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scene stealers

10 Die Hard Tidbits We Learned From Its Biggest Scene-Stealers

Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers! Twinkies are back! But the relaunch of a creme-filled snack-cake brand isn't the only reason Vulture is so stoked at the moment. We're also celebrating Die Hard, which walked over the broken glass of our collective imaginations when it arrived in theaters 25 years ago this week. The 1988 action movie provided a watershed genre moment, and in the process, ratcheted up the careers of Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. But one of Die Hard's best aspects is that it features many memorable performances by lesser-known scene-stealers, such as Robert Davi (badass FBI Special Agent "Big" Johnson), Reginald VelJohnson (level-headed LAPD desk sergeant Al Powell), and Clarence Gilyard Jr. (cocky tech whiz Theo). Vulture asked those and other stand-out Die Hard supporting players to weigh in on the movie a quarter century later. Here are ten insights we took away from those conversations.

1. Alan Rickman liked Road House.
Dennis Hayden (who played Eddie, the thug with a famous resemblance singer Huey Lewis): Alan was really cool. He was a big fan of mine. Joel brought the Roadhouse script around the set and kept passing it around. So Rickman kept pushing me on Joel, “Joel, this guy should do Roadhouse.” Then Joel said, “Yeah, he should do Roadhouse.” So they brought Patrick Swayze out to the set to meet me. And Swayze’s like a short guy, like real short compared to me — I’m six-foot-four or whatever, and he’s five-foot-eight. And I’m trying to stay away from him so we don’t stand next to one another, so I reach way out to shake hands. And then they brought us both in to meet with the director and the director took a look at me and a look at him, and says, “This isn’t going to work.”

2. Even the terrorist who looks like Huey Lewis thinks he looks like Huey Lewis — only taller.
Hayden: I met Huey once. I was singing on a Tanya Tucker album, and the girls kept coming up to me going, “Hey, man, there’s a guy over in Studio B who looks just like you!” I had long hair and a beard at the time. So I was down in the bathroom, and this guy comes walking in as I’m walking out, and I go, “Jesus Christ, this fuckin' guy looks just like me!” Like a mini version of me — he’s not very tall, you know.

3. Confirmed by an actual German speaker: Alan Rickman's German accent passes muster.
Hans Barringer (long-haired baddie Fritz):
I would say Alan was extremely good. He controlled his German accent as a well-speaking English actor would have. He was not like a TV actor trying to make a German accent and coming off like Arnold Schwarzenegger — which is not a German accent!

4. And speaking of Arnold ...
Davi:
The first time I saw the film after it was completed was with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold and I were very close friends because we had done Raw Deal. So, we're watching the movie, and Arnold is absolutely enthralled. I mean, he's blown away by it. And now I come on the screen, saying, "Who's in charge?" and [Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson says], "I am," and I go, "Not anymore." And Arnold looks over and goes [in Arnold voice], "I can't believe it, man! You look fantastic! Fucking great here!" Because it looks like this guy is going to come in and save the day. Big Johnson comes in to save the day — that's the first thing you get. This presence comes in, the shit is hitting the fan, nobody is confident, and now you’ve got a guy who you think can come in and clean up. And little by little, he doesn’t. And Arnold kept going, “I can’t believe what you did now here, you idiot. You were heroic! And now you’ve turned into an idiot! I can’t believe it here! What happened to you? What happened to you?” He kept whispering, “What happened here? He’s an idiot now, this guy!”

5. Some ad libs were successful; others, not so much.
Gilyard: “The quarterback is toast" — yeah, that was an ad lib. Because once I realized that I could talk to John McTiernan, I would come over on days that I wasn’t shooting and tell him what I was developing for the character. And in the course of that, he really had this arc, this whole picture of the image of the build of the picture. And so I would say to him, “You know, I wouldn’t say that.” So he would say, “What would you say?” And that’s when they would roll the camera. And so I realized after a while that I could bring stuff in, and that he would keep some of the ad libs. And I remember The New York Times even responded to that ad lib, and that just tickled me to death.
Barringer:
 A lot of scenes were changed. Every night we got another script change. As you know, the script starts with white pages, and then they change colors: the first is off-white and the second is yellow and the third is orange. Let me tell you, by the middle of the movie, we ran out of colors. We actually had white ink on black paper to keep going with the colors. But there was a funny scene where I actually screwed up the line. It was when the military vehicles were coming up the stairs of the building. And I ran in the room where Hans was and I was supposed to say, “Hey, they’re using the artillery on us!” But I said, “Hey, they’re using the elderly on us!” So that caused a ten-minute break for laughter.

