Oft imitated, never replicated: Hans Gruber of Die Hard is the consummate action movie antagonist. Many might say he is one of the best villains of all time. He has it all: culturally competent, refined, and coolly unafraid of using ruthless force.
Frequently listed among the best ‘80s movies, one of the most important things the iconic action film gave us was the late and beloved actor, Alan Rickman. Hans Gruber was Rickman’s first role in the film industry, and he took it on with such style and finesse that audiences are still awed by it decades later.
Costars and film personnel unanimously agreed Rickman was a delight to work with, starting a long-running trend of delightful Alan Rickman stories.
Rickman took an active role in developing Hans Gruber’s character, which made for many interesting stories about his experience behind the scenes of Die Hard. A lot went into Hans Gruber’s rise and inevitable fall, and Rickman was a big part of how the character came to life.
The Idea For Gruber To Trick McClane With An American Accent Wasn't Originally In The Script
One of Hans Gruber’s most daring moments comes when he’s cornered by an unsuspecting John McClane in the mechanical room. He coolly plays the situation off, pretending to be a frightened American civilian with a caricaturistic Californian accent.
It almost works out, as McClane trusts the villain enough to give him a side arm. The scene turns quickly as Hans becomes himself again and attempts to fire at McClane the second the hero turns his back - but the piece isn’t loaded.
This scene was not written into the original script. In the first draft, McClane was meant to meet Hans Gruber later on, as he was supposed to take out Theo, Gruber’s hacker companion. The updated scene was born from on-set tomfoolery during filming. Rickman was asked if he was able to do an American accent, which he could not, but he did have a California accent lifted from "The Californians," an SNL skit.
Co-screenwriter Steven E. de Souza recounted the madcap process of retooling the script to reflect the new scene. When pitching the idea to director John McTiernan, de Souza said, “If McClane only knows Hans as this disembodied voice on the walkie talkie, if Hans can do this, they can meet. If we can contrive a way for them to meet, he can mind-f*ck him!”
The last-minute decision paid off - Rickman’s gag gave Gruber a funnier, more suspenseful way to meet McClane.
Rickman Insisted He Do His Own Stunts (For The Most Part)
Both Bruce Willis and Rickman were eager to do their own stunts during filming. When interviewed about the process of creating the fall scene, Rickman recalled, “With the benefit of hindsight, I looked at the faces of some slightly incredulous producers when I said I would do it myself.”
He Got The Call For The Role Two Days After Moving To LA
Rickman’s defining role as Hans Gruber was a bold career move, and it fell into his lap just two days after moving to Los Angeles, CA. The film industry was completely foreign to him, as was LA, but he felt his selection for the role - especially given his lack of experience - was a bizarre stroke of luck, and he knew he would regret not doing it.
He joked the producers only chose an unknown like him because they had blown the rest of the budget on Bruce Willis.
Rickman Came Up With Gruber's Outfit
Rickman was a well-established, 42-year-old career actor when Die Hard released in 1988. He was comfortable with advocating for his thoughts and ideas regarding any project he was involved with, and the action film was no exception.
The original script called for the Hans Gruber character to wear more stereotypical villainous garb, but Rickman felt it might be a limiting character decision. He left a note for producer Joel Silver outlining his ideas for costume changes but was initially rebuked.
Obviously, negotiations worked out in Rickman’s favor. When he returned to set, he was handed in a new script. Rickman attributes that success to his time spent in the theatre, where artistic exchange comes with a degree of “risk factor,” which he enjoys. He remarked, “The good thing about starting late in this career is you go, ‘Well, what’s the worst that could happen?’”