Old Habits . . .

What'choo talkin' 'bout Willis? Photo by Frank Masi

Bruce Willis does quiet as well as anyone, as evidenced by The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But mostly he does loud, louder and loudest, and Live Free or Die Hard is a big fucking bang when it works—and even when it doesn't. We asked Bruce Willis what it all means.

OC Weekly: Did you ever think, what's John McClane been up to the past 12 years, sinceDie Hard with a Vengeance?

Bruce Willis: Do I think about it as Bruce Willis? Not very often. In my travels around the world for other films or on my own for vacations or stuff, everywhere I went, somebody would come up and go, "When are you gonna do another Die Hard?" And for a long time, I thought that was just something people said to say hi and tell me they liked the Die Hardfilms. But it wasn't till we started shooting that I actually realized there was more of a wanna-see for another installment than I thought.

You resisted it for a long time, though.

It was the story. It's one of the things I've learned in the past 20 years: If you don't start with a good story, then it's really difficult to get an audience to come see it because what you're really asking an audience to do is leave their house, get in the car, hire a baby sitter, park somewhere, [and] go in a theater. And people can watch a movie on their big flat-screen and get the same experience.

But isn't it also the character? McClane seems to have a weight on him now that he didn't have before. I assume there's something about him you wanted to explore, too.

It's John McClane at 52, which is different than when I played him at 42 or 33. The idea of doing the fourth installment in this franchise started to make a lot more sense after a good friend of mine, a writer named Jason Smilovic, started talking about the mythology and the fact that if you're in a film that's the fourth installment in a franchise that spans 20 years, there's a certain expectation the audience comes in with and wants to see how the character's held up and changed.

Someone had suggested earlier on—or it was talked about, anyway—whether I should try to play him younger, or whether I should try to play him at his own age, and it just seemed to make more sense and to be more fun to see the guy at 52 years old, and then to go back when you have that four-disc set, to go back and see me at 33 in 1988 and see me now at the ripe old age of 52.

When you do the fourth one now, do you reflect upon how you got here in the first place?

I reflected upon what I didn't want to do, what I felt were directions I had gone in the second and third installments of the Die Hardfilms and the things I wanted to take from those films and didn't want to include from those films. John McClane loves his country and his family. He will not allow innocent people to be hurt or harmed if he can help it, and apparently, you can't kill him. He won't die.

Did you watch the movies before you did this one?

Yeah, I looked at 'em all. It was a pretty simple exercise: That works, that works, that doesn't work, thatdoesn't work. It would be difficult for any of these films to compete with the first one because that was such a unique action movie, in that it was so claustrophobic and so contained in that one building, in Nakatomi Plaza. The second one was out in the world and kind of all over the place, and someone had the idea to set it in the wintertime, and that was the year it didn't snow. The third one had some interesting elements: It was set in New York City, and we were fortunate enough to have Sam Jackson and Jeremy Irons in it, which raised the stakes. And the idea that John McClane was at one of the lowest points in his life—beat up, drunk, kicked off the police force and dragged back into it.

The set pieces are fun moments, but for you, when you go back and watch them, do you have to piece together the smaller moments of his life and who he is?

The small moments are some of my favorite things in this film and all the films, actually. The scene with Bonnie Bedelia in the bathroom before it jumps off in the first film is one of my favorite moments. The small moments are just as important as the big moments. In this film, there are huge things—fighting a Harrier jet—but it's part of the mythology of Die Hard.

For a review of Live Free or Die Hard and show times, go to ocweekly.com/film.

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