6. The guy who steals the candy was super polite about it.
Al Leong (Uli, the Asian henchman with the munchies): I only said, like, five words, and let me tell you why: I'm not an actor. I'm a stunt person. And I've always been a stuntman; I've never been an actor. I don't know what an actor does. But I remember stealing the candy bar. I think this is what happened: I had asked McTiernan if it was okay [for my character] to take one. And he said, "Yeah, go ahead."

I would never have done that one on my own — I don't want somebody to say, "You can't touch that stuff!" Lots of times they'll say, "Well, you can't be touching that. It's not really in the shot because we [aren't allowed to] show that." They're always coming up with this or that, so I always ask if I'm going to do something weird before I do it.

7. Demi drama, even here.
VelJohnson:
It was interesting. When Bruce was doing his thing, he flew me out early so he could interact with me face to face. So whenever you see him in any of the scenes, like in the bathroom where he cut his foot up and everything, I was right there next to him doing the lines. Everywhere he was, I was doing my lines. But when it came time to do my lines, well, he was nowhere in sight — I had to do my lines with the script girl. But he was a big star so, what the hell, he didn’t care about me. [Big laugh.] So I remember the scene where he was walking barefoot through the glass. Demi Moore happened to be on the set that night. Bruce was involved in this relationship with her. They were going through something and I remember he was pissed that night while he was shooting it. And I remember watching her and watching him. There was tension on the set. That was an interesting night.
Hayden:
Demi was planning their wedding, so she never, ever, ever talked to any of us. She was on the set all the time, but she treated us like nobodies. I said hi to her one time and she didn’t ever acknowledge that I’d spoken to her.

8. Argyle actually punches Theo.
After Hans Gruber and what remains of his posse gather up the treasures found within the Nakatomi Corporation’s vault, Theo (Gilyard) is dispatched to the loading dock to prepare the getaway vehicle. But the tech-savvy thief is spotted by rambunctious limousine driver Argyle (De'voreaux White), who slowly pulls the stretch job into attack position. The rest of the sequence is the stuff of legend: Argyle floors it and barrels into the van, then hops out of the limo and issues a punch to Theo's head through the (conveniently open) driver's-side window ...

... and the blow drops the wise-cracking hacker, glasses askew and unconscious (but not dead — Theo lives!), to the floor.

This uncharacteristic act of aggressive bravery both impresses Argyle and hurts his hand.

But as White and Gilyard explain, there was more behind Argyle’s heroic punch than mere acting.

White: Well, at that time, to be quite frank, I didn’t like [Gilyard], so I socked him. There was a conflict over opinions he had about the scene. John McTiernan was like, “No, we’re going to do it this way.”
Gilyard: That’s the way I go in pictures. I figure, if they pay you tens of thousands of dollars, seriously, you’d better bring it. I believe in a working relationship, but I thoroughly believe in a professional relationship where you have to deliver the goods; you have to keep your eye on the prize. But, yeah, maybe there was something there. I bet I my energy ...
White: You know, the guy is a great actor; it’s just at that time, this is what had happened. And then I had a little bit of conflict — the punch [initially] didn’t seem real enough to the stunt guys. They were like, “Sock him! Throw yourself into it and hit him.” Being a character actor, I used that conflict, and when I got out and ran up, I hit him. But don’t tell him that because he might come back and sue me!
Gilyard: That’s great. That’s good to know. I sure didn’t want Devereaux to hit me, that’s for sure. He was funny in the picture, though. He was hilarious. And it is interesting. If you look at the picture, I’m the only terrorist that lives. I don’t know what that was about.

9. Fritz technically survives, too, though.
Burringer: I was shot as I was coming off the elevator. But because I was not an experienced actor as such, and they were already behind schedule, they chose to take a stuntman, put a blond wig on him, and have him come up the elevator with the squibs on his body and go with one take. If you look closely [see right side of image below], it’s an American Indian who was my height, or he might even be taller than me. So it wasn’t even me. You would think it’s me, but it’s not really me. So I didn’t even die in the film.

10. Twinkies die hardest of all.
So, do you still remember the four Twinkies ingredients Al rattles off?

VelJohnson: Let me see. Polysorbate 80 ... Yellow Dye No. 5 ... That's about all I can remember.
Close enough. Can you believe Twinkies nearly went under before the Die Hard franchise?

VelJohnson: I heard they're coming back — they got a new deal or something. I heard they're coming back soon is what I hear.
They're just like John McClane.

VelJohnson: Twinkies will never die!

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images ( Huey Lewis)