John Moore is busy, which comes as something of a surprise. It's the day after his new movie, A Good Day To Die Hard, has screened for the first time, so Empire expects to find the 42-year-old Irishman kicking back. Maybe even sitting on a beach, earning 20 per cent.
That's not even remotely the case. Instead, we find Moore deep in the bowels of the John Ford dubbing theatre on the Fox lot in LA where, surrounded by his trusted editing team, he's going over two separate versions of the movie, which takes Bruce Willis' John McClane to Moscow, ultimately teaming up with his son, Jack (Jai Courtney) in order to take down some Russian terrorists. One version of the movie is Moore's Director's Cut, which will be substantially longer than the 97 minute-long theatrical version, with the Moscow-levelling car chase around "30%" longer.
The second - which has caused some contentiousness over here - is the 12A version that Fox have requested specifically to play in the UK (the version that will play in the US is filled with swearing and splashes of claret, and is R-rated). On screen, we watch as someone has a gun put to his head, and his brains promptly blown out. "That won't be in the UK," says Moore, half-laughing, half-sighing. No wonder - he has about ten days left to finish both versions, as well as embark upon a press tour that will boost his air miles, but eat up his time. Still, he takes 30 minutes out to retire to a sofa and have a chat with Empire about the trials and tribulations of dying hard...
Warning: one of Moore's answers contains a spoiler - which you can read by highlighting the text.
You must be exhausted.
(Laughs) Yeah. They pick a release date for the movie and then you back into it. To be honest, Bruce had wanted to make this movie for about three years. Maybe about four. He came right off number four and was like, "That was kind of fun, let's do another one." And he knew he wanted it to be about the son. There were a lot of iterations and a lot of stories. At one point the son was going to be in the Special Forces in Afghanistan and there was an Islamic terrorist plot, and I think Mamma Mia 2 had an Islamic terrorist plot at some point. There was a lot of toing and froing about that.
Was there ever talk about another Gruber? A second cousin, perhaps?
|"People say was Bruce difficult to work with... it's another D word. It's demanding."|
The plot stuff, he was never going to let it be a cutesy recall to anything the other Die Hards have done. I was asked the other day by a lazy journalist what influence Die Hard had on other action movies and I said, "None, you fucking wish it had." Die Hard is a fucking amazingly good script. Don't bless that garbage by associating it with fucking Die Hard, by putting it in that heap with action movies. I don't know if we've succeeded or failed on this one, but know that we tried and Bruce was like, "Try harder, try harder" up until the moment you shoot it. I wasn't exaggerating when I said you'd be on set and he'd be like, "This is ok, but..." And I'd be like, but you agreed that last night. His whole thing was, "But that was last night..."
So what do you do?
You work with him. This isn't a complaint. This is how demanding of himself he is and of excellence. He can't have a line fall flat. He can't throw out a McClane-ism, it has to be a fucking home run every time. Can you imagine that pressure? And the fifth movie out, if one of those one-liners is a stinker, he's going to get hurt.
Was there talk of McClane being retired for this one?
That was around for a long time, the idea of getting McClane out of retirement. A lot of people were saying, oh Bruce doesn't want to look old, but his point was very simple. He said, "Why should John McClane be retired?" And nobody could think of a good reason why John McClane should be retired. In real life, Bruce is 58, he wouldn't be retired. So other than the cute concept of "Oh, he's retired, and then he un-retires", it's that kind of fakery that he red cards and goes, "No sale." It's not like this is fucking cinéma vérité. Mike Leigh isn't going to suddenly be impressed by a Die Hard plot or script, but even though it's number five we're still trying as hard as ever to follow the plot and the rules.
You were announced as director in September 2011. How did that come about?
He'd interviewed and worked with a few directors and it hadn't worked out. They found themselves in a jobs vacant situation in the Directors Daily. I was working on something else, getting ready to do something else and there was a meeting arranged. I went to interview with him and the interview's meant to be twenty minutes, and it went a couple of hours. I guess that was a pretty good sign. Then there was 48 hours of complete fucking silence and then the phone call. "The good news is you've got the job, the bad news is you've got the job." It's a job that had its own challenges. This is the first Die Hard to ever shoot outside the United States, and that means this is the first Die Hard to ask Bruce to shoot outside the United States, so you have that whole machine to move. So that was tricky.
Was Russia already part of it?
That was locked. The script was pretty locked. The big twist wasn't locked. I don't think you can have a Die Hard without a giant twist. That's one of the slightly overlooked staples. Don't forget Gruber saying "You wanted a miracle, I give you the FBI." That didn't happen for us until two weeks into shooting.
[Spoilers follow - highlight text below to reveal the answer]
We had to walk up and tell Sebastian Koch, "You're the bad guy." He was like, what the fuck are you talking about? I'm Komarov. "Yeah, no, you're the bad guy." And he was excited - who doesn't want to play the bad guy? There was a moment when it was a great idea, but how the fuck do we implement it? Does he know? Does she know? Hang on, maybe it still fucking doesn't make any sense!" (Laughs)
"If he planned this and wait a minute, the daughter's in on it too, it makes sense, she's putting one over on Chagarin, the whole thing was a construct. Phew!" There was a crack pipe hit of "he's the bad guy", but not all scripts are created equal, and we could have annoyed the audience on the drive home. It was tough, man. We're Rubik's Cubing it and hoping desperately that it all clicks. That's crucial for Die Hard.
