Put Me In, Coach: John Moore on A Good Day to Die Hard
I’ve actually interviewed all the directors of Die Hard movies at one point in my career, but not for their Die Hard films. John McTiernan was for Basic, Renny Harlin for Driven and Len Wiseman for Underworld: Awakening. So John Moore is actually the first time I got to interview a Die Hard director about Die Hard. This is historic. Moore directed the fifth film in the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard. John McClane (Bruce Willis) goes to Russia when his son (Jai Courtney) gets into trouble, and ends up blowing up half of Moscow on a family adventure. We spoke with Moore in Los Angeles about the film. Spoiler warning, because some of the questions get into specific lines from the film, but most of the interview covers more general content.
CraveOnline: So you just directed a Die Hard movie. Is that crazy?
John Moore: It is, a little bit. I’m a little bit shocked, a little bit surprised and I’m very delighted.
You’ve been in the Fox family with your previous films. How does it work when you’re in the running for a Die Hard movie?
Well, it’s a little bit like “Put me in, coach, put me in!” It’s kind of emotional for me because I was [working] there knowing that they were the Die Hard guys. Every movie I made there, I was kind of hoping I’d get a shot. I’d see guys come and go, and they’d say, “Well, are you interested in the X-Men stuff” and all that, and I was like, “No, Die Hard Die Hard Die Hard Die Hard Die Hard Die Hard.” So without sounding too cheese ball, it was very exciting that they finally said, “Yeah, okay.” And I got a look at 4. I was close on 4 but I thought that story wasn’t John McClane, but I thought this one was a real Die Hard.
What do you think it was that landed you 5 where you weren’t quite there for 4?
I don’t know. I met with Bruce and I’ll never know because he picks, so he interviews and whatever happens. I didn’t spill his drink or whatever it was. He picks for some reason and they say, “Okay, well done,” or “bad luck” or “good luck” or whatever it is, “You’ve got it.”
This is the first Die Hard that has not come out over the summer. What were the talks and decisions about the February release date?
I guess they were excited that they could make something new of that. Summer’s crowded. I don’t know, there’s so much stuff. Maybe, did they have a little lack of confidence maybe? Maybe, that it’s so crowded with your Iron Man and your X-Men and your This Men and your That Men. February’s fresh. I think also this story’s a little bit sweeter than people want to let on. It’s actually quite moving when he reunites with his son. I think that all mitigates towards why not? Why not do it in February? It doesn’t have to say blockbuster. It’s a Die Hard but it’s also a pretty decent movie to see with somebody.
And that was slated from the beginning?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, Fox don’t make a movie unless they know what the release date’s going to be.
It’s also the only 90-minute Die Hard movie. Do you think the other ones were too long?
No, every one of them was just right and I hope this one’s just right. Those aren’t conscious decisions. You just cut the movie and it is what it is in the end.
There was a trailer where McClane says “Yippee Ki-yay” at the airport as he’s leaving for Russia. Is that originally where he said it?
We had two ideas about where to say it. It had to be germane. Early cuts of the movie didn’t have “Yippee ki-yay.” Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it is an invention of the press that there’s pressure to say “Yippee ki-yay.” The fans love it and they want to hear it but Bruce doesn’t particularly respond to that pressure. If he thinks there’s a fun moment to say “Yippee ki-yay,” he’ll do it. The first idea was: how about saying it cynically? Because he thinks he’s going hopelessly to Moscow to go on a fool’s errand, so he got out of the car and he went, “Yippee ki-yay, motherf*cker,” like it was a waste of time and said it ironically, but we found a better spot and that’s where it is.
Did he ever say, “Yippee ki-yay, Mother Russia” like is on the posters?
Nooooo. No, that was just a bit of fun for the poster.
There’s also a great moment where it’s kind of set up, but he doesn’t say it.
Well, again that’s all Bruce. Bruce’s standard is way high. He knows exactly how to be postmodern about John McClane whereas lesser folks would give into that moment and instinct. “Ooh, wouldn’t it be funny if…?” Bruce goes, “Wait, no. The funny thing to do is not do it there.”
Fans are also really happy that this is R-rated again, but is an R-rating really that important do you think?
Well, let me say this. I think the PG-13 rating is that important in that it’s that inappropriate. I think from the reaction they got when they did rate a movie PG-13, yeah, I think folks feel instinctively that this movie should be R, and they feel somehow like there’s manipulation or it’s not what it should be if it’s steered towards a PG-13.
I guess what I love about Die Hard is not that he says f*** or that we see blood when he kills people, so if they can make a good movie, I don’t care if it’s PG-13 or R.
