A director is captain of their movie ship. There’s a lot they have to handle in order to keep it afloat. Luckily for Antoine Fuqua, director of Olympus Has Fallen, he had a spectacular cast behind him. Fuqua and actors Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Angela Bassett recently sat down and revealed how fun it was being part of such an explosive film.
Gerard, you tackle a lot of action in the film. Do you prefer more physical or sedentary roles?
Gerard Butler: To be honest I was very jealous the week that Morgan [Freeman] arrived because literally this excitement came over the whole set. It was amazing to watch. I really wish I’d been involved in those scenes. It was some of my favorite stuff in this. Really one of my favorite parts of the movie is what’s happening in the Crisis Room. It’s so incredibly gripping to go in and experience what is it that those people do that we don’t know when this happens. 9/11 we were saying where’s the president, what’s happening. Here you realize, and this is why it was great having this incredible cast, to really humanize these characters and see the decisions they have to make and the real people having to make split-second decisions that will affect the planet. The stakes are rising and they’re going into territory where there is no protocol for what they do, so I would’ve loved to have been involved with that. But it’s fun to go and kick ass as well.
Antoine and I were wanting to make this guy really incredibly brutal and uncompromising. To give some satisfaction that I felt, in our recent history, that we never felt that we got. After 9/11 it was done. Everybody was gone. Here we have a stand off situation with an escalating international crisis but the terrorists are there and we need to seek some payback and we do. It’s not just about the action, it’s able to climb into what happens in there. What accounts to terrorism strategies? When you go in there and see enemy capabilities, you get your ammo, you establish outside lines of communication. I can’t work without these guys, they can’t work without me, and the president holding out the information. That’s what’s kind of great about it. It kind of brings all together with the action and all of that.
What did you do to get in shape for your role?
Gerard Butler: I’ve worked in a lot of action movies and worked with a lot of stunt teams. We had a phenomenal stunt team in this movie, former Navy SEALs and martial arts experts. For me, I was just constantly practicing my moves, loading guns and while I’m talking to people. I was just doing that just to keep up. Antoine and I were tight. We were always kind of moving forward with ideas and then just get in there and hope you dont’ make a fool of yourself.
I seriously think the other person competing for being the biggest badass is Antoine. He’s seriously a Golden Glove boxer so to make an action movie with a guy who understands fighting and who understands character. You can say so much with the fights or you can say nothing. And we were always about this specific kind of intention behind this guy fighting, because stunt guys are incredible but sometimes give you stunt-like moves. You’re like no, I want this. I want to surprise them. I want to be lethal or I want to punish. When you’ve got a guy like Antoine who completely understands that, understands character performance, then it makes it a really kind of… that’s why we have such a rich movie. It’s not just an action movie. It’s a thriller but it’s an emotional ride as well with characters that you get involved with. In this situation the explosions actually are important because this takedown of the White House is one of the most unforgettable action sequences but again it has a purpose behind it. It’s all well in how do they do it. What is the intelligence they use and it’s a very powerful thing to experience because we’re really focused, especially Antoine, with grounding it, really making it. What would this look like, feel like, smell like, taste like. You’re totally pulled into this and in that respect every gun shot, every explosion is mind-blowing.
Antoine, how much of the real White House layout did you know? How much did they disclose when it came to putting the story together?
Antoine Fuqua: Nothing about it was easy, that’s for sure. Like I said, we worked with people who worked in the White House. most of the people we worked with, outside of a couple of people who I can’t tell you about gave me some information who were employees of the White House. They laid out the White House for us in a basic sense and they told me a few things I wouldn’t put in the movie anyways and of course they wouldn’t let me. they kind of laid it out and others I didn’t know about. I didn’t know they had a lot of passageways and things like that. One of our consultants told us stories about Jimmy Carter’s daughter and how they would always have to go and get her because she would sneak out. That’s how Connor comes out. That’s all true.
How was it for you two (Angela Bassett/Morgan Freeman) working opposite each other?
Angela Bassett: Of course I was incredibly intimidated! But it didn’t last long. The moment I met him, he was magnificent and was everything I ever hoped for. The opportunity to play with, to study, and he’s a pretty good singer as well.
Morgan Freeman: One of the great things about this work that we do… I’m still kind of star struck. I see actors I’ve seen just about everybody in here do incredible work. To get a chance to dance with them is a serious perk in life. So you walk on a set and there’s Angela and it’s like yeah I’m there. I’m down with this. Dylan [McDermott] and I have worked a couple of times before. You find a good dance partner and that’s who you want to dance with.
Aaron, how is your president different from the one’s we’ve seen in the past?
Aaron Eckhart: I think that it was Antoine that did make him physical, active, and having a young family. That was really it. What I thought was the ideal president, the characteristics so I think it was just mostly the script.
Antoine Fuqua: Aaron’s an amazing actor. Part of what you see in strong individual actors, one of the key things for me was I didn’t want any one of our characters to be victims. They’re all tough. They’re mentally tough. Aaron, I’ve been wanting to work with for years. When I looked at the script I thought it has to be Aaron. I begged him to do it by the way. But it was one of those things where me and Gerard wanted a tough president. We wanted a young Kennedy. We wanted a guy that you believed had those values and intelligence and you’d vote for this man, but also he could fight. Aaron can fight. Gerard can tell you that when he came into the ring in that boxing scene, he was more ready than him. But part of that was I really needed a real heavyweight. The guy was going to be captured. I didn’t want a victim, I wanted a fighter, and that’s all that we need. That’s what he is. He’s an amazing actor.
Gerard Butler: I just wanted to put in that he brought so much life for that president. I’ve got to say this; I’m totally inspired by the intensity in him because what we all do, but when the president has to go through, that’s hard to keep up, because nobody is more committed and prepared and stays in that space to the point of where I thought I was pretty committed. I watch him and I’m like damn! I was very, very, very impressed and I think you really feel that in the movie, that same tenacity and commitment and brilliance that I got from him.
Olympus Has Fallen hits theaters Friday, March 22.