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Reginald VelJohnson reveals how 'Die Hard' helped him get cast in 'Family Matters'

The film, released in 1988, starred Bruce Willis and a memorable newcomer in Reginald VelJohnson
/ Source: TODAY

"Die Hard" is, let's face it, a perfect movie: You get an unbreakable Bruce Willis as everyman cop John McClane; vile European baddies fronted by future Snape Alan Rickman; a brilliant use of a fireman's hose as bungee cord; and a rousing rendition of "Let It Snow!"

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Bruce Willis swings for the windows in "Die Hard."Twentieth Century Fox

But that's not all the 1988 blockbuster, which has (at last count) brought us three sequels, has to offer. It also introduced much of the world to the jovial Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Al Powell, the one person outside the Nakatomi Plaza who believes McClane when he calls for help.

VelJohnson had been appearing in movies and TV shows for nearly 10 years before "Die Hard" came along, but once it did, the New York-born actor's career took off, and he quickly segued into nearly a decade as dad Carl Winslow on "Family Matters."

All of which made VelJohnson the perfect man to discuss the ins and outs of working alongside McClane and Urkel! Here are just a few things you might never have known about both classics.

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Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) and John McClane (Bruce Willis), in one of the few in-person scenes they shared on "Die Hard."Twentieth Century Fox

VelJohnson's Sgt. Powell had very few scenes with Bruce Willis, but they were always on the line together.

"I was there for nine months," recalls VelJohnson. "But he was on the other end of the phone when we did our scenes where we had to talk to each other. Between scenes we'd stop and talk and found out a lot about each other. It was my first time on a major film, so whatever they wanted from me was just fine."

The Nakatomi Building has starred in several other films — and has a Ronald Reagan connection

"Die Hard's" key location, called Nakatomi Plaza in the film, is actually Fox Plaza, and has been featured in movies including "Airheads," "Fight Club," "Lethal Weapon 2" and on TV shows "The Bold and the Beautiful," "The X-Files," "Brookyn Nine-Nine." After leaving office, former President Ronald Reagan had his offices on the 34th floor, which is now occupied by Fox.

VelJohnson prefers Sno Balls to Twinkies.

When we first meet Sgt. Powell, he's loading up on convenience store Twinkies, telling the skeptical checkout guy that they're for his pregnant wife. In reality, VelJohnson isn't a fan. "My junk food of choice is Sno Balls," he admits. "I got addicted to those things." Not that it stops fans from reminding him of Powell's Twinkie overload: "People throw Twinkies in my supermarket cart," he laughs.

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On "Family Matters," VelJohnson often got upstaged by Jaleel White as Urkel. Also pictured: Darius McCraryCourtesy Everett Collection

Without "Die Hard," VelJohnson would not have found "Family Matters."

"Family Matters" producer Thomas L. Miller went to an early screening of "Die Hard" and "thought I would be good as Carl," VelJohnson recalls. "So he asked me to be in it before the movie was even out. They asked me to do it, and the rest was history," he recalls.

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VelJohnson spent all of his time outside the Nakatomi Plaza, pictured here with Paul Gleason in the film.PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

VelJohnson is delighted that "Die Hard" is considered a holiday classic.

"When we did it, we weren't thinking of it as a Christmas movie," he revealed, adding that every Christmas it comes on, he gets a special present: a residual check. "I'm totally fine with it being one, though!"

These days, VelJohnson is still working hard, currently filming a contemporary African-American version of "Pride and Prejudice." He's appearing as Rev. Bennett, whose wife is played by Jackée Harry. But in this world of reboots and ongoing franchises, he's always up for more of either "Family Matters" or "Die Hard"!

"I'd like to think that Al would be a lieutenant at least. He couldn't be the same guy in uniform — he'd be too fat by now," says VelJohnson. "But I surely would do it!"

"Die Hard" returns to select theaters on Nov. 11 and 14, courtesy Fathom Events. Get your tickets here.