our exclusive video interview with Mary Elizabeth Winstead about Smashed, and A Good Day to Die Hard, please click here.

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