20th Century Foz

Though the reaction to the “Die Hard” sequel was pretty decent, reviews for the 1990 follow-up to 1988’s iconic hit have improved a bit with time as the sequel has emerged out from the shadow of its predecessor to stand on its own feet.

Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin, only 30 at the time, directed the project, which saw a group of terrorists take over Washington DC’s Dulles Airport and Bruce Willis’ John McClane caught up in the whole plot.

It has a bigger body count and is seen as a more serious toned film, and also marked Willis’ first real outing since the first “Die Hard” turned him into a massive movie star who wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around a bit.

Three decades on, Harlin spoke about the film’s status as a Christmas movie with Empire and discussed some of the challenges of shooting the film. One surprise revelation was that Willis wanted to play McClane “totally straight, that this movie had to be serious” and to ditch the one-liners and joke comments.

Harlin told him: “That’s not the John McClane the audience loves. They feel like you’re their friend now, and they don’t want to lose their friend”. This led to major disagreement which ended up getting producer Joel Silver involved:

“We had a big meeting, Joel and Bruce and I. The outcome was that Bruce agreed to do as many takes as he wanted of the way he wanted to do it, and then we’d do one take the way I wanted to do it, with humour. He did it reluctantly, and not so happily, but he did it.

In the end, every single funny moment that could be caught – even a smile he might have flashed before he realised the cameras were rolling – was cut into the movie. The first question the executives asked, when they saw it, was, ‘Do you have any more moments with humour?’ I said, ‘Unfortunately, I used everything I had.’”

He adds one of the most painful scenes was the flirting scene at the airport counter when Willis shows off his wedding ring and says: “Just the fax, ma’am. Just the fax”. Turns out it was a royal pain to shoot:

“Bruce hated that. He said, ‘That is so cheesy and stupid. I refuse to say it.’ It took an hour there at the counter with me begging him and Joel getting involved to get him to say it once, out of 15 takes. But it’s in the movie and people love it. It’s not just funny. It shows he cares about his wife. It makes him relatable and really an honourable guy. Because it’s not just about saving the world – it’s about something much more personal.”

Harlin adds that one of the best days on set was when Martin Scorsese visited. The team built the air-traffic control tower on the biggest soundstage on the Fox lot in Los Angeles with the entire floor being the airfield with forced perspective runways, miniature planes on wires, different-sized snow, etc., and everyone wanted to see it. Even Steven Spielberg swung by.

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