‘Die Hard’ writer explains why Clint Eastwood turned down the lead role

Bruce Willis as John McClane shimmies through a tight space in a still from “Die Hard”
20th Century Fox

Everyone knows that Die Hard is one of the greatest action movies ever made, and just as many folks are aware that Bruce Willis was far from the first choice to don the iconic white vest of John McClane.

Best known as the star of frothy TV series Moonlighting at the time, there were plenty of questions surrounding the actor’s viability as a big screen leading man, never mind the $5 million salary that instantly made him one of the highest-paid names in the industry.

Before Willis was cast in the role that made him a fixture of the A-list and a legend of the action genre, almost every marketable male lead in Hollywood was considered for McClane. Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Johnson, and more all turned it down, but the first choice was Clint Eastwood.

In an interview with SlashFilm, Die Hard writer Jeb Stuart explained why the action-packed project didn’t appeal to Eastwood’s stoic sensibilities.

“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.”

dirty harry

Eastwood would have likely played McClane much the same as he did Dirty Harry, but it goes without saying that Willis was the right choice in the end. Every single aspect of Die Hard works in near-perfect synergy, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else headlining the stone-cold classic.