Movie Fanatic was summoned to a Hollywood editing studio for a visit with director Antoine Fuqua as he put the finishing touches on his recently premiered Olympus Has Fallen trailer.
The director, whose last film gave us such stellar Training Day quotes, talked to us about the movie that follows Gerard Butler as a Secret Service Agent trying to save the President (Aaron Eckhart) from North Korean terrorists who have taken over the White House. Moments after he was done with the teaser, he showed it to Movie Fanatic and then… we asked his first impressions.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Fuqua said.
Given the fact that this entire production was put together at warp speed, the helmer seems pretty pleased with what he sees… as do we. “I literally prepped this movie in six weeks. But the thing about it is that I hired great people -- smart technical people to help me. We built the White House ourselves in an empty freeway lot [in Louisiana]. Because of the technology today, we built Washington! I’m really proud of it and what we pulled off. And... I’m still working on it.”
Olympus Has Fallen lands in theaters quite soon and Fuqua admitted to being up to his ears in work to this day. “We are literally approving 200 shots a day and the movie has to be in theaters on March 22nd. I’ve never ever made a movie in this short of time. It does put a certain pressure on you,” he admitted. “You are going to see some scenes for yourself.”
Then, the helmer showed off a scene that takes place near the beginning of the film where Butler’s character is chaperoning the President and First Lady’s son in a caravan with the First Family leaving Camp David. Suddenly, the blinding snow causes a horrible accident. Butler swings into action to save the First Lady, and as shown in the newly released teaser… he does not succeed.
Butler, fresh off of Chasing Mavericks, envelops a character that is so distraught over the loss that he leaves the Presidential detail and joins the Treasury Department (that puts him geographically near the White House when the titular attack occurs).
Fuqua was taken by conversations he had with real Secret Service Agents and how they would react to tragedy. “One thing I learned from these guys and you know this as well because you know history: The Secret Service job is either 100-percent success or 100-percent failure. There is no in between for them," Fuqua said.
"Kennedy dies, it’s a failure. First Lady dies, it’s a failure. Your job is to protect the President. Even when Reagan got shot, that’s a failure. The fact he was even hit with a bullet and could have died, it was a failure. Their job is so extreme. For a guy like Banning (Butler), who’s always there to protect and put his life on the line for what he believes in, to remove himself because he felt he failed is quite real."
The director took inspiration from those charged with protecting President Kennedy. "There were a lot of guys who were involved in the Kennedy assassination, as far as Secret Service guys, who went through serious depression and alcoholism," he said.
"A lot of these guys go through so much emotionally when it happens because their job is prevention. It shouldn’t happen. Just like 9/11 shouldn’t have happened. One mistake… one time, these things can happen.”
Fuqua believes he’s achieved a classic hero’s journey with Olympus Has Fallen, perhaps a polar opposite journey of his main character in his last directorial effort, Training Day. “It’s like going into the belly of the beast, which is the White House," Fuqua said. Butler's character wants back in, but doesn't feel he deserves it. "It shows that if you ask for something, you might get it. Not exactly the way you want it, but it’s coming right at you."
The villains in this film are the North Koreans and Fuqua found that given their place in the world currently, and how films have overdone other geopolitical foes, it was a perfect fit.
“The Middle East has been done and done. You know that story. We’ve dealt with that. It seems to me, and we talk about this a lot, North Korea is the black spot on the globe. There is the least known about the country. They don’t let anybody in. They don’t let cameras in," Fuqua said.
"There was a great special on CNN that Lisa Ling narrated where they snuck cameras in and they showed public executions, people starving on the street. It’s a dangerous place. It’s so close to South Korea, it’s right at the border. Part of the thing we deal with in our movie is the Seventh Fleet, which is there to keep the peace and make sure North Korea stays in place.”
What also feels so real is in the footage we saw, the attackers come at the White House posing as tourists, something that sadly, could really happen.
“You see them getting off the bus. It’s set up, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. Anyone can come to this country and that is the beauty of it. It’s also scary, we all see people walking down Pennsylvania Avenue all the time. I’m sure they run these scenarios. For a movie, it’s great to explore. The attack happens [in the movie] on July 5. It’s the classic tale of hitting them while they sleep,” Fuqua said.
The director is still keenly aware that a film is meant to enlighten and entertain. “It’s a balance because it is supposed to be fun and it is a take over the White House movie but I wanted to make it feel authentic. I wanted you to believe this could happen, and I want you to think about that.”