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Die Hard 4.0 - Bruce Willis interview

Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4.0

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRUCE Willis talks about reprising the role of Detective John McClane for a fourth Die Hard movie and some of the physical challenges he faced.

He also discusses some of the issues concerning terrorism in movies since the events of 9/11 and why there is hardly any profanity in the latest movie…

Q. What makes Die Hard 4.0 different from the previous films?
Bruce Willis: When we started talking about the fourth film we were able to go through the first three and identify the things we wanted, the values and the qualities, and the things that we didn’t want. For most people, the first film has always been the best film – that was the high watermark of what all the Die Hards and a lot of action movies should be and assume to aspire to. But you have to remember that the next two films were done when the sequel business was just starting out. We were flailing wildly when we did the second film.

One of the first things we said was that we couldn’t be self-referential to any of the other Die Hards or to any of the other action films that have come since Die Hard. [We felt] Die Hard 2 was really self-referential in an almost back-patting way and the third one, Die Hard: With A Vengeance – or as I like to call it, “Thank God Sam Jackson and Jeremy Irons were in the film” – was again another Die Hard, it had John McClane and it had a lot of cool components but in my mind I always had the idea to do another film, to take another shot at it and try to get as close to the first film as possible.

Q. What kind of expectation did you feel about returning to the character after 12 years? Did you ever have any doubts about not matching them?
Bruce Willis: I think that the “what if” game is what you guys get to do. I don’t have to do that. I hate the “what if” game. I’m such a believer in everything happening the way it’s supposed to happen. So for me, 12 years was exactly the right time to do this. My 15 year-old daughter, Scout, a week before we met with Len, in a completely unrelated incident, said: “Let’s watch this movie Underworld.” Then a week later I had a meeting with Fox who said they were considering Len. If we had done it at any other time we wouldn’t have had this cast. That’s the way I look at it.

Q. What does Len Wiseman bring to the franchise?
Bruce Willis: I credit Len with bringing the Die Hard series into the 21st Century and giving it a really smart, shiny, patina of technology. But at the same time having the courage to do old-school stunts. It would have been really easy for us to do CGI stunts and while we did have to use some CGI – you’re not allowed to fly a jet down the streets of Washington DC – those stunts are real stunts. We flew a real car into a real helicopter and the car you seeing tumbling at Jason and I in the tunnel was a real car.

Q. What sort of fitness regime did you take part in to prepare for the physical demands this time around?
Bruce Willis: I’ve done films where you have to get in shape for purely vanity reasons, when you read a script, turn to page 87 and it says: “Rips his shirt off and casually throws it onto chair” – and you’re going to go to the gym the next day because nobody wants to see your big fat arse out there taking your shirt off! But this particular film had a lot less to do with vanity and more to do with just keeping myself strong enough.

I started going to the gym three times a week and I thought that would be enough. It was when we were shooting in Baltimore but then we got back to Los Angeles and started on the apartment scene which involves me jumping up on refrigerator’s and diving onto the floor and knocking my head onto the steal legs of this cabinet they had and I had to work out some more to get my muscles strong so my bones wouldn’t shatter on the concrete. I’m 52-years-old, I’m lazy, I hate working out, I only do it for films and I think of it as work.

Q. Were there times when you thought you were getting too old for some of the physical scenes?
Bruce Willis: It was horrible to make, I’m not going to lie to you. I used to bounce off cars a lot easier than I do now. I wish I’d kept a scrapbook because there were a couple of solid weeks where I was just black and blue on both legs and from my hip to my ankle. I got skin taken off of me, got knocked out at one point, got stitches… but I have little souvenirs of all four films, you know. If they’re talking about doing another one I’d better hurry up and do it.

But then, it’s like that thing with women and childbirth. If they remembered how much it hurt, they’d have one kid and that’s it. Time goes buy and I forget that I was hurt and cranky and irritable and that at 5am I’d get woken up by someone saying: “Get up, we’re going to blow the building up! Get excited about it!” But now I’m very excited about it.

Q. How did it feel to be beaten up by a woman [Maggie Q’s character]?
Bruce Willis: The stuff I do with Maggie is just bananas. First of all, I’ve never fought a woman in a film before. Second of all, I’ve never had my ass kicked by a woman in a film before. Third, I’ve never hit a woman in real life – never have, never will – so it was a peculiar thing. But Maggie brought a believability to it so people will see John McClane getting his ass kicked. It’s an odd thing to see how audiences will react – especially in the States – to John McClane getting his ass kicked in order for hackboy here to do what he has to do to save the world.

Q. What about Timothy Olyphant as the villain? What did he bring to the role?
Bruce Willis: Tim was cast last and his character was the least written; it wasn’t really on the page. It was really fey and over the top and so arch… But in talking to Tim he really brought a human being into this part that made it make sense. He had many smart ideas, especially for the end of the film that made it seem right. So I felt very lucky.

Q. There’s a lot less swearing in this one, is that deliberate or because attitudes have changed?
Bruce Willis: When I did the first Die Hard it was because Cybil Shepherd got pregnant so I had an extended break from Moonlighting. When you do TV, you can’t cuss at all so all of a sudden I’m able to do this unbridled cussing. I wish that someone had said maybe we should do one without you saying f*** a thousand times.

But we live in very parochial times right now. Len and I never thought about not doing a hardcore R-rated Die Hard film, which eventually will be seen. It’s just the one that’s out now has less swearing. That’s the rules we have to live by. If that’s your criteria of what you need for the film [swearing] there are tonnes of films out there that curse left and right, which has no meaning. There was a certain point in the first film that me cussing didn’t have any meaning anymore because I did it so much.

Q. What about the issue of terrorism? Did you have to be careful given the changed state of the world since the first three films?
Bruce Willis: You’re absolutely right, in the first three films we had terrorism everywhere but that was all pre-9/11. After 9/11 a lot of action movies that dealt with terrorism got put on the shelf. Die Hard 4.0 was probably one of them. So, it was our task in doing another film and still talking about terrorists not to dishonour the people who lost their lives on 9/11. It was as simple as that and I think we did that.

I think it was a unique spin to turn it around and have the United States attacked from the inside and someone who knew the system so well that they were able to really go at it and take it down.

Q. John McClane is an old school cop in the digital age. How computer savvy are you in real-life?
Bruce Willis: Medium. I know how to turn it on. I know where the disc goes: in that little slot but I can’t always get it out. And I have three genius-level computer savvy kids who save my ass all the time. I’ll tell you what I don’t do. I don’t watch the news on TV anymore. I get my news online. And like all of you, I Google whoever I want.

Read our review of Die Hard 4.0

Read our interview with Timothy Olyphant