Die Hard fans cannot practically envision anyone other than Bruce Willis as the film’s blood-and-sweat-soaked protagonist John McClane. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Willis was the last person on everyone’s mind when it came to casting Die Hard, as he wasn’t exactly regarded as a capable action star.
Willis rose to prominence after appearing in Moonlighting, a dramedy about private investigators and their Los Angeles case files that earned him three Golden Globe nominations and two Emmy nominations. To say the least, Willis had the acting skills; the challenge was convincing him that he could read as a gun-toting, glass-walking action hero.
Though many fans are aware that Clint Eastwood was previously considered for the role of John McClane, Stuart delves more into why he passed on the part and it has less to do with comedic mistranslations than one might expect. Eastwood’s main reason for passing on Die Hard was that the script’s humor was lost on him.
They went to Clint Eastwood first. Ironically, his response to the producers was, ‘I don’t get the humor.’ Which, for me, was a shock because if you listen to a lot of those words, Eastwood’s one of the few people who could have delivered a line like ‘Come to LA, have a great time.’ All that kind of stuff. You could see him doing that. He was my inspiration.
Stuart rehashed a popular fact with some brand-new insight when Giroux inquired about the initial conception of McClane and Hans Gruber versus how they appeared on screen. It’s almost common knowledge that numerous other well-known action stars were approached about playing John McClane before Willis was seriously considered.
According to Mental Floss, the part was offered to Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson, who all respectfully declined. It’s almost as if Willis was a last-ditch effort, with Nakatomi Plaza filling in as the ostensible star of Die Hard on the first wave of promotional posters.
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H/T to Slashfilm.