John Moore hitched his wagon to 20th Century Fox early in his career and has remained there ever since. A native of Ireland, he specializes in horror and action pictures delivered cleanly and without a lot of fuss. He credits include Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix, Max Payne and the recent remake of The Omen. But as he explains in this exclusive interview with Mania, he always had the Die Hard franchise in his sights, an ambition he realized with this week’s A Good Day to Die Hard. He sat down to talk with us about the challenge of working in such a well-regarded series, as well as the things he hopes will make this latest film a success.
Question: How did you get involved with this franchise?
John Moore: Making a Die Hard movie was a dream come true. I hate cynicism. I think it’s an evil, malevolent force. I know we’re on a junket and people in my position are supposed to have stock answers, but I say here today that I couldn’t believe it. I started directing movies at Fox with the express hope – the ridiculous dream – of making a Die Hard movie. It was always Die Hard. The first time I set foot on the lot in 1999, I saw the building, the Nakatomi Building, which is actually the Fox Tower looming over everything. Getting this film was all I ever wanted. It’s actually too big an emotional moment for me for wrap my head around. And therefore if I’ve screwed it up – and we don’t know yet, because we don’t know how the audience will respond – it’s gonna be tragic.
Q: You’ve got an even bigger stake in it because it’s a part 5, and there’s four other movies to compare it to. There’s a risk, but if you do well, you can rejuvenate it to a certain extent.
JM: It’s probably equal parts, and I hope it tips that way. We took the approach we did because of that potential. The franchise owes a lot of its integrity to Bruce Willis. Five movies in twenty-five years is not a lot. He could have made one every two years, and this could have been the ninth or tenth movie. But he’s such a vicious guardian of what’s proper for Die Hard. Can you imagine what he’s been pitched for these movies? Die Hard in a submarine under the polar ice caps! Die Hard in a donut shop! With his guardianship and the freshness of Jai Courtney, I hope people will get their money’s worth out of it.
Q: What was the biggest challenge of the shoot?
JM: The scale to a certain extent, but scale can become a known quantity. 400 of this, 1000 of that… it’s measurable. But when it comes to an action sequel, you have to make it visceral. There’s a scene in the film where a truck flips onto some giant concrete pipes in the middle of a chase. It’s not the size of the truck or the size of the pipes. It’s the sound it makes. It’s the proximity of the camera. It’s those little details that make the audience hold onto their seats a little harder. Die Hard’s all about glass in your feet. It’s about getting pounded and staying upright. You have to make the audience feel that. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend. The audience isn’t gonna buy it.
Q: There’s a lot of practical effects here. How hard was it to fight for that instead of using CGI?
JM: It was surprisingly easy, and it was important because reality is the ultimate special effect. The biggest compliment you can give an effects guy is “Wow that looked real!” So starting with that was a bit of a no-brainer for me.
Q: How about the setting? When did they decide to take it out of the U.S., and what kind of challenges did that present?
JM: We always wanted to do it in Moscow. There’s no greater irony: he’s a Reagan-era icon in the belly of the bear. It’s perfect. You don’t want John McClane in Saudi Arabia, mixed up in Islamic terrorism. That’s too close to reality. That’s too painful. You want this to be fun, and riffing on the Cold War was the way to do it. There’s an innocence to the Die Hard movies. They have a sense of peril and danger the way that westerns do.
At the same time, they have to be smart. Critics say things like “you can check your brain at the door.” Not with a Die Hard movie you can’t! People say that they’ve influenced action movies; I say not nearly enough, because there’s too many dumb action movies out there. The first film is an incredibly well-scripted film. It’s just of the movie world. It doesn’t want to taint its own experience by involving it in super-real events. You take real intelligence and you apply it to a movie universe. That’s what makes it fun.
Q: The villains are always really smart in these movies…
JM: You’re right. And I’ll see your smart and raise you an arrogant. They’re very, very arrogant characters. They’re smart to put together the pieces they do, but their ego can’t let them account for someone like McClane. They’re too delighted with themselves to think a knuckle-dragger cop like John McClane can mess it all up. We wanted that in spades with this film. The fun of it is seeing McClane just punch a guy out: a guy who really has it coming. Who doesn’t want to see that guy get the rug pulled out from under him? It’s like Good Will Hunting and “how do you like those apples?” It’s Good Will Hunting with machine guns.