Bruce Willis: Back with a vengeance

Never accuse Bruce Willis of holding his tongue. At 52, he is impeccably fit, brimming with confidence and more outspoken than ever before — even when the topic strays from his work as Detective John McClane, the iconic hero of “Live Free or Die Hard,” which opens Wednesday.

He doesn’t subscribe to the lone gunman theory, for instance. (He believes the JFK assassination to be the handiwork of White House conspirators.) He refuses to work again with “Armageddon” director Michael Bay and “Last Boy Scout” producerJoel Silver. And when fans complained, via the Internet, that “Live Free or Die Hard” was a sanitized copout — largely because of its PG-13 rating — he logged on and addressed them personally, insisting that the fourth “Die Hard” would be every bit as rugged and intense as its predecessors.

“I saw a lot of scripts that went on to become films that weren’t named ‘Die Hard,’ but this was a great one,” he says. “If I didn’t think it was great, I would skirt the issue, because I’ve made films that disappointed me. And though I’ve been asked not to talk about the rating, I know how hard-core the film is because I’ve seen it. After 15 minutes, you’re not going to be thinking that it’s PG-13. That will become a nonissue.”

Although Willis is seemingly untroubled by the film’s rating (despite his pointed rant about it in Vanity Fair), he remains convinced that “Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth in the “Die Hard” series, is not just a worthy sequel, but the finest he’s made since the 1988 original.

“Sequels are treated with a lot more respect these days than in the past,” he says. “I didn’t have to do this film. I could have retired undefeated. But I always wanted to make a film that was much closer in nature to the first film, which is the only really great one. And we did it. This one really lives up to the mythology of ‘Die Hard,’ and it gives the fans what they’ve come to expect.”

That said, Willis isn’t ready to retire just yet. The script for a fifth “Die Hard” is already being written, he says, and he eagerly awaits the challenge, regardless of the physical toll it might take on his body.

“It was a really difficult shoot,” he says. “I had to get myself in shape, but I still got beat up. My body isn’t what it was 20 years ago. But I love to play this character. It’s his lack of respect for authority, which speaks to my south Jersey sensibilities. He loves his family and his country, but he can’t deal with authority.

“What makes this film different from most of the films out there this summer is that 90 percent of the stunts are real. Other films are filled with CGI, but my 13-year-old daughter watches them, and she doesn’t think anyone is in any real danger. ‘Die Hard’ delivers real, smash-mouth action, and that’s the way it should be.”

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