Empire (Australasia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS JAMES DYER

Thirty years on, di­rec­tor John Mc­tier­nan and writ­ers Jeb Stu­art and Steven E. de Souza take the el­e­va­tor to the 34th floor of the Nakatomi Plaza one last time. Lovely muzak.

EM­I­NENTLY QUOTABLE AND end­lessly re­watch­able, Die Hard re­mains the gold stan­dard for big-screen ac­tion. Adapted from a Rod­er­ick Thorp novel by first-time screen­writer Jeb Stu­art and fizzed up by Steven E. de Souza’s quippy di­a­logue, it was metic­u­lously di­rected by set-piece mae­stro John Mc­tier­nan. Com­bined with the movie’s se­cret weapon — TV star Bruce Willis — these in­gre­di­ents added up to cre­ate an ac­tion film like no other.

For the movie’s 30th birth­day, we asked Mc­tier­nan, de Souza and Stu­art to talk us through Die Hard scene by scene. Yippee-ki-yay, moth­er­fuck­ers.


__ New York de­tec­tive and re­luc­tant flyer John Mc­clane (Bruce Willis) touches down at LAX with some handy jet-lag ad­vice from a fel­low pas­sen­ger: “Walk around on the rug bare­foot and make fists with your toes.” The tip was one shared with Jeb Stu­art dur­ing his fre­quent-fly­ing youth. Does it work? “Hon­estly, I think a Val­ium is just as good,” he says.


__ The first trade­mark Willis smirk. Ev­ery­one from Clint East­wood and Paul New­man to Richard Gere and James Caan had been of­fered the role of Mc­clane, but none bit. In des­per­a­tion, the stu­dio paid Willis, then star­ring along­side Cy­bill Shep­herd in TV de­tec­tive com­e­dy­drama Moon­light­ing, a hu­mon­gous $5 mil­lion for the role. “There was a lot of hand-wring­ing at Fox, but they were over a bar­rel,” says Stu­art. “I was a big Moon­light­ing fan, though. I loved it.”


__ Trainee limo driver Ar­gyle (De’vore­aux White) picks up Mc­clane (and teddy bear) in the de­par­ture lounge. Pro­ducer Joel Sil­ver sug­gested the name, although no-one seems to know why. “It might have been his pet dog, it might have been the name of his sled — I have no idea — but he in­sisted on Ar­gyle,” re­calls Mc­tier­nan. “It was just goofy enough that I thought it was won­der­ful.”


__ Thanks to Ar­gyle’s side-gig as Basil Ex­po­si­tion, we get the low­down on Mc­clane’s back­story as a NYC cop whose wife moved to LA with­out him. Ev­ery­man Mc­clane nat­u­rally sits up front. “It po­si­tions him as this typ­i­cal blue-col­lar guy and a con­trast to the ter­ror­ist leader,” says de Souza. In ear­lier drafts Mc­clane (then called John Ford) was a more Flem­ing-es­que coun­tert­er­ror­ist ex­pert. Mc­tier­nan in­sisted he be down­graded to a run-of-the-mill flat­foot from New Jersey.


__ Ar­gyle pulls into Nakatomi Plaza — in re­al­ity Fox Plaza. The stu­dio’s spank­ing new HQ was still un­der con­struc­tion and largely un­oc­cu­pied, mak­ing it the per­fect lo­ca­tion to shoot in and, ul­ti­mately, par­tially blow up. “It was the only way the film was pos­si­ble,” says Mc­tier­nan. “I mean, no-one’s gonna loan you a sky­scraper!”


__ Mc­clane and Holly lock eyes across the of­fice. “The only thing that dates the film is Bon­nie Bedelia’s hair­style and shoul­der pads,” ob­serves de Souza. “We should get who­ever turned the guns into walkie-talkies for the spe­cial edi­tion of E.T. to go in and tweak her fash­ion sense.”


__ The ter­ror­ists ar­rive in a Pa­cific Courier truck (a fic­tional com­pany sub­se­quently re-used in

Speed and riffed on in Die Hard With A Vengeance). While the ter­ror­ists had al­ways planned to es­cape amid the chaos, the ex­act method — via an am­bu­lance smug­gled in­side the truck — wasn’t set­tled on un­til the fi­nal weeks of film­ing, where­upon the truck mirac­u­lously grew to ac­com­mo­date it.


