Bruce Willis reportedly almost died on the first day of filming the iconic Die Hard movie in 1988, according to a new book.
Any fan of 80s action movies knows that the decade was dominated by seven-time Mr. Olympia, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was slowly chasing his dream of making it as a movie star in America by taking on legendary action roles (including 1984’s The Terminator).
Though, Schwarzenegger – as well as industry favorites like Clint Eastwood and Richard Gere – turned down the role of Die Hard’s NYPD detective John McClane.
According to author Nick de Semlyen’s new book on Hollywood, The Last Action Heroes: The Triumphs, Flops, and Feuds of Hollywood’s Kings of Carnage, Die Hard‘s producer Larry Gordon said (via Fox News): “All the possible action people turned it down […] We had a good script, but we could not get anybody to play John McClane.”
Willis’ agent Arnold Rifkin had been aware of this, and had demanded a whopping $5 million for his client, telling Gordon: “Take it or leave it. If you don’t close the deal by Friday, he’s gonna go to Japan and do some commercials.”
Once the eye-watering pay check was agreed upon, Willis took the role. However, his first day of filming didn’t go so smoothly.
According to de Semlyen’s book, the most dangerous shot – an explosion scene – was scheduled to be filmed early on during the production process, given that the crew might need to find a replacement actor should anything go seriously wrong.
Willis filmed the scene at the top of a five-story parking garage, with de Semlyen writing: “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.”
When Willis apparently asked what the gel was for, he was told by producers that this would stop him from catching on fire – given that he’d be jumping from a ledge onto an airbag below that would unleash a fireball.
“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,” Willis recalled at a later date, per The New York Post.
Aside from almost dying while filming, Willis quickly developed some tension with director John McTiernan. According to the book, he believed that Willis was generally not trusting of people in the movie industry.
After the first week of shooting, tension between the two men came to a head when Willis wouldn’t follow McTiernan’s direction for an action sequence. However, the director later realized that Willis had been conscious of the camera focusing on his thinning hair.
McTiernan reportedly assured Willis: “Bruce, it’s our job to make you look good!”
In the end, though, none of this mattered in the end, especially because the Die Hard became the top-grossing action film of 1988, skyrocketing Willis to international notoriety as a major action star.