No, but that’s what I mean. It’s when changes are made to something that’s inherent. Believe me, you can get a rating for something that you can’t fix. You can be rated R for a feeling. You can get infuriating feedback from the MPAA that says, “The movie feels R.” Now, when you get that about a Die Hard, good. Leave it R. Leave it there. When they say it feels R and you try and manipulate it to get a PG-13 rating, I agree with you, it’s not about f*** or blood or shooting. It’s when you start to manipulate it, you lose the music of it, then people reject it.
So the MPAA said R from the beginning on this?
Did you shoot this in 1.85:1?
Why was that?
Well, I went to Russia and it’s kind of a 1.85 city. There’s not a lot of super tall buildings. They’re all six or seven stories so 1.85 worked better, and knowing we were going to go handheld, 2.35 would have been very see-saw and made you quite nauseous, whereas 1.85 is a little boxier. You don’t get as much seasick.
That’s an interesting point about handheld and the aspect ratio I never thought of before. Is that “docu” style with handheld on the fly just what’s expected now, or do you agree with that style aesthetically?
It was a choice on this movie. I thought John McClane is going somewhere he’s completely ignorant of. He’s got no plan, he’s got no help. I wanted to make the audience feel like it was a subjective experience, so going handheld was an efficient coda to do that with him and make it feel like it was all unfolding immediately, rather than it was a fixed agenda to the whole thing. It was designed to make it all feel like it was on the fly. I take your point that it has become a thing to do when people can’t think of something else to do, and maybe that’s because of the boom in micro-filmmaking.
But it doesn’t stay that way for the whole movie, does it?
A good 90% of the movie is. There’s only I think 31 non-handheld shots in the movie.
Oh, I thought the second half of the movie got steadier as they found their footing.
It slows down a little bit but it still is, if you watch very carefully, there’s still some breathing. It just moves a little bit.
Is Russia really that blue, or is that a cinematic effect?
It depends on the time of year. February, yes, it has a lovely frosty blue look, yeah.
When we talk about the fans, I think one of the reasons there are so many opinions about this franchise is Die Hard 1 did so much, and so many different things, it spoke to different people in different ways. Then each sequel might have been one of the filmmakers’ ideas about Die Hard. So what did Die Hard mean to you and what were the things that made A Good Day to Die Hard a Die Hard movie for you?
I always thought it was a western, and I enjoyed the idea of McClane as a cowboy. A cowboy in Russia to me was a lot of fun, that idea. McClane as cowboy, not McClane as cop. That to me was a fun and exciting thing to do with a Die Hard movie. I’m surprised that that wasn’t jumped on before as an iteration of Die Hard, to take John McClane out of America.
They’ve been slowly taking him out of a building, out of the city, to finally out of the country.
But that has a shape on it now, like a Henry Moore sculpture. As Bruce said, no one planned 25 years. That expansion looks more planned than I think it was. I think if someone had pitched a great script to Bruce that was in an enclosed space, he would have done it. It’s just that this was the best iteration he had heard of the next Die Hard.
In Die Hard 2, when they tried another enclosed space, another building which was the airport, do you think that was a mistake?
It’s a self-confessed mistake by people involved in the film, yeah. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t cringe when they say, “How can the same thing happen?” They actually enunciate that in the movie. That’s pretty much a cardinal sin to enunciate that. I don’t know why they made that choice. They’re pretty much acting guilty and saying, “Wow, how could we take your money and do this again?” rather than just deciding, “Well, here’s a story.” In fact, the weird thing about it is, there aren’t that many similarities. So for them to declare that is actually bizarrely self-incriminating because they say, “How could the same” and actually, how are the circumstances similar? He’s not in a tall corporate headquarters of a Japanese company. He’s in an airport. There’s nothing similar about the circumstances except him. So if you take that line away, they should just let it be and not act guilty.
Die Hard 2 has grown on me over the years.
Well, kitsch grows on people. Of course, you’re going to get fond of it because it’s part of the canon.
When McClane keeps saying “I’m on vacation” in this, was that Bruce’s improv?
That’s Bruce. Like all the good lines in the thing, that’s Bruce.
Was it hard to do the stunts practical?
Very easy for me. I just said action. Yeah, man. The planning and the rigging, seven to nine months of construction, rigging, planning and a lot of, “Why are we doing this real?” But in the end it’s worth it.
Max Payne took some beatings in the press. Do you think it’s a misunderstood film?
Hmm, I have to say yes because it got extraordinarily beaten. Someone steered me towards a website, an obscure little website the other day that re-reviewed it and gave me a little hope and reason to live in declaring that it might be a little misunderstood noir. We’ll see.
What were your intentions that a lot of people missed?
Well, I tried to make a noir and instead people obsessed about “a f***ing damn video game,” you know.
Do you know what’s next for you?
I don’t. I don’t. I’m just glad that this one landed and I think we landed it okay.