__ Led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rick­man), the ter­ror­ists spill out of the truck in a wave of blou­son jack­ets, popped col­lars and fluffy blow-dries. It all looks less like an armed in­fil­tra­tion than a slightly glow­ery cat­walk at Ham­burg Fash­ion Week. “When Rick­man came in they started fit­ting him with all this tac­ti­cal gear and he said, ‘I’m not go­ing to wear this, I’m go­ing to look ridicu­lous,’” re­calls de Souza. “[Cast­ing di­rec­tor] Jackie Burch said, ‘Why do these guys have to look like the mooks in ev­ery other ac­tion movie? Let’s el­e­vate it, let’s make them look like mod­els!’”


__ Gruber steps out of the el­e­va­tor and ends the fes­tiv­i­ties. Die Hard was Rick­man’s first movie role, hav­ing been cast off the back of Broad­way’s Les Li­aisons Dan­gereuses. “Once we started to see what he was able to do, it was like, ‘Hey, get the fuck out of his way! Just let him do it,’” re­calls Mc­tier­nan.


__ Gruber ad­dresses the hostages, cit­ing Nakatomi’s legacy of greed around the globe as rea­son for the at­tack. This was, in fact, the orig­i­nal set-up un­til Mc­tier­nan (af­ter turn­ing the job down sev­eral times due to the dour na­ture of the script) in­sisted the ‘ter­ror­ists’ be trans­formed into thieves. “Ter­ror­ists make you feel bad,” the di­rec­tor ex­plains. “There’s no joy in that. But rob­bers are fun, you can root for them. They just want the money.”


__ “Nice suit. John Phillips, Lon­don. I have two my­self.” Fabric fact: Gruber’s suit in the movie is a cus­tom­tai­lored Ar­mani.


__ The vault’s se­cu­rity con­sists of a code, which Theo (Clarence Gil­yard Jr) cracks, five me­chan­i­cal locks, which he drills, plus the sev­enth seal (a Bergman nod from de Souza): an elec­tro­mag­netic lock that can’t be cut lo­cally. “That’s the most stupid thing in the movie, which I take full credit for,” laughs de Souza. “That the fi­nal lock is a fi­bre-op­tic ca­ble that runs from this build­ing to an­other one in Tokyo un­der the ocean is the most ridicu­lous thing ever. But it en­abled us to put the au­di­ence in sus­pense. In the book, they’re search­ing the of­fice for doc­u­ments, but in the movie it’s this lock that gives the ter­ror­ists some­thing to do.”


__ Hav­ing alerted Gruber to his pres­ence by pulling the fire alarm, Mc­clane is hunted by Tony (An­dreas Wis­niewski), the world’s least stylish ter­ror­ist. De­spite be­ing part of a group re­sem­bling the mil­i­tant wing of Span­dau Bal­let, Tony sports a sim­ple grey track­suit. It doesn’t save him from get­ting his neck snapped when Mc­clane drags him down the stairs, though.

“That was in­spired by Hitch­cock’s Torn Cur­tain, where you see how hard it is to kill some­body with your bare hands,” re­veals de Souza.


__ Just as Gruber ut­ters the words, “We have left noth­ing to chance,” the lift opens to re­veal a very dead

Tony, sport­ing a Santa hat and bear­ing every­body’s favourite fes­tive slo­gan: “Now I Have A Ma­chine Gun Ho-hoho.” “Bruce rode the top of that el­e­va­tor for real,” says de Souza.


__ Our in­tro­duc­tion to Sergeant Al Pow­ell (Regi­nald Veljohn­son), load­ing up on Twinkies at a con­ve­nience store. Ac­cord­ing to the film’s cast­ing di­rec­tor, Mc­tier­nan orig­i­nally pushed for Robert Du­vall but she went to bat for Veljohn­son, in­sist­ing he’d be a ground­ing in­flu­ence. Mc­tier­nan re­calls it dif­fer­ently, main­tain­ing he’d ac­tu­ally wanted Lau­rence Fish­burne.


__ “Now I know what a TV din­ner feels like.” Ad-libbed by Willis, the line was in­serted af­ter the pro­duc­tion mis­tak­enly com­mis­sioned real air vents in­stead of over­sized movie ver­sions. “They were too small and it was tak­ing Bruce, like, a month to move from point A to point B, so we needed lines to fill the dead air,” says de Souza. “That’s how the, ‘Come out to the coast…’ line ended up in there, too.”


__ Ter­ror­ists Hein­rich

(Gary Roberts) and Marco (Lorenzo Cac­cialanza) take on Mc­clane and lose. The mo­ment Mc­clane shoots Marco through the con­fer­ence table is, ac­cord­ing to Willis, re­spon­si­ble for per­ma­nent hear­ing dam­age in his left ear. Mc­tier­nan, how­ever, dis­misses the claim. “You’re not al­lowed to shoot a gun with­out hear­ing pro­tec­tion all around. There’s a safety man on set whose job it is to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen!”


