Q&A with Detective John McClane
We know Bruce Willis as many things -- the guy from "Pulp Fiction," the guy from "Armageddon" and, don't forget, Demi Moore's ex-husband. But more than anything, we know him as Detective John McClane from "Die Hard." And this summer we can get to know him all over again when "Live Free or Die Hard" (the fourth installment of the franchise) hits theaters on June 27.
What is it like being all these things when for a long time you were just a bartender from New Jersey? Page 2's Mike Philbrick sat down with Willis to find out.
Bruce Willis: This is going to be on the Internet?
Page 2: Well, we're not going to do any live chatting. I didn't take typing in high school; it wouldn't be pretty.
Willis: Ugh, I suck at typing. And I hate spell-check.
Page 2: It's not easy. Let me ask you this, Detective McClane -- what's harder, jumping from a burning car or building, or doing a marathon press junket for a movie?
Willis: I think they're about even. I have a big one coming up. I have a five-week, around-the-world tour for this picture. Apparently it opens in every theater on earth on the same day, and I have to go to every one of those theaters and hang out and say hi. But jumping out of cars is not for the faint of heart, especially when you're talking about doing it at 40 mph. It can take a little bit of the hide off you. People say the helicopter-car crash in the film is a lucky shot, but 100,000 people get killed by cars every year and that was just four more people and they were bad guys. They were there to monkey with the Internet or something. John McClane, my character, wouldn't know. Could you tell me a little about what the Internet is?
Page 2: That would be my next question: In "Live Free or Die Hard," John McClane is billed as an "analog hero in a digital world." This interview is going to be on ESPN.com -- would John McClane have any ability to even find it?
Willis: You know, I would need to call on my 13-year-old daughter Tallulah and have her standing by to help me out with any technical questions, because whenever I get stuck or the computer freezes up or I get that weird little icon that comes on there -- see, I like to bandy about with the computer terms, "icon" being one. But, really, Tallulah saves my ass most of the time. She'd find it.
Page 2: But if I were walking down the street and I saw John McClane, wouldn't it just be the smart thing to do to run the other way, considering all the things that have happened to him ever since the first "Die Hard"? You know, just to be safe.
Willis: Yeah, he's like the guy with the cloud over his head in Li'l Abner. Trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. But you know, during the shooting of this film, a lot of people started getting in touch with the studio and with me and communicating with us about the mythology of this. When a film has a life that spans over 20 years, there is a mythology to it, and a lot of times it's the fourth installment that seems to be where the films derail. I'm happily able to tell you this film not only didn't derail but got pulled into the 21st century by Len Wiseman, the director.
I've been asked, "Why even do it? Why even do a fourth one?" I could have retired undefeated, the first three films grossed like a billion dollars. I don't know how much a billion is, but it's a lot -- trust me. I always wanted to get a little closer to the first one, and it wasn't until after I had done "Die Hard 2" and "Die Hard 3" that I realized that the first one was the best one. Not to take anything away from the work of the actors in "Die Hard 2" and "Die Hard 3" -- Jeremy Irons, Samuel Jackson, Bill Sadler -- but I wanted one last shot at trying to get as close to the first movie as I could, and I think that because the director, Len Wiseman, was like 14 or 15 when that movie came out, he was a fan even then. He actually made the "Len Wiseman Backyard Die Hard" in 1988. But he was a fan and he grew up with those films, so he brought his sensibility and style to it, and the end result is really hard-core, it is.
Page 2: Which athlete past or present best embodies the spirit of John McClane?
Willis: I'd have to put Sugar Ray Leonard up there. His comeback against Tommy Hearns -- you know he wasn't even supposed to fight that fight? I root for the underdog all the time. I've been a Golden State fan for that reason. And the Nets are down 3-1 right now, and I'm the only one that thinks they're going to win all three games and kick Cleveland's ass. Other than me, I think the Nets are the John McClane of New Jersey.
Page 2: Going back to what's harder -- you've been a waiter and an actor. Which one is harder to do?
Willis: As far as being a waiter ... as a waiter, you have to bring someone's food because someone took the time to come out of their house and they're sitting down at the table and took some money out and for some measly 10 percent tip they get to boss you around and be a jerk. So that job definitely sucks the most. Actually, when I used to tend bar I was more famous then I am now, 20-plus years into my film career. The thing that I like about acting, and the thing that is the hardest about acting, you go back to square one every time you take a new role because you have to start all over and find a new way. Especially if you have a few films that make some noise -- I've had a lot of films that didn't make any noise at all. But everyone does. No one hits it out of the park every time.
Page 2: OK, so if you could take a mulligan on any moment in your career -- what would it be?
Willis: I'd have to name a couple films ... but before I go there and do that ... well...
Page 2: What about the Seagram wine cooler ads that are now on YouTube?
