Peter Billingsley (aka Ralphie from A Christmas Story) recently uncovered how Bruce Willis injected some humor into the Die Hard set. Thirty-five years after the film made Willis a star as an iconic action hero, Jan de Bont, known for directing adrenaline-pumping movies like Speed and serving as cinematographer on Die Hard, appeared on the season 2 finale of the podcast A Cinematic Christmas Journey. In a lively conversation with co-host Billingsley, they discussed the film’s lasting impact.
Bruce Willis received significant acclaim for his turn as John McClane, which was described as “perfect.”
“[Die Hard Director] John McTiernan and Jan had just felt it had become these invincible guys against the faceless enemy, and they’d mow through them, or they were boilerplate terrorists, but the genre got a bit stale and they really wanted to create that everyman,” Billingsley told People. “Bruce [Willis] was perfect for [Die Hard] because he was just so warm and funny.”
The Iron Man producer praised de Bont’s focus on finding comedic moments, noting his distinct approach in filming Die Hard compared to other action movies. “He said he hid lights when they were building and creating all the sets on the floors, he just hid lights everywhere so he could turn them on,” Billingsley explained.
Billingsley added, “So he could say to Bruce, ‘You can go wherever you want. You can walk wherever you want to, and I can photograph you,’ which is not common, especially in an action movie. Because you would really map it out — everyone knows where you’re going to walk, what the shot is, but they shot it a little more like an indie comedy. Like, walk in the space and find the scene and find the moment.”
Peter Billingsley Breaks Down How Bruce Willis Discovered Freedom to Improvise on ‘Die Hard’
Billingsley said that according to de Bont, Willis fully embraced that technique on Die Hard. “He said it took a couple days, because [Bruce] was very used to working on Moonlighting, which was a more structured TV show,” Peter Billingsley noted. “[Bruce was] like, ‘Wait, I can just kind of do whatever I want?’ And [Jan was] like, ‘Yeah, whatever you want, and I’ll find you, and just find the life in the moment.’ “
Billingsley said that de Bont mentioned breaking a few takes because of Bruce’s hilarious performance. The crew also improvised a significant portion of the dialogue during filming.
“That famous one in the elevator shaft, [where] Bruce says, ‘Come up to the coast, we’ll have some laughs.’ They were on a cell phone and the writer was calling up different versions of that line,” Billingsley explained. “They shot like five or six of them, a few of which made Jan laugh and ruin the takes, and then that was the one that they went with.”