In the 25 years since the release of Die Hard, actor Bruce Willis, 57, has matured into that rare hybrid: character actor-slash-superstar. With the release of A Good Day to Die Hard, he comes full circle by turning the blockbuster film franchise into a family affair.
It is interesting to witness Bruce Willis' choices of late. The mature assuredness he displayed in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom last year resulted in one of his warmest and best performances ever. Yet, Willis has never taken for granted his contributions to the action hero archetype. (Witness the exemplary Looper.) It is not a given that such roles will always translate into iconic franchises, but the blue collar bravado of NYC cop John McClane in the original Die Hard marked a filmmaking generation for life. Now that classic Everyman is back and Willis comes full circle by ushering a new generation: his film son (newcomer Jai Courtney).
Sitting down with Willis for this Personalities Interview at the Four Seasons Hotel earlier this month, the notoriously press shy actor was in a surprisingly nostalgic and engaging mood. Stretching out in the suite, he spoke with great warmth about his life with Die Hard. Even as talk of "torch passing" circled within the press corps. gathered, Willis remain non-plussed. He was proud to be part of a film series that is being regarded as "an institution."
Here's more with Willis as he discussed all things Die Hard, as well opening up about fatherhood and why it is inevitable that we become our parents in the end.
JORGE CARREON: Nobody wakes up and says, “Hey. I think I’ll become an icon this morning.” What motivated you to take on the role of John McClane in the original Die Hard?
BRUCE WILLIS: You never know when that iconic situation’s going to come up for you or how it’s going to turn out. It’s always a surprise. I had been asked a few times to do Die Hard, but I wasn’t able to do it because I was working on Moonlighting. I have to thank Cybill Shepherd because she had gotten pregnant and Glenn Caron put the show on hiatus for eleven weeks. During that time, I was able to go off and shoot the first Die Hard. It certainly has become history. It has become an institution. I think that the character over 25 years has grown just a little bit and continues to make a lot of the same mistakes. He thinks that he’s right about things that he’s not really right about. He thinks that he understands his kids far more than he really does. Somehow always manages to break a lot of things and blow a lot of things up.
CARREON: Is being an action hero the ultimate boy wish come true?
WILLIS: It’s a fun thing to do an actor, blow things up and set things on fire and jump off of and onto things. It always makes me laugh. It’s always a fun story and this is another one. I have to go and find my blockhead son (portrayed by Jai Courtney) who has gotten himself in trouble in Moscow. I go to help him. I don’t really give him much help, but it turns out to be a happy ending and a good story and fun. Things get blown up in this one, too and we fall and fly and crash.
CARREON: I think it’s safe to say, after A Good Day to Die Hard, you can cross Chernobyl off your bucket list for all of us.
WILLIS: [SMILES] I had my doubts. It was a pretty interesting place. You kids at home, if you’re flying with nuclear material, don’t play with it. Don’t touch it. Don’t pick it up. Don’t put it on your head. [Points to shaved head.] It’s not good pomade. [LAUGHS]
CARREON: The action genre has taken on sizable proportions when it comes to stunt pieces. How important was to keep a balance of what made the original Die Hard such compelling fun with today’s expectations?
WILLIS: What I’ve come to understand is that most people that are fans of this film seem to think that they know what the next story really should be about or how I should play the character. I always have some hope that we would get back to a story that’s as good as the first. But, you can’t really recreate these films. They’re just new chapters. You understand what his goals are and you understand what his shortcomings are. There’s a great deal of goodwill for these films and the character.
CARREON: Sustaining any franchise is not such a sure thing anymore at the box office. How have the Die Hard films maintained their relevance?
WILLIS: It’s really nice that guys that who were young enough to see the first film now have kids that they can take to see these films. This one happens to be rated R, so you may want to take that into consideration this time around. But, I think that’s it’s a fun experience. It’s a safe experience. It looks the whole world’s going to blow up every time and no one ever really gets hurt.
CARREON: Taking a cue from A Good Day to Die Hard, it was interesting to see John and Jack McClane as a father and son tag team of mayhem. I couldn’t help but wonder. Is it impossible for any of us to avoid becoming our parents?
WILLIS: I think you can’t avoid it. It’s unavoidable that you find yourself with that DNA of you finally as an adult. When you’re a kid, you don’t think you’re like your parents. You think you want to be your own person. I think that the family construct in these films really has a lot to do with it. Even going back to the very first film, it was about family. A broken, contentious relationship that turns out okay. But yeah, I have a lot of my dad in me.
Directed by John Moore, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD opens citywide on Wednesday, February 14.