Interview with Ultimate Action Movie Great – Dennis Hayden
Dennis Hayden chats about his work on Die Hard, Action Jackson, Another 48 Hrs. and more!
Dennis Hayden is an actor of some repute with impressive 50 films roles to his name as well as countless TV and commercial credits.
However, most action movie fans will recognise him as Eddie, the last of Hans Gruber’s henchman to meet his maker in Die Hard and the man who bears a more than passing resemblance to Huey Lewis.
One of Hollywood’s go-to heavies in films like Action Jackson and Another 48 Hrs, Hayden kindly took time out his busy schedule to talk about all things Die Hard, his life, how he got into acting and the moment he came face-to-face with his pop rock doppelganger, Huey Lewis himself.
Early Action Beginnings
UMAC: What made you decide you wanted to be actor?
Dennis: I grew up in Kansas on a pig farm with 3 older brothers and one younger brother, and a little sister with Down syndrome and a very tough Mom. My Dad was an alcoholic who also suffered from PTSD. He fought in WWII under Patton. Of course, back then the military just sent everyone home when the war ended. There was no understanding of PTSD or therapy. So, even though he loved us, he would periodically see demons and lash out at the family. When I was in grade school, play acting and being a class clown helped me to forget about other problems. One day my brother brought home a black and white TV from the dump and made it work. The first show I saw was called the Whirly Birds and my brother Bill told me that actors made good money. I thought,” I do that every day at school, and that’s what I’m going to do when I grow up!”
UMAC: You played football to a high level – was there ever a chance you could have turned pro?
Dennis: Football was also a way for me to channel my youthful anger and get to take hot showers, a real luxury! When I was a freshman, the Principal of Girard High School pulled me off the top of a senior who had picked a fight with me. It turned out that the senior I was beating up was their star fullback. I ended up as All-State tackle and had some scholarship offers. But the Vietnam draft got in the way. I had a low number so I had to report for induction. In the end, the military decided that I fought ‘TOO WELL!” after MP’s had to break up a fight between me and 3 Marine recruits! You’ll have to read my upcoming memoirs for that story.
UMAC: You’ve played a lot of “heavies” down the years – were you ever concerned about being typecast or something you just embraced?
Dennis: I started out playing heavies in my early theater days and moved up to playing lead good guys. When you’re six-foot-four and rugged, they always want to categorize you. I embraced all kinds of acting, Commercials, Television and Film. Back in the seventies and the eighties, a lot of actors would say, ” I’m only a film actor” and others would say ” I’m only a TV actor” and I would say “Pay me and I will be there on time and smiling.”
Die Hard’s Ultimate Legacy
UMAC: What do you put the enduring popularity of Die Hard down to?
Dennis: I credit the popularity to the writers Steven E.de Souza and Jeb Stuart for writing a great script. When I read it for the first time I remember thinking that it was going to be a big hit. Then when I watched the rough cut, I knew it was going to be a block-buster. But what I didn’t know was that it was going to be the number one Christmas movie of all time. And I didn’t know it would be in the National Archives. This film officially is forever and I get to be a big part of it!
UMAC: How did you land the gig play Eddie in Die Hard?
Dennis: I had just finished” Action Jackson” with Carl Weathers. And he had just came off the Rocky movies and Predator had just been released, and now he was starring in his own film.
I got a call from Jackie Burch, the casting agent, to go to Joel Silver, the producer for Die Hard. So I went over to Fox Studios. When I walked in, Jackie handed me a script and said, “You are reading for the part of Eddie.” Joel looked up from his desk and forcefully said,” He doesn’t have to read for me! Dennis is a great actor! He’s one of the stars of Action Jackson. I just wanted you to meet him.” I said,” Thanks, Joel” and left. But I wished he hadn’t been so hard on her. I thought that she would never cast me in another film. I was right.
UMAC: It sounds like a lot of changes and rewrites happened during filming on Die Hard. Did you have any other lines or scenes that ended up getting cut or changed?
Dennis: When I read the original script, I realized that Eddie got killed about half-way through the movie. The movie wasn’t scheduled to start for a month or so. I was down at the Butler building recording studio visiting a friend and I mentioned that with all these movies I’m in that I could use a publicist. My friend mentioned that there was a publicist down the hall. When I was getting ready to leave, I ran in there and asked her what kind of clients she had. She said that she had only done music clients like Herbie Hancock but that she wanted to dabble in that field. I told her that I was looking for a publicist and that I just got cast in a movie called Die Hard. She said that her future brother-in-law was one of the writers. I said,” I get killed about half way through the movie. If you could get Steven E de Souza to make me the last guy John McClane kills, I will hire you as my publicist.” A week or so later she called me and said, “How about the last one McClane shoots, next to the last to get shot?” She became my new publicist, and the rest is history.
By the way Eddie didn’t Die!! He had a steel plate in his head from the war. So, when McClane shot him in the head, it just knocked Eddie out. He got up during all the chaos and stuck to the original plan and stole an emergency vehicle. He eventually made his escape to central America where he is planning to take revenge on McClane in Die Hard 6 or 7.
Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman
UMAC: What was it like to work with Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman?
Dennis: Bruce was great to work with. He was working Moonlighting in the day and then we shot at night. He was really into his work. When he would show up on set he always had this grin on his face like he was thinking of something funny. He was also planning his wedding with Demi Moore. I remember one day we had a delay, and Bruce got up and started doing a comedy act. He had us all in stiches. Alan and I hit it off. He liked my country background. It was his first film. He knew that I came from theater and with that we bonded. I had tons of film under my belt. He had read Joel’s next film Road House, and thought I would be a great heavy in that one. He went to Joel and told him Hayden would be great in that. Joel even brought Swayze out to the set to meet me. He didn’t know that we had known one another for years. But when the Director put us in the room together I was so much bigger than Patrick. The director said,” No way. ”
Alan and I stayed in touch and we actually made efforts to be in one another’s films. But the timing never worked out. Awesome guy.
UMAC: Did you get a sense Bruce Willis was destined for big things?
Dennis: Yes, I did. He was hilarious in Moonlighting. I saw him in Blind Date and he was awesome in that one. I tell people if you want to see a funny movie check out Blind Date.
UMAC: What was your favourite scene to film in the movie and why?
Dennis: There’s one with Reginald Veljohnson. We had just come back from lunch, which was midnight. Everyone was waiting on Joel when John McTiernan, the director said,” Let’s just shoot one for rehearsal while we’re waiting on Joel.” So, Reginald and I started at the front door and walked and talked and did the whole scene. When we got done John said,” Cut! That’s perfect.” When Joel got there, John showed him the scene on the Playback monitor. Joel said,” Next! We are moving on.” It was the only one-take scene in the whole movie.
UMAC: What was the atmosphere like on set during filming?
Dennis: There were a couple of egos at first. I kept reminding them how lucky they were to be in such a great film. The egos eventually left, and we all had a blast for the next 3 months. I still keep in touch with Al Leong and Hans Buhringer. A few of the guys have moved on to” Die Hard Heaven,”… Gary Roberts, Alan Rickman, Wilhelm von Homburg, Paul Gleason.
Action Movie Acting 101
UMAC: Actors have been known to develop their own backstories for their characters. Did you do that for Eddie?
Dennis: I go back to the author and try to read his intent and that has always paid off for me. Nick Nolte is an old friend. When we worked the same theater, he would get intense on back story. I always believed in knowing your stuff inside and out. That’s what makes good acting
UMAC: There’s a sense of military efficiency about Hans Gruber’s gang. Was that something that just came naturally, or did you guys have to do a bit of team bonding on set and beyond?
Dennis: Joel hired one of the top military trainers. We had two weeks of military training to learn weaponry. I was a natural at it so the trainer and I bonded before the movie started. I had a great time going into buildings and shooting pop-up targets. I could do a somersault while loading my Uzi and bounce up with a full mag, ready for the next target. Reminded me of playing as a kid. When we finished, the trainer told me that he had trained every bad ass on the planet, but that I was the best. I didn’t know what to say, so I said it’s because I had you as a trainer. Then he said, “But you did it in cowboy boots! And if you ever want to do this for real, I can get you work tomorrow!” I said,” No man, I’m just an actor!”
UMAC: Eddie survives longer than most of the henchman in the movie – do you take a strange sense of pride from that? I would.
Dennis: Yes, I take pride in that. Like I said in an earlier question, getting the script change was quite an accomplishment!
UMAC: You’re eventually killed with a bullet to the head – was that a tricky shot to get right?
Dennis: When we set up the shot, a guy had a blow gun with a wax ball in it with red dye. But the guy had PTSD, so when Bruce would pull his gun and shoot, he would jump. He shot me in the eye once and other spots on my face. Each time I would have to hit that hard tile floor and then we would have to clean me up, and re-tape the gun to Bruce’s back, and start over. This went on for 15 or 16 takes. Finally, Joel came over and said, ” We’ll have to do this another time with a different blow gun person.” So, a couple weeks later we re-shot it all again. After 5 or 6 times they got the shot that they liked and we moved on. A few years ago, in the two-disc DVD they included all those head shot takes. You can watch them with or without music.
UAMC Great John McTiernan
UMAC: What was John McTiernan like as a director?
Dennis: John was great. After I did my one-take scene with Reginald, I could do no wrong with John. I ran into him at the screening of “Another 48 Hours” and he came over and we talked for awhile. It was a star-studded night, and I remember his new wife, at the time, came walking over and said, “Why are you hanging out with him? There are stars to rub elbows with!” and drag him off to hang with the A list.
UMAC: How often do Die Hard fans recognise you? Does it bother you at all or do you like it?
Dennis: Sure, I like it. Being recognized for your art is always nice. When the movie came out I flew back to Kansas and went to the Veterans hospital and convinced the night nurse to let me take my Dad out to see it. He had fallen off the wagon pretty bad after my Mom passed with Cancer. I had never been to a movie with my Dad. When it was over and we were walking out, he said, “That was quite the adventure.” Then someone said,” Look that’s the guy in the movie,” and they all wanted autographs. I remember my Dad looking at me with pride. It’s one of my fondest memories.
UMAC: And what about those Huey Lewis comparisons? When did you become aware of the Huey Lewis thing? Have you ever met him?
Dennis: A long time ago I was singing back up on Tanya Tucker’s album, TNT. Several people told me that there was a band down the hall called,” Clover” and that the lead singer looked like me. I thought to myself,” Sure, I hear that all the time.” Later, I was in the bathroom and this guy came walking in and I had to do a double take. He was a shorter version of me. We both laughed and introduced ourselves and went back to our studios. Years later, Huey had a hit album with his new band. People started coming up to me wanting my autograph. I would say, “Who do you think I am?” If they said,” Huey Lewis,” I would either say, “Sorry wrong guy,” or just sign “Huey” so they would leave me alone!
Then I started doing quite a few hit films and commercials and TV and making my own name. And then when ” Die Hard” came out, all of a sudden, I was the guy who looks like Huey Lewis. One of the major newspapers even said,” Huey was great in Die Hard.” I tried to move up and get a bigger Agent, but they kept saying,” that’s not you it’s Huey Lewis.” This was before the internet and IMDB, and it hadn’t been released on VHS, so I couldn’t show them.
And then years later, after Die Hard became one of the top Christmas movies, Seth MacFarlane does a Die Hard parody on the Cleveland Show. They used my character from Die Hard and called him, “the guy who looks like Huey Lewis.” Then to further rub it in, they hired Huey Lewis to do the Voice-over on my character. So, every Christmas, Huey gets royalty checks and I get nothing.
Action Jackson and Another 48 Hrs.
UMAC: You were also in Action Jackson with Carl Weathers. That film was a lot of fun. Why do you think it isn’t as fondly remembered by fans?
Dennis: It just needed a Christmas theme! LOL! It’s still pretty popular. I get asked about it all the time. The director, Craig Baxley was the best to work with. Had a blast on that film. ” How do you like your ribs?” LOL
UMAC: And then there’s Another 48 Hours – was that a fun film to make? Eddie Murphy must have been making a lot of jokes on set.
Dennis: My good friend Andrew Divoff, the lead bad guy, says “hey Dennis, Walter Hill is doing a big action picture and you should see if there are any parts left.” So, I went over to Paramount Studios and walked in. That was back when you could walk in a studio. I found Walter’s office and walked in and said, “Do you remember me? I met you with Nick Nolte.” He said “yes, but. it’s been cast”. So, I thanked him and left my pic and resume. About two weeks later he called and said, “I wrote you a part, but don’t tell Nick, I want it to be a surprise.” It turned out awesome. We had a blast! Eddie was hilarious. Every time he sees me, he just points at me and laughs and says, “Hayden!”
UMAC: Actors like yourself tend to audition for a lot of roles. Are there any notable parts in major movies you came close to getting?
Dennis: When I was doing Action Jackson, the Producer Joel Silver says to me, “Where were you when I was casting Predator?” I said “in your office reading for it, and you gave the part to a wrestler, Jesse Ventura.” He didn’t know how to respond to that.
UMAC: If you could change anything from your Die Hard experience, what would it be and why?
Dennis: I think I did all I could do at the time. I got my role expanded, that was a biggie.
The Latest from the Great Dennis Hayden
UMAC: What else are you up to up the moment? A lot of people will have seen you in those Old Spice ads.
Dennis: I’m just takin it easy. I got a little ranch in the country and I still keep in touch with a few directors. We shall see what the future will bring. Working on a book and a couple of screenplays.
Just signed a new contract with Old Spice. I am in a new book on Amazon called Born to Be Bad about a lot of us bad guys in film, and a new book coming out in November called Die Hard the Ultimate Visual History.
What’s your favorite Dennis Hayden action movie character role? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!