It’s been 25 years since Die Hard exploded into theaters, launching a new cinematic hero and changing the paradigm of action movies. In A Good Day to Die Hard, Bruce Willis reprises his iconic role as police detective John McClane. Set against the backdrop of deadly corruption and political vendetta in Russia, McClane teams up with his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), to settle their differences and take down the bad guys. The film, which opens in theaters on February 14th, also features Sebastian Koch and Yulia Snigir.
At the recent press day, Willis, Courtney and director John Moore talked about why it was time for another Die Hard movie, what makes the McClane character so appealing to audiences, the origin of the signature line, taking the franchise to another country for the first time, and using Mi-24 assault helicopters in the action sequences. Willis also discussed what it’s meant to him personally to play one of the greatest action characters in film history, why being a father is his favorite job, and how his real life experience has enabled him to play a great on screen dad. Hit the jump to read more.
Bruce Willis: The difference between trying to be fit and not being fit really means the difference between life and death. I just made that up. (laughs) There is no life and death in Die Hard, there’s just life and we have really highly technical stunt personnel who keep us safe. Even though it looks like we have leapt out of the 110th floor of the Hotel Ukraina, we’re okay. Jai, not so much, apparently he’s still hearing ringing in one of his ears.
Jai Courtney: Yeah.
Willis: Okay, really, they keep us safe.
Did you see a tremendous difference?
Willis: Not a tremendous difference. It’s a very simple difference: I get up a little slower from the ground after I’ve fallen into something, like that dumpster I fell into. But yeah, it’s okay, I’m doing alright. I’m here today.
Live Free or Die Hard was six years ago. What made you feel that it was time for another Die Hard? Did you ever think about getting Bonnie Bedelia back and seeing if maybe John and Holly could work things out?
Willis: I always think about Bonnie Bedelia and having her come back. 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. We had just gotten to where we thought we might 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, but it’s a good movie. They’re both good movies. You have to come up with a story. That’s the thing that triggers another film. This film was much more germane to the Die Hard franchise in that it has to do with family and family conflict and that’s always been a high ticket number with Die Hard. In this case, I was fighting with my son, [played by] Jai Courtney. I have to tell you, because you didn’t see and it’s not in the film because somehow it got scratched, why my son, Jack, and I have such a conflicted relationship. It’s because when he was 15 years old, he set South Philadelphia on fire, and you don’t hear that in the film. You don’t hear those things. I guess it was a little too shocking. So that’s why we did this film. It’s a long, complicated process to get one of these films up off the ground.
Willis: I think that over the past 25 years, there has been a certain amount of goodwill that has been visited on these films that the character and the characters engender. People root for him. People want to see him because they know someone like him. They know somebody that thinks he’s too smart or thinks he has everything figured out when in truth he doesn’t really have anything figured out. And then now, we have his 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, and it’s fun to watch people try to figure it out and try to get out of each other’s way. Along the way, John Moore and his team make it so harrowing – that car chase and the stunts and all those things that we did. It’s the same effect as going to an amusement park. It’s like going on a roller coaster. You really know you’re not going to fall off the roller coaster, but it sure seems like you’re going to go flying out of the car. These films are like big entertainment roller coasters. That’s the goal anyway. That’s my goal.
Obviously people are waiting for you to say your signature line whenever a Die Hard movie comes out. What is the origin of that line?
Willis: It was an ad lib. Alan Rickman, the bad guy from the first film, 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. Now when we say it, John had an idea we should say it right away and get it out of the way. We tried that. But it always comes at a moment of high danger. It’s just amazing to me that that line has lasted this long. Kids say it to me on the street. Grandmoms. That’s a little awkward. But I’m happy that they say it. Football players, basketball players…
I think John McClane is one of the greatest screen characters in film history. Can you talk about playing that character over 25 years and five films and getting a chance as an actor to develop this great arc?