__ Willis’ hear­ing might have sur­vived, but the build­ing’s other oc­cu­pants proved less un­der­stand­ing. “There were some big law firms based there,” re­calls Mc­tier­nan. “They screamed their heads off ev­ery time we let off any gun­fire. They were ab­so­lutely fu­ri­ous and threat­ened to sue us on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.”


__ Slimy re­porter Richard Thorn­burg (Wil­liam Ather­ton) is in­tro­duced, dis­cussing din­ner plans with his girl­friend (he’s re­fer­ring to Wolf­gang Puck’s ’80s hotspot: Spago on the Sun­set Strip). Thorn­burg was in­spired by Stu­art’s time at univer­sity, where he dis­liked most of the jour­nal­ism stu­dents. “I didn’t hold them in high re­gard, so, any­time I could find a chance to stick a dig in, I did.”


__ Mc­clane cold-calls Gruber for the first time. The call wraps up with Die Hard’s most fa­mous line: “Yippee-kiyay, moth­er­fucker.” While Willis has claimed it as an ad-lib, the line is in the shoot­ing script. “That came out of a con­ver­sa­tion Bruce and I had in his trailer,” cor­rects de Souza. “We grew up about 40 miles apart and were talk­ing about our child­hood and how we both watched The Roy Rogers Show. Roy al­ways signed off that way, and that’s why it’s in the movie.”


__ Mc­clane tells Pow­ell the ter­ror­ists have “enough plas­tic ex­plo­sive to or­bit Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger”. A per­sis­tent ru­mour main­tains Die Hard was once in­tended for Sch­warzeneg­ger as a se­quel to Com­mando. This is, de Souza con­firms, non­sense, although his un­filmed screen­play for Com­mando 2 did fea­ture a hostage sit­u­a­tion in a build­ing, likely where the con­fu­sion orig­i­nates. “The Arnold line was ac­tu­ally an ad-lib,” he re­calls. “In the script it was [full-fig­ured Amer­i­can songstress] Kate Smith.”


__ Holly strides in to see Gruber, lay­ing out a list of de­mands

(wee breaks, a couch for her preg­nant as­sis­tant) that clearly puts Gruber on the back foot. It’s a great scene for Bedelia and one she owes, in large part, to Willis’ Moon­light­ing sched­ule over­run­ning. “At one point he was shoot­ing 10 hours a day on the show and film­ing this at night, get­ting 20 min­utes sleep in his trailer,” says de Souza. “Mc­tier­nan came to me and said,

‘We’re killing Bruce! Can you fat­ten up the other sec­tions of the movie?’ So I wrote more scenes with Thorn­burg, Holly and ev­ery­one else. This scene was the first one I wrote.”


__ LAPD’S elite SWAT team go in — an op­er­a­tion slightly un­der­mined when one of their crack troopers pricks his fin­ger on a rose: an un­scripted mo­ment that Mc­tier­nan kept. Ter­ror­ist Uli (Al Leong) brings his own sprin­kle of im­prov magic when he steals a Her­shey bar from the con­ces­sion stand and starts munch­ing away. “That as­sured him a longer life,” says de Souza. “I was killing some­body ev­ery eight or 10 pages but that mo­ment made him in­ter­est­ing. He’s one of the last guys to die.”


__ Af­ter their squad is gunned down on the steps, the cops up their game, send­ing in ‘the car’ — in re­al­ity a mod­i­fied World War II Scor­pion tank. “I’ve al­ways loved old mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles,” says Mc­tier­nan. “So we went and bought one of these things from a col­lec­tor in the desert, just be­cause it would be fun. It’s a goofy ac­tion se­quence, but we had to find ways for the po­lice to do things other than shoot­ing peo­ple.”


__ Über-yup­pie Harry El­lis (Hart Bochner) swag­gers into Gruber’s of­fice, of­fer­ing to solve Gruber’s cow­boy prob­lem once and for all: “Hans, bubby... I’m your white knight!” Bochner played El­lis as coked-up, much to the ir­ri­ta­tion of Mc­tier­nan, who had told him to aim for Cary Grant. Sil­ver, how­ever, loved it, in­sist­ing Bochner cut loose and go for max­i­mum ass­hole.


__ Gruber and Mc­clane fi­nally come face-to-face, Hans pre­tend­ing to be an es­caped hostage. Not in the orig­i­nal script, this scene orig­i­nated when Rick­man goofed off, putting on an Amer­i­can ac­cent for the crew. De Souza im­me­di­ately ran to Mc­tier­nan with an idea for this scene, which re­quired re-think­ing Tak­agi’s (James Shigeta) ex­e­cu­tion so that Mc­clane never sees Gruber’s face. “These movies are like ro­man­tic come­dies,” says de Souza. “In a ro­man­tic com­edy, a boy and a girl have a meet cute, they have a cou­ple of dates and then they go off to­gether. In this movie, the hero and the vil­lain have a meet cute, they have a cou­ple of close-en­counter dates and then one kills the other.”


