Bruce Willis Would Have Passed On Die Hard Without A Cybill Shepherd 'Miracle'

Bruce Willis' role in "Die Hard" is perhaps the most iconic of his career. Even with movies like "The Fifth Element" and "The Sixth Sense" counted in his favor, there's no more prototypical Bruce Willis experience than the "Die Hard" franchise. Willis just perfectly embodies the everyman cop forced to become an action hero.

But "Die Hard" was not Willis' first iconic character — that would be his role on the sitcom "Moonlighting," which aired from 1985 to 1989. In that series, Willis played the wisecracking detective who had a will-they won't-they romance with Cybill Shepherd. It was actually quite an innovative sitcom, featuring things uncommon in the '80s like fourth-wall breaks.

It was a good gig for Willis, and when he was offered "Die Hard" in 1987, he initially believed he'd have to turn it down because of his commitment to the show. At the time, Willis' future was very uncertain, according to an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "Things were happening so fast I didn't have time to sit down and go, 'Here's what I want to have happen this year, or next year, or in five years,'" said the actor. "I was never that guy anyway. I was never the guy that said, OK, in five years, I need to be here ... all I knew was I got to act every day on TV."

With his focus mainly on "Moonlighting," it took a lucky break to give him time to film "Die Hard" at all.

Miracle strikes

With Willis working on "Moonlighting," things seemed bleak for the prospects of him starring in "Die Hard." This was until a bit of good luck occurred thanks to his co-star, Cybill Shepherd, according to the interview.

"The show had become popular by 1988, I think I'd already read the script for 'Die Hard' once, but had to pass because of the show. As it turns out, a miracle happened — Cybill Shepherd got pregnant and they shut down the show for 11 weeks — just the right amount of time for me to run around over at Nakatomi Tower."

Thanks to Shepherd's pregnancy, Willis was able to take the time to film "Die Hard," and thank goodness he did. I said before that it's one of Willis' best roles, and it seems he agrees. In an interview with Closer Weekly, Willis talks about how much he preferred his role in "Die Hard" to his in "Moonlighting."

"'Die Hard' is probably the closest I've come to showing what is in my heart on screen. David Addison is a character I play on 'Moonlighting.' In 'Die Hard,' even though I'm acting, a lot of what is in me came through. I really wanted to play a vulnerable guy. I didn't want to be a superhero who's a larger than life guy that nobody really knows. I don't know any superheroes. I know guys who are afraid and have anxiety, and I think you know people like that, too. That's what I wanted to play. I really wanted to be honest about the moment you go through when you think your life is about to end. I wanted to play somebody who was afraid to die."

Understanding McClane

In that quote, Willis shows a rich understanding of what separates "Die Hard" from other action movies. John McClane is by no means a hero at the beginning. He's a regular police officer who's going through a separation. His life isn't awful, but it is a bit of a mess. He doesn't expect to be thrust into the role of hero, and he doesn't want it either. But when push comes to shove, McClane takes the role because he has no choice. And he's terrified.

So McClane, an ordinary guy, needs to do extraordinary things, or at least try his best, in order to get himself and others out of that tower alive. When you contrast this to the many superhero stories today where characters with innate supernatural abilities become heroes, McClane's story is far more inspiring — it shows that under the right circumstances anybody can save the day. It's this story model that makes "Die Hard" such an enduring classic, and an inspiration to tons of modern filmmakers.

So we should all thank Cybill Shepherd's now 35-year-old twin children for being born at the right time to allow "Die Hard" to be made. I would offer them a reward but Cybill Shepherd's already their mother, so I assume they're doing fine.