Willis: That stretch of time is a pretty large one. It’s hard to compress it into a few sentences. I remember every film and I remember everything that we did and where we were. It is a life in itself. Just 25 years is a life in itself. I have really great memories of it and it’s all been good, and as crazy as it is and as crazy as they continue to try and make these films, not many injuries, not many people get hurt. It’s always good. I have a warm place in my heart for Die Hard. Thank you. I’m glad you like it, too.
John McClane is a character that will do anything to preserve family and is very passionate about restoring his relationship with his son in this film. Can you talk about how you drew on being a father yourself to play this role?
Willis: It’s my favorite job. My favorite job is being a father. I have four girls now. They’re a captive audience. They can’t really run away from you even if they don’t like your jokes. I just enjoy it. I love making my kids laugh and I still do. I still do the dumbest things in the world to make them laugh. I do that with my youngest daughter now. I try to make her laugh. One is a job. It’s a film concept. The other one is real life and you want to try to get them ready to get out in the world and grow up to be women that have good morals and good intentions and are nice people and are kind. I never knew until they got older that I was having any impact on them really.
Jai, is it a career highlight for you to have Bruce Willis play your father? What does that mean to you?
Courtney: It was pretty unreal, of course. I never imagined I’d be part of this franchise, especially not one of the McClane family. It was a daunting prospect, but I certainly had fun doing it, and Bruce was a great on-screen dad.
Bruce, I believe this is the first time you’ve had an adult son in a film. Being a father of four girls, how different was that for you and how much did you enjoy that dynamic?
Willis: It was fun. I just remember it being fun. I like the idea that you’re talking about, about how is it being a dad and how is it being a dad on screen. I think that I was just an okay dad for most of my life with my character’s son, Jack, and we really set some obstacles for ourselves that we did not have a very good relationship from the time he set Philadelphia on fire until the time I see him in this film. I thought he was a gangster and I thought that he was in much worse trouble than he happened to be in Moscow. Regardless of my feelings for him as a child, it seemed like the right thing to do, to go to Moscow and try to help him and help our story along.
John Moore: (laughs) Yeah, I can talk a lot about it, but you really don’t want to hear all that.
How did you get them in there?
Moore: I do have an out of proportion adoration for rotor craft. I wanted to film those particular helicopters in a movie for a long time. They’re very hard to get. No one wants to let you fly them because they fall out of the air in a fiery ball and kill everyone above. It was hard to get them because they’re hard to maintain. Everyone’s shutting them down, but the Hungarian Air Force had a couple of drunk guys that they weren’t too fond of and they let us fly around with them. The assault helicopter, the Mi-24, was made famous in Afghanistan when we supplied the Mujahideen with Stingers to shoot it out of the sky, but it hasn’t been in a big movie. So we thought we’d make it famous in this one. Die Hard and helicopters actually go together very well. In fact, the first film is notorious for ending with a big fireball and a helicopter falling off a tall building, so I thought we’d do that again with a bigger helicopter – in fact, the biggest one in the world. So yes, it was a lot of fun for me probably because it’s my thing.
Throughout these Die Hard movies, we’ve seen John McClane get very battered. I can’t resist asking you after A Good Day to Die Hard, how many pints of blood do you think are left in McClane’s body?
Willis: Well, we’re up to liters now. As a matter of fact, I have to leave early today because I have to go and get another transfusion. Apparently, there is a leak somewhere and the blood continues to trickle out of me. So if I look a little pale today… Well, yeah, there is real blood sometimes. Sometimes you actually get a scratch, a little scratch on you, or you get kicked. I think on the last one I got kicked in the head pretty early in the morning one day and had to get some stitches. I hardly ever really bleed. (to Jai) Did you bleed?
Courtney: I didn’t really bleed much, like a couple nicks and my fist. I opened my hand up on the wheel of the van. That was one of those overzealous moments where John gave me license to just get angry at it. Six takes later, I’m like, “We’ve got it. Right? Because there’s no flesh left.”
Moore: I said, “Oh, we can do one more,” and you went, “No, no, we’re good.”
Courtney: “John, my skin is in the Mercedes emblem on the wheel. That’s enough.”