__ The pair share a friendly cig­a­rette and chat, Rick­man stand­ing on one leg (out of shot) the whole time be­cause he’d dam­aged the car­ti­lage in his knee jump­ing down from the ledge in the pre­vi­ous shot. The cam­era de­ploys a dis­tinct Dutch an­gle here to in­di­cate the de­cep­tion — a Mc­tier­nan homage to The Cab­i­net Of Dr. Cali­gari.


__ The game is up! How Mc­clane sees through Gruber’s ruse has been the sub­ject of end­less fan the­o­ries, but the truth lies on Gruber’s wrist. All of the ter­ror­ists have match­ing Tag Heuer watches — sign­posted by a scene shot early in pro­duc­tion where the gang syn­chro­nise them. “When they all set

their watches you were star­ing into the maw of an empty truck,” says de Souza. “There was clearly no am­bu­lance! So we had to lose it and also cut the bit where Bruce looks at the watch. It makes no sense now.”


__ Mc­clane pulls chunks of glass from his bloody, man­gled feet. “All things be­ing equal, I’d rather be in Philadel­phia,” he quips, quot­ing W.C. Fields. Mc­tier­nan and de Souza came up with the film’s most gut-churn­ing scene weeks into film­ing to lend Mc­clane sym­pa­thy and show he’s in pain. Largely so his smart-ass at­ti­tude came across as coura­geous, rather than just be­ing a dick.


__ The film’s lit­eral money shot. As the Agents John­son (Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush) cut the build­ing’s power (a $20,000 ef­fects shot, since they couldn’t do it for real), Hans gets his Christ­mas mir­a­cle and the vault door slides open to Theo’s amaze­ment as ‘Ode To Joy’ swells around us. “It’s pre­pos­ter­ous that Gruber wouldn’t have told his team what the whole deal was,” laughs de Souza. “But with­hold­ing that in­for­ma­tion makes the au­di­ence in­trigued. You se­cretly want the au­thor­i­ties to fail, ’cause oth­er­wise you’ll never find out what he’s up to.”


__ Beaten and bloody, Mc­clane gives Pow­ell a mes­sage for Holly: “Tell her that John said he was sorry.” A sim­ple sen­ti­ment but also the in­spi­ra­tion for the en­tire movie. When start­ing the project, Stu­art had a row with his wife, jumped in the car and sped off. Tear­ing down the free­way he crashed into a (thank­fully empty) re­frig­er­a­tor box and, badly shaken, pulled over in a cold sweat. “At that mo­ment it came to me in a flash,” he re­mem­bers. “The story wasn’t about a 60-year-old man whose daugh­ter falls from a build­ing [as in the novel]. It was gonna be about a 30-year-old man who should have said sorry to his wife and then some­thing bad hap­pens.”


__ Hans has wired the roof to blow and the FBI are send­ing gun­ships: it’s a quadru­ple-cross! Just as he finds out the truth, Mc­clane is bush­whacked by a pissed-off Karl (Alexan­der Go­dunov), which kicks off the mother of all art­less brawls. “Chore­ographed fights can be so for­mu­laic and bor­ing,” says Mc­tier­nan. “We tried very hard to fig­ure out how the hell you ac­tu­ally make it feel like a real phys­i­cal fight. It’s messy, like a fight in the sixth-grade school­yard.” Un­like the av­er­age play­ground tus­sle, Karl is left hang­ing from a chain-link noose.


__ The John­sons soar over the LA streets. “Just like fuck­ing

Saigon, eh, slick?” “I was in ju­nior high, dick­head!”

“The LAPD told Joel Sil­ver [pro­ducer] that they could not bring those he­li­copters in on the deck as it’s writ­ten in the script,” re­mem­bers Stu­art. “Joel said, ‘Ab­so­lutely. We will, of course, not do that. We’ll keep it well above 1,500 feet.’ Then to the he­li­copter pi­lots: ‘Bring them in as low as you pos­si­bly can!’”

Mc­tier­nan had six cam­era crews and planned three runs for the chop­pers, but the di­rec­tor got cold feet af­ter he saw them soar over the hostages on the roof. “It wasn’t that long af­ter the he­li­copter ac­ci­dent on The Twi­light

Zone, and that put the fear of God into me. Af­ter the first run I said no more,” he says. “If some­thing had fallen into the in­take of the tur­bine, we could have had 75 peo­ple killed.”


