When you are making a movie that looks like this that’s so jam packed with “wow” moments and explosions and fighting, we were kind of blown away by the attention to detail on the White House. What goes into making the decision to actually bother?
Well, I think we film people have a certain pride, and one is research. We research everything really, really well. For example, it’s not my first movie in the White House and in these other movies it’s like “Whatever the room is, it needs to look like the White House and the Oval Office needs to be oval.”…This time we said “Let’s really rebuild it exactly like it looks.” And we did tours, public tours, (looking around and thinking) like, “we could blow up this. We could blow up that.” I was actually once privately in the White House like invited by (Bill) Clinton to screen Independence Day. So I know how the private residence looks. I didn’t snap a picture, but I have a photographic memory. And then I could take a guided tour in the West Wing. We could only get that through like somebody who works in the White House, so we found that person. And so a lot of research goes in and then you recreate it as good as you can, and it was very expensive. The only thing we changed a lot of times is they have a lot of carpets and we wanted to have shiny floors, obviously that looks better. That’s really it.
When you took that tour or when you got to go in there and look around, did you tell them “I’m getting ready to do something to the White House?”
Nobody cares. So many people (come and go in those tours).
I meant more of the private thing when you called someone.
Yeah, I think they knew what we were doing. I think they knew, though I’m not sure. I didn’t really tell that lady that much about the film, I just said, “Okay, here we are. Let’s go.”
The question you’re going to get asked several times in the coming months is how aware were you that “I’m the guy who famously on the Super Bowl and in Independence Day blew up the White House. Now I’m making a movie about the White House.” I mean how aware were you when you took the project that that was going to be the thing?
I had myself a White House project. It was called One Nation and it was also at Sony and I think that’s why they thought about me for that movie, because it had similar elements. It was also like the White House in peril. It was not a terrorist attack, it was a president who refused to leave, you know. But it had similar elements. It was a little more complicated script, so that’s why it never got made in a way, but it had certain military elements we have (in White House Down) too. So I think Amy (Pascal) thought “That’s right up Roland’s alley” and she was right. I mean immediately--it’s so hard these days to find projects, which you think have a chance in the marketplace. Because most of the time when you see big summer blockbusters they are based on comic book characters or like a famous book, which is a bestseller and already a well known title, or its sequels. It’s very, very rare you find something really original. And also because a lot of original stuff, most of the time has no chance, because it’s so expensive to make something famous or kind of put it in people’s head that they want to see it.
It’s like awareness has to be almost like at eighty or ninety percent if you make an expensive summer movie and that’s very hard to do with anything which is not (already established). And the White House naturally is in itself some sort of a trademark. Everybody in the world knows the White House, so when it says "White House Down" it’s pretty much in the title you know what’s happened. And that’s also the cool part about this one and gives you the filmmaker the freedom to say “Okay, so what do we want?” And were very ambitious with what we wanted to say. We have a political story. We have an action story. We have an emotional story. So it’s all like these things are possible in a movie like that, and so I’m quite excited about the script. It’s really good.
We had heard earlier that some of the elements of the script had been kind of tailored to better suit Channing. I’m curious if similarly--
It was like a perfect fit. (Laughs) It came to him and it was like “Oh, he’s John Cale.”
I’m curious if you were talking about shooting wide and that is such an unexpected turn for a lot of action movies, were you inspired by his physicality that we have seen?
I’m going to tell you, he is probably the most physical actor I have ever met in my life and it’s really interesting we’re talking a lot about it, because a lot of the best stunt people most of the time come from the dance world and he too. And they have just more coordination of their body and it’s amazing what he does in this film and he did every stunt himself. It's pretty much--I mean you have to talk him out of a stunt and the only way you can talk him out of a stunt is like “It’s really high risk and you don’t see his face.”
He’s always very concerned that you see his face, because he’s very proud that he does his own stunts and it’s a little bit lost in the last ten years that people are proud of doing it. But it’s actually when you see him doing it, it’s like “Oh yeah, this is the real thing.” There’s no face replacement. It’s Channing and you could not do that many face replacements anywhere, so it’s cool. I like it.
When you first got the project we heard that you gave some notes on the script and to like alter the villain, the antagonist a little bit. I’m just curious when you got involved, how the script changed at all.
Well just like with every movie I do, I have to stand for it politically. And I just wanted it to be so I can go out in the world and promote it with a good conscience. And for that I wanted to have it altered in a certain way, but it was not such a big deal. I just wanted to have the villains more realistic than it was in the original. It’s just based now in reality. When you see the movie, you will know what I mean. It’s always good to have villains you understand. When you don’t understand your villain, you’re done.
Definitely. Were there any films that you looked at as they did right, in terms of the action and balancing the tone that you’re going for?
Yeah, I looked at a couple of movies, which I remembered very fondly, like Die Hard, Man on Fire, I mean a lot of Tony Scott films, who I think was a great action director. So, yeah, that kind of stuff. Die Hard is one of my favorites. I was actually surprised how dated it feels when you see. I mean I haven’t seen it since then. And now when you see it, it’s dated and it was only the early nineties, and it feels a little dated.
Yeah, the fact that Channing is wearing the wife beater, at least in the scene we saw, like the dirty T-shirt like John McClane, was that intentional?
That’s a total homage…but he's not barefoot.