In Live Free Or Die Hard,
Bruce Willis once again plays tough cop John McClane. But where
McClane’s dominant characteristic was once a sort of outsider attitude,
this film sees him pushed into slightly different territory. As the
analog guy in a digital world, McClane is a lot closer to the actor
than you’d expect. Willis is almost quaintly behind the times; there
are bits I cut out of this interview where he talks about the PC
version of Google being different than the Mac version, and naively
opines about YouTube. (Granted, he also admitted that he would have
done the ending to Hostage differently, which I appreciated.)
to Fox’s embargo, I can’t even say much about the fourth film, but
there’s a certain about of opinion to be read between the lines, even
from Bruce. He’d just started press for the film and already seemed
tired. Listening to the tape now, I can’t tell if he’s exhausted from
work or just daunted by the prospect of holding the company line
through a hundred interviews to come.
99% of the time we do interviews — even for a short round table like
this — we’ve seen the film. For this one, all that was available was
20-odd minutes of rough cut, with a sound mix that was far from final.
Had I seen the final film I would have asked some notably different
questions. But since I just got to see the release cut this morning,
we’ll have to settle for a relatively vague look at the new
film…which is exactly what Fox seems to want.
And before the questions even started, Willis got going with the table full of varying recording technology…
Bruce Willis: (picking up my recorder) This is the future.
I’m trying to help you move into a new age.
BW: Is it
muggy down here? I have a scar on my head, and it’s aching. I’m telling you
right now, it’s going to rain in about a half an hour. (Ed: it was more like
an hour before the rain started.) I don’t know if you can thank me for the
rain, but I can predict it for you. I just got this scar on this film. I got
kicked in the head by Maggie Q’s stunt girl, early one morning towards the end
of the film. She felt so bad. It was early in the morning after months of
shooting and we’re in this incredible stunt sequence, this fight that seems to
go on forever where I have to let Maggie Q kick my ass, so Justin Long can do
whatever he’s doing with technology. We’d already got the take, and we’re
fighting in an SUV, upside down, hanging in an elevator shaft by cables, all
the windows are busted out, and it’s really disorienting. I got the cue wrong
and stuck too much of my head out and took two heels to the head.
Anyway, it’s a drag that you didn’t get to see the whole movie, but
there’s a reason: it’s not done. The third act has a jet in it that you might
have seen in the ads, which is what they’re trying to get ready now. That’s
really the only big CGI in the film.
footage we saw seemed picked, in part, to emphasize the practical nature of
BW: That’s the way it was throughout the film. That was
Len Wiseman’s concept of the overall mythology for Die Hard. And while he’s not
responsible for that phrase – we have to credit Jason Smilovic, the guy who wrote
Lucky Number Slevin – he wanted to make a film that was old school and at least
has, as pertains to the stunts, that feel. The car you see flipping, that’s a
real car they put on cables, to flip it the old school way. Normally, in any
other movie today they’d just draw it in. Now, I wasn’t there for that take. I
was standing somewhere else when they flipped that, just in case it made too
much of a mess. But they did crash real cars, I think in three takes. The one
you see is the third take.
Here’s a good example: my daughter Tallulah and I go to the
movies all the time, and there was one we went to see about a year ago.
Afterward I asked her what she thought of it, and it was one of these big
computer-generated films. She said, ‘I didn’t ever feel like anyone was in
danger.’ And not that anyone was ever really in danger in Live Free Or Die
Hard, you can tell when it’s just hundreds of thousands of computer-drawn robot
droids in one of the Star Wars movies.
Another thing is that the wide camera
angles emphasize you getting bashed around, which has to be
harder 20 years later.
BW: Yeah, think about it, do the math. It was a lot more
difficult. It was still fun to try and do. And I thought I was in shape. But I
started to do stunts with guys in their early ‘30s and I had to get in better
shape. Because the concept being that if you make your muscles big enough, they
protect your bones, so when you fall on a concrete floor your bones don’t…what?
Anyone? Shatter. And even so, bones did shatter. None of mine, but the bouncing
off the concrete thing was still tough…
Do you bring your own fathering instincts to this episode,
where McClane’s relationship with his daughter is so important?
BW: I hope not, because the fathering in this film is really not
that good. I’m a different kind of father than John. Although the character of
Lucy McLane is an interesting one, because she’s the only other person from
the first film who’s made it to this one. But yeah, it’s so easy, since I have
three daughters I’m so crazy about, and they could ask me to go hold up a store
and steal everything and I’d say, ‘yeah, OK. I think it’s against the law, so
don’t you kids do it…” My three daughters are my three favorite people on
earth. But Lucy has a lot of McClane in her. Mary Elizabeth Winstead really
did her homework on the character, and not only shows up with that kind of ‘fuck
you’ attitude, she gets some laughs with it. And that character wasn’t always
in this particular incarnation of the film.
What changed about working with the character and series this time?
BW: What we had on this film was the benefit of being able to
look back on the 20 years and three films, and realize what worked,
and what might not have. The sequel business was just being invented when we
did the first sequel, and they’ve got it down now, which films they want
sequels for and which ones not so much. But everywhere I went in the years
since we did the last one with Sam Jackson, people would always ask when I was
going to do another Die Hard. And I always thought it was just something people
said, just to be nice.
Was the PG-13 an issue?
