The inaugural London Action Festival had its opening night at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) on Thursday 28th July. The evening featured a screening of Die Hard (celebrating its 35th birthday) followed by an in-person interview with its director John McTiernan, and live music from actor/Die Hard co-star Robert Davi, who is also a professionally trained opera/jazz singer.
Davi performed four songs with his band, including Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life and You Make Me Feel So Young followed by Roger Miller’s King of the Road, before finishing with festive belter Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
After rousing the crowd, Davi was interviewed by film journalist Ian Nathan, during which he reminisced about his early acting days; appearing in his first film, Contract on Cherry Street (1977), with Frank Sinatra, and relocating to Florida after 45 years in LA.
Davi suggested to Richard Donner that his Goonies character, Jake Fratelli, be a frustrated opera singer, resulting in him singing during scenes with Chunk and while feeding Sloth. This performance later led to Davi’s singing career and the release of his first album, Davi Sings Sinatra – On The Road To Romance, in 2011.
He talked about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on Raw Deal, and how that led to him landing the role of Bond villain Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill, which was when fame finally went to his head, as landing a small role in Die Hard felt beneath him at the time.
Davi didn’t realise what an amazing film Die Hard would be. It was only when he saw it at the cinema with Schwarzenegger that he found out how great it was. Davi’s thoughts were shared by Arnie, cue a spot-on Schwarzenegger impersonation, stating; “it’s amazing!”
Davi left the auditorium to a rapturous applause.
After Die Hard was screened, John McTiernan took to the stage for a thirty-minute interview, during which he talked about first being approached by Joel Silver to direct Die Hard, and how he originally turned it down due to the villains being terrorists.
It was agreed that they would be rewritten as thieves and McTiernan accepted the job, but said that he wanted more joy in Die Hard. This request was unintentionally reflected in his decision to include Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the film.
McTiernan talked about how he and Bruce Willis developed John McClane’s character by adding depth and pain beneath his wise-ass surface. This, they believed, would help the audience relate to him. Ian Nathan added that it was refreshing to see a leading man bleed on screen.
McTiernan discussed Die Hard’s anti-authoritarian stance, how the villains are rich, the authority figures arseholes, and McClane was a commoner at war with the system. This led to a conversation about action films in the 1980s and McTiernan’s belief that “movie studios have been selling gun pornography for twenty-five years”.
This became apparent while McTiernan was making Predator. During production, a studio executive criticised him for not putting enough gunfire in the film. McTiernan then added the scene in which Arnie and co unloaded a small army’s worth of firepower into the jungle in attempt to hit the Predator, only to later state “we hit nothing”: a line which McTiernan added as a moral compromise for displaying such wanton hellfire.
The interview concluded with McTiernan answering the question on everyone’s lips: is Die Hard a Christmas movie? His answer, preceded by 8 minutes of context setting, was; “the only way a movie, as political as Die Hard is, could have been made, was if it had something distracting like… it was a Christmas movie.” So, in short “it must be a Christmas movie.”
The London Action Festival continues from 29th-31st July. For tickets and full line up, visit: www.londonactionfestival.com