The decade's most triggering comedy
Stunt crews had to check on actor Bruce Willis after his first “Die Hard” scene — to make sure that he had survived it.
The film’s screenwriter, Steve de Souza, recounted the tale to author Nick de Semlyen in his new book, titled “The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage.”
De Souza said that casting Willis was a long, drawn-out affair — and it almost didn’t happen. Initially, no one even wanted the script. “James Caan told me directly, ‘I read the script, and this guy’s running away for the first twenty-five pages,'” de Souza explained that the action stars of the day couldn’t wrap their minds around an action movie hero who didn’t charge in, guns blazing, from the start.
“In the context of these ’roid-rage, superhuman heroes we had at the time, this character seemed like a p***y,” de Souza said of John McClane.
Clint Eastwood reportedly nixed the role because he didn’t get the sarcastic humor, and Richard Gere’s recent conversion to Buddhism had led him to seek more “spiritual” projects. Other reports have named a number of actors who declined the role, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Bronson, Harrison Ford, and Al Pacino.
Willis turned it down at first, citing a conflict with his hit show “Moonlighting” — but when Cybill Shepherd announced her pregnancy, his schedule changed. Still, he wasn’t a shoo-in. His agent demanded a $5 million payday — and said that Willis as prepared to walk if they didn’t come through. Desperate producers, afraid that the whole project would be shelved otherwise, forked over the cash.
But according to de Semlyen, getting Willis onboard was only half the battle — then he had to survive shooting one of his first scenes.
The scene, in which an explosion sends the actor flying, was dangerous enough that it was scheduled early in the filming in order to leave time to recast Willis’ role if something went wrong.
“As he waited, rubbing his hands together and wearing only a pair of black trousers, a white firehose was looped around his bare midriff, a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun hung via a strap from his neck, and a viscous gel slathered over his exposed skin,” de Semlyen wrote, explaining that the gel was to prevent Willis from catching on fire himself as he jumped from a ledge, landing on an airbag that was positioned below the frame.
“As he did, large plastic bags of gasoline were detonated, unleashing a fireball that blew Willis, he claimed, right to the edge of the bag,” de Semlyen continued. “When I landed, everyone came running over to me and I thought they were going to say, ‘Great job! Attaboy!’ And what they were doing is seeing if I’m alive because I almost missed the bag.”