What was it like bringing John McClane and that fish out of water aspect to a country like Russia? What extra obstacles and challenges did that bring to the character and what was it like filming in this new but also old school location for 1980s action flicks?
Willis: Moscow was really built for a couple fish out of water 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. So we set Jack in a job that was pretty obscure and undercover. It just made a lot of sense. I mean, I don’t speak any of the languages really. We got a couple of jokes out of that. It just opens it up. I like seeing myself not be able to figure things out and not be able to figure out how the car works and not be able to figure out what someone is saying to me. I can hardly understand English, so to try and shoot in Moscow brought that along. We had the opportunity to get Julia (Yulia Sniger who plays Irina) in the film. She’s a big star in Moscow and she’s awfully cute in this film. She’s a great helicopter pilot so we had that going. And John contributed the biggest ballroom on Earth.
Moore: I have a big ballroom.
Willis: It’s huge. It was a big ballroom, and we filled it with glass. It was great. It never felt like there were any hiccups. We had great crews there. John, you should talk a little more about that.
Moore: From a production point of view, I’d shot in that part of the world a lot. I feel very lucky and covetous that we got to own that idea, the idea of taking John McClane out of the U.S. I feel like pinching myself sometimes that that got to be our movie. That got to be our Die Hard. You know, Nixon in China and John McClane out of the U.S. You kind of wonder how they didn’t think of it a long time ago. It’s wonderful. Die Hard has never really been about the location. It’s always been about the situation. Bruce joked years ago that people would pitch him Die Hard on the Submarine, Die Hard in a Delicatessen…
Willis: Die Hard on the Moon. Die Hard in the Center of the Earth.
Moore: But it’s never been about the location. It’s been about the situation that John McClane finds himself in. But this time, in what I hope was a homerun idea, there’s no Al Powell on the end of a radio. There’s literally nothing and nobody he can reach out to. He’s even more alone in Moscow than he was in the air conditioning vent of the Nakatomi Building, because at least then he had Al Powell on the end of a radio. This time he’s got to learn to trust his kid who he’d like to smack upside the head and teach him a lesson or two. So again, I just think we’re so lucky that that idea had remained fresh and unopened and we got to exploit it. Also, it was kind of fun to undo what you were referring to, that there is maybe a slightly stale or musty misconception about 80’s Eastern European Red Scare bad guys. There is no Ivan Drago out there. But again, that’s fun because McClane is essentially a brilliantly iconic Reaganistic character. And to put that John McClane in the heart of the old Soviet system and have him realize, “Shit man, they’ve got more iPad stores here than we do,” all that stuff was fun, discovering new Moscow and shaking the cobwebs off of all of that stuff, and seeing that the villains are Armani clad, bluetooth wearing, English-speaking sophisticates, not Vodka-swilling, fur hat wearing, submarine wrangling thugs, was kind of fun.
Die Hard seems like the only action franchise that has survived from the 80’s that studios are still doing. Can you talk about the genre of the last 20 years and why do you think this is the only franchise of this genre that remains with the studios today?
Willis: I think those kinds of questions are what you guys do. This is how you earn your money by coming up with questions about why this works or why that doesn’t work. I have had the opportunity lately to think about those things in terms of action movies and how they compare or compete with each other, but 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. So I’m not really competing with Moonrise Kingdom or Looper or any other film. I just try to make it look like I believe what I’m saying in the film and that I really feel some hatred (leans over to threaten Jai) or some emotion for my son.
Courtney: You’re scaring me.
Willis: Or love for my son. I scared you! See now, I’m still working on my scare people thing. I wish everyone well. I still am a big film fan. I still go to see films. I go to see other action films and I go to see comedies and all kinds of weird things. There is no competition. I’m so surprised. I’ve been talking about this the last couple of days here about how does it feel to be in a film that has stretched over 25 years. You can only see that from the end of it. No one ever knew at the beginning that we were going to be doing five of these films. It’s an honor. It’s just a strange, great honor to be able to still run down the street and do what we do and make it look fun, and scary sometimes, and interesting, and still have the core of the character in there.