Olympus Has Fallen Antoine Fuqua

This weekend, Washington D.C. gets pulverized in “Olympus Has Fallen,” and director Antoine Fuqua wouldn’t have it any other way. The man in charge of this star-studded production boasted during press day of the glee he took in demolishing a national landmark, designed as a set in Shreveport, Louisiana. He looked forward every day to, “Tearing it up, shooting it up, making it real.” The sense of awe certainly affected the cast, but it certainly wasn’t contagious for the director of “Training Day” and “Tears Of The Sun.” “There’s not a lot of green screen you can do in that situation. You’ve got actors in that space.  Working on the movie [they] were like, we’ve got chills, we’re in the White House this is amazing! And I was like, yeah, I can’t wait to blow it up!” Destroying these models was as close to the real thing as some of these crew members would get to the Oval Office, as apparently Fuqua and company were discreetly rebuffed by the actual Commander in Chief. “We made that phone call, they didn’t like that,” Fuqua says of a possible on-location shoot. “Obama said, 'I don’t think so.' ”

“Olympus Has Fallen” is the rare Hollywood movie to have a speedy incubation period. Screenwriter Creighton Rothenberger says he and co-writer (and wife) Katrin Benedikt had been working on the script for years but he boasts, “The script sold in March 2012, and is coming out March 2013. It was off to the races since a rival project sold eight weeks after, so they said, 'If we’re gonna do this, we gotta do it now.' ” The story of a Secret Service agent dealing with terrorists who have invaded the White House came from a simple hook the duo found irresistible. “What would be the most impossible building to take over in the world?” Rothenberger posits. “And that was the White House.” Citing “In The Line Of Fire” and “To Live And Die In LA,” he continues, “We crossed that with the story of a Secret Service agent, because we hadn’t seen a Secret Service agent in a movie in a long time.”

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler

It was at lightning speed that the project took flight, with everyone’s feet held to the fire knowing that rival project, “White House Down,” was also moving through development. Fuqua soon came aboard, making the deal within the span of hours to direct for Millennium Films. “One thing I will say about Millennium is that [producer] Avi [Lerner]’s always kept his word to me,” says Fuqua. “When I read the script, I said, 'Are you gonna spend the money to make this movie, because there’s a lot going on in this movie.' And [he] says 'Yep, absolutely.' But I said, 'I need to know now, tonight.' We met at eleven o clock at night, just me and Avi, and he goes, 'Yep, and I’ll commit to you tomorrow morning.' And we made a deal. That’s rare when you can sit with the head of the studio and he actually writes the check.”

Soon, the project had a bonafide star in Gerard Butler, who also assumed producing responsibilities. Butler says of that process, “You can have as much influence as possible on the script. We ripped this script apart and rebuilt it to be the freshest most modern heart-pounding and provocative action thriller, and give it some sophistication. I was probably doing more of that than acting!” To Fuqua, Butler’s collaboration was a breath of fresh air. “It teaches actors to be aware of scheduling, budgets,” Fuqua says of actors who produce. “Sometimes that says to the actor, you’re only gonna get a few takes. And you understand that because there’s only a certain amount of money. So there’s no ‘Not coming out of my trailer.’”

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler Aaron Eckhart

The duo brainstormed with Rothenberg and Benedikt, excited to see the evolution of their first script to go into production. Taking a hands-on approach, Butler and Fuqua greatly shaped what the film “Olympus Has Fallen” would end up being, even changing plot elements. “We originally had it on July 4th, it’s symbolic, thematic,” Benedikt says. “And Antoine said 'Wait a minute, why would they attack on July 4th? That’s when we have all the security at the Washington mall. What about July 5th?' A post-holiday hangover.”

The speedy production also allowed Fuqua to instill a tense atmosphere on set, with every actor on edge. Taking advantage of the hostilities presented by villain Kang (Rick Yune), Fuqua urged the cast to go for realistic antagonism and aggression. “Sometimes the atmosphere can be manipulated by filmmakers,” Fuqua said, claiming there was no fraternization. “And sometimes it just happens. Because they’re really serious actors, everyone was in the moment. So Aaron Eckhart didn’t want anything to do with Rick Yune. Melissa Leo and Rick Yune, you had to keep them apart. That was tough. Rick was a really sweet guy, and he came to me one day and said, 'Nobody likes me here!' And I was like, 'Rick, you’re the terrorist!' It’s not always fun to be in that environment.”

Olympus Has Fallen Gerard Butler

Yune confirms the feistiness on-set, explaining, “Antoine grew up with a lot of risk in life. Dude was shot when he was fifteen in Pittsburgh. That’s what he brings to ‘Training Day’ and ‘Olympus Has Fallen.’ You need to have a leader who understands that type of realism.” Yune confesses discomfort with such a bad guy part, claiming, “During rehearsals they kept calling me Kang. And I was like, my name is Rick. Antoine was like, 'We’ve gotta make this real. If you see someone walking down the hall… check ‘em!' ” Part of the verisimilitude was achieved through the many hand-to-hand fight scenes. “During the fight scenes, a lot of what Gerry and I did, the choreography was thrown out,” Yune says. “The crew bolts and Gerry’s like, 'Let’s keep fighting!' And I’m like, 'Gerry, this is a movie!' Antoine would say, ‘This can’t be GQ! This can’t be GQ!’”

Boasting scores of injuries, Butler confirms these gritty methods, praising the film’s practical effects over CGI and stunt doubles. “I was around every fuckin’ explosion that happened,” Butler sighs.” It was like, put Gerry five feet from there! When you do an action movie, you sign up for that. Even before we started the day, Antoine would say, ‘Bad intentions.’ That was his line, always. ‘Bad intentions, Gerry, bad intentions.’”

Olympus Has Fallen Aaron Eckhart

That realism helped unify a production that, given the structure of the story, seems like it would be divided. The intensity reached to the control room, where Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett play the acting President and the head of Secret Service respectively, coordinating plans by radio to Butler’s ex-special agent Mike Banning. "In the situation room, it was calm and contained,” Bassett says. Noting that they had the action footage as it was being shot, Bassett praised the direct connection in establishing the stakes. “It was nice that we had the visual on the screen and we can see action on the screen. Sometimes you’re not told; you have to look at the orange x or something. It’s nice to be in the same world, reacting to the same thing.”

During production, it was impossible to avoid comparisons to “White House Down,” which sees release this summer and boasts a similar premise, involving terrorists attacking Washington. But don’t look for uncertainty from Fuqua, who wasn’t fazed by the comparison. “First time I heard about it was after I read this script, they said, well, there’s another one being made, ‘White House Down’ with Jamie [Foxx] and Channing Tatum,” he says. “And my reaction was, great. If you’re gonna let me make a grittier version of this film, then there’s room for both. Roland [Emmerich]’s a different director, you can give us the same script, they’re gonna be different movies. Besides the attack on the White House, I didn’t think about it much… this hero’s journey is different than other films.”

“Olympus Has Fallen” opens this Friday.