In “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth film in the “Die Hard” series, Bruce Willis reprises his role as New York City cop John McClane. This time, he paired with his estranged son, Jack (played by Jai Courtney), who’s working for the CIA. Together, father and son battle Russian criminals who are planning to steal nuclear weapons.
Naturally, there is plenty of conflict between John and Jack, as they try to come to terms with their tension-filled relationship while joining forces for a common goal. Here’s what Willis, Courtney and “A Good Day to Die Hard” director John Moore said at a Los Angeles press conference for the movie.
What is the difference in doing these stunts for "A Good Day to Die Hard," compared to doing stunts for the first “Die Hard” movie?
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. There is no life and death in "Die Hard." There is just life.
And we have really highly technical stunt personnel who keep us safe, even though it looks like we’ve lept out of the 110th floor of the Hotel Ukraina, we’re OK. Jai, not so much. Apparently he’s still hearing ringing in one of his ears. They keep us safe.
Willis: It’s not a tremendous difference. No, it’s a very simple difference. I get up a little slower from the ground after I’ve fallen into something ... that dumpster I fell into. But, yeah, it’s OK. I’m doing all right. I’m here today.
Bruce, what made you feel that it was time for another “Die Hard” movie? And do you ever think about getting Bonnie Bedelia back as John McClane's ex-wife Holly?
Willis: I always think of Bonnie Bedelia and having her coming 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 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, and they’re both good movies. We 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. 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, because it’s not in the film because somehow it got scratched, but why my son Jack and I have such a conflicted relationship is because when he was 15 years old, he set South Philadelphia on fire.
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. I’m not sure if I answered your question. It’s a complicated process, a long process to get one of these films to get up off the ground.
You’ve been playing John McClane for 25 years. What do you like about him? What are you jealous of about him? What advice would you like to give to him?
Willis: I think that over the past 25 years there’s been a certain amount of good will that has been visited on these films that the character and the characters engender. People root for you. People want to see you because you know someone like me: somebody that thinks he’s too smart or thinks he has everything figured out when, in truth, he doesn’t have anything figured out. And now we have my 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. It’s fun to watch people try to figure it out and get out of each others 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 of 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 kind of 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” film comes out. Is it already in the script or do you have to figure out where this is going to be the most appropriate? And what was the origin of that famous line?
Willis: It was an ad-lib. Alan Rickman from the first ["Die Hard"] film 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 and it just became part of the fabric of the film.
Now when we say it, John [Moore] had an idea we should say it right away and get it out of the way. We tried that. It always comes at a moment of high danger.
It’s just amazing to me that the line has lasted this long. Kids say it to me on the street. Grandmas. It’s a little awkward. But I’m happy that they say it. Football players. Basketball players.
Can you talk about playing a character over 25 years and getting a chance as an actor to really develop that 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, 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. As crazy as it is and as crazy as it is to continue to try to make these films, there’s not many injuries, not many people get hurt. It’s always good. I have a warm place in my heart for “Die Hard.”
Can you talk about how you draw on being a father yourself to play the role of John McClane?
Willis: It’s my favorite job, 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 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. And the other is real life. 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, are nice people who are kind. I never knew until they got older that I was having any impact on them.
"A Good Day to Die Hard" is the first film Bruce has had an adult son in a movie. Being a father of four girls, how different was that for you and how much did you enjoy that dynamic? And for Jai, we can assume it was a career and personal highlight that Bruce Willis/John McClane is your father. What does it 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 pretty daunting prospect, but certainly we had fun doing it. Bruce was a great on-screen dad.
Willis: I just remember it being fun. I like the ideas that you guys are talking about: How is it being a dad and how’s it being a dad on-screen? I think that I was just an OK dad or most of my life with my character's son, Jack. We really set some obstacles for ourselves that we really did not have a very good relationship from the time he set Philadelphia on fire 'til 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 and try to got to Moscow and help him and help our story along.
John, can you talk a little bit about having the Russian helicopters in "A Good Day to Die Hard"? How were you able to use them?