__ “Blow the roof!” Hans hits the det­o­na­tor, turn­ing the top of Nakatomi Plaza into a sear­ing fire­ball. The script had fea­tured an elab­o­rate scene in which Mc­clane de­fused the bomb, but Sil­ver in­sisted that, like Chekhov’s C4, as au­di­ences had seen the ex­plo­sives be­ing set, they had to see them go off. “I had to re­con­struct that whole part of the movie to get Mc­clane off the roof, which led to Bruce jump­ing off with the fire hose,” re­calls Stu­art.


__ “I prom­ise I will never even think about go­ing up in a tall build­ing again.” The per­fect part­ing thought be­fore Mc­clane hurls him­self off the roof as it ex­plodes, crash­ing his way through an of­fice win­dow. “Bruce came up with that,” says Mc­tier­nan. “He threw it out on the first take.”


__ “We’re gonna need some more FBI guys.” Stu­art’s favourite line in the movie, though not de Souza’s. “I hated that line,” he says. “It was an ad-lib from Paul Glea­son [Deputy Po­lice Chief Dwayne T. Robin­son]; I thought it was a joke too far.”


__ Ar­gyle watches Theo un­load an am­bu­lance from the back of the (now en­larged) truck. Look closely and you can see a typo on the side, which reads “LOS AN­GE­LES CITY FIRE DEPARMENT”.


__ The fi­nal show­down. Mc­clane con­fronts Gruber in the vault, suck­er­ing him in with ban­ter be­fore pulling the pis­tol Christ­mas-taped to his back and mak­ing good use of his fi­nal two bul­lets. Stum­bling back, Gruber grabs Holly’s wrist and nearly pulls her out the win­dow with him, un­til Mc­clane un­does the clasp on her com­pany-bought Rolex.

“Any­one who’s ever owned a Rolex knows that watch isn’t gonna just open,” ob­serves Stu­art. “It’s a sealed clasp! I brought that up at a pro­duc­tion meet­ing and every­body looked at me like I was in­sane.”

The look of ter­ror on Rick­man’s face is en­tirely gen­uine, how­ever. “They said, ‘We’ll let you go on three.’ And they dropped him on one,” says de Souza.


__ De­spite glass-splin­tered feet and a bul­let hole in his shoul­der, Mc­clane seeks no med­i­cal at­ten­tion, driv­ing off in the limo with Holly. As Christ­mas morn­ing breaks, the pair kiss in the back seat while hun­dreds of mil­lions in bearer bonds fall around them like snow and Dean Martin croons a fes­tive hit. At the re­cent Com­edy Cen­tral Roast ded­i­cated to in­sult­ing him, the star of the movie de­clared, “Die Hard is not a Christ­mas movie. It’s a god­damn Bruce Willis movie!” But his col­lab­o­ra­tors dis­agree.

“Of course it’s a Christ­mas movie!” says de Souza. “That’s why it has snow­fall, and why the first time Bruce sees Al Pow­ell he’s shot like an an­gel in The Bishop’s Wife or some­thing.”

“It was al­ways a Christ­mas movie,” agrees Stu­art. “It was in the novel and it is in my script. The movie’s about fam­ily and get­ting to­gether and all those Christ­mas things.”

De Souza even cites the new 30th an­niver­sary edi­tion Fox is re­leas­ing as de­fin­i­tive proof. “It comes with Christ­mas cards and the box is a Christ­mas sweater. Who are you gonna be­lieve? Bruce Willis, a mere ac­tor, or Ru­pert Mur­doch?”


Clock­wise from above: Bruce Willis in a be­hind-thescenes shot as ac­tion hero John Mc­clane; Mc­clane finds him­self in a tight spot; Alexan­der Go­dunov (as hench­man Karl) takes a break from be­ing hanged; Hans Gruber (Alan Rick­man) gets hands on with Mc­clane’s wife Holly (Bon­nie Bedelia).

Be­low: gang at­tack Gruber the and vaults of the Plaza. Right: Mc­clane picks out the bro­ken glass from his bare feet. Pity the poor Nakatomi cleaner the next day.

Clock­wise Orig­i­nal sto­ry­boards from above: il­lus­trat­ing a piv­otal ac­tion se­quence where Mc­clane uses a fire hose to lower him­self down the out­side of the Nakatomi Plaza tower; The fire hose se­quence is brought to life; Be­tween-shot dis­cus­sion with cine­matog­ra­pher Jan De Bont, di­rec­tor Mc­tier­nan and Willis.

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