Willis: I have to believe that the Seagram company was very happy with those wine cooler ads. They went from 37th place in the market to No. 1. And more importantly, I got to meet a lot of hot babes. I was married at the time and couldn't do anything, but still, I really like looking at beautiful women.
Page 2: What sort of Cal Ripken iron-man streak would I be breaking in this interview if I refused to ask you any questions about your ex-wife and her husband?
Willis: Well, you can ask any question you want.
Page 2: I'm sure I can, but would I be breaking a streak?
Willis: Absolutely. There are way too many people that are fascinated with it. It's like staring into the sun, you're not supposed to do it, but you can't help yourself. A few years ago a good friend of mine said to me the kids are the future of the relationship that we have. It's a family bond, a bond of friendship. And as a man I've chosen to rise above the normal things that people carry over when a marriage ends -- resentment, anger, jealousy and all that stuff. We put the kids first. It really is the way to go. And I can't really take credit for it. I give Demi a lot of credit for it, but it was Will Smith who told me that should be the goal -- the children. And they will always be our children. My kids are growing up now and they're getting out into the world, but I'm always going to look at them as my kids -- my three favorite people in the world.
Page 2: Going back to sports, what is your "SportsCenter" highlight from your athletic career?
Willis: Five years ago, right before I had to go on "Letterman," I was playing in a softball league in Central Park, the restaurant league, and I had the opportunity to hit a grand slam. Slid into home ... safe ... took a bunch of hide off my shin -- but that was one of the most exciting moments of my adult life. The slide, right, all in the price of fame. And I'll tell you, I was huffin' and puffin' coming around third, but I legged it in.
Page 2: After hearing that, I have to ask you about something I read in multiple places on the Internet, so of course it's true. How does it feel to be Nick Lachey's hero?
Willis: And Nick Lachey is...? No, I'm kidding. Hey, if I can be anyone's hero, that's cool. He was married, wasn't he?
Page 2: He was ... to Jessica Simpson.
Willis: Now she's hot. She is a real hot one. I kid. I had my own heroes when I was coming up, and I've had the opportunity to spend some time with some of them and to work on films with some of them. Had the opportunity to work with Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro -- or to work with certain directors. So I get it, each generation stands on the shoulders of the last generation.
Page 2: That sounds like a lot of responsibility. So finish this: It's harder than it looks to be Bruce Willis because...
Willis: You know what? It's not. I lead a very fortunate life, a blessed life. I think it's a lot harder to be a dad knocking out the rent on a schoolteacher's salary and still be a good dad and still show up and still take care of his kids every night -- that's what's hard. There are millions of dads out there that are doing just that, and they get my utmost respect.
Page 2: So why is it easier than it looks to be Bruce Willis?
Willis: To be me? Because of the pop-culture times we live in. It's a weird thing. For example, I get seats at tables at the finest restaurants and people occasionally send me free clothes hoping that I will wear it and advertise their junk. These are the poppiest of pop-culture times that have ever existed, and it's truly bizarre that people know more about whether Britney Spears is wearing her drawers than they do about what's going on in Washington, D.C. -- that's our nation's capital, by the way. It's a weird thing, fans -- they're fan-a-tics. And sometimes they're lun-a-tics.
Page 2: Who deserves a lower circle in hell -- Internet predators, lawyers or the paparazzi?
Willis: I think the paparazzi have a fairly disgusting job, but I try to cut them some slack. I always try to think there's a dad in there somewhere that's just trying to feed his kids. I wouldn't want to have that job, it sucks being them, but they're trying to make a buck. I'm just glad I don't have to do it.
Page 2: Would you rather be a waiter?
Willis: I would rather carry buckets of sand up a 90-foot ladder to the roof to mix concrete. I'd rather carry bundles of shingles up a ladder in the hot sun than do what these guys do. As far as Internet predators -- I have zero tolerance for these people. Zero. Lawyers? Lawyers someday will be obsolete. We live in litigious times, but some lawyers do well besides that. Some people went to school to be lawyers and went on to become studio executives. You scratch any top employee at any big company and you'll find a lawyer who probably couldn't cut it in the world of law.
Page 2: "Die Hard 4" comes out on June 27. What should I plan on doing that day?
Willis: You're going to want to keep at least two days open. Cut out two days because you're going to see the film, then you're going to want to see it again. Bring your friends. Buy extra seats for your snacks. Go to a big-screen theater. You're going to want to see this one with a big crowd. Hey, you can even take the kids. I'm telling you, it's a smoking-hot film. I'll say this one last thing: Normally, if I was just OK with a film, I would say, "Yeah, it came out OK, sure." I'll go on record here to say this film turned out great. I'm really proud of this one and I'm proud of everyone who worked on this, and it's all reflected in what is up on the screen. It's as good, if not better, than the first one.
Page 2: Bruce Willis, Detective John McClane, thanks for your time.
Willis: Thank you. What's the I-ternet again?
Mike Philbrick is an editor for Page 2. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org