BW: You know what, we never thought about it. I didn’t even
think it was an issue until we started doing press for it. And if you didn’t
know that it was PG-13, you’d think it was an R-rated movie. It’s really
hardcore, and it gets more so than what you’ve seen. And yes, if your criteria
for an action movie is that you get to say ‘fuck’ a lot of times, this may not
be the film for you. Other than that, it’s a real hard-core oldschool throwback
action film. It delivers on that level, and it lives up to the mythology of Die
Hard. Isn’t that a cool thing to say? ‘The Mythology of Die Hard.’ It sounds so
What’s your involvement with the creative process?
BW: A lot. On this one, I was pretty involved, because I wanted
to make sure that…because I didn’t want to make this film unless we lived up to
the first one, and the potential to fail was really enormous. And now I can
joke about it, and it’s ok because I’ve seen the film and I’m happy with it,
and it does live up to the first one. Enough time hadn’t gone by when we did
the second one, or even the third, to get a sense of…the first one was always
the one that I liked. That, if you were going to compare the three films, would
win. Which maybe wasn’t fair, because the circumstances of the first film made
for such a good action movie. That building, I don’t know what the real name
is, but it’s always Nakatomi Towers as far as I’m concerned. It turned out to be
a good action movie. And I’m told it’s about to be voted ‘a real good action
film of all time’. Or maybe something more than that, I don’t know.
What do you think about the family-oriented direction action
films have taken in the decade since the third film? It’s no longer the Steve
McQueen, John McClaine sort of badass leading the pack.
BW: I was about to say Steve McQueen, yeah. I’d taken a break,
and at the time I didn’t know what I meant, but when I took the break I said
that I was going to break from action films because I was ‘waiting for the
genre to reinvent itself.’ I didn’t know what the fuck I meant by that at the
time, but now I know. I was waiting for Len Wiseman to come along and bring the
Die Hard franchise into the 21st century. I was waiting for someone
to bring it forward but also go back to older styles. Action films had begun to
repeat themselves and get a little boring.
Didn’t you start to do that with Hostage? Was it frustrating
that Hostage failed?
BW: I don’t think it failed. Success and failure, in the world
you guys live in, is based on how much money the movie made. And that’s not
always the scale of what the filmmakers or storytellers are working on. History
is what decides whether a film is going to hold up or not. Casablanca didn’t
make any money, didn’t get very good reviews, and it had three endings, and I
watch that movie all the time. Bullitt, I watch that movie every year. The Great
Escape, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, films that at the time were received
differently than they are now perceived. And I don’t really care. Maybe I
should. The studios are in the business of making a lot of money right now, but
the Die Hard franchise has earned over a billion dollars, which is a lot of
Did you have other requirements for making this film, so that it would be different from something like Sixteen Blocks?
BW: There were two templates that were set in the late ‘80s. One
was Lethal Weapon, which spawed, I think, thousands of movies, and Die Hard,
the ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances story. Which also spawed a lot
of other movies I wasn’t in. Sixteen Blocks was an interesting story, but it
was a re-telling of The Gauntlet. But we were calling it Die Hard 5 during the
shoot. It was an interesting exercise, and I like that film. It didn’t really
come to life for me until Mos Def showed up with that character.
Is that important at this stage, not to do another ‘running
down the street’ action movie? Do you want to show off your own acting?
BW: I’m still learning how to act. It’s important for me to do a
good job, be entertaining and to present a character that interests me and is
hopefully interesting to the audience as well. But that’s what made me want to
take a break: the running down the street, screaming, shooting two guns, one in
each hand in slow motion thing. Fuck it, it’s too much. I needed a break from
that. The other things I wanted to live up to, included being able to see if I
can still do it, especially against guys half my age.
How dependent are you on technology? Can you be hacked?
BW: I don’t need to worry about it much, because so much of my
life is an open book. And what I do is keep to myself. But yeah, you can google anybody.
What’s that game, where you take two specific words and get one result on
google? (Ed: He’s talking about Googlewhacking.) But I’m a Mac guy, anyway.
That’s just because you’re in a movie with Justin Long.
BW: You’d have thought I could get a deal. But I still have to
pay for them. (Whispers into my recorder) Steve Jobs, if you’re listening…
You have a pretty great cameo in Nancy Drew…
BW: Do I? I haven’t seen it yet. Last year was cameo year, or
two years ago.
…and since you play an actor working for an inept director,
people are going to speculate about which film you based it on.
BW: Let’s put it this way: How many movies did you like last
year? Twelve, tops? Even if it was six, that’s one every two months. And how
many films came out last year? Over three hundred. There are a lot more that
get made than there are audiences for or that turn out to be good movies. I don’t
really remember the scene, I just remember that I did it because my friend
Jerry Weintraub asked me to help him out. That was a couple years ago. And so
sometimes I do those cameos because of relationships. I did the thing in
Astronaut Farmer because I wanted to work with Billy Bob again, and he called
and asked what I thought. It’s a way, for me, of getting to do acting roles
people would never think of me for. So it’s ‘lets call Bruce Willis and see if
he’ll spend a day with us.’
Do you get constrained by the big movies, so it’s hard to do
Nobody’s Fool or similar films?
BW: The simple fact that I get to do films like that is a
product of doing movies that have made a TON of money. I kinda trade on it. It allows
me to keep myself interested and do things like work with Paul Newman. I said
yes to that before I’d even read the script. I asked Robert Benton, ‘do I have
any scenes with Mr. Newman?’ He said ‘all your scenes are with Mr. Newman.’ I
said I was in.