Moore: I can talk a lot about that, but you folks really don't want to hear that. I do have an out of proportion adoration for rotorcraft. I wanted to film those particular helicopters in the movie for a long time. They are 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 involved. It was hard to get them because they’re hard to maintain and everyone is shutting them down.
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’ll make it famous in this one.
“Die Hard” and helicopters actually go together very well. The first film is notorious for ending with a big fireball and the helicopter falling off a tall building, so I thought, "We'll do it again with a bigger helicopter!" In fact, the biggest one in the world. So it was a lot of fun for me because it’s kind of my thing.
John McClane gets battered and bloody in these "Die Hard" movies. After “A Good Day to Die Hard,” how many pints of blood do you think has left his body?
Willis: We’re up to liters now. As a matter of fact, I have to leave early today to go get another transfusion. Apparently, there is a leak, and the blood continues to trickle out of me. So if I look a little pale today...
That’s real blood sometimes. Sometimes we get a little scratch 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. [He says to Courtney] Did you bleed?
Courtney: I don’t think we really bled much. A couple of nicks. Oh, my fists! I opened my hand up on that wheel of the van. That was one of those overzealous moments, where John gave me license to just get angry at it. And six takes later I’m like, "We got it, right? because there’s no flesh left."
Moore: Eh, we could do one more. No, no. We’re good.
Courtney: John, my skin was in the Mercedes emblem on the wheel. That’s enough!
What was the experience like bringing John McClane and the fish-out-of-water aspect to a country like Russia? What extra obstacles and challenges did it bring to the character?
Willis: Moscow was really built for a couple of 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 don’t speak any other languages, really.
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. Not being able to figure out what someone is saying to me. I can hardly understand English. To try to shoot in Moscow brought that along.
We had the opportunity to get Yuliya [Snigir] in the film. She’s a big star in Moscow and is 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's a big ballroom, and we filled it with glass. But it was great. It never felt like we had any hiccups. We had great crews there. John, you should talk a little bit more about that.
Moore: From a production point-of-view, I had 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 got to be our movie, that got to be our “Die Hard.” Nixon in China. John McClane out of the U.S.
You 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 a submarine. "Die Hard" in a delicatessen …
Willis: “Die Hard” on the moon. “Die Hard” in the center of the earth.
Moore: It’s always about the situation that John McClane finds himself in. But this time what was such a home run idea was there’s no Al Powell on the end of a radio. There’s literally nothing and nobody he can reach out to.
He’s more alone in Moscow even than he was in the air conditioning vent of the Nakatomi Building. At least 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. We are so lucky that idea had remained fresh and unopened and that we got to exploit it.
And also it was kind of fun to undo what you were referring to: a slightly stale misconception of '80s Eastern European/Red Scare bad guys. There is no Ivan Drago out there. Again, that’s fun because McClane is essentially a brilliantly iconic, Reagan-istic character. To put that John McClane in the heart of the old Soviet system, and to have him realize, “Sh*t, man. They’ve got more iPad stores here than we do.”
All that stuff was fun: discovering new Moscow, shaking the cobwebs off. To see that all the villains are Armani-clad, Bluetooth-wearing, English-speaking sophisticates — not vodka-swilling, fur-hat-wearing, submarine-driving thugs — was kind of fun.
The "Die Hard" franchise is of the few action franchises that a major studio has been doing since the 1980s. What do you think about the genre over the last 20 years, and why is "Die Hard" one of the franchises that has survived for all of these years?
Willis: I’ve had the opportunity lately to think about those things, in terms of action movies and how they compare or compete with each other. 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 hatred emotion of what my son or love for my son. I'm still working on my "scare people" thing.
I wish everyone well. I’m still 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’ve been talking about this the last couple days about how does it feel to be in a film that has stretched over 25 years. Well, 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 a strange, great honor to be able to still be able to run down the street and do what we do, and make it look fun and scary some times and interesting, and still have the core of the character in there.
For more info: "A Good Day to Die Hard" website