Die Hard Star Reginald VelJohnson on How He Landed Role as Al Powell
Few can be so fortunate in Hollywood to land not one but two memorable signature roles in their careers, as in the case of Reginald VelJohnson. He was initially cast in ABC's Perfect Strangers as Chicago police officer Carl Winslow, whose wife Harriet (Jo Marie Payton) worked at the newspaper as the two main characters in Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) and Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) during the series' early years. Payton left the show to star in the spinoff Family Matters in 1989 alongside VelJohnson, which focused on the Winslow family. The other major role ended up ironically, also playing the lone straight-and-narrow Sgt Al Powell, the local beat cop who helps Det John McClane (Bruce Willis) in 1988's Die Hard. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, the actor opened up about how he wasn't in 20th Century Fox (now 20th Studios) plans in the role.
"The actor who had the role that I played was supposed to be Gene Hackman," VelJohnson said. "Something happened, and he didn't do it, and they decided to cast an unknown actor. It was the last day of the casting when I came into the room. It was Wesley Snipes. He said, 'You go first.' He went first, and I listened at the door to him auditioning. I never told him. Bruce Willis said, 'Well, let's get that guy.' He pointed me out, and that's how I got the role. No one knows that." The actor would reprise the role in the 1990 sequel Die Hard 2 in more of a cameo capacity.
During his time working with Willis, who announced his retirement due to an illness, "He's the best actor to work with, and I appreciate what he gave me and what he did in the film, and I wish him nothing but the best." For more on VelJohnson talking about his time on Family Matters, you can check out the video below.