For Bruce Willis, old habits ‘Die Hard’ after 20 years
What a disappointment. What a letdown. Tough-guy actor Bruce Willis, he-man hero of the “Die Hard” films, the boxer who beat his opponent to death in “Pulp Fiction,” the crazy renegade cab driver in “The Fifth Element” is, alas, just an actor who puts on an image for the screen.
When he ambles his way into the interview room, he’s laid-back, mellow, wearing a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. He’s soft-spoken, and the gruffness of his voice is somehow soothing.
Yet when the action begins, right at the start of “Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment in the popular ACTION series, he’s right up there, rolling with the punches and blasting away the bad guys.
Yes, John McClane is back, a single father of an almost-adult daughter and, of course, the only man on the L.A. police force who can save the world. The twist this time is that he’s, in the parlance, an analog cop who’s confronted with a digital problem — a technological attack on the main computer systems of the United States.
As any serious actor will tell you, the real challenge isn’t anything that’s on the page, it’s how to do something fresh, how not to repeat yourself, even though in this case, it’s territory that Willis has visited before.
“It’s a weird thing for me to now be able to look at all four films and see myself growing old on film and playing the same character,” says Willis. “It’s just the nature of him being older that’s different.”
Then he brings up the plotline, explaining that McClane’s kind of out of his element with all of the advanced technology around him in the new story — and he works himself into the explanation.
“I try to keep up with technology,” he says.
Then he asks, “Do you know how things work?”
He points to the tape recorder in front of him and asks, “Do you know how this works? I know the sound waves somehow go from my voice into that little thing with slots, and it gets recorded on a little strip of magnetic tape. And that’s where I get lost, right there. Past that, I don’t know how it works.”
He pauses, smiles, and adds, “But I do have a computer.”
It’s been 12 years since “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” and almost 20 years since the original film.
Reminded of this, Willis laughs softly and says, “It was a lot easier doing stunts then than it is now. But that made it all the more interesting and challenging. What’s that thing they say about women — if they remembered the pain of childbirth, they’d never have another child? Well, time goes by, and it’s almost a year since we shot this film, and the memory of my own blood being spilled on the set is starting to fade. I got banged up a little bit, but I’m fine now, I’ve recovered.”
He does candidly wonder, though, about “Live Free’s” potential to fail.
“This is not a new film,” he says. “It’s another episode in a film that you’ve already seen. And around the third or fourth episode, things can start to fall apart. Sometimes films get put out there just to capitalize on the name of the movie. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to make an interesting story that I would be able to watch five years from now. And I think we’ve done that. I also think we’ve lived up to the mythology of “Die Hard.”
As always, Willis’ schedule is packed. Last year he acted in “Alpha Dog,” “Lucky Number Slevin,” “16 Blocks,” “Fast Food Nation” and “The Astronaut Farmer.” This year he’s already appeared in “Grindhouse,” “Perfect Stranger” and, for about two minutes, “Nancy Drew.” He stars in the upcoming “Black Water Transit.”
But, he insists, there’s no rhyme or reason to his choices.
“I’m just trying to keep myself interested,” he says. “Every time I take on a new job, it really is a new job. It would be like, after you leave here today, you would start working as a plumber this afternoon. And tomorrow you’d be working as a politician. It’s a new job every time. I try to do things that are diverse so when I’m sick of it all, and I’m done with acting, I’ll have a portfolio.”
He stops and shakes his head, then says, as if to himself, “That’s a big word. But I try to have fun while I’m doing it. I’m still getting a kick out of it because I get to reload every time and try to do something different.”
“Live Free or Die Hard” opens on June 27.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.