[End of spoilers]
If Die Hard were to ever take its foot off the gas in terms of its responsibility to be a really well-plotted movie, that would be it, it's gone, the franchise would go down in flames. We can blow shit up all day, it's great, it's expensive and the bar's getting higher, but there are going to be teams of men ready, willing and able to do it. But is the script good? Is the plot worthy of a Die Hard? I say thank God for Bruce and that he still has the star power. There's not even a hint of him doing it for the paycheck. He's still Bruce.
How did the fact that this is the 25th anniversary play into things?
It was one of those exciting, cute ideas. If we could, why not? That would excite people and it would make people my age feel very fondly for the movie. I was 18 when the first one hit. That makes me think about what those 25 years have done. I'm Irish, sitting in a theatre in Dublin in 1988, and to go from that to this, it's a quarter of a century and it's beyond ironic to be watching Bruce and then, 25 years later, he's still John McClane. It's exciting and intimidating when you think about it, but it's also charming and lovely that he's still willing to give John McClane to people.
His whole thing, talking to me during the movie, was dignity, as long as we do it with dignity. I think he was genuinely concerned - don't you dare make me look stupid or ridiculous. We pushed it. We have men jumping out of windows, never really advisable but within the canon of Die Hard, where he is a notable window-jumper, you might scrape by. We'll take a bit of heat, we'll get beat up a little for it, but I hope more people than not will give you that one, because it's a little referential but deferentially so. I hope we haven't fucking ruined it and gone cheap. I hope we were cautious enough about that. It's why Bruce would never say, "Shoot the glass." The Jack character would be like, "Stop filming!" And he looks in the camera and goes, you know, "From the 1988 film, Die Hard."
How can the same shit happen to the same guy five times?
They did that in the second movie! I strongly suspect that it was Bruce that said we're not doing that shit again. He probably regrets even letting them do it that one time. The movies took a steep upturn in quality after that dip for number two. It's interesting that John didn't do that one. He did number three and got it back to where it needed to be.
Is he the keeper of the flame, then?
Ruthlessly so. And that means no easy days, though. There's no glibness. There's no parlour trick directing. There's no "Ha ha!" chummy blah and now you're rolling. There's "Here's what I'm thinking" and you're a bit like a nervous chef, going, "Here's my menu, here's what I'll hope you'll like." And you have to do that every day, with every set-up. It's not like two weeks in they go, "We'll have whatever the chef has." I've noticed that with all those guys - Hackman, Wahlberg, Schreiber, Bruce. Every day you have to start over with them.
Have you read Kevin Smith's book?
|"The approach was to take one constant, Bruce as McClane and he knows what to do, and put the rest around that."|
There's a chapter where he talks about directing Bruce on Cop Out and how difficult it was. Which begs the question, how do you tell John McClane how to be John McClane?
Here's how I approached it. I've done music work in the past and whether it's Bono or Mick Jagger, you're not going to tell them how to sing one of their songs, but you can construct the concert around them, you can move the lights, you can move the cameras, you can construct the imagery, but you're not going to say, "Mick, I think you should put your foot up on the monitor here during Brown Sugar." For a start, you'd be told to go fuck yourself, but you also might be tampering with something that you yourself greatly admire, and I don't know if I want that. I want someone to have clean hands handling that lab sample, and Bruce has clean hands.
If he thinks of something, it's going to be McClane-esque with a 25-year study of it. If I think of something McClane-esque, it'll be with the consciousness of a fan. Am I going to be the wildlife photographer saying, here comes the snow leopard, let's film him, or shall we fake it in the studio? The approach was to take one constant, Bruce as McClane and he knows what to do, and put the rest around that. I'm confident that that was the smart thing to do. It also made sure he brought his A game, and the contract was I'll film it, you do your thing and I'll give you as much direction as you want, but know that I won't let you down.
Was there ever a worry that Jack might overshadow John in this?
The truth of it is, it was a simple matter of following the Die Hard rule. Hans Gruber is meticulous, the only thing he didn't plan on was the thing you couldn't plan: John McClane. The fun of John McClane's son would be him being opposite in nature to his father. That was a simple idea. If his father is a make shit up as he goes along fly in the ointment, then the fun and obvious, in a way, thing to do is make the son pretty uptight and anal and highly-trained and meticulous and put them in a rowboat, send them out into the lake and see what happens. There were some ill-informed people in the process who thought it would be fun to have cute imitations - "Ooh, he does that just like his dad." Noooooo, he doesn't.
What I'm proud about is we held our nerve. "And right at the end, the son goes "˜Yippee-ki-yay'!" Seriously, go fucking kill yourself if that's your pitch. There were times when ideas like that had to be taken out the back and strangled and drowned, because it's a flighty idea and it's suddenly in the room. Jack McClane has not seen Die Hard. He has not seen the film! But Bruce is the guy at the nightclub with the rope: "Sorry mate, you're not getting in tonight." So was he difficult? You bet your life he was. Was he demanding? Abso-fucking-lutely. And thank God for him, because there are a lot of people who think it's great, but their names aren't up there.
A Good Day To Die Hard is in cinemas on February 14.