Here's Why Clint Eastwood Passed On Starring In Die Hard [Exclusive]

For those of us who grew up with "Die Hard" (especially the children of parents who deemed it one of their favorite Christmas movies), it is nearly impossible to imagine the film's blood-and-sweat-drenched protagonist John McClane being played by anyone other than Bruce Willis. Little did we know, Willis was essentially the last person everyone had in mind when it came to casting "Die Hard," as he wasn't considered a formidable action star at the time. Having only appeared in a handful of films beforehand, Willis made his name while starring in "Moonlighting," a dramedy about private investigators and their L.A. case files that garnered the actor three Golden Globe nominations and two Emmy nods. Suffice to say, Willis possessed the acting chops — his uphill battle was in proving that he could read as a gun-slinging, glass-walking action hero.

/Film's Jack Giroux recently spoke with screenwriter Jeb Stuart for an upcoming project, with the conversation momentarily turning to his work on "Die Hard." Though the fact that Clint Eastwood was once among many names considered to originally play John McClane is well-known among fans, Stuart really digs into why Eastwood passed on the role — and it's got more to do with comedic mistranslations than one might expect: "Ironically, his response to the producers was, 'I don't get the humor.'"

A revelation from the interview

That's right — the main reason why Eastwood turned down "Die Hard" was that the script's humor escaped him. When Giroux asked Stuart about the original conception of McClane and Hans Gruber versus how they appeared on screen, the screenwriter re-hashed a common fact with some brand-new insight.

"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."

It's nearly common knowledge at this point that several more well-known action stars were asked to take the role of John McClane before Willis was seriously considered. According to Mental Floss, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson were all offered the role, with each of them respectively declining. It's almost as if Willis was merely a last resort, so much so that the first round of promotional posters were effectively missing his face — with Nakatomi Plaza standing in as the ostensible star of "Die Hard" (remember, this was Alan Rickman's first role as well, playing the German hostage-taker Hans Gruber).

What would an Eastwood-starring Die Hard even look like?

What's so surprising about Eastwood's intolerance to the comedic elements in "Die Hard" is that his films are brimming with dead-pan punchlines, often uttered immediately before or following an intense shoot-out with some baddies. If Bruce Willis didn't literally ad-lib "Yippee-ki-yay, motherf***er" himself, it would have been a perfect utterance for Eastwood, whose "In The Line of Fire" quip of "You have a rendezvous with my a**, motherf***er" is almost uncannily similar. Sure, the gunfire in "Die Hard" is largely spouted from Berettas as opposed to Smith & Wessons, but the humor seems to translate just as seamlessly.

Another interesting tidbit about Eastwood's near-involvement in "Die Hard" comes from the fact that the actor/director previously owned the film rights to "Nothing Lasts Forever," the novel by Roderick Thorp on which "Die Hard" is based. In the early '80s, Eastwood had planned on producing and starring in this adaptation, a project that clearly never came to fruition. Perhaps the gun-slinging icon resented the fact that he would no longer be involved in the production of the film, and as such dismissed the script's comedic tone before moving onto other ventures.

Rest assured, Bruce Willis is eternally the best version of John McClane

Getting back to the Willis-Eastwood connection, one thing remains true: no one else could have worn McClane's absolutely decimated tank top with more swagger than Willis. Sure, Eastwood might still have acted in orgy scenes as a spry late-80-year-old, but being barefoot in a tank top as opposed to clad in a wool poncho and cowboy spurs in his late 50s would have surely been a deal-breaker. As it turns out, Stuart still firmly believes Willis was the best choice for the role, and was even an early fan of his work.

"When it went to Willis, I was a big fan of 'Moonlighting,' but nobody picked him as an action guy. So in terms of getting the character right, they nailed that. I mean, it was just making sure that the audience could buy the fact that he's not this glib guy from Jersey. And Bruce brought that to the table. I think nobody doubted it after that point."

Coincidentally, "Die Hard" would have also been a semi-sequel to the 1968 film "The Detective," which was based on the 1968 Thorp novel of the same name which precedes "Nothing Lasts Forever." Because Frank Sinatra starred in "The Detective," the filmmakers were obligated to offer him the role of John McClane — which the 78-year-old Sinatra predictably turned down. Paralleling fate further, Willis' first on-screen role was in the 1980 film "The First Deadly Sin," in which Willis briefly appears as a man entering a restaurant just as Sinatra's character is leaving. If this isn't some sort of prophecy signaling Willis' succession of Sinatra's original character, I don't know what is.