In the middle of my conversation with Bruce Willis at the Four Seasons, the lights inexplicably go out and we’re plunged into darkness. John McClane, his Die Hard alter ego, would probably punch me in the face, ask me who I was working for, and deliver some kind of kicky cowboy wisecrack — “Well, yippee-ki-yay, bitch.” But Willis just stays put, unfazed. In fact, he alternates between staring into space and doodling on a pad while he talks. Is he bored?
WOULD HE DO DIE HARD FIVE?: "I would do another one. I think I’ve learned to not say no. I had a ball on this film."
He’s been doing this a long time, that’s for sure. The first Die Hard came out almost 20 years ago. That film, along with the work of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped energize and define a successful brand of American machismo moviemaking, one punctuated with high-tech explosions, blood and guts, and deadpan, cynical one-liners, usually delivered as a bad guy meets his end.
Now Willis is promoting the fourth installment of the Die Hard franchise, Live Free or Die Hard, which opens this week. (Still waiting for one called So Die Already.) Dressed in blue jeans and a collared shirt, his head shaved, a smug, easy smile on his face, he’s an amiable sort, but he admits that, when he’s doing press, he likes to jerk people’s chains, just to see what happens. Here he squawks about Paris Hilton, Hollywood, and the scariest thing he’s done in his adult life.
In Live Free or Die Hard, everyman John MCClane attempts to outsmart a hacker who’s trying to shut down the entire nation.
And not very successfully. That’s kind of the concept of this film, that the world’s technology has passed John by.
You’ve often said that the first Die Hard film was, in your mind, the only good one. If Die Hard: 2 and Die Hard: With a Vengeance didn’t live up to your standards, why did you decide to do a fourth?
I wanted to see if we could do another one of these films, another Die Hard that came closer to the values and the qualities of the first one. I mean, the second and third films have their fans, and I’m a little bit of a tougher critic with those movies. The third film, Die Hard with a Vengeance, I thought was pretty good. They should have called it “Thank God Sam Jackson’s in the Movie.” But I just wanted to try again, and I wanted to make a movie that brought the Die Hard franchise into the 21st century.
Is this the last Die Hard movie? Would you go in for number five if you were asked?
I would do another one. I think I’ve learned to not say no. After I did the first one, I was really adamant. I said, “I’m not going to do any more of these Die Hard films.” And now I’ve done three more. I had a ball on this film.
You recently said some fairly harsh things about your former director Michael Bay [Armageddon, 1998] in an AICN talkback forum.
Yeah, I heard that too. It was taken out of context. I was getting pushed to say something sensational. Michael Bay’s a good guy. We get along great. People get along in one way when they’re working, and they get along in an entirely different way when they’re out and about.
So your experience working with him in Armaggeddon wasn’t really that bad?
You know what? When I’m doing press, I say things sometimes that wind people up. Just to . . .
Do you get a kick out of reading it later?
I don’t read it. I don’t pay much attention to it. But Michael knows where he and I stand.
And that is?
And that is where he and I stand — it’s not even worth talking about.
What do you think of Hollywood? Isn’t it becoming a parody of itself?
It is. And it just keeps going, and people keep talking about it. What is news today is very surprising to me. When I do take the time to turn on the TV to see what’s going on, see what’s on the gossip shows, see what’s on the news, I’m like, “This is news?” Like, whatever is going on with Paris Hilton. Are you following that? It’s like the circus, right? They gotta make news out of something. And until something else goes along, they’ll knock the whole fascination with what’s going on with Paris Hilton in jail. It’s a novelty, don’t you think?
Sure. It’s just another form of entertainment.
Everything is to entertain people and to give people things to talk about. So when people go to work the next day, they can say, “Did you see what happened to Paris Hilton? Jeez, she doesn’t have a pillow in her jail cot!” You get to talk about that.