A villain, only on the screen

On the occasion of the release of “Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment of the Bruce Willis action franchise, the ace character actor (“Go,” “Gone in Sixty Seconds”) spoke about his latest turn at big-screen villainy, the future of his dearly departed HBO series “Deadwood” and his highly improbable gig as a morning-radio sports reporter.

Tell me about Thomas Gabriel, your role in “Live Free or Die Hard.”

It’s a cyber-terrorist plot, so he seems to be (a) very good with computers and (b) angry.

Would you describe him as a mastermind?


Yeah. [Laughs] I think that’s part of the gig. He’s the man behind the curtain, and kind of an enigma. It felt like the challenge was to try to humanize a character who was otherwise very inaccessible -- literally, in that you really don’t spend a great deal of time with him. When all was said and done, I was on the set for just a few weeks.

What’s Gabriel’s beef?

He used to work with the U.S. government in the cyber-terrorism department, and he warned the country that this was a [big] vulnerability. But he felt they pushed him aside and destroyed his life, so he just said, “I’m taking over the world.” He seems to be overreacting, to be quite honest with you.

These summer-blockbuster villains have a tendency to do that, don’t you think?


They do. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say he was probably a little off-kilter from the start.

The trailer makes it look like you and Bruce Willis spend most of the movie taunting each other over the phone.

Yeah! It’s “Die Hard on the Phone”! That’s the angle. We have very few scenes together.

Your film work suggests you have a particular taste for playing menacing villains. And yet for many you’ll always be “Deadwood’s” rigidly moralistic Sheriff Seth Bullock.


I’ve got no problem with that.

Yet even Bullock -- the good guy -- had a very dark side. He always looked one irritation away from gunning down a hundred people.

It was almost a thankless job because in a way the audience wants to go along with you, the audience wants to root for you, but you’re sort of stiff-arming them. It wasn’t until the third season that I felt like he became a bit more accessible.

What’s the future of “Deadwood”? There’s an ugly rumor the two-hour movies HBO promised aren’t going to happen.


Quite honestly, I’ve always had a “don’t hold your breath” feeling about it. I think the healthiest perspective for me, and perhaps for the people who enjoyed it, is God bless HBO for letting it exist for as long as it did.... It was really the greatest experience I ever had.

You have an interesting, uh, day job -- reading sports for Indie 103.1 on its morning show. What’s that about?

I’m still not sure. [Laughs] About a year ago I went to the station to do some press -- I was a big fan of Joe Escalante’s show -- and, as far as I knew, sports was the only gig available. David Lynch later took the weather job.

Talk about surreal ...


Yeah. Every morning. He came in after me, riding my coattails. Frankly